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Benjamin Stoddert (1801) - Secretary of the Navy

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Benjamin Stoddert, the nation's first secretary of the Navy, was born in Charles County, Maryland, in 1751, and began his national service with the Continental Army. Stoddert joined as a captain at the beginning of the Revolutionary War and by 1779 had earned the rank of major. He sustained a serious injury soon thereafter that effectively ended his military career. Moving from the field to the office, Stoddert immediately began work as secretary of the Continental Board of War, serving in that capacity from 1779 until his resignation in 1781. Having trained for a life in the commercial sector before the coming of war, Stoddert used his experience to establish "Forrest, Stoddert, & Murdock," a prosperous, international mercantile firm, headquartered in Georgetown, Maryland.

After becoming involved additionally in land speculation, Stoddert helped to found the Bank of Columbia, in 1794, in order to facilitate his financial dealings; he would become president of the bank within the next few years. Following the creation of the Department of the Navy in 1798, President John Adams found himself with another cabinet position to fill. Adams appointed Stoddert secretary of the Navy, and Stoddert remained at that post until resigning in 1801. Benjamin Stoddert died on December 18, 1813, in Bladensburg, Maryland.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

Peter Onuf

Professor Onuf is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor of History at the University of Virginia. His writings include:

Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood (University Press of Virginia, 2001)

Statehood and Union: A History of the Northwest Ordinance (Indiana University Press, 1987)

Origins of the Federal Republic: Jurisdictional Controversies in the United States, 1775–1787 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983)