Benson-Thompson Family papers, 1803-1936

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Benson-Thompson family
Recorded earlier as the Benson Family Papers. Includes materials from the related families of Elias Benson, physician, of Marion Co., Alabama, and John Ford Thompson, officer of the Alabama Militia. The families emigrated from Greenvilee and Spartanburg counties, S.C., to Alabama in the early 1800s. Personal correspondence and business papers of the Benson, Thompson, and Moore families who migrated from Greenville County and Spartanburg County, South Carolina, to Alabama. Correspondence between the groups in South Carolina and Alabama is concerned for the most part with family matters. However, political events are occasionally discussed, and a number of letters, 1836-1840, deal with the Alabama militia. The collection includes letters reflecting conditions in Alabama during the Civil War; several items on medical education at the University of Louisiana (Tulane University), 1866-1868; and records of the Marion (Alabama) Grange, No. 95, 1873-1876.
3 Linear Feet
864 Items
Material in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

This collection is arranged into 5 series, based on format: Printed Matter and Volumes, Bills and Receipts, Legal Papers, Miscellany, and Letters and Correspondence. Each of these series is arranged chronologically.

Dr. Elias Benson (1788-1843) was a native of Spartanburg District, S. Carolina, from which he and two brothers, Abner (d. 1836) and Nimrod Earle (1794-1854), moved to Alabama early in the 1800s. Another brother, Williss, remained in South Carolina. Elias Benson was at Marion at least by 1821 when the first letter of the collection is addressed to him there. A biographical sketch of Nimrod Earle Benson appears in Thomas McAdory Owen's History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography (Chicago, 1921).

The correspondence and other papers of the 1820s and 1830s are especially extensive for Elias Benson and his relatives in Alabama and South Carolina. Elias and Abner Benson have numerous letters, and Williss and Nimrod Earle Benson are also represented, especially in the 1830s. The correspondence usually concerns personal and business matters, but several notable exceptions relate to politics in South Carolina and a manufacturer and politicians in Alabama. On Dec. 5, 1831, Andrew Barry Moore (d. 1847 or 1848), cousin of Gov. Andrew Barry Moore of Ala., writes from South Carolina about the nullification controversy and the agitation throughout the state by the Free Trade Association. On July 23, 1832, Abner Benson is in South Carolina where he comments on the political battle between nullifiers and their opponents. Later on Jan. 15, 1835, Thomas N. Dawkins comments from Union Court House on the discord among the nullifiers in his county. He notes a general approval of the late compromise but expects the old party divisions to continue. On Oct. 2, 1838, Williss Benson of Greenville District, S.C., describes the circumstances of the shooting of Richardson Earle by William Lowndes Yancey who was then living near Greenville. A number of other letters are from either Greenville or Spartanburg. On Oct. 10, 1829, Nimrod E. Benson writes about a young attorney who is a candidate for circuit solicitor. This attorney, George Thomas Goldthwaite, later served as Chief Justice of Alabama and U.S. Senator.

The Bensons were closely related to the family of Gov. Andrew Barry Moore. He was a nephew of General Thomas Moore, whose daughter Patsy married a Benson; this is indicated by his will. Family letters indicate that Patsy was the wife of Dr. Elias Benson. The early Moore family correspondence represents part of the family in the Spartansburg District, S.C., and is scattered from about 1827 into the mid-1830s. The most frequent correspondent is Andrew Barry Moore, cousin of Gov. Moore of Alabama. Benson and Moore letters of the 1820s concern the settlement of the estate of General Thomas Moore (1759-1822), father of A.B. Moore of S.C. and Mrs. Benson. Gov. Moore was a principal official of the Marion Steam Mill Company when it was organized in Sept. 1836; a copy of its preliminary articles of association is filed with the Legal Papers.

John Ford Thompson married Mary Eleanor Benson, daughter of Elias Benson. He lived at or near Greenville, S.C., prior to his migration to Perry County. Letters are addressed to him and his mother at Greenville in the 1820s. He and a brother were educated at Greenville College in Tennessee during the mid-1820s. By at least the mid-1830s he was in Alabama. He engaged in farming, surveying, and business. From 1836-1840, Thomas was Brigadier General in command of the 14th Brigade of the Alabama Militia. He died in the early 1850s.

