Jacob Benckes was born on September 10, 1637, in the city of Koudum, in the Friesland region of the Netherlands. In 1673, during the third Anglo-Dutch war, Benckes commanded a fleet of ships dispatched by the Dutch government to disrupt English trade and to capture enemy vessels as prize in the seas off the eastern coast of the Americas. In the summer of 1673, Benckes joined forces with fleet commander Cornelis Evertsen de Jonge, and together they laid siege to New York harbor. Following the English surrender, Evertsen and Benckes were Governors of New Netherland pending the formal appointment of Anthony Colve to that post.
During the Franco-Dutch war, Commodore Benckes defeated the French fleet in the First Battle of Tobago but was killed in action on December 12, 1677, during the Second Battle of Tobago.