Benton Shoots Andrew Jackson

My Benton kindred tried to kill Donald Trump’s champion. Jackson carried Benton’s bullet to his grave!

Thanks to the President of the United States, my family history in very topical! This history is being left to my grandson, Tyler Hunt, who is an artist like his kindred in the top photo: Garth, Christine, and Drew Benton!

Jon Presco

Benton saw his brother slip through a doorway behind Jackson, raise his pistol and shoot. Jackson pitched forward, firing. His powder burned a sleeve of Tom Benton’s coat. Thomas Benton fired twice at the falling form of Jackson and Jesse lunged forward to shoot again, but James Sitler, a bystander, shielded the prostrate man whose left side was gushing blood.

As a hotheaded youth on the frontier Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858) once fought a duel with Andrew Jackson, who carried Benton’s bullet in his body for the rest of his life. Neither man could have anticipated that after Jackson was elected president, Benton as a Missouri Democrat would become his strongest supporter in the Senate. (Some years later, a still hotheaded Benton barely avoided being shot in the Senate Chamber.) In 1834, the Whig majority in the Senate censured President Jackson for refusing to turn over government documents relating to the Bank of the United States. Benton opposed the censure. In 1837, just before the end of Jackson’s presidency and after Democrats returned to the majority in the Senate, Benton engineered a vote to expunge the censure resolution from the Senate Journal–a gesture of friendship for a former foe.

On September 4 1813, Andrew Jackson is nearly killed in a gun fight in a Nashville tavern. The gun fight was the result of a feud between Jackson and Thomas Benton and his brother Jesse Benton. In turn, this feud had its origins in an earlier duel. Jesse Benton had become ensnared in a duel with William Carroll, who would later become governor of Tennessee. Jackson acted as Carroll’s second at the duel. Both Carroll and Jesse Benton survived the duel, but Thomas Benton blamed Jackson for the affair. He made various threats against Jackson, who in turn promised to deal harshly with Benton.

Jackson had already fought several duels. In 1795, he fought a duel with Colonel Waitstill Avery. Avery had been opposing counsel in a case. Jackson took exception to some words used by Avery in the courtroom and had challenged him to a duel. No one was killed in that duel as both men appear to have intentionally fired so as to miss each other.

That was not the case in the duel that Jackson fought in 1806. In that duel, Jackson faced an expert marksman in the person of Charles Dickinson. Dickinson had accused Jackson of not paying a horse bet, and of being a coward and bigamist. The latter insult was an attack on the honour of his beloved wife Rachel, which Jackson would not forgive. When the duel came, Jackson allowed Dickinson to fire first. Jackson was hit in the chest. The bullet entered inches from his heart and broke some ribs, but Jackson would not and did not go down. Instead, he took his time aiming at Dickinson, who was required by the rules of honour that governed duels to stand still once he had fired his shot. Jackson placed one hand over his wound to stop the bleeding, took aim with the other hand, and shot. His pistol misfired. Jackson drew back the hammer. He aimed, and shot. Dickinson was hit in the chest, collapsed and later bled to death from his wound. Jackson would carry Dickinson’s bullet in his body for the rest of his life. 

In 1813, Jackson was again ready to kill. He found the `rascal` Thomas Benton in a Nashville tavern.  Marquis James in The Life of Andrew Jackson (Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, 1938)  pages 152-154, describes one version of what happened.

On the morning of September 4, 1813, the Benton brothers arrived in Nashville and took their saddle-bags to the City Hotel, to avoid, Colonel Benton said, a possibility of unpleasantness, as Jackson and his friends were accustomed to make their headquarters at the Nashville Inn, diagonally across the Court-House Square. Each of the Bentons wore two pistols. At about the same time Jackson, Coffee, and Stockley Hays arrived at the Inn, all armed and Jackson carrying a riding whip. The news was over town in a moment. Jackson and Coffee went to the post-office, a few doors beyond the City Hotel. They went the short way, crossing the Square and passing some distance in front of the other tavern where the Bentons were standing on the walk.

Returning, Jackson and Coffee followed the walk. As they reached the hotel Jesse Benton stepped into the barroom. Thomas Benton was standing in the doorway of the hall that led to the rear porch overlooking the river. Jackson started toward him brandishing his whip. “Now, defend yourself you damned rascal!” Benton reached for a pistol but before he could draw Jackson’s gun was at his breast. He backed slowly through the corridor, Jackson following, step for step. They had reached the porch, when, glancing beyond the muzzle of Jackson’s pistol, Benton saw his brother slip through a doorway behind Jackson, raise his pistol and shoot. Jackson pitched forward, firing. His powder burned a sleeve of Tom Benton’s coat. Thomas Benton fired twice at the falling form of Jackson and Jesse lunged forward to shoot again, but James Sitler, a bystander, shielded the prostrate man whose left side was gushing blood.

The gigantic form of John Coffee strode through the smoke, firing over the heads of Sitler and Jackson at Thomas Benton. He missed but came on with clubbed pistol. Benton’s guns were empty. He fell backward down a flight of stairs. Young Stockley Hays, of Burr expedition memory, sprang at Jesse Benton with a sword cane and would have run him through had the blade not broken on a button. Jesse had a loaded pistol left. As Hays closed in with a dirk knife, Benton thrust the muzzle against his body, but the charge failed to explode.

General Jackson’s wounds soaked two mattresses with blood at the Nashville Inn. He was nearly dead – his left shoulder shattered by a slug, and a ball embedded against the upper bone of that arm, both from Jesse Benton’s pistol. While every physician in Nashville tried to stanch the flow of blood, Colonel Benton and his partizans gathered before the Inn shouting defiance. Benton broke a small-sword of Jackson’s that he had found at the scene of conflict. All the doctors save one declared for the amputation of the arm. Jackson barely understood. “I’ll keep my arm,” he said.

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About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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