Ben Montgomery

Ben Montgomery


Benjamin T. Montgomery

Loudon County, Virginia

Nationality United States of America
Occupation Inventor, landowner and freedman
Famous Steam driven propeller

Benjamin Thornton Montgomery (1819–1877) was an influential African American inventor, landowner, and freedman in Mississippi. He was taught to read and write and became the Supply and Delivery Manager for Joseph Emory Davis at Hurricane Plantation in Davis Bend.

early years

Ben Montgomery was born into slavery in 1819 in Loudon County, Virginia. In 1837 it was sold south and bought in Natchez, Mississippi, to Joseph Emory Davis. The planter’s much younger brother, Jefferson Davis, later became president of the Confederate States of America.[1] Montgomery escaped but was caught. It is reported that Davis “carefully examined the cause of his discontent,” as a result of which the two men reached a “mutual understanding” regarding Montgomery’s situation.[1]

Davis commissioned Montgomery to run a department store on his plantation in Davis Bend.[2] Serving in this position was unusual for a slave.

Impressed with his knowledge and ability to manage the store, Davis assigned Montgomery to oversee all of his plantation purchasing and delivery operations.[2]

On May 21, 1847, Montgomery’s son, Isaiah Montgomery, was born to him and his wife. Because of Ben’s privileged position among the slaves of Davis Bend, Isaiah also received the opportunity to receive an education. Montgomery maintained a close relationship with his son until his death.[3]


Montgomery acquired a variety of skills, including reading, writing, surveying, flood control, architectural design, car repair, and steamship navigation.[2][4] Montgomery has developed skills in many areas; he became an accomplished mechanic, not only repairing the advanced agricultural machinery acquired by the Davis brothers, but eventually applying for a patent for his steam propeller design that propelled boats in shallow water.

The propeller could cut into the water at different angles, which made it easier for the boat to navigate in shallow water. This was not a new invention, but an improvement on similar designs invented by John Stevens in 1804 and John Ericsson in 1838 (US Patent 588 On June 10, 1858, on the basis that Ben, as a slave, was not a United States citizen and therefore could not apply for a patent on his own behalf, he was denied this patent application by order of the United States Attorney General’s office. He ruled that neither slaves nor their owners could obtain patents for inventions invented by slaves.[нужна цитата] Later, both Joseph and Jefferson Davis tried to patent the device in their own name, but they were refused because they were not “the true inventors.” After Jefferson Davis was later elected President of the Confederation, he signed legislation that allowed slaves to obtain patent protection for their inventions. On June 28, 1864, Montgomery, no longer a slave, applied for a patent for his device, but the patent office again rejected his application.

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Joseph Davis allowed the captive Africans on his plantation to keep the money earned from commercial activities, provided that they paid him for the work they would do as farm laborers. Thus, Montgomery was able to amass wealth, run a business, and create a personal library.[5]

Ownership of Davis Bend

The Davis family left Davis Bend in 1862, ahead of the advancing Union forces. Montgomery took over the management of the plantation. Farming continued despite hardships resulting from the war, such as attacks by military forces on both sides.[6]

Following the end of the American Civil War, Joseph Davis sold his plantation and property to Montgomery in 1866 for $ 300,000 in a long-term loan.

In September 1867, Montgomery became the first African American official elected in Mississippi when he was elected. Justice of the Peace Davis-Bend.[7][8] Under his leadership, cotton was grown on this plantation, recognized as the best in the world at the International Exhibition of 1870.[7]

With his son Isaiah Montgomery founded the department store known as Montgomery & Sons. Montgomery worked on his lifelong dream of creating a community for freed slaves. He never lived to see his dream come true. Catastrophic floods destroyed crops and cut a canal across the peninsula, turning Davis Bend into an island. This increased the cost of transporting materials to the plantation and selling crops to market. When Montgomery was unable to make payment on the loan in 1876, Davis Bend automatically returned to the Davis family in accordance with the terms of the original contract. Heartbroken Montgomery died the following year.

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After the death of his father, Isaiah Montgomery worked to fulfill his dream. He bought 840 acres (3.4 km2) between Vicksburg and Memphis, rail lines in the northwest Mississippi with the aim of creating the community of freed slaves his father dreamed of. Together with other former slaves, Isaiah Montgomery founded the city of Kurgan Bayou, Mississippi; in 1887 and developed it as the majority of the African American community.[9]


  1. ^ but b Hermann, Reconstruction in the microworld (1980), p. 315.
  2. ^ but b c “Ben Montgomery”, Black Inventor Internet Museum. In the archive 2012-11-19 at the Wayback Machine As of December 6, 2012.
  3. ^ Isaiah Montgomery: biography In the archive 16 мая 2006 г. Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Hermann, “Reconstruction in the Microworld” (1980), p. 316.
  5. ^ Hermann, “Reconstruction in the Microworld” (1980), p. 316. “Like all Davis slaves, Montgomery could store everything he earned except the equivalent of his field worker value. As his store thrived, with white planters and their families and slaves among his customers, Ben had the opportunity to build a store building and living quarters near the hurricane’s landing site. ”
  6. ^ Hermann, “Reconstruction in the Microcosm” (1980), p. 316. “When Joseph Davis and his family fled the plantation in 1862, Benjamin Montgomery remained in charge of the house and land, as well as a hundred or more slaves who were not taken with them. For a year, he oversaw the production of corn and vegetables to feed the black community.A shortage during the war forced him to develop a leather and shoe industry to meet his own needs and provide a small income from his neighbors.In June 1862, the Union navy raided and burned the mansion during the hurricane, and a few months later, despite Montgomery’s protests, the Confederate army burned the cotton crop. Life along the river was becoming increasingly dangerous. “
  7. ^ but b Rather, Intruders (2008), p. 68.
  8. ^ Hermann, Chasing a dream (1981), pp. 129–130. “General Ord eventually succumbed to this pressure and asked Ben Montgomery if he could qualify for and accept the position of Justice of the Peace in Davis Bend. After receiving an affirmative answer from Ben, Ord issued the required order on September 10. Montgomery told Davis that he was pleased Huntington’s appointment and regrets that the white man did not qualify. […] Nineteen months later, in April 1869, John Roy Lynch was named Justice of the Peace in Natchez. This ambitious young freedman moved to the state and later to the country’s legislature. Referring to his appointment as justice of the peace, Lynch argued that this is “the first time in state history that a man of color has been assigned such a position.” Governor Adelbert Ames later argued that there was “not a single person of color” lynching in 1869. These misleading statements from people who lived so close to Davis Bend show how successful the Montgomeries were in avoiding publicity. “
  9. ^ The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, Jim Crow Stories, People: Isaiah Montgomery | PBS

Sources of

  • Hermann, Janet Sharp. Chasing a dream… Oxford University Press, 1981. ISBN 0195028872
  • Hermann, Janet Sharp. “Reconstruction in the microcosm: three men and a genie”, Journal of Negro History 65.4, autumn 1980
  • Verney, Kevern J. Intruders at Home: Blacks and Land Tenure in South Carolina and Mississippi during the Civil War and Reconstruction of 1861-1877 Slavery and abolition 4.1, June 2008
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external reference

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