Jesse B. Benton (b. circa 1745 - d. 1790/91) was a lawyer, land speculator, State assemblyman (1781), and a clerk of court for Surry County (?). Benton purchased (well, promised to pay over time for) the majority of this property in 1782. He and his family lived at "Hartford Plantation" (Thomas Hart's former house/property) west of Hillsborough until he moved to a new house in 1786. Hart, by the way, was Jesse's wife's uncle and acted as her guardian when her parents died.
On April 3, 1786, Benton sent Hart a letter mentioning that he had moved to a newly cleared farm of 20 acres on "a high, beautiful spot...the Pleasantest & most beautiful situation in Orange,” some 600 yards southwest of the mill and that he had rented out the old Hartford house(s) and stable to a tavern keeper, along with the mills.
There was also housing for those enslaved by the Bentons on the property, as in his 1790 will Jesse listed three enslaved people: Jack, Milley, and Rose, but also noted that he had (likely four) more slaves, to be given to his children or sold upon his death. Additionally, deed records document the sale of several enslaved people; in 1781 he owned 10 slaves; in 1794 the family owned 6 slaves; the 1800 census shows that the family owned 16 slaves.
The 1891 George Tate map of Orange County
depicts an obelisk at Benton's grave, but the obelisk was a generic stamp used on the map, which merely depicts his gravesite/family cemetery. Benton's wife/widow, "Nancy" Ann (Gooch) Benton, died January 3, 1838 (in Missouri) and is said to have been buried next to her husband. Some of their children may also be buried in the cemetery. A letter in the in the Orange County Observer
by George Tate in November 1890 describes the site as: "About fifty yards in front of the old house place is the grave of the old man Jesse Benton, unmarked and unlettered, nothing but two small rocks at the head and foot; no sign of the grave, except this, and if they should be removed, it would be forever lost. It is in a lonely and unfrequented place, long since abandoned and grown up in trees and bushes."
The majority of the property was sold by Hart in February 1792, but was held in trust for Nancy and her children until she decided to move from the property, to Tennessee, in 1801. Jesse and Nancy's eldest son and future Missouri senator, Thomas H.Benton
, may have been born on this property March 14, 1782. Another of their sons (Jesse, Jr.?) got into a fight with future president Andrew Jackson
in September 1813, shooting Jackson in the shoulder with his pistol, and almost causing the amputation of Jackson's arm (the ball remained in his shoulder until 1832, when a navy doctor removed it.).
Circa 1930s of what is alleged to be the Benton house (image via Images of America via UNC)
Excerpt of the 1891 Tate map of Orange County
The area is now within the Duke Forest Hillsboro Division. What is believed to be the site of the Benton house was located within the past 20 years (by the Trading Path Association
), but the grave/cemetery has not.