THOMAS BENNETT was born in Charleston, South Carolina and educated at the College of Charleston. He engaged in a number of occupations, including architecture, lumber and rice milling (in partnership with his father), and banking, which led to his directorship of the Planters and Merchant Bank of South Carolina and the Bank of the State of South Carolina. Prior to becoming governor, his public service included Intendant (mayor) of Charleston, Fire Master, Commissioner of Free Schools, Commissioner for Purchasing Debt of the State from Surplus Funds, membership in the South Carolina House of Representatives for a number of non-consecutive terms, and membership in the South Carolina Senate. Shortly after his election as governor by members of the state legislature, legislation was enacted prohibiting the emancipation of slaves without the legislature’s permission and forbidding any free black to enter South Carolina unless s/he had lived in the state during the previous two years. During Bennett’s gubernatorial term, Denmark Vesey, a freed black, incited a slave uprising by telling slaves that they had been freed by the U.S. government and that they were being held illegally. A rebellion was planned during which slaves were to seize sufficient resources to enable their escape to the Caribbean. However, the plot was foiled and the conspirators arrested. The incident served to increase fears of slave rebellion and hostility among white southerners toward the abolition movement. After leaving office, Bennett served for another three years in the South Carolina Senate.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 12. New York: James T. White & Company.