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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Benton's Come to West Tennessee

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

One of the prominent children of the Benton family was Jesse, Jr., who migrated to West Tennessee and became a member of the Huntingdon Bar in 1834. Jesse also had a sister that married a Captain Childress, who held a large plantation south of what is now called Fort Pillow. Jesse Benton had remained a bitter enemy of Andrew Jackson after the brawl at Nashville, and had carried the resentment with him to his new home in the Western District. When Jackson launched his race for President in 1824,Jesse "announced his candidacy for presidential elector in behalf of William H. Crawford, but by October had re-announced in favor of Henry Clay, and in the same month issued a pamphlet vilifying Jackson." The pamphlet was read across the nation, but was seen more extensively in Tennessee and North Carolina. Since much of the circulation was in strong Jackson territory, many editorals were written supporting Jackson and attacking Benton. In addition to these bad reviews, Benton was running for the position of elector against Colonel Robert H. Dyer, a popular Jackson supporter. The extent of Jackson's popularity was reflected by the fact that Dyer went on to thoroughly beat Benton by a margin of over five to one. Even so, Benton was not the only WesTennesseean that broke ranks with Jackson, many of those, disenchanted with the Jackson crowd, like Crockett and Jesse Benton, would eventually move on to Texas to pursue their fortunes.

Nathaniel Benton and the Dyer County Connection

One of the early settlers of Dyer County was a member of the Benton family by the name of Nathaniel Benton, brother of Col. Thomas Hart Benton. Nathaniel had been born in 1790 in North Carolina and had traveled to Williamson County with his family. Nathaniel was said to have been a man of "refinement and scholarship." In 1818 he followed his brother Thomas to St. Louis, but only remained there about two years. Then in about 1820 or 1821 he relocated to Randolph, Tennessee, near where his sister had settled. At that time Randolph was a thriving city located on the confluence of the Hatchie and Mississippi Rivers. Though not found on the map today, Randolph had been a keen rival of the city of Memphis, and actually pulled ahead of Memphis for a short while after the Mississippi River changed course and left the Bluff City high and dry. Nathaniel only stayed a short time in Randolph however and relocated to Dyer County just as the county was opening up to settlement. He would continue to live in Dyer County until his death in 1830. In the late 1800's an article was written on Nathaniel that stated that he was, " a farmer and fond of hunting. He was at one time magistrate in this county, and took an active part in favor of Dyersburg for the county seat. He left a widow and seven children, Dr. Thomas H. Benton of Dyersburg being one of them." After his death Nathaniel Benton's widow, Dorothy, moved with her children to the Robertson's Colony on the Brazos River in 1835. Her son's "Nat" and Alfred would later play an important part in the early history of Texas.

"Nat" married Harriet, the sister of General Ben McCulloch, the famous Texas Ranger. In fact, when Ben was on his way to join Crockett at the Alamo, he came down with the measles and was nursed back to health in Texas by Mrs. Benton, who was born Dorothy Mai Branch. McCulloch was so deeply indebted for the care she gave him that he called her "an angel in a log hut." After Nathaniel's death, Dorothy's children were represented in court by Thomas H. Benton and John Branch. John Branch had been the 1st Coroner of Dyer County and a Captain of Dyersburg's "Town Company" in 1831. He also was a member of the Trenton, Dyersburg & Mississippi Turnpike Company in 1837, and had opened one of the first water powered mills on Lewis Creek. John Branch's relationship to Dorothy is unclear, though he may have been her brother.

During the 1849 gold strike in California, Nat Benton and James McCulloch had gone to seek their fortunes and were soon followed by Ben. Nat and James spent the winter of 1850 prospecting on the Trinity River where Ben was planning to go into business with them, but things did not work out. In 1854 Ben was planning to go into a partnership with his brother Henry and his nephew Eustace Benton in Texas, but again McCulloch backed out at the last moment. Nat remained one of Ben's favorites, and during the war McCulloch sent his Colt Carbine as a present to Nat Benton, provided that "old Nat is in the field", adding, "Let it be in the hands of someone that will use it against the enemy."

Fannie, another daughter of Nathaniel Benton, married Col. Tom Neal a local state representative and founder of the "Dyersburg State Gazette". Nathaniel's son Abner would also hold state office, serving from 1853 until 1855 as a state Senator representing Dyer, Carroll and Gibson Counties. As the years passed the influence of the family began to wane in Dyer County, but when the Confederate Statue was dedicated at the Court House in 1905, one of the speakers was the Honorable Macenas Benton. Benton had been born and raised in Dyer County and had left as a young man. It was said that he was besieged by old friends that day. When Benton, " made the first address of the morning, and it was a fine one, full of beauty and pathos, as he spoke of old times and called the names of the soldiers who marched away and never came back, he touched a tender cord in the hearts of his hearers." When Dyer County was young, the name Benton was known far and wide, numerous boys were christened with the first or middle name of Benton and the West Tennessee County of Benton was named in the honor of the family's most famous son, "Old Bullion." Perhaps the Benton name does not carry the recognition that it once did, but they have left their mark upon the history of this country.