Anecdotes of Centenarian William Bennett

William Bennett and daughter Mary Tennessee Bennett Dickerson – Photo Credit to Terry Durard and Gloria Proctor

William Bennett, of the Sycamore Mills area of Cheatham County, Tennessee, lived to be nearly 106 years old.

We are lucky to have a few newspaper articles about his life that were written in the early 1900s when he was still alive. See 1) Wild Bill Bennett article and 2) Article transcriptions.

If you carefully read each article, you will notice some inconsistencies, including William’s dates for moving to Nashville.

Ideally, I should be able to take the articles and compare them to existing records to create an accurate timeline for William. This has proven rather hard, but I will do my best to compile and explain below.

In the “Wild Bill Bennett” article, he said his father’s name was John. On the 1850 census, an elderly lady named Mary is living next door to William. I assume his parents were John Bennett and Mary (maiden name unknown).

Timeline for William Bennett and His Parents

1792 – 1794 – John and Mary travel to Williamson County, Tennessee from North Carolina. The “Wild Bill Bennett” article states, “Mr. Bennett’s father was John Bennett, who, with his wife, came from North Carolina in 1792 or 1794, and settled at the place where William was born [Franklin, Williamson County, Tennessee].” This is hard to prove, especially since William doesn’t know this information first hand. It does seem from this statement that his parents were already married in North Carolina, but doesn’t say where in North Carolina.

1805 – “John Bennet” listed on the tax list in Williamson County, Tennessee.

16 Apr 1806 – The most common birthday given for William Bennett according to newspaper articles. He was also listed as being born in 1805. On the 1850 census, his birth year was listed as 1811. He consistently states he was born in Franklin, Williamson County, Tennessee — about “fifteen miles south of Nashville”.

1811 – 1819? – When John, Mary, William, and family moved to Cheatham County (then Davidson County) from Williamson County is unclear. In the “William Bennett, aged 106, and his daughter…” article, it says the family moved in 1811: “moving to Davidson County in what is now Cheatham County, about 1811, where Mrs. Dickerson [daughter, Mary Bennett] was born. “

The “Wild Bill Bennett” article pushes the date forward eight years, citing in 1815 (timeline entry below) that John Bennett returned to Williamson County after the War of 1812. It also gives a vividly detailed account, “In the early part of 1819 the subject of this sketch moved, with his father and mother, to the place where he now lives, which was then in Davidson County. They came by way of Nashville, and on Jan. 19, 1819, crossed the Cumberland River on the ice, at what is now called the old Page place, the rock house on the White’s Creek pike. The ferry boats were all frozen up, so the plan of crossing on the ice had to be adopted. At that time there was but one house between the top of Paradise Ridge and Sycamore Creek. This house stood near the present Davidson County line. Parker Paradise lived at the top of the ridge which bears his name. What is now the Nashville & Clarksville road was then only a blind pathway through a wilderness. There was not a single place of habitation between that road and the Cumberland River in the direction of Ashland City.” The “old Page place” was home to Absalom Page, who ran the ferry. This place is near current-day Pages Branch and Lock One Park. (Credit to Debie Oeser Cox for help with finding the old Page place!)

1812 – 1815 – John Bennett is in the War of 1812 according to William. There is a John Bennett in the 1 Regiment Metcalfe’s West Tennessee Militia. (Learn about this regiment here at the Tennessee state website.) Was this our John? The “Wild Bill Bennett” article says, “Mr. Bennett’s father, John Bennett, was in the second war with England from 1813 to 1815, having volunteered and joined the army of Gen. Andrew Jackson at or near Nashville. He says he remembers having heard the conversation that occurred, between his father and mother when his father was leaving home for the war. His mother was weeping, and asked her husband when he would return. The husband replied that he did not know, but would come back just as soon as he could. John Bennett was with Gen. Jackson through the entire war, and was in the battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815. Soon after this battle was fought he returned to his home in Williamson County.”

26 May 1812 – A Google search found the TSLA Exhibits website about the Kidnapping of Martha Crawley where there was a “John Bennet” from Williamson County, Tennessee, who gave an affadavit that was published in the Nashville Clarion newspaper. I have not been able to locate another John Bennett living Williamson County at this time, so I suspect this is our John. I contacted Dr. Tom Kanon at TSLA who kindly sent me to Nashville Clarion issue that lists John’s account. John Coffee tells the court that John Bennet is a trustworthy man and that he was well aquainted with him when he lived in North Carolina. This might provide additional clues as to where John Bennett was from. Click here to view the Nashville Clarion May 26, 1812 issue.

