By Noah Heiny
Thomas Bennett, The Life of a Pioneer
The following history of Thomas Bennett was mostly dictated only a short time before his death and entirely from memory, to the writer, and shows a remarkable power of memory at the great age of 97 years. Owing to sickness the writer was unable to prepare it for publication sooner.
Thomas Bennett, the subject of this sketch, was born in Brunswick Co, VA 10/9/1788. His fathers name was John Bennett, and was a blacksmith and gunsmith by trade. His mother’s maiden name was Elizabeth Saddler. The family consisted of Lewis, Rebecca, John, Benjamin, Nancy, Judy, Henry, Thomas and Richard.
Thomas was about 10 years of age when his father died, but he well remembered the last words his father spoke to him. His oldest brother died about the same time. After the death of his father he lived with his mother a few years. He then went to learn the hatter trade with a cousin, but his cousin maltreating him, he only stayed with him about 1 year. He next went to live with an uncle, Phillistine Saddler by name. While living with his uncle he went to school some, but his school days were limited, as was the case in those days. He stayed with him about 5 years. In the meantime his sister Judy married a cousin, John M Bennett by name, and they moved near Randolph Court House, Randolph Co, NC. They came to VA on a visit when Thomas was about 18 years of age. He accompanied them to NC on their return home and lived with them until the spring of 1810, he then being 21 years of age.
2/12/1810, he married Elizabeth, daughter of Michael Buck, and commenced farming, and farmed one season in NC. In Oct 1811, in company with his father-in-law, they emigrated to Butler Co, OH about 10 miles nw of Hamilton, and wintered with William Swafford in the spring of 1812. Mr Bennett took a lease of 5 years of one Major Robinson. Each of the parties to the contract was to clear 10 acres the first year, but the war commencing Major Robinson going to war he (Robinson) did not get his part of the contract done. At the end of 2 years Mr Bennett left his lease, and according to contract would have been entitled to pay for the improvements he made, but he received nothing.
He had belonged to the Militia since he was 18 years of age, and during the war of 1812 he was called into the service. Fort Nezient being threatened by an invasion by the Indians. He went as far as Eaton, OH, where he was the next day discharged.
Early in 1815 he and his father-in-law and their families started to move to Harrison’s purchase on Tipepcanoe river. They made their way through the then wilderness of Indiana until the reached Vincennes. Here with the exception of Mr Bennett the whole party took sick, and one of the party died, while here Mr Bennett hauled a distance of several miles, the brick used in building the first market house built in Vincennes. He raised a crop of corn while here. In August of the same year they determined to go back to OH. They sold their crop and started back leaving their goods at Vincennes. They came as far as the Driftwood Fork of White river, when they stopped with one William Hays, a “squatter”. When reaching here they were out of provisions and Hays sold them one bushel of corn that being all he would spare and Mr Bennett took it to a hand-mill which was in the neighborhood and ground it. Mr Buck had taken a still with them from OH to Vincennes, which he now sold to Mr Hays, and they bargained with him to bring their goods from Vincennes thus far. Their being a better settlement on Lost river, near French Lick Springs, they went on thus far and recamped for a short time. Mr Bennett being sick. What left one George Fox, from NC, who being on a visit to friends near New Albany, heard of their troubles and came to visit them. At his request they went down to the vicinity of New Albany, where Mr Bennett and family stayed for a while with xxx who was a potter by trade. Mr Buck xxx xxx xxx in the vicinity.
