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Judah P. Benjamin

Markers: Sarasota History

Location: US 41 and 10th Street, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - Judah P. Benjamin photo

Judah P. Benjamin, later considered "the Brains of the Confederacy," was an American lawyer and statesman. He was born on Saint Croix Island in 1811, grew up in South Carolina, and was educated at Yale College. He practiced law in New Orleans, Louisiana, and became prominent in politics, serving first with the Whigs and afterward with the Democrats. He represented Louisiana in the U.S. Senate from 1853 until that state seceded from the Union in 1861. Confederate President Jefferson Davis first appointed Benjamin as Attorney General. Later in 1861, Davis named him Secretary of War and, four months later, Secretary of State.

With invasion of the Confederate capitol by Union forces imminent, President Davis and his cabinet fled south from Richmond, Virginia, on April 2, 1865. When they reached Charlotte, North Carolina, news arrived of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14. In north Georgia, Davis, Benjamin, and other cabinet members, parted company.

Sometime in May, Captain Leroy Lesley and Captain James McKay successfully secreted Benjamin first to Lesley's home in Brooksville, Florida, then later to McKay's home in Tampa.

Under the cover of a violent storm, Lesley's son and McKay took the disguised Benjamin to the Gamble Mansion in Ellenton. At the mansion was Hiram McLeod who knew local waters as well as the wagon trails in the area.

When a federal landing force suddenly appeared on the approach to the mansion, Benjamin was spirited away to the Manatee River home of Captain Frederick Tresca and his family for about a month. There, Tresca's wife Louise sewed pleats into Benjamin's vest and waistband t conceal gold coins.

After Benjamin, Tresca, and others formulated a plan, Ezekial Glazier drove a two-wheeled spring wagon from the Tresca home to the William Whitaker home in Sarasota. Hidden in the wagon under a load of freshly butchered beef covered over with palmetto leaves was the Confederate Secretary of State. In Sarasota, Tresca and Hiram McLeod took Benjamin aboard their sixteen-foot open sloop and quietly slipped out of Whitaker Bayou on June 23, 1865. They deposited Benjamin in Bimini on Monday, July 10. Benjamin eventually reached England where he established a new legal career and lived until his death in 1884.

Dedicated in 2000 by the Sarasota County Historical Commission

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