Benjamin Watkins Leigh was born in Chesterfield County, Virginia. His father, Rev. William Leigh, after attending the College of William and Mary, studied theology in Edinburgh. Returning in 1772, he married Elizabeth Watkins, daughter of Benjamin Watkins and granddaughter of Archibald Cary, the two delegates from Chesterfield County to the Virginia Convention of 1776. The youthful minister was one of ten clergymen who protested against British taxation in 1774.