Benjamin Thornton Montgomery was born as a slave. He was born in a town called Loudon, Virgina in 1819. At the age of 18, he was bought and marched nearly 1,000 miles to Montgomery, to an area that eventually became known as Davis Bend. Montgomery had been purchased by the future president of The Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis.
Benjamin Montgomery was a hard worker, and also quite intelligent, gaining favor with his masters. He was soon promoted to the (still unpaid) position of general manager of both of the Davis plantations, called Brierfield and Hurricane. They were actually owned by Jefferson Davis' brother, Joseph Davis. Montgomery also performed well in this position, helping the plantation to prosper. Because of his new position, he was able to read from Davis' personal library, learning a great deal that would eventually serve him well. It helped him develop a new type of plow to be used on the plantations, as well as develop a new type of propeller. Unfortunately, this was unable to patented until after the war, in 1884, when Montgomery finally received credit, because of laws preventing it. The Davis' wanted to try to take credit themselves, but that didn't work, even though Jefferson Davis tried to pass a law stating that he, as the slaveowner, could take credit for the inventions, but it never worked.
With Joseph Davis' favor, he was also able to open a store on the grounds of Hurricane Plantation, developing an incredible business. He sold things to both white and black customers, and had his own line of credit that came from New Orleans.
After the war began, Joseph Davis continued to work the plantation after Jefferson Davis left to become Confederate president. Benjamin Montgomery continued work until 1863, when the war began to head to his area. He went to Cincinnati where he worked in a boatyard. At the end of the Civil War, he returned, and found that Davis Bend had become settlement for independent black farmers. The government had confiscated most large plantations. Benjamin reopened his store, and quickly became a leader in the community. In 1866, Joseph Davis was pardoned by Andrew Johnson, and his property was returned to him. He took control of his plantations, but at age 80, was too old to work them.
He decided to sell the plantation, and because of his successful business, Benjamin Montgomery was able to purchase the plantations on November 19, 1866. The sale was kept secret until 1867, when Mississippi overturned its laws preventing blacks from owning land. He initially was very successful. In 1870, the various black families at Davis Bend produced 2500 bales of cotton. In 1871, Montgomery purchased another nearby plantation, Ursino. This brought his total amount of land from 4000 to 5500 acres. He was then (arguably) one of the three largest plantation owners in Mississippi.
Unfortunately, his prosperity didn't last. The realities of the post-Civil War economy took their toll on his prosperity. Cotton declined in value, and his credit began to dwindle, and he descended into bankruptcy. He fell into a deep debt from which he would never escape, dying on May 12, 1877. In 1881, Benjamin's son, Isaiah had to give up the land because of exorbitant interest: $140,000 on property that originally cost $300,000. The Davis' descendents soon took over the property once more.