Benjamin Brown French

Benjamin Brown French. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Digital ID # cwpbh 02441

An acquaintance of twelve consecutive presidents, from Andrew Jackson to Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Brown French (1800–1870) was born in Chester, New Hampshire, to Daniel and Mercy French. Following his marriage to Elizabeth Richardson in 1825, he became active in politics, serving as a representative in the New Hampshire legislature between 1831 and 1833. Moving to Washington, D.C., in 1833 to pursue government employment, French was appointed the clerk of the United States House of Representatives in 1845. He left that position in 1847, when, at the insistence of Samuel F. B. Morse, he became president of the Magnetic Telegraph Company. Serving in that position until 1850, French oversaw the expansion of telegraph communications throughout the United States. Returning to government service in 1853, French served two years as the Commissioner of Public Buildings under President Franklin Pierce and was the chief marshal of the March 1861 inaugural parade of Abraham Lincoln, who reappointed French Commissioner of Public Buildings. In this capacity, he oversaw the funeral arrangements for both young Willie Lincoln (1850–1862) and President Lincoln (1809–1865). His more mundane duties as commissioner placed him in frequent contact with Mary Lincoln, whom French found to be difficult, calling the first lady a “bundle of vanity and folly.” Saddened greatly at the death of his wife Elizabeth in 1861, Benjamin Brown French found contentment in a second marriage, wedding Mary Ellen Brady in 1862. Removed as the Commissioner of Public Buildings in 1867, French spent his last years working for the U.S. Treasury Department.

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