April 10: Thomas Hart Benton (1858)

When Missouri entered the Union in 1820, Thomas Hart Benton became one of the state’s first two senators. He was the first U.S. Senator to serve for five terms (30 years). He is one of Missouri’s two statues in the National Statuary Collection in the U.S. Capitol. He is one of eight senators featured in John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage. He became a leading proponent of westward expansion in the new nation, dubbed by a journalist as “Manifest Destiny.” Seven states have a Benton County named for THB. The county seat of Arkansas’ Benton County is Bentonville, also named for Benton and the headquarters of Walmart. Over the years, Benton had favored slavery, but had gradually come to favor abolition. His opposition to the Compromise of 1850 cost him his Senate seat.

It’s anyone’s guess how Benton came to be associated with Epiphany and even how closely he was affiliated. Many biographical sources indicate he was Presbyterian. Benton had been in the Senate for 20 years by the time Epiphany was founded. His introduction to the parish may have come through a Georgetown school his daughter attended. Epiphany’s first rector and his wife both had connections there. Perhaps it was through a fellow Senator as there were several in Epiphany’s early history. The first evidence of the Benton family in Epiphany’s records is the marriage of the senator’s eldest daughter in 1847. Altogether, parish records include the marriages of two daughters, the baptisms of eight grandchildren, and finally the Washington funeral of Benton and his grandson, who died a day apart.

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