Biographical Notes
Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton was born on March 14, 1782. His father and mother, Jesse and Ann (nicknamed Nancy) Benton, had a small plantation just outside of Hillsborough, North Carolina. Jesse speculated in land and practiced law in Orange County. He was an investor in the Transylvania Company and acquired title to extensive lands in areas that later were to become Kentucky and Tennessee. When she married Jesse, Ann Gooch was the ward of Thomas Hart, a representative to the first North Carolina revolutionary convention and a colonel in George Washington's army. Jesse and Ann named their first son after their friend, benefactor, and business associate, Thomas Hart. In 1783 the family moved to a larger plantation called Hartford that they had purchased from Thomas Hart. As young Thomas was growing up, Jesse continued to add to the family's land holdings, but went into debt to do it. When Jesse died in 1791, Ann became despondent and seriously ill, but, with help from Thomas Hart, she managed to pay off her husband's debts and retain an estate of over one thousand acres. She also home schooled her son with readings designed to facilitate a legal education. In his early teens Thomas attended a private school in Hillsborough. In 1798 he entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but was expelled the following year for having stolen money from a fellow student.

After the disgrace at Chapel Hill, Thomas returned home, but in 1801 Ann decided to move her family to Tennessee. They settled on land twenty-five miles south of Nashville. Nineteen year old Thomas helped build their new home, clear their land, and plant their first crops. Their fields were planted to corn and cotton and worked by slaves. The family also leased out parts of their land to other settlers and a small community grew up around their home. In the fall of 1801 Thomas was called to jury duty in a case heard by Judge Andrew Jackson. Thomas was impressed with Jackson and adopted him as something of a role model. In 1804 Thomas taught school in a place called Duck River about forty miles from home. In 1806 he was granted a license to practice law in Tennessee and on July 15, 1806, he began his practice in Williamson County, Tennessee. In 1807 Thomas again ran into Jackson and was adopted into the older man's political following. In 1808 Thomas began writing articles for publication in local journals. Signing his name as Sir John Oldcastle, his first articles were critical of Tennessee's legal procedures. A second set of articles signed Oldcastle addressed the presidential election of 1808. The articles were well received by the public and started him on a career in politics. In 1809 he was elected to the State Senate of Tennessee. One of his first accomplishments as a senator was passage of legislation reforming the legal system.

In 1810 Benton was involved in a court case of interest to Andrew Jackson. Although it did not result in the outcome that Jackson wanted he was impressed with Benton's performance and the two men became personal friends. At the time Jackson was extremely influential in state politics and the public noticed Benton's association with the "kingmaker." In 1812, as war with England approached, Major General Jackson commanded the Tennessee state militia. Benton was initially commissioned captain of a militia infantry company and in November he was elected colonel of the Tennessee Militia's Second Infantry Regiment. He was also assigned to Jackson's staff as an aide-de-camp. In January 1813 Jackson led his troops including Benton's regiment south to reinforce New Orleans in case of an attack by the British. In February Jackson was ordered to disband his troops because the British were no longer expected to attack New Orleans. Jackson decided to march his troops back to Nashville rather than abandon them as ordered. During this march Jackson's men were impressed with the toughness of their commander and started calling him "Old Hickory." In May 1813 Benton went to Washington in an effort to get a commission in the regular army and an assignment that would get him into combat. He succeeded in obtaining a commission as lieutenant colonel with assignment to the Regular Army's Thirty-ninth Infantry Regiment.

In June 1813, Jackson served as a second for Billy Carroll in a duel with Jesse Benton, Jr., Thomas's brother. Both men were severely wounded and the Benton-Jackson friendship came to an abrupt end. In September, in Nashville, Jesse and Thomas Benton met Jackson and one of his friends, Colonel John Coffee. Fist-fighting erupted, knives were used, shots were fired, and Jackson was badly wounded in the arm while Thomas Benton received several minor knife wounds. Before the fight ended several other people got into it and it finally ended when the last men standing fell down a flight of stairs. The Bentons claimed victory, but recognized that Thomas's political future in Tennessee was damaged beyond repair. Later that month, Jackson led the militia against a band of Creek Indians led by Chief Red Eagle and scored what was counted to be an important victory against British inspired hostile Indian attack. Benton, no longer in the militia, was involved in organizing and training the 39th Infantry Regiment. In 1814 Benton's unit was ordered to join General Jackson in an all-out attack on hostile Indians, but, to his dismay, Benton was directed to return to Nashville on recruitment duties. In June Jackson assumed command of the entire Southwest Military District. Benton tried repeatedly to get into action with either Indians or the British, but Jackson consistently refused to permit it. In frustration Benton again went to Washington seeking a combat position in the north. After a very long wait he was finally ordered to Canada just as word came of Jackson's victory in New Orleans and the signing of the treaty that ended the war.