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Seargent Smith Prentiss (30 September 1808 in Portland, Maine – 1 July 1850 in Natchez, Mississippi) was an attorney and politician. He served as a state representative in Mississippi and then was elected in 1836 as US representative from the state in the Twenty-fifth United States Congress, serving one term from 1837 to 1839. Prentiss was noted as one of the most remarkable orators of his day. Daniel Webster, known himself as a top flight orator, said that he had never heard a speaker as powerful as Prentiss.

Early lifeEdit

Prentiss was born 30 September 1808, in Portland, Maine. He was the son of Captain William Prentiss, a prosperous shipmaster, and his wife. Sergeant contracted a virulent fever as an infant, which caused the loss 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 his father to the verge of ruin. The family relocated to Gorham, Maine, near Seargent's maternal grandfather Major George Lewis and his wife.[1]

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.[1]


Prentiss later went on the lecture circuit. 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. He continued to study 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 property 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 publicly embarrassed by his mounting financial troubles. He had made property investments based on disputed land holdings. He served only one term in Congress.

After Mississippi repudiated her state bonds, Prentiss, who had opposed this action, moved to New Orleans in 1845. He became a leader of the city's bar, and prominent in philanthropic work.

His death at the age of 41 in 1850 shocked the nation. Prentiss had been considered among the most gifted young men in the nation. He is buried at Gloucester Plantation Cemetery in Natchez.


  1. ^ a b George L. Prentiss (ed.). A Memoir of S. S. Prentiss. Charles Schribner's Sons.

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