About Seargent Smith Prentiss
Seargent Smith Prentiss (30 September 1808, Portland, Maine – 1 July 1850, Natchez, Mississippi) was the representative for Mississippi in the Twenty-fifth United States Congress serving from 1838 to 1839. Prentiss was noted as one of the most remarkable orators of his day. It was said by Daniel Webster, foremost among American orators of the era, that he had never beheld a speaker as powerful as Prentiss.
Prentiss was born 30 September 1808, in Portland, Maine. He was the son of Captain William Prentiss a prosperous shipmaster. He contracted a violent fever as an infant, and lost the use of his limbs for several years. His right leg never fully recovered. During the War of 1812 the economic embargo against the United Kingdom brought Captain Prentiss to the verge of ruin. The family relocated to Gorham, Maine near Seargent's maternal grandfather Major George Lewis.
Prentiss attended Gorham Academy and Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He graduated from Bowdoin at age 17 and began the study of law in the office of Josiah Pierce in Gorham.
He reportedly rarely gave speeches from prepared notes and, instead, would ad-lib for hours to large crowds that often begged him for more.
After graduating from Bowdoin College in 1826, he went to Natchez, Mississippi as a teacher, and there studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1829.
In 1832, he moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi and won a suit involving title to the most valuable part of the city. The ground which he obtained as his fee made him one of the wealthiest men of Mississippi. He was elected to the State Legislature in 1835, and was elected to Congress in 1837.
He was, however, embarrassed by mounting financial troubles stemming from property investments made on disputed land holdings and served but one term in Congress. After Mississippi repudiated her state bonds, Prentiss, who had earnestly opposed this action, moved to New Orleans in 1845, where he was leader of the bar, and prominent in philanthropic work.
His death at the age of 41 in 1850 shocked the nation, which grieved the premature loss of someone many considered as being among the most gifted young men in the nation.
He is buried at Gloucester Plantation Cemetery in Natchez.