1812 – In Davidson County, Tennessee, a Nathan Bennett is on the tax list beside Peter Harrington. (See Bennett/Harrington connection below in the second 1820 entry.)

1820 – The Bennett family should be on the census this year, but I can’t positively find them. According to William, they were in Davidson County by 1820. There were four men named “John Bennet” in Franklin, Williamson County, Tennessee though. The John with a household of 7 seems to fit best. Perhaps John’s family wasn’t on the 1820 census at all. There was one “Bennet” in Nashville, Nathan Bennett.

29 Dec. 1820 – In Williamson County, Tennessee, John Bennett sells 86 acres on Mill Creek to John Williams. Is this our John Bennett? (Deed book F, page 348)

JBennett1820

1820 – In the newspaper articles, William Bennett tells a similar story once giving the name of Whit Harrington and the other saying it was his uncle who lives in Georgia. There was a Whit Harrington who lived in Robertson County, Tennessee on the 1840 census. I couldn’t find record where this man would have ever been a “neighbor” to William. I do not know who William’s uncle that lived in Georgia was.

1903 article, “Wild Bill Bennett”:
Mr. Bennett relates most entertainingly that some time in 1820 one of his neighbors, Whit Harrington, killed an Indian who was constantly annoying the white settlers by going about in the woods gobbling like a turkey. Harrington declared that he was going to have that turkey, and the threat was promptly executed. He scalped the Indian and cut two strips of skin from his head to his heels, and with these strips of skin made a pair of bridle reins. This was done by way of retaliating for the killing of Cockrell and Loggins.

1911 article, “William Bennett, aged 106, and his daughter…”:
“He says on one occasion his uncle was in Davidson County on a visit from his home in Georgia. The women of the community had been troubled by a band of Indians who would hide near the springs where the women were compelled to go for water and spring out from their hiding places, frightening the women with their hideous war whoops. Just before leaving for his home in Georgia, his uncle shot one of these Indians, who had been particularly obnoxious, cut a strip of skin from the Indian’s back and down each leg one inch wide, and from this made the bridle reins which he used on his return trip to Georgia. None of the settlers of the community dared take any steps to put an end to this action of Indians for fear of a general attack.”

1821 – William Bennett said two men were killed by Native Americans and had springs named after them. I haven’t been able to find any evidence these men existed, nor any springs named after them. There is a mention in a Nashville newspaper in 1912 of a land transaction on “Loggins’ Springs Rd” but this could not be located. From “Wild Bill Bennett”, “Mr. Bennett remembers well that in 1821 Sam Cockrell was killed and scalped by the Indians at a spring two miles from the top of the ridge near the Springfield road. Soon after the killing of Cockrell Jim Loggins was also killed and scalped by the Indians at another spring further toward Springfield. When killed Cockrell and Loggins were salting cattle at these springs, being surrounded an attacked by four or five Indians. These two springs to-day bear the names of Cockrell and Loggins and are on the western edge of the Twenty-fourth District of Davidson County.”

1827 – Sam Houston runs for governor of Tennessee, and William says he cast his first vote for Houston. (Source: “William Bennett, aged 106, and his daughter, Mrs. Mary Dickerson, aged 80, of Cheatham County” article and Tennessee Encyclopedia)

1828 – 1832 – William attends Andrew Jackson’s speeches. “When a young man he frequently saw Gen. Andrew Jackson in and around Nashville. He heard Jackson make two or three speeches in 1828 or 1832 during his canvass for the presidency.” (Source: “Wild Bill Bennett” article)

1829 – In Davidson County, Tennessee, John Bennett is listed on the tax list with “115 acres S.L.” *Note – On Ancestry, this tax list is also indexed INCORRECTLY as 1812.

1830 – John Bennett is listed on the census in Davidson County, Tennessee.
Males – 5 thru 9: 1
Males – 50 thru 59: 1 – John
Females – 5 thru 9: 1
Females – 10 thru 14: 1
Females – 15 thru 19: 2
Females – 20 thru 29: 1
Females – 50 thru 59: 1 – Mary
Where is William?

Between 1830 & 1839 – John Bennett passes away. This coincides with census and tax records.

16 Dec 1837 – William Bennett marries “Betsey Ann Bess” [Elizabeth] in Davidson County, Tennessee.

1839 – Mary Bennett is on the tax list in Davidson County, Tennessee. She has “100” under “S. Lands” (school lands).

