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Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York
by John H. Selkreg, 1894; D. Mason & Co., Publisher
Ben Johnson was born at Haverhill, Grafton county, N.H., June 22, 1784. His father was a native of Enfield in the same county. He was married in Fayette, Seneca county, N.Y., November 20, 1817, to Jane, a daughter of Peter Dey, an early settler in that part of the State, and died at Ithaca, N.Y., March 16, 1848.
At the time of his marriage the house erected by him on Seneca street, in that village, and which is now owned by Dr. William Coryell, was nearing completion, and became his residence for the remainder of his days, a period of thirty years. His early education was chiefly derived from the common schools, and was supplemented by a little academic training. He had a decided inclination to the law, and as a preparation for that profession, entered as a student the law office of Foote & Rumsey of Troy, N.Y., where he and John A. Collier, who was then a student in the same office, pursued their studies together. The two subsequently, at Binghamton, N.Y., formed a law partnership, which was, however, of short duration. For a while thereafter Mr. Johnson resided in Hector, Schuyler county (then Cayuga) with the Richard Smith who became first judge of Common Pleas for Tompkins county, upon its erection in 1817, and held sessions alternately at his residence in Hector and at the Columbian Inn at Ithaca. Mr. Johnson came to Ithaca some years before his marriage, and opened a law office on Aurora street, where he pursued his profession single-handed until near the year 1819, when he became associated with Charles Humphrey, and continued that connection a number of years.
He subsequently formed a partnership with Henry S. Walbridge, which terminated in 1839. He next was associated with Anthony Schuyler, his son-in-law, who had a short time previous married his daughter Eleanor, since deceased.
Mr. Johnson was one of the staunchest members of the Ithaca bar. Erudite, or logical mind, and possessed of rare powers in debate, his efforts before the courts where he practiced always challenged attention and often admiration. Dry humor and sarcasm were allies always at his command, and, upon occasion, used. An indefatigable worker, he kept scrupulously within the bounds of his vocation, concentrating his mental and physical strength upon the cases in hand, from which the temptation of office could not lure him. His intellect, cool and penetrating, sped its shafts straight to the mark, undiverted by the false and the immaterial.
His nature was social, genial, though quiet and undemonstrative, revealing at times a slight eccentricity of manner, the habit of a mind preoccupied by engrossing subjects connected with his practice.
The only public position he was ever induced to accept, and that doubtless from a sense of duty, was the office of president of the village, in 1825. His wife died September 28, 1881, and all the surviving members of the family, save one daughter, reside in Ithaca.
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