The Benedict Family

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Samuel Benedict, Class of 1860
Union College Schaffer Library,
Special Collections Picture File
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Samuel Benedict at his house
at Union, 1902

Union College Schaffer Library,
Special Collections Picture File
Samuel Tweedy Benedict
(September 8, 1837 – January 13, 1933)
Union College Class of 1860;
Lecturer in Law at Union College, 1872-1880

Samuel Tweedy Benedict was born in Connecticut and enrolled in the classical course at Union College, where he became a member of the Philomathean debating society and the Kappa Alpha fraternity. Benedict earned a law degree from Harvard two years after graduating from Union in 1860 and worked as a lawyer in New York City before returning to Schenectady in 1865 upon his marriage to Julia Jackson Benedict (see below). In 1869 he was appointed U.S. Commissioner and Examiner and Master in Chancery in the U.S. Circuit Courts, and in 1875 he served a term in the State Senate. He also taught law at Union from 1872 to 1880. In 1873, the Benedicts built a house for themselves to the north of North College on the current site of Yulman Theater, a perfect location for Mrs. Benedict to exercise her self-appointed role as the caretaker of the College garden.

Benedict was a familiar figure on campus and an obituary recalls his walking around campus at any hour of the day with his “frail, slightly stooped figure, clad always in dark grey swallow-tail coat and capped by a veteran, but carefully brushed, high crowned derby.” He enjoyed reminiscing to students about times gone by. In 1931 Mr. Benedict moved to the Ingersoll Home for Men, where he stayed until his death in 1933. He was the last elderly person to live on campus; after his death only students, active faculty and administrators would have residences on campus.

Julia Jackson Benedict
(January 28, 1838 – September 8, 1925)
Wife of Samuel Benedict

 

Samuel Benedict’s wife, Julia, was the daughter of Isaac Jackson, the creator of Jackson’s Garden and Union College Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, who taught optics, mechanics, astronomy, electricity and magnetism, and acoustics. The young Julia Jackson was a talented artist and singer who gained some fame in Schenectady for her mezzo-soprano voice. In an issue of the Union Alumni Monthly written after her death, Professor Edward Everett Hale recalled that “in her earlier days she was one of the most striking figures in the College world, a woman of beautiful voice, of artistic taste and ability, and a keen, alert interest in life.”

After the death of her father, Julia Benedict took over as the guardian of Jackson’s Garden for almost forty-eight years. Preserving her father’s legacy became her personal mission, and even though she did not have much help caring for the garden, she did her best, once even baking and selling plum puddings to raise money for it. Indeed, she eventually came to view the garden itself as her personal property: President Richmond later remembered her chasing away students as “her daily exercise,” and she is even reported to have fired a shotgun from her balcony to drive them away.

Mrs. Benedict had a complex relationship with Mrs. Perkins. Their common interest in gardening created a bond between them, but many of the remarks about Mrs. Benedict in Mrs. Perkins’ surviving letters are negative, and Mrs. Perkins often seemed irritated by the other woman’s conversation. Some tension was undoubtedly caused by their differences of religion. Mrs. Benedict was a convert to Roman Catholicism, Mrs. Perkins a devout Presbyterian, and the two would often argue if the subject of religion came up. “I wish she would leave the subject alone; she knows my conversion is quite hopeless, and there are so many other things we hold in common. However she takes my remarks very decently” (May 23, 1904). Mrs. Perkins recognized Mrs. Benedict’s good qualities, however: “She has worked harder since Dr Jackson’s death than most women in the working classes” (undated letter, 1904). Despite their differences, they appear to have often spent time together pleasantly, possibly discussing their gardens.

The Benedicts had three children: Marietta (1866), William Jackson (1869), and Russell (1874). Sadly, both of their sons died at a very young age of pneumonia; however, Marietta (Mrs. Leslie Cotton) became an internationally known artist. Julia Benedict died at the age of 87 and had a widely-attended funeral. Even beyond her contribution to Jackson’s Garden, she had been an important figure at Union. One of the only individuals to spend almost the entirety of a long life on the campus, she had been one of the last links with the early generations at the College.