1840 – Mary Bennett is listed on the census in Davidson County, Tennessee next door to John Bess (presumably Elizabeth’s father).
Males – Under 5: 1
Males – 20 thru 29: 1 – Could this be William?
Females – Under 5: 1
Females – 15 thru 19: 1
Females – 20 thru 29: 2 – Could this be William’s wife, Elizabeth?
Females – 30 thru 39: 2
Females – 60 thru 69: 1 – Mary

1843 – William sells part of his father’s 115 acre tract on Blue Springs Branch in present-day Sycamore Mills, Cheatham County, Tennessee. His father is unnamed in the deed. E.H. Binkley buys 25 acres on Oct. 9, 1843. The indenture is recorded Dec. 31, 1846. H.H. Binkley and Henry Binkley are witnesses. (Davidson County, Tennessee Deed book 9, pages 297-298) *Note: I have been unable to locate a deed or grant where John Bennett originally purchased this 115 acre tract referred to as school lands in 1829 and 1839. 

WB combined
William Bennett to E.H. Binkley – Click to view larger. I spliced two pages together for easy viewing.

1844 – William attended the Whig rally in Nashville and heard Henry Clay speak. “In that great campaign the Democrats wore blue uniforms with red stripes on the pants. Bennett was in a company of forty Democrats in blue uniforms attending that rally. They were armed with polk stalks. The Whigs wore coon skin caps.” (Source: “Wild Bill Bennett” article)

1849 – 1850“[William] Bennett saw President Zachary Taylor when he visited Nashville in 1849 or 1850. The President came up the Cumberland River on a steamer.” (Source: “Wild Bill Bennett” article)

14 Mar 1849 – Mary Bennett is listed in an article called Revenue Collector’s Sale of Lots and Lands for Taxes in the Republican Banner. Her land was to be sold due to unpaid taxes for the year 1848.

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11 Apr 1850 – Mary Bennett is listed in an article called Revenue Collector’s Sale of Lots and Lands for Taxes in the Republican Banner. Her land was to be sold due to unpaid taxes for the year 1849. There was also a “James M. Bennett” on the list. Unsure of his connection, if any.

mbtaxb1mbtaxb2

1850 – In District 25, Davidson County, Mary Bennett is on the census with two young adults. I am unsure of their relation to Mary.
Mary Bennett, farmer, age 80, born about 1770 in North Carolina
William Binkley, 18
Nancy Binkley, 14

Next door to Mary Bennett is William Bennett.
William Bennett, 39
Eliz Bennett, 34
Jacob Bennett, 15
Malinda Bennett, 10
Tennessee Bennett, 9 [Mary Tennesee Bennett, later Mary Dickerson]
Jesse Bennett, 4
Ranson Bennett, 2

1860 – William is listed in District 3 of Cheatham County. He did not move from the prior census; Cheatham became a county in 1856.
Wm Bennett, 53
E Bennett, 35
M J Bennett, 20 (Malinda)
J Bennett, 15 – Jesse
G W Bennett, 8 – George
E Bennett, 6 – Elizabeth
J J Bennett, 4 – John
Wm R Bennett, 1 – William

1861 – 1865 – William claimed to be a civil war veteran. The article “Wild Bill Bennett” says, “Mr. Bennett went through the Civil War having enlisted on the side of the Federal Government. He served in the Eighty-third Ohio Cavalry under the command of Gen. Joseph Haynie.” There was not an 83rd Ohio Cavalry. There was an 83rd Ohio Infantry, but there was no William Bennett in it. There was not a general named Joseph Haynie. There are many men named William Bennett enlisted in Ohio during the war, but no way to tell if any are William. However, William’s son, Jessee, did enlist to fight for the Union’s Tenth Infantry at Sycamore Mills. I wonder why William would want to fight in his 50s and enlist away from home in Ohio? Did dear William not fathom that his great-great-great-great-granddaughter would have a magical box (computer) with access to military records? Perhaps William wishes he enlisted and thought Ohio wouldn’t be fact checked? He is not on a pension list either. Of all anecdotes from William, this is the most puzzling.

