Thomas Bennett Jr.

Thomas Bennett Jr.

48th Governor of South Carolina
In office
December 1, 1820  December 1, 1822
Lieutenant William Pinckney
Preceded by John Geddes
Succeeded by John Lyde Wilson
Member of the South Carolina Senate from St. Philip's and St. Michael's Parish
In office
November 28, 1837 November 23, 1840
Alongside Daniel Elliott Huger
Preceded by Joel Poinsett
Succeeded by Ker Boyce
In office
November 27, 1820 December 7, 1820
Alongside Philip Moser
Preceded by James Reid Pringle
Succeeded by William Crafts Jr.
15th Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives
In office
November 28, 1814 November 23, 1818
Governor David Rogerson Williams
Andrew Pickens
Preceded by John Geddes
Succeeded by Robert Y. Hayne
Member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from St. Philip's and St. Michael's Parish
In office
September 15, 1813 November 23, 1818
In office
November 23, 1812 December 19, 1812
In office
November 28, 1808 November 26, 1810
In office
November 26, 1804 November 24, 1806
20th Intendant of Charleston, South Carolina
In office
Preceded by Thomas McCalla
Succeeded by Thomas Rhett Smith
Personal details
Born (1781-08-14)August 14, 1781
Charleston, South Carolina
Died January 30, 1865(1865-01-30) (aged 83)
South Carolina, C.S.A.
Political party Democratic-Republican
Spouse(s) Mary Lightbourn Stone
Jane (Burgess) Gordon

Thomas Bennett Jr. (August 14, 1781  January 30, 1865) was an American businessman, banker and politician, the 48th Governor of South Carolina from 1820 to 1822. A respected politician, he had served several terms in the state legislature since 1804, including four years as Speaker of the House, and a term in the state Senate.

Early life and career

Born in Charleston to an upper-class family, Bennett was educated at the College of Charleston. In a partnership with his father, Bennett ran a lumber and rice milling operation near the city. He also worked as an architect and as a banker, managing the Planters and Merchant Bank of South Carolina and the Bank of the State of South Carolina.

Political career

Bennett was elected to a number of local positions for the city of Charleston, including Intendant (mayor). The prosperous city was a center of trade, including that for slaves. Beginning in 1804, Bennett was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives for three non-consecutive terms. In 1818, he was elected to the South Carolina Senate.

In 1820, the General Assembly elected him as the Governor of South Carolina for the customary two-year term (the state wanted to limit executive power). As governor, Bennett denounced the interstate domestic slave trade. In 1818 the legislature repealed a law that prohibited it. (In 1808 the US prohibition of the African slave trade had been implemented. More than one million African-American slaves would be forcibly relocated to the Deep South in the domestic trade before the Civil War.)

In mid-June 1822, Charleston white residents were alarmed by reports that a conspiracy had been discovered for a slave rebellion led by free black Denmark Vesey. The city organized a militia and rapidly arrested a growing circle of suspected conspirators. A Court of Magistrates and Freeholders operated in secret to hear testimony and judge who was guilty. Four household slaves of Bennett were charged as conspirators; three were found guilty and were among five slaves hanged with Vesey on July 2. Bennett was concerned about the way the court was conducting its work and consulted with the state attorney general, who advised him that the right of habeas corpus was available only to freemen. In August after the proceedings had ended, Bennett published an article suggesting the insurrection had been exaggerated. He lost the public argument to Intendant James Hamilton, who stressed that white residents had been saved by the city government's quick action. Bennett also submitted a report to the legislature critical of the secret proceedings of the court.[1]

Later life and career

After leaving the governorship in 1822, Bennett returned to Charleston. In about 1825, he constructed a house and lived there; today it is known as the Gov. Thomas Bennett House and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Later, he was elected to the legislature a final time as a state senator, serving from 1837 to 1840, when he became well known as a Unionist. He died on January 30, 1865 in the last year of the Civil War and was buried at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston.


  1. Richard C. Wade, "The Vesey Plot: A Reconsideration", The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 30, No. 2, May 1964, accessed 5 November 2014 (subscription required)
Political offices
Preceded by
John Rutledge
Governor of South Carolina
Succeeded by
John Lyde Wilson
Preceded by
Thomas H. McCalla
Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina
Succeeded by
Thomas Rhett Smith
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