About Christmas Mr Bennett and his father-in-law started back to Mr Hays’ after their goods they went with 2 horses. Arriving at Mr Hays’ they went to work and made a sled to haul their goods on. They got everything in readiness one evening to start next morning, when it commenced raining and rained hard all night. They however started, and during the day they came to a stream which had swollen by the rain so it was impossible to ford it. They managed to get across however by great exertion, in the following manner: There being a canoe there they unhitched their horses from the sled, and getting in the canoe, Mr Bennett poled the canoe and Mr Buck took the sled in tow, they finally reached the opposite shore. Mr Bennett then went back after the horses and swam them across. They had 4 miles to go to get to the nearest house, and their clothing being wet, and it being nearly night when they got across, and the weather cold, it was with difficulty they reached there. When they did reach there it was with considerable persuasion that they were permitted to stay all night. The next day they again reached the potter’s where Mr Bennett had left his family. From there they moved into a cabin on Indian creek where they stayed until about the first of February. Having purchased a barrel of boiled cider of the potter, he retailed it and lived off the proceeds while living in that cabin. While living there he built a kiln of 800 smoke pipes, he having procured some clay from the potter. Mr Buck sold the wagon they had traveled in thus far, one of his horses having died. He then bought a cart, and Mr Bennett repaired the sled they had made at Hays’. Thus equipped they early, in Feb 1816, again started for OH. Mr Bennett paid their way by selling smoke pipes along the way. On reaching Lawrenceburgh the roads opened and they were compelled to leave the sled. He traded it on as army pack-saddle in which they stowed their goods and put it on one of the horses. They tied a feather bed on the other horse which the wife and 2 children mounted and road to Bulter Co, OH, which pint they reached towards the last of Feb 1816. He then took a lease for 5 years of Levi Hawkins, on which he commenced work about the first of Mar 1816, and cleared nearly 5 acres that spring to put in corn. Adjoining the lease lived Robert Barnhill, who was a great help to Mr Bennett, by loaning him 30 bushels of corn, and when Mr Bennet had his clearing done he sent a hand and team to help plow the ground and plant the corn. Mr Barnhill afterward moved to Indianapolis and Mr Bennett thought he was the first white person that died in that city. Probably in 1817.
Mr Bennett heard of the death of his brother, who, with others of his relatives. Each moved in the meantime to TN. He, in company with his father-in-law, made a visit to the state. They traveled on horseback.
After living on his lease 4 yrs and clearing 14 acres of land, and having no written contract, Mr Hawkins said the land, and he was obliged to leave, losing the year’s crop off of the lease. He next moved to a place called Yankeetown, where in a schoolhouse near by, lived Alexander Young, who proposed to Mr Bennett that he should build a house and clear ground on his land. Mr Bennett accepted the offer and by previous arrangement the neighbors met there one morning and commenced cutting, carrying and hauling logs for a house, and by night the house was built and he moved in the same night. He bargained with Mr Young to have 4 crops off of the land he cleared for him. He lived there 2 yrs and cleared 4 acres, and then said his claim for 100 bushels of corn, realizing 25 dollars. While living here he and Samuel Bogan contracted for and built a log mill dam across Seven Mile creek for a factory to be erected in the neighborhood.
In the spring of 1823 he sold all of his property and realized about 100 dollars with which he expected to enter land in eastern IN. He moved to Wayne county, on Greensfork, southeast of where Milton now is, to Jess Brewer’s. He there took sick and had to spend over ½ of his money. He lived there about 6 months and raised one crop of corn. In the meantime his father-in-law died, and his mother-in-law entered 40 acres of land in Dudley twp, Henry Co, and Mr Bennett moved to bet in the fall of 1823. During this winter he bought of Caleb Nixon 40 acres of land, in Section 8, Twp 16, Range 12 east, in Wayne Co, and which is still known as the old Bennett farm.
During the winter of 1823 he and his oldest son made a truck cart, by sawing pieces of a rotten log. (Can’t read the rest of this paragraph.) They had 7 children when they moved into the cabin. He soon cut out a doorway, where they hung a blanket, for a door. Mrs Bennett never felt very safe when he was away from home, and the wolves would be howling around all night. With his truck cart and yoke of oxen he helped haul the logs for several of the houses and barns in the neighborhood.
