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Benjamin Harrison III

Member From: 1703 - 1706

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  • Birth Date: 1673 Birth Place:
  • Death Date: April 10, 1710
  • Gender: Male Race: Caucasian
  • Spouse:
  • Children:
  • Religion:
  • Education: Middle Temple, London
  • Military Service:
  • Occupation/Profession: Lawyer
  • Additional Info: ​Son of Benjamin Harrison II (1645-1713) of Wakefield in Surry County.
    James City (1703-1705) Charles City (1705-1706) Speaker of the House-(1705-1706)
  • Bio: BENJAMIN HARRISON III was Speaker of the House of Burgesses at the assembly of 1705-1706. He had represented James City County in the assembly of 1703-1705 and Charles City County in 1705-1706. Speaker Harrison, of Berkeley, was the eldest son of Benjamin Harrison II (1645-1713), of Wakefield in Surry County, a burgess who had been appointed to the Council in 1698.
    On 19 July 1697, twenty-four-year-old Harrison sailed from Virginia on the brigantine Hopewell, a fifty-ton, Virginia-built ship in which he owned half interest. Harrison ''was Said to have taken on board 60 Hogshead of Tobacco, and intended to Some of the Northern Colonies,'' but Daniel Parke, a member of the Council, later accused him of engaging in illegal trade with Scotland. The accusation was made amid the controversy between Governor Sir Edmund Andros, with whom Parke sided, and the Reverend James Blair. The Harrisons were prominent in Blair's so-called college faction (Blair had married Speaker Harrison's sister Sarah in June 1687), and Harrison was an experienced politician by the time he was elected Speaker.
    Three months after sailing from the James River, on 18 October 1697, Harrison was admitted to the Middle Temple. He stayed in England longer than a year, studying law and assisting James Blair in court politics; he was present at Lambeth Palace on 27 December 1697 when Blair presented his charges against Governor Andros. In June and July 1698 he attended meetings of the Board of Trade, where he admitted "that he had carryed a ship's lading of Tobacco from Virginia directly to, Scotland,'' and where he presented a memorial '' respecting the trade, and collection and management of revenue arising thereby, in Virginia." Speaker Harrison, although young and not yet influential in his own right, was involved in the successful quest for Andros's recall. Blair had been working with Francis Nicholson toward that end and promoting Nicholson for appointment as Andros's successor. Daniel Parke was in England trying to defend Andros and had accused Harrison of smuggling. Harrison's admission brought no punishment, although the Board of Trade later frowned on his appointment as clerk of the Council. On 18 August 1698 the Admiralty authorized ''Philip Ludwell, Benjamin Harrison [II] of the County of Surrey, Matthew Page, and Benjamin Harrison [III] of Berkeley in the County of Charles City,'' to administer Nicholson's oath as vice admiral of Virginia. Harrison, Nicholson, and Blair each returned to Virginia in autumn 1698.
    Benjamin Harrison II took the oath of a councillor on 9 December 1698, the same day Nicholson took his oaths as governor and vice admiral. The next day Nicholson announced the appointment of Benjamin Harrison III as clerk of the Council, and Harrison took his oath on 12 December 1698. A few months later the Council met in its capacity as the upper house of the colonial legislature, so on 27 April 1699 (the first day of the House of Burgesses' session) Harrison swore the oath as clerk of the General Assembly. During the assembly of 1699 he was named a trustee and director of the city of Williamsburg and an assistant to the committee for revising the laws of the colony. The revisal committee chose two skilled lawyers as its assistants; Harrison's colleague was Attorney General Bartholomew Fowler. Harrison, Fowler, and committee clerk Peter Beverley served as the committee's research staff. On 11 November 1699 the committee ordered ''that Mr. Benjamin Harrison Junr Mr. Bartholemew Fowler and Peter Beverley have liberty to Search the Records of the Assembly office; Secretaries office, or any office of Record in this Countrey.''
    In January 1700 the Board of Trade wrote Nicholson that it had been ''surprized to observe by your Minutes of Council of the 10th December 1698, that you have appointed one to be Clarke of the said Councill who owned to us at our Board that he had carryed a ship's lading of Tobacco from Virginia directly to Scotland.'' On 23 May 1700 Harrison resigned the office and Dionysius Wright took his place; according to Nicholson, Harrison and Wright were the two best lawyers in Virginia. Harrison continued as assistant to the revisal committee, and soon was given added responsibilities.
