Joel Benton was raised in the small town of Amenia, New York. He was the cousin of Myron Benton. He was educated at Amenia Seminary, where he stayed until 1851. He entered the publishing world at the age of nineteen when he was hired as managing editor of the newly created Amenia Times (The Sun, Sept. 16, 1911, 2). He also contributed pieces to the newspaper, the Mercury (Schmidgall 80-1). Benton was an avid fan of Horace Greeley; he returned to journalism in 1872 in order to support Greeley during his presidential campaign.
Horace Greeley was born in 1811 near Amherst, New Hampshire, to a poor farming family. Though physically feeble, Greeley had an affinity for books and tried for a printing apprenticeship at the age of eleven. He became an apprentice three years later in Vermont, where he learned the business rapidly and sent most of his earnings to his father. Greeley went back to farm life at the age of twenty before going to seek his fortune (Appleton 734). Greeley fostered this rags-to-riches story, claiming to have arrived in New York City in 1831 with only twenty-five dollars in his pocket.