Of the road between Jacksonburg and New Lisbon there were 2 miles. The county line east that was not cut out, and to mark the route for the road, Mr Bennet stood at the county line and blowed a tin horn, while others started at the other end of the route and marked trees toward the sound of his tinhorn.
He helped to build the school house that stood near the county line on the northwest corner of Section 8, Twp 16, range 12 and was one of the trustees of that school distric for a number of years. He helped to build a meeting house in Henry Co, about a mile east of New Liston, which was then known as Nebo meeting house. There they worshipped for years. 3 of his sons worked on the National road in opening it between Cambridge and Dublin. He helped to haul the brick for some of the first brick houses in Cambridge. He and some of his sons worked one week in hauling material for the acqueduct across Simons creek when the Whitewater canal was made.
For 38 yrs Mr Bennett and wife lived together on their little farm, and endured many of the hardships common to a life on the frontier. Their family consisted of 10 sons and 5 daughters, and all of them grew up to man and womanhood and were married before any death occurred in the family. The first death in the family was the wife and mother. Her death was caused by a concer, and occurred in June 1962. At the time of Mr Bennett’s death there were 5 of his sons and 2 daughters living. He has had 103 grandchildren, a number of great grand children and some great great grand children. Including himself, there were persons of at least 5 generations living at the same time.
5 of his sons and 15 of his grandsons were in the service of the country in the late civil war. Of those sons, 1 was taken prisoner and died in the infamous Andersonville prison. 1 died of sickness in the army, and 1 was wounded in the battle of Pea Ridge, MO, but lived through the war. The other 2 are still living. Of the grandsons, some were killed in battle, some died of sickness in the army, some were wounded in battle and are still living, and some are still living that were not injured while in the army.
In politics Mr Bennett voted the most of the time with the Whig party, until the Republican party was organized, when he always after voted the Republican ticket. His first vote for president was in 1812, for James Madison, and to the best of his recollection he voted at every presidential election after that; his last vote being for Blaine in 1884. He told the writer that he voted for Andrew Jackson, when he was elected president, at both terms, but he said Jackson was the only Democratic president he voted for. If he voted, as he thought, at every presidential election since Madison’s second term, he voted for president 19 times, and near 2/3s of the number of votes he cast were for the successful candidates.
His religious life commenced when he was a young man. At a meeting held at Mr Barnhill’s, in OH, by Rev John Congo, a minister of the Christian (New Light) church, in 1814, he with his wife was converted and joined that church. Afterward he and his wife with joined hands were led into Seven Mile creek and were baptized by Rev George Shidler, a minister of the same denomination. They lived consistent members of that denomination until the spring of 1858, when they united in church fellowship with the United Brethren in Christ, to which denomination they remained consistent members until death. Thus Mr Bennett was a church member for about 72 years. He always endeavored to lead a peaceable and quiet life, and was conscientiously honest in all his dealings. He left a bright evidence that all was well with him. Among the last words he spoke to the writer, he expressed a willingness and anxiety to be at rest.
After the death of his wife, Mr Bennett lived on his farm about 9 years, making 47 in all that he lived there. IN the fall of 1871, he left the farm and since then has been living with his children the greater part of the time in Henry Co, near Millville. On the first of November last, he came to live with his son William, in Wayne Co, IN and near his old home, and amongst some of his old neighbors. He soon after took sick, and gradually grew worse until March 28th, 1886, he died. His age at the time of his death was 97 years, 5 months and 19 days – being the oldest man and one of the oldest settlers of the neighborhood in which he died. On the 30th of March, his funeral services were conducted in the German Baptist church, near Hagerstown, by Revs H Floyd, J A Bailey and Daniel Bowman – the latter of whom knew him for more then ½ a century. A large congregation was in attendance. Noah Henry.
The names of the his children are: Asa, Chris, John, Louis, Nelson, James, William, Michael, David, Thomas, Mary, Elizabeth, Rebecca, Hester and Barbara Bennett.
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