by Thomas Sully. Oil on wood, Philadelphia, 1831. Courtesy of the Rosenbach Museum & Library. Gift
Just a few days before Ben's fifteenth birthday (Sept. 4, 1807), Rebecca reported that he was continuing to grow in "manliness, beauty and graceful manners." "He will be a gentleman," she assured Jo, another brother.
Rebecca almost never wrote of physical beauty in her letters, as seems to have been the custom of the day. Usually, that type of praise was saved for children. It may be that she still saw her baby brother as a child, but the good looks Rebecca discerned in him are reflected in Sully's portrait of Ben at 38 (above) and his gentlemanly qualities attested to by his life.
Ben attended the University of Pennsylvania and received his bachelor's degree in 1811. In 1812, at the beginning of the war, he volunteered, but was called up only in 1814 when it seemed as though the British would attack Philadelphia after burning Washington. A second lieutenant in Capt. John Swift's company of the Washington Guards, he spent several months on active duty. Rebecca worried that camp life would be too hard for him but Ben seems to have thrived on it.
Sometime during the period 1812-1815 Ben studied law in the office of a family friend William Meredith, and in 1815 was admitted to the Philadelphia bar. He received a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania the same year. In the summer of 1818 when he first met Maria Cecil Gist, he was preparing to go west to pursue a law suit for the partners (which included the Gratz family) of the Illinois & Wabash Company.