Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Thomas Holdup was orphaned at an early age and was adopted by General Daniel Stevens. On 8 February 1809, he was appointed midshipman on board Hornet. From then until 1812, he served successively in Constitution, President, and John Adams. Late in 1812, he was assigned to duty with Commodore Isaac Chauncey and distinguished himself in the attack on Black Rock on November 28. Commodore Chauncey appointed him acting lieutenant in January 1813 and his permanent commission in that rank, to date from 24 July, was confirmed by the Senate on 3 August.
On 10 September, he again distinguished himself as captain of the sloop, Trippe, during the Battle of Lake Erie. In 1815, an Act of the Legislature of South Carolina enabled him to add General Stevens' surname to his own. Following the War of 1812, Stevens held many posts, both ashore and afloat, including tours of duty at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and the Washington Navy Yard. He was promoted to Master Commandant on 3 March 1825 and, in 1829, he embarked on a two-year tour as commanding officer of Ontario, serving in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1832, he was assigned to the Navy Yard at Pensacola and in 1836 he was appointed captain, to date from 27 January 1836. After waiting two years for orders, he was appointed to command of the Washington Navy Yard on 29 February 1840. He served in that capacity until his death there early on the morning of 21 January 1841.