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Jakub Benik

Jakub Benik

*21 VII 1772 Dobre Miasto, †29 I 1827 Warszawa

Jakub Benik was born on 21 July 1772 in Dobre Miasto (Ger. Gutstadt), in the region of Warmia. He was the son of Józef and Gertruda, née Bock, and his ancestors had lived in Dobre Miasto, situated some 25 km north of Olsztyn, at that time belonging to the Warmia diocese (part of the Republic of Poland-Lithuania up to the First Partition of Poland), for at least several generations. They can be described as being of the burgher estate, and the family was of the Catholic faith. Jakub's father, Józef, also born in Dobre Miasto, was a tailor, whilst his mother, Gertruda, was the daughter of a mason by the name of Wawrzyniec. Besides Jakub, they had two more sons, also born in Dobre Miasto: Jan, born on 3 May 1767, and Józef, born on 10 April 1770, from 23 January 1798 married to Elżbieta, née Nadroska. The Benik (also written Bönick, Boenick) family appears in the records of Warmia from the beginning of the seventeenth century. Kacper Benik, born in Braniewo on 6 January 1618, was appointed canon of the collegiate church in Dobre Miasto in 1655, and vicar of Braniewo the following year; he died on 21 August 1660.

The next mention of Jakub Benik comes from 1791, but this time from Warsaw; it is not known how, when or why he moved there from the now Prussian (following the First Partition) Warmia. At this time he and twenty-year-old Mikołaj Chopin lived with the family of Adam Weydlich in the Missionary Home (Land Registry no. 406) on Krakowskie Przedmieście. Given that he lived with the Weydlichs from such a young age, we may presume that he left Warmia alone, without his parents. During this period, that is, following the First Partition in 1772, and especially after 1786, a sizeable number of Warmians, of various social estate, left their native region to move to Poland.

There is also a dearth of information regarding Jakub Benik's fortunes during the years 1791-1809. Bearing in mind his later work in a responsible technical post at the Mint, it is possible that he undertook some specialist studies abroad. Around 1798 Benik started a family; a son, Edward, was born soon after, but sources point to three different locations of his birth and three different years. It is quite likely that Benik spent a number of these years outside Warsaw, although we know that in 1809 he and his wife were living on Krakowskie Przedmieście (Land Registry no. 382).

On 9 June 1810, when the former Mint of Poland that had been closed down by the Prussian authorities was reopened, among the new personnel of the Duchy of Warsaw Mint was Jakub Benik. Initially, he was employed as a supervisor, but at the end of that year he was made assistant to Mintmaster Jan Stockmann. On 25 September 1811, following Stockmann's death that year, Benik was appointed his successor, and he remained Mintmaster until his death, in 1827. In 1817 he was additionally appointed Mint steward. In practical terms, the title 'Mintmaster' designated the chief engineer, who 'managed the whole manipulation of making money'. This position was third in the Mint hierarchy, with an annual salary of 8000 zloty. During that time, Benik lived in the Mint building, at 607 Bielańska St., near Daniłowiczowska St. There is some material legacy from his work at the Mint, in the shape of coins and medals signed with his initials, IB, standing for 'Iacobus Benik' (coins were always signed by the incumbent Mintmaster). In 1816 sources record an unpleasant affair of suspected financial malpractice by certain officials of the Mint. Steward Benik asked the management to appoint a commission of impartial experts. From the commission's report, we learn, among other things, that the steward was responsible for standard weights, whilst on the day the report was issued (18 November 1816), he had 3769 kg of pure silver at his disposal. On 16 June 1817, when work was commenced on the construction of a new Mint building, to a design by Pierre Aigner, placed inside the hollowed-out foundation stone was a tin embossed with the names of leading figures at the Mint; among them was that of Jakub Benik. The stone was officially laid by the Tsar's Viceroy, General Józef Zajączek, in the presence of members of the government and other dignitaries.

The close relations between the Chopins and the Beniks is indicated by the fact that Mikołaj Chopin was godfather to Klementyna Benik, baptised on 17 February 1806 in the Holy Cross church in Warsaw. Meanwhile, Jakub Benik was godfather to Justyna-Izabela Chopin, baptised in the same Holy Cross church on 28 July 1811. The following excerpt appears in a letter sent by Fryderyk Chopin to one of his friends: 'The carnival season has ended, and sadly. Old Benik has died, and you can imagine how Papa has taken it! And his daughter Klementyna, who married Dolbyshev, also died, after living with him for less than nine months.'

Jakub Benik died of 'breathing difficulties' in Warsaw, on 29 January 1827. His wife, Barbara, née Medyńska, born c.1787, was left with their children and virtually no means. Barely a month after his death, the Minister of Revenue and the Treasury, Duke Franciszek-Ksawery Drucki-Lubecki, petitioned for her to be awarded an annual pension of 2000 zloty and permission to live rent-free at the Mint until June 1827; these petitions were granted. Barbara Benikowa died on 1 March 1863 in Warsaw, and was buried on 4 March in the Powązki cemetery. The Beniks had eight children: Edward, Maksymilian, Seweryna, Elżbieta, Klementyna, Józefa (b. 1809), Paulina and Ludwika-Aleksandra.

Edward-Oskar Benik (b. 1799; d. Paris, 3 Nov. 1875) was a civil servant with the Government Commission of Revenue and the Treasury, and later worked, like his father, at the Mint, where, in 1827, he was a trainee bookkeeper. He took part in the November Rising, initially in the 3rd Regiment of Rifle Infantry and then as aide-de-camp to General Julian Bieliński. He was awarded the Gold Cross of the Virtuti Militari and promoted to second lieutenant. In later years he went into exile in France, and during the Crimean War, in the years 1855-1856, served as lieutenant in the Sultan's Cossacks Division of General Władysław Zamoyski, set up by the Hôtel Lambert.

Maksymilian Benik (b. c.1801; d. after 1827) was a pupil of the Liceum Warszawskie secondary school, and subsequently a student of the Sciences and Fine Arts Department of Warsaw University.

Seweryna Benik (b. Warsaw, 7 Dec. 1802; d. Warsaw, 11 June 1874), married Marcin Gliński (coat-of-arms Polko), chief officer with the Administrative Council.

Elżbieta Benik (b. c.1805; d. after 1827) was the wife of Russian army guard major Ivan Panov.

Klementyna-Dorota Benik (b. Warsaw, 4 Feb. 1806; d. Warsaw, 25 Feb. 1827) was the wife of Russian army staff captain, Grigorij Dolbyshev.

Paulina-Ludwika Benik (b. c.1814; d. Warsaw,  22 Aug. 1868) died single.

Ludwik Benik (b. Warsaw, c.1815; d. Warsaw, 4 Oct. 1834) was a civil servant in the Head Office of the Fire Society (later the Head Office of Insurance, whose director, from 1842, was Count Fryderyk Skarbek).

Piotr Mysłakowski and Andrzej Sikorski (June 2006)

Piotr Mysłakowski and Andrzej Sikorski, Chopinowie. Krąg rodzinno-towarzyski [The Chopins. Their Family and Social Circle] (Warszawa, 2005).


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