1870 – William lives in District 2, Cheatham County. It’s interesting how the districts and counties change, but William has never moved.
W Bennett, 65
M J Bennett, 28 (Malinda)
G W Bennett, 19
Elisabeth Bennett, 16
John J Bennett, 12
W R Bennett, 10 (William)
Martha N Bennett, 5
Sam J Bennett, 9
Elisabeth Bennett, 59 (wife)

Mar 1879 – Elizabeth Bennett, age 30? hard to read, passes away from consumption with no attending physician according to the mortality schedule. Is the age an error — is this really Elizabeth Bess Bennett? I couldn’t match it up to any other Elizabeth Bennetts in the area.

TNT655_28-0172 (2).jpg

Dec 1879 – William’s daughter Malinda Bennett passes away in District 2, Cheatham County, Tennessee from “unknown” with “no physician” according to the mortality schedule.

1880 – Elizabeth Bess Bennett dies, according to the “Wild Bill Bennett” article from 1903. “His wife died twenty-three years ago.”

1880 – William is listed as a widower on the census record. His children and grandchild live with him in District 2, Cheatham County.
Wm. Bennett, 72
William Bennett, 22
Elizabeth Bennett, 26 – Mother of Melvin, also called Bettie
Saml J. Bennett, 24
Martha V. Bennett, 20
Melvin E. Bennett, 3 – Melvin Edward “Ed” Bennett, son of Elizabeth (Bettie Bennett McCormack)

1900 – William is living with daughter, Mary, in Civil District 2, Cheatham County. Mary is named as “Mrs. Mary Dickerson” in the 1911 article, “William Bennett, aged 106, and his daughter…”.

Apr 1905 – William celebrates his 99th birthday, attended by 82 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He planted fifteen acres of corn and expects to cultivate it himself. He also planted a garden and “truck patch”, which is a vegetable garden. (Source: “Near the Century Mark” article)

1906“The year he was 100 years old he [William] chopped cord wood for the Dupont Powder Company at Sycamore, chopping as fast as his great-grandson, Ed Bennett, could haul it to the powder mills.” (Source: “William Bennett, aged 106, and his daughter, Mrs. Mary Dickerson, aged 80, of Cheatham County” article)

1907“He [William] cut his foot severely hewing cross ties and since that time has been compelled to wear his shoe split on account of enlargement of the foot.” (Source: “William Bennett, aged 106, and his daughter, Mrs. Mary Dickerson, aged 80, of Cheatham County” article) “…when Mr. Bennett was 101 years of age, he cut his foot with an axe while hewing ties. This disabled him up to the time of his death.” (Source: “At Age Nearly 106.”)

1910 – William and daughter Mary are living on the Nashville and Clarksville Road in District 2, Cheatham County. Oddly, William gives his father’s birth place as Germany and mother’s birth place as England. Prior records say North Carolina. I do not believe Germany or England is accurate.

Nov 1910 – In the Tennessee governor election, William voted for Bob Taylor, a Democrat, even though William was a Republican. (Source: “William Bennett, aged 106, and his daughter, Mrs. Mary Dickerson, aged 80, of Cheatham County” article and Tennessee Encyclopedia)

13 Jan 1912 – William Bennett passes away from old age and “loss of toes.” (Source: Death certificate & newspaper articles)

33113_257680-01817

William Bennett and wife Elizabeth Bess are buried in the Gupton Cemetery in Cheatham County, Tennessee.


Children of Elizabeth Bess and William Bennett

William states in numerous articles that he has sixteen children, but I do not know all of their names. From “Wild Bill Bennett” in 1903: “…rearing a family of sixteen children, thirteen boys and three girls. To-day he has thirteen living children, eleven sons and two daughters, his oldest being Jake Bennett, who lives near Springfield, Tenn., and is 76 years of age.”

Instead, I’ve proved four daughters and seven sons from census records. The other children are unknown. (And I honestly do not know how he could possibly have more living children that skipped census records somehow?)

Jacob Jake Bennett, 1837–1916
Malinda J Bennett, 1840–1879
Mary Tennessee Bennett, 1841– (Mary T. Bennet married A.H. Dickerson 5 Dec. 1858)
Jessee J Bennett, 1846–1927
Ranson Bennett, 1848–
George Washington Bennett, 1852–1940
Elizabeth Bettie Bennett, 1854–1942
John Edward Bennett, 1856–1942
William R Bennett, 1859–1934
Sam Jefferson Bennett, 1861–1938
Martha Bennett, 1865–


Bennett descendants and other researches can contact me at downhomegenealogy@gmail.com.

Originally posted March 27, 2019
Updated Sept. 25, 2019

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