B.B. French (1800-1870)

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Benjamin Brown French (1800 – August 12, 1870) wrote historical sketches and poems, published mostly in Masonic journals. French came to DC from New Hampshire in 1833. He was Clerk of the US House of Representatives and Commissioner of Public Buildings under Presidents Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. His journals are in the collections of the Library of Congress, the local Masonic lodge in DC is named for him, and he is buried in Congressional Cemetery. He is the author of Fitz Clarence: A Poem (1844), Changes of Earth: A Poem (1845), and A Letter and Short Poem on the Death of Abraham Lincoln (1870). His diaries were later collected and published as Witness to the Young Republic: A Yankee's Journal, 1828-1870. He is best known for his associations with President Abraham Lincoln: he was present at the Gettysburg Address and in the room of the Peterson House as Lincoln lay dying, and was placed in charge of his funeral arrangements. Historian Margaret Leech described him as “a stout, choleric old gentleman. With his arrogant mouth and his bristling gray side whiskers, brushed to the front, he resembled a cartoon of a Victorian papa.”


Submitted by Kim Roberts, June 2015

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