Benjamin F. Hicks (1846-1925)

Benjamin F. Hicks

Benjamin F. Hicks is a 19th-century African inventor in Virginia who was born into slavery to Lottie Ricks and an unidentified man in May 1846 in Courtland, Berlin-Ivor District, Southampton County, Commonwealth of Virginia. Three years following his birth in 1849, the state passed a law permitting the emancipation of any enslaved person by will or deed.

Hicks earned his living by farming and as a blacksmith. He was exceptionally creative and was well-respected in the community. He was so skilled he used his anvil, forge, and other woodworking tools to improve farming methods and techniques for the peanut crop. He is known for contributing to the development of the peanut harvester, which combines removing the peanut plant, separating earthly elements, handling seedlings, and picking the product. Hicks invented the gasoline-powered machine for stemming and cleaning peanuts in 1902 and received a patent. He helped revolutionize farming in Southampton and the peanut growing area.
George Washington Carver, born in Missouri 18 years after Hicks in 1864, benefitted from his inventions and created more than 300 food, commercial, and industrial uses for peanuts.

Hicks was married to Margaret Chappell (1848 – 1928), with whom he had eleven children. He died on July 8, 1925, at 79, on his farm in Southampton, Virginia, where he was buried.
In 2008, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources unveiled a state marker to recognize the life and community contributions of Benjamin F. Hicks. Hicks’ descendants and the historical society combined their financial resources to support the cast-iron sign project valued at $1,350. The monument is located on Ivor Road (Virginia Route 616) at St. Lukes Road (Virginia Route 633), on the right when traveling south on Ivor Road.