Thompson has letters and business and legal papers throughout the first half of the 1800s, and they become numerous by the late 1830s. Various members of the Thompson family are represented. The most significant part of his letters concerns the Alabama Militia. He was commissioned Brigadier General of the 14th Brigade on Oct. 17, 1836. Thompson held this position until his resignation was accepted by Gov. Arthur P. Bagby on Sept. 26, 1840. During 1836-1840 the correspondence relates to various aspects of the militia and includes letters from a number of superior and subordinate officers. Topics include the militia code, militia organization, its effectiveness, finances, encampments, and future development.

During August 1849 and 1850, John F. Thompson visited Talladega Springs because of his bad health. He comments on the accommodations and the company at this resort.

On June 9, 1846, Thomas Benson discusses the raising of volunteer companies in Perry County for the Mexican War.

Although there are only a few scattered soldiers' letters, the Civil War is well represented on the home front by the letters of Mrs. John F. Thompson. Letters are numerous for the early years and scarce later on. Mary Eleanor (Benson) Thompson writes to two sons and a brother, and her letters are interesting for their descriptions of wartime Marion. Her reaction to the secession crisis of 1860-1861 appears in letters to son Elias at the University of Alabama.

The Thompsons attended St. Wilfred's Episcopal Church at Marion, and Mrs. Thompson's letters have comments upon it and the rector and bishop between 1859 and 1863.

The young Bensons and Thompsons were educated at various colleges and universities which are represented in this collection. During 1823-1826, John F. Thompson and his brother, Beverly J. Thompson, attended Greeneville College in Greeneville, TN. Among the correspondence from this period are letters from their fellow students and the college president. There is also an itemized account of their school expenses. In the 1840s, Thomas Benson with to the University of Nashville, and correspondence from that period reveals tuition charges, political engagement on campus, and public events he attended. Elias Benson Thompson, son of John F. Thompson, graduated from the University of Alabama in 1861. During 1859-1861 he wrote several letters, and his career is reflected in an extensive series of letters from his mother at Marion. Reach to the secession crisis is often expressed in these letters. After the Civil War, Elias Thompson studied medicine, which he later practiced at Marion. His medical degree was from the University of Louisiana at New Orleans. Elias wrote several letters from medical school in the 1866-1868 period, commenting on the Medical Dept. and its professors.

The correspondence is not extensive after the 1860s, and consists of letters from various members of the family. Robert Benson Evins, grandson of John F. Thompson and a lawyer and legislator, has some personal and family letters in the later decades. Elias B. Thompson was an officer of Marion Grange, No. 95, of the Patrons of Husbandry. The collection's Miscellany includes records of the Marion Grange, 1873-1876, with quarterly reports and accounts from the period.

John F. Thompson's diary dates from Jan. 1-Dec. 19, 1841, and includes a few entries for Oct. 1844-Jan. 1845. It is a detailed account of his activities and includes references to many people in the community.

Biographical / historical:

Members of the related Benson, Moore, and Thompson families moved to Alabama from the region of Greenville and Spartanburg, SC. In Alabama several men achieved prominence. Nimrod Earle Benson was a legislator, mayor of Montgomery, and receiver of public moneys in the Alabama land office. John Ford Thompson was a brigadier general in the state militia. Andrew Barry Moore was a governor for two terms, 1857-1861. The collection consists primarily of the personal correspondence and business papers of the Bensons and Thompsons and includes a small group of items for the Moores. However, there is considerable official correspondence among commanders of the militia during 1836-1840. The families in both Alabama and South Carolina are represented. The papers have a wide chronological distribution, but they are more extensive for the period of the 1820s through the 1860s.

Acquisition information:
The Benson-Thompson Family Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a purchase in 1959.
Processing information:

Processed by RL Staff, 1960s

Encoded by Meghan Lyon, 2012

Materials may not have been ordered and described beyond their original condition.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Benson-Thompson Family Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.