Benjamin Whitfield (1800-1872) was born in North Carolina in 1800. A pioneer preacher, Whitfield came to Hinds County in the 1820s at the same time as Jackson was being established. He married Lucy Eliza Hatch (1805-1873), a daughter of one of the founders of Hampstead Academy, Benjamin Hatch, in 1821. They then became well to-do farmers by establishing a vast plantation nearly 32 square miles large, worked by 800 slaves. The plantation, Magnolia, was twelve miles northeast of Clinton in an area called “Society Ridge.”
Whitfield established Society Ridge (Union) Baptist Church in 1824, the first Baptist denomination church in Hinds County, and he served as pastor for many years.
The Mississippi Baptist Convention is an autonomous association of Baptist churches in the state of Mississippi. It is one of the original nine state conventions to send delegates to the first Southern Baptist Convention organized in 1845.
Formed in 1836, the Mississippi Baptist Convention elected Benjamin Whitfield as their Vice President. He later served as president of the convention for four years and, in 1845, helped organize the Central Baptist Association.
The Panic of 1837 was a financial crisis that caused a major recession, particularly a sharp decline in cotton prices.
Benjamin Whitfield was one of the endorsers of a note to build a railroad. When the financial crisis hit, the firm was forced into bankruptcy, and the endorsers owed $100,000. He could not pay the entire amount, but recognized the debt and asked for time to make a settlement. In legal proceedings, he jumped to his feet when it was said the firm could not pay and affirmed that he did owe the money and would pay. It took 20 years, but he paid it in full.
Whitfield was elected to the Mississippi College board of trustees in 1850 and served for 22 years until his death in 1872. He was president of the board for the last 16 years of his life. During this time he facilitated the transition of the college from Presbyterian to Baptist control. He also served on the board of trustees of the Central Female Institute, which later became Hillman College.
Just before the Civil War, he pledged an endowment of $150,000 to Mississippi College. When the war wiped out his holdings and made the gift impossible, he made a gift of substantial portion of his remaining assets and then served as the sole security in a case where the college had thousands at stake.
Benjamin Whitfield, his wife Lucy, and 8 of his 12 children are buried in the Union Church cemetery. The cemetery is now all that remains of the church, destroyed during the Civil War.