Hillary was born in Washington, District of Columbia, on December 12, 1801. He was the son of William Rhodes and Anne Simms.
The first recorded documentation of Hillary is when he and his brother, William, as well as his father, William Rhodes, were listed as subscribers to the Washington Monument fund in the Washington Federalist in 1804.
Thanks to his father's reputation as one of Washington's premier bonifaces, Hillary met more than his share of influential politicians over the years and it seems to have paid off in 1817, when he was nominated to West Point.
Washington 18th August 1817
I have been requested to present to you the name of Hillary Rhodes as a candidate for the appointment of a Cadet in The Military School. - This young gentleman is the Son of a Mr. Rhodes, a respectable farmer, residing in Kentucky - he is about sixteen years of age, and is recommended to me as an active intelligent youth - who is capable of becoming an asset to his country shou'd he receive its patronage - I am personally acquainted with the father of the young man and thinking highly of him - if his son cou'd be honored with the confidence of the Government - I feel ? from the Character of the young man, and the recommendations which have been given him - That he would do honor to himself, and give active satisfaction to the Military Department.
Accept a ? of my ? and respectful Consideration
(On the side of this page is noted George Graham, Esq., Acting Secretary at War)
Hillary apparently was only too happy to accept the nomination because in August of 1818 he sent this reply:
Washington City August 18th 1818
I have had the honor to receive your letter dated Aug 19 Instant advising me of my having been appointed a Cadet in the Service of the United States which I accept with gratitude. I will report myself agreeable to your Instructions.
It would appear his father's death may have prevented Hillary from actually enrolling in West Point, but whatever the reason, shortly after accepting the position, he resigned the commission.
Washington City Sept 7 1818
Since my acceptance of the cadets warrant, which I had the nice honor to receive from you, some unforeseen incidents have occurred which I am sorry to inform you puts it entirely out of my power to comply with my acceptance, but with reluctance I send you this as my resignation I hope you will receive it and by so doing you will oblige
Your Humble & Obedient
Servant Hillary Rhodes
To The Honorable
His resignation from West Point, for whatever reason, apparently did not dissuade him from serving in the armed forces. By 1819, he had enrolled in Norwich University, with its predecessor naval program to what we might now consider a university ROTC program.
By May 10, 1820, he was a midshipman with the U.S. Navy. His first deployment was aboard the Constellation in July of that year. While he began serving in 1820, his formal naval appointment was not made until November 18, 1822 when it was signed by Smith Thompson as Secretary of the Navy but was made retroactive to May 10, 1820.
Hillary served on a number of ships during his naval career but his record is spotted. He was promoted to Lieutenant on May 17, 1828 with the Congressional commission being made on February 9, 1829. By 1851, when he should have been moving into the role of Captain, he was being court-martialed for his drunkeness. By September 18, 1855, he was on the "dropped" Naval list, as one of a number of naval officers removed from the service during its restructuring.
Hillary Hanson Rhodes was married on the 21st of May 1834 in Georgetown, District of Columbia, to Marion Steuart Carter, daughter of Charles Landon Carter and Ann Steuart. The couple bought land near Leesburg, in Loudoun county, Virginia, where Marion lived while Hillary was at sea and to where he retired upon leaving the Navy.
Four children were born to the couple, and there is evidence that upon Marion's death in 1844, while Hillary was on a three year voyage to China, her nearby Carter family undertook care of the four with the children eventually moving with the Carter family to St. Louis, Missouri.
Hillary sold his Leesburg land to George Fox in January, 1860, apparently preparing to move to St. Louis.
Hillary died of chronic diarrhea while enroute to St. Louis, Missouri on the steamship "Planet" near Vicksburg, Mississippi, on October 20, 1860. He was buried in Bellafontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, St. Louis county, Missouri. His son was a clerk on the steamship on which he died and provided the information for his burial certificate at Bellafontaine:
Name of Deceased: Hillary Hanson Rhodes;Date of Death: October 20th 1860;Place of Birth: District of Columbia;Place of Death: On the Missippi River near Vicksburg Miss;Married or unmarried, Widower;Late Residence: Leesburg Louden County, Virginia;Age: Fifty Eight years, Ten months, Eight Days;Disease: Chronic Diarrhaea;How Long resident in United States: Fifty Eight Years;
I certify that the person above names died of the disease named on the date named.(Signed) Wm. H. Rhodes Clerk of StBt "Planet"