    In September 1700 Attorney General Bartholomew Fowler petitioned the Council ''to be discharged from that Office'' because illness had rendered him ''unable to manage and sustaine the Burthern of soe great a place.'' The Council refused to accept Fowler's resignation. Recognizing both his "allmost Continuall Sickness" and "his former faithfull and prudential Management and discharge of that Office," the Council excused Fowler ''from further attendance'' and recommended that "some other Able discreet Judicious and well Experienced person be provided to Execute that Office.'' In order to conduct the king's business, the Council on 17 October 1700 "ordered and appointed that Mr. Benjamin Harrison be and is hereby Empower'd authorized and appointed pro hac vice [i.e., for this one particular occasion] as the Kings Attorny." On 15 April 1701 the Council again appointed him "pro hac vice to prosecute all such matters as the Kings attourney." Within a few days the aged Fowler died. Harrison then assumed responsibility for Fowler's unfinished legal business, but he was not officially named attorney general. He acted in that capacity and was paid £40 annually, but Nicholson referred to him ''as you [who] officiate in the place of the Queen's attorney." As Blair and Nicholson found themselves increasingly at odds, Harrison was drawn into the governor's disfavor. By 1702 the rift was complete. Both Nicholson and the Board of Trade preferred not to name a Virginian to the office; on 2 March 1704 Stephens Thompson, newly arrived from England, swore the oath as attorney general.
    In December 1700 Harrison ran for the Jamestown seat in the House of Burgesses but lost to Robert Beverley, Jr. Harrison, who was a trustee and director for the new capital at Williamsburg, erected buildings there ''at the first laying out of the land for the said city," and in 1701 contracted to supply shells, plank, and lime for the Capitol. He was paid 200 for the lime. In 1702 he was both a justice of the James City County Court and clerk of the Charles City County Court. He owned land in both counties, as well as in Surry and Prince George counties. During the assembly of 1703-1705 Harrison represented James City County, was active in the contest with Nicholson over military aid for New York, and served as a member of the committee on propositions and grievances. Then, in April 1705, Blair secured Nicholson's recall, and in August 1705 Lieutenant Governor Edward Nott arrived in Williamsburg.
    Charles City County returned Harrison to the assembly of 1705-1706, where he was elected Speaker over one opponent, probably Peter Beverley. Beverley and Harrison had worked together on the revisal of the laws and at this assembly saw the revision completed. At the October 1705 session Speaker Harrison was elected to replace Robert Carter as treasurer at a salary of 4 percent. He held that office until his death in 1710, when he was succeeded by Speaker Peter Beverley. In autumn 1705 the House of Burgesses adjourned (as prorogation would have disrupted legislation not yet completed) to April 1706 and was then prorogued on 22 June 1706. Lieutenant Governor Nott died a month later, and Edmund Jenings, president of the Council, acted as governor until the arrival of Alexander Spotswood in June 1710.
    The governor's death was without precedent in Virginia, and the Council did not know whether a prorogued assembly was automatically dissolved upon the death of a governor. Jenings thought it was, but the Board of Trade replied to his letter saying, "We are of the Opinion that the Assembly is not Dissolved thereby; for the same Royal Power from which the Assembly had its first being does subsist not withstanding the Death of the Commander in Chief; and therefore the Person succeeding the Governor in the Chief Administration . . . may Dissolve the same if he finds Cause." After a series of
    prorogations, on 22 April 1708 the Council dissolved the assembly of which Harrison was Speaker of the House. None was summoned until after Spotswood arrived in 1710. Thirty-seven-year-old Speaker Harrison contracted gout in 1709 and suffered a severe attack in March 1710. On 10 April 1710, he died, nearly three years before his father. He had not written a will, but he had given directions for the disposition of his property. The assembly of 1710-1712 passed an act settling the estate in the custody of his widow.
  • Other Notable Service and/or Elected Offices: Clerk of the Council - 1698; Virginia Attorney General, appointed by Governor Francis Nicholson and Council on October 17, 1700, served until about 1702. Speaker of the House - 1705 - 1706
Session District District Number Party Leadership Committees
1703-1705 James City Propositions and Grievances
1705-1706 Charles City Speaker of the House

*The information within this interactive and searchable application has been researched extensively by the House Clerk’s Office. As with any historical records of this age and breadth, there may be discrepancies and/or inconsistencies within records obtained from a variety of credible sources. Any feedback is encouraged at history@house.virginia.gov.

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