Ben Robertson (journalist)

Benjamin Franklin Robertson Jr., better known as Ben Robertson (1903–1943), was an American author, journalist and World War II war correspondent. He is best known for his renowned Southern memoir Red Hills and Cotton: An Upcountry Memory, first published in 1942 and still in print. A native of Clemson, South Carolina, a horticulture graduate of Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina, class of 1923, and writer for The Tiger, the college student newspaper. He was an honorary member of Gamma Alpha Mu local writers fraternity. He died in 1943 in a plane crash in Portugal. The SS Ben Robertson, launched in Savannah, Georgia in 1944, was named for him.[1][2]

Ben Robertson
Benjamin Franklin Robertson Jr.

(1903-06-22)22 June 1903
Calhoun, now Clemson, South Carolina, US
Died22 February 1943(1943-02-22) (aged 39)
Resting placeWest View Cemetery, also known as Liberty Cemetery, Liberty, South Carolina
Alma materClemson University, 1923, horticulture
OccupationJournalist, author, war correspondent
Home townManhattan, New York

Early life and educationEdit

Ben Robertson was born June 22, 1903 in Calhoun, which became Clemson, South Carolina in 1943. He was the son of Mary (née Bowen) Robertson and Benjamin Franklin Robertson. His father was the South Carolina state chemist and had his offices in Calhoun at Clemson Agricultural College, now Clemson University. Ben attended Clemson where he wrote for the college newspaper, was a first lieutenant in the corps of cadets, editor-in-chief of the year book his senior year and graduated in 1923 with a degree in horticulture. He then went to the University of Missouri where he received a degree in journalism in 1926.[2]


His professional career in journalism began with a short stint at the News and Courier in Charleston. His first major job after graduating was at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. In 1927 he went to Australia to work for The News in Adelaide. From 1929 to 1934 he reported for the New York Herald Tribune,[3] after which he went to work for the Associated Press in New York and London. In 1935 he went to the United Press and also sent stories to the Anderson Independent in South Carolina. In 1937 Ben Robertson returned to AP and also did disaster relief work for the American Red Cross during the Ohio River flood of 1937. He even shipped out for a time on the MS City of Rayville.[2]

In 1938, Robertson served as a political columnist for the short-lived Clemson Commentator, a semi-weekly that first published on June 6, and ceased printing on July 22, 1938.[4]

In 1938 pioneering musicologist and folklorist John Lomax visited Ben Robertson in South Carolina and Ben introduced him to the all-day singing festivals of the area which enabled Lomax to preserve the lyrics of many local folksongs.[5]

His work as a war correspondent began in 1940 covering England for the New York paper PM. He worked with Edward R. Murrow covering The Blitz of London. While reporting the Blitz in London, Robertson also traveled to Northern Ireland and Dublin. <>In most of 1942 he roved for PM and the Chicago Sun in the Pacific, Asia and North Africa.

In January 1943, Robertson joined Wendell Willkie and Eleanor Roosevelt in a series of talks in three large Canadian cities, urging a campaign for Russian relief.[6]


In his short life, Ben Robertson published three books. The first was Traveler's Rest, published in South Carolina in 1938, was an historical novel based on his ancestors' experience in South Carolina. According to Time, the book was not received well by his neighbors in Clemson.[7]

The second was I Saw England, published in 1941 by Alfred A. Knopf, which told of his interaction with the British during wartime.[8] The last was Red hills and Cotton: An Upcountry Memory, his best-known book was published in 1942 by Alfred A. Knopf and republished in 1960 by the University of South Carolina Press. It has been in print ever since.[9]

Ben Robertson's papers are in the manuscript collection of Clemson University.[2]

Death and afterEdit

Ben Robertson was one of 24 passengers killed on February 22, 1943 in the now famous crash of the Pan Am Yankee Clipper, NC18603, c/n 1990, (U.S. Navy BuNo 48224) into the Tagus River at Lisbon, Portugal.[10] He was killed while en route from the United States to his new job, chief of the New York Herald-Tribune's London bureau.[2] Caught in a storm, the flying boat was wrecked while attempting an emergency landing, having apparently hooked a wingtip on the water on a turn during approach; also killed is actress Tamara Drasin.

Fellow passenger Jane Froman was one of 14 who survived; her story of survival was made into the 1952 film "With a Song in My Heart" starring Susan Hayward.[11] Robertson's body was recovered and identified by a name bracelet he had on one wrist.[12] After a funeral service in the Clemson College Chapel on April 18, 1943, he was buried in the Robertson family plot in West View Cemetery in Liberty, South Carolina.[13]

A Liberty Ship, the SS Ben Robertson, named for him, was launched at Southeastern Shipbuilding Corporation, Savannah, Georgia, on January 4, 1944. Mrs. Julian Longley, Robertson's sister, of Dalton, Georgia, was sponsor for the new ship, part of a nationwide maritime program of naming Liberty ships for war correspondents killed in action.[14]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Clemson wiki article on Ben Robertson
  2. ^ a b c d e Ben Robertson Papers, Special Collections, Clemson University Libraries
  3. ^ The Tiger, "Hope For Clemson's Ben Robertson Small", Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina, Clemson, South Carolina, Thursday 25 February 1943, page 1.
  4. ^ Moore, John Hammond, compiler and editor, "South Carolina Newspapers", University of South Carolina Press, 1988, Library of Congress card number 88-4779, page 191.
  5. ^ Bailey, Beatrice Naff (Spring 2007). "Broadcasting and Preserving Upcountry Music Near and Far" (PDF). The South Carolina Review. 39 (2): 61–73.
  6. ^ The Tiger, Thursday 4 February 1943, page 1.
  7. ^ "Books: Descendant's Novel" Time, July 4, 1938
  8. ^ I See England by Ben Robertson
  9. ^ USC Press: Red Hills and Cotton ISBN 978-0-87249-306-3
  10. ^
  11. ^ Pan Am Air Accidents Archived 2007-12-01 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ American Foreign Service, Report the Death of an American Citizen for Ben Robertson, dated April 16, 1943
  13. ^ At Liberty to Say on Ben Robertson's grave Archived January 10, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ The Tiger, "The Ben Robertson Is Launched at Savannah Shipyard January 7"[sic], Thursday 20 January 1944, Volume XXXIX, Number 6, page 1.

External linksEdit