Benjamin Godfrey was born 20 May 1794 in Chatham, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, United States to Knowles Godfrey (1762-1794) and Mary Ryder (1766-1822) and died 13 August 1862 Godfrey, Madison County, Illinois, United States of unspecified causes. He married Harriet Cooper (1801-1838) 27 November 1817 in Baltimore, Baltimore County, Maryland, United States.

Benjamin Godfrey was an American merchant and philanthropist from Massachusetts. Running away to Ireland at a young age, Godfrey worked on ships in his early life, eventually commanding his own. This vessel was wrecked off the coast of Mexico, but Godfrey found wealth in a trading house in Matamoros, Tamaulipas. However, he was robbed and returned to the U.S. penniless. He moved to Alton, Illinois, where he co-founded a successful business. Godfrey became involved with the Presbytery and established a seminary for women, now known as Lewis and Clark Community College. He is the namesake of Godfrey, Illinois, where the school is located, and the Benjamin Godfrey Memorial Chapel found there.


Benjamin Godfrey house in Godfrey, IL.

Benjamin Godfrey was born in Chatham, Massachusetts, on December 4, 1794. When he was nine, he ran away from home and took a boat to Ireland. He spent the next nine years there, probably working on ships.

Veteran War of 1812

The War of 1812 motivated Godfrey to return to the United States. He settled with an uncle, who gave him a basic education and helped him study navigation. He served with the United States Navy at some point during the war. Benjamin served in the war of 1812 as a seaman in the gun boat Flotilla,He made a fortune as a shipping merchant at Matamoros,Mexico.before settling in a town of Alton, 1833.he built a stone church of three denomination,1834 he started construction on Monticello Female Seminary.A college for women which open four year later.He built the Altonand Sangamon Railroad,the first in the area between 1848 and 1852.

Following the conflict, Godfrey worked on a merchant ship. Godfrey later commanded his own ship, establishing lines from Baltimore, Maryland to New Orleans, Louisiana and the West Indies.

Mexico Shipwreck

In the 1820s, Godfrey's ship was wrecked near Brazos Santiago, Mexico. In 1826, he opened a shop in Matamoros, Tamaulipas. The venture was very successful and he became a very wealthy man, but most of his fortune was stolen as it was being transported out the country. He then removed to New Orleans, where he stayed until 1832. He then settled in Alton, Illinois, and soon established a successful partnership with W. S. Gilman as Godfrey & Gilman. The warehouse of Godfrey & Gilman became famous in 1837 when it became the site of the murder of Elijah Parish Lovejoy. Godfrey became very close with the local Presbyterian church and built a stone church for them in 1833. He was named a church elder on June 5, 1840.

One morning, Godfrey decided to erect a seminary for women, using $53,000 of his own money. On April 11, 1838, the Monticello Female Seminary opened. Godfrey purchased large tracts of land for his own use, eventually accumulating over 4,000 acres (1,600 ha). Godfrey turned his business attention to the railroads and worked as a contractor for the Alton & Sangamon Railroad. However, Godfrey struggled to manage his holdings and lost most of his wealth in the ensuing years.

Gravesite monument for Benjamin Godfrey in Godfrey Cemetery, Godfrey IL.

Godfrey died on August 13, 1862, and was buried in Godfrey Cemetery. The school is today known as Lewis and Clark Community College.[1] Godfrey, Illinois, was named his honor. In honor of their founder, the Monticello Female Seminary named their 1854 church the Benjamin Godfrey Memorial Chapel.

Marriage & Family

Godfrey married Harriet Cooper on November 27, 1817; they had twelve children. He re-married on August 15, 1839, to R. E. Petit; they had three children. Ten of his children survived to adulthood. Daughter Catherine married state representative John Mills Pearson.


Offspring of Benjamin Godfrey and Harriet Cooper (1801-1838)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Emily Godfrey (1816-1897)
James Ryder Godfrey (1818-1881) 20 August 1818 Baltimore, Baltimore County, Maryland 7 September 1881 Godfrey, Madison County, Illinois Lodema Curtis (1822-1915)
Calvin Cooper Godfrey (1820-1840)
Mary Godfrey (1822-1879)
Benjamin Franklin Godfrey (1823-)
Harriet Godfrey (1825-1873)
Maria Louise Godfrey (1826-1859)
Benjamin Godfrey (1827-)
Margaret Godfrey (1828-1871)
Catherine Godfrey (1835-1892)
Caroline Godfrey (1837-1837)

Offspring of Benjamin Godfrey and Rebecca E Petit (1818-)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Benjamin Godfrey (1840-1884)
Julia Godfrey (1843-1874)
Eleanor Godfrey (1846-1846)



Footnotes (including sources)

‡ General
  • Norton, Augustus Theodore (1879). "XX". History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Illinois I. St. Louis, MO: W. S. Bryan. pp. 701–703.
  • Gannett, Henry. The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States (2nd ed.). Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. p. 139.
  • Benjamin Godfrey - Wikipedia


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