Benjamin Franklin Ficklin

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Ben Ficklin (December 18, 1827–May 10, 1871) was a colorful local figure - a soldier, adventurer, and entrepreneur, he was known for his help in starting the Pony Express and for establishing other stage coach and mail routes in the United States during the nineteenth century. Ficklin was also one of the people responsible for the creation of the Pacific Telegraph Company in 1861. [1] He once owned Monticello.[2]


Benjamin Franklin Ficklin was born to Benjamin Ficklin (1790-1864) and Ellen Slaughter Ficklin (1793-1857). Benjamin's father was a tobacco merchant and minister. The family moved to the Crozet area of Albemarle County in the 1800's and to the Charlottesville area in the 1820's.[3] His older brother, Slaughter Ficklin, ran Farish, Ficklin, & Co., a stagecoach business that doubled as a mail service.[4]

At the age of 16, Ficklin entered the Virginia Military Institute, where he was a poor student but a noted prankster. His favorite target was the school's superintendent, whose boots he buried in the snow and whose horse he painted to resemble a zebra. Eventually, though, his pranks took a violent turn; after firing a howitzer full of gunpowder at a building with other students inside, Ficklin was dismissed.[5]

Following his dismissal, Ficklin briefly served in the Mexican-American War, where he was wounded. Upon returning to Virginia, he told administrators at VMI that he had been "left for dead" after being wounded, and should be allowed to re-enroll in school. They acquiesced, and he graduated on July 4th, 1849, fourth from the bottom of his class.[4]

The early 1850s saw Ficklin move west, where he worked as a freight line agent, frequently interacting with indigenous groups, settlers, and the US military. When the Mormon War broke out in the Utah Territort in 1857, he registered as a courier for the Army. That winter, the expeditionary force he served with ran out of supplies, and Ficklin was noted for wrangling supplies from belligerent Latter-Day Saints.

In 1860, Ficklin worked for the Central Overland California & Pike's Peak Express Company, which would form and run the Pony Express. Officials at the time recall that the idea for a horse-and-rider mail service was Ficklin's.[4] He only remained with his idea for three months, though, before returning to Virginia once more, this time to join the Confederate Army.

Originally appointed as a quartermaster general, Ficklin left his desk job to fight at Malvern Hill near Richmond. The assault, though, was a loss for Confederate forces, and Ficklin did not long remain with the Army's ground forces. He decided to become a blockade runner in the Atlantic, moving small cargo ships around Union forces that had blocked most of the Southern coast.

Evidently, Ficklin made a pretty penny in the cargo-running business, as he came to - for a brief period - own Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. The property was seized by Confederate officials following the outbreak of the Civil War because its owner, Uriah P. Levy was a Northerner and official in the US Navy. In November 1864, a public auction was held, and Ficklin purchased the land and estate for $80,500. Newspapers reported that the home was not in a good state, and apparently had not been since the war began. The title was transferred to Ficklin on March 17, 1865, only three weeks before the Civil War came to an end. There are no records of Ficklin ever living in the home, though family legend claims he brought his elderly father to visit.[4] This story is unlikely, though, as his father died just six weeks after Ficklin purchased the home.[6] Since the sale to Ficklin only occurred following its illegal confiscation by the Confederate government, the United States did not recognize Ficklin as the estate's owner, and it would eventually be returned to the Levy's.[4]

In April, 1865, Ficklin was arrested in Washington, D.C. on suspicion of being linked to the assassination of President Lincoln, apparently because he had the "appearance of a pirate." After being held in jail for a few months, he was released with no charges.

For the last few years of his life, Ficklin held government contracts to deliver US Mail in the Texas frontier. His business regularly brought him into conflict with Native Americans, for which he began to arm anyone traveling with him. It was because of this job that he was in Washington, D.C. in March of 1871.

While he was dining at the Willard hotel in Washington, D.C., a fishbone lodged in Ficklin's throat. He died a few days later, having drowned in his own blood after a physician severed an artery while trying to remove the bone. Aged 43, he was buried in Maplewood Cemetery.


  1. "Charlottesville : Maplewood Cemetery." Charlottesville : Home. Web. 20 Apr. 2010. <>.
  2. Web. Virginia Military Institute Archives, retrieved November 4, 2022.
  3. Web. Belmont - A History of a Neighborhood, James H. Buck Jr., Paper for James Kinard's Local History course, May 1980, retrieved June 30, 2014.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Web. Benjamin Ficklin
  5. Web. Ben Ficklin, Pony Express Pioneer
  6. Web. Benjamin Ficklin