William Whitehead West: Entrepreneur, Civic Figure, and Family Patriarch

DSC08525

St. George’s Chapel, in the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle, built by King Edward III in 1348. Henry VIII is buried here. Picture from June 7, 2019 by CWJ.

As a means of beginning this historical account, I submit the following information for your perusal.  Take a good close examination of the entire lineage.  If that sounds somewhat like Rod Serling, that was the intent, because I am not sure but what this information is straight from The Twilight Zone.

West Royalty 2 001 West Royalty 3 001

Although there is probably no way to actually prove that the West family descends from royalty, this offers an intriguing possibility.  If we follow the line from King Edward III to William Cary and assume that Catherine was his biological daughter, then there is a link to the throne of England.  Assuming that Catherine was the daughter of Mary Boleyn and King Henry VIII there again is a link to the English monarchy.  Generations 8 through 17 can be substantiated to a good degree.  Although this is a diversion from the actual story to be told, it gives a new perspective to this family called West.  And then, there is the story of a family relationship to Lady Godiva, reportedly a West, that has circulated within the family for generations.  But that is a story for another time.

King Henry VIII Tomb

June 7, 2019, standing on top of the vault holding King Henry VIII

But from here lets just wade right in and explore the life and times of William Whitehead West.  W. W. West was born on February 7, 1825 in Smith County, Tennessee to Benjamin Lawson West and Elizabeth Arminett West, the sixth of thirteen children born into the family.  Some time between 1836 and 1840 the family moved to the Republic of Texas to the area that in 1839 became Harrison County.  I have found no records that indicate the means by which they journeyed to Texas.  A trip by wagon or horseback would have been well over 700 miles, but the proximity of Smith County to Memphis would present the possibility that they took a boat down the Mississippi River and made a much shorter overland trek to Shreveport and on to Texas.

In 1841 the city of Marshall was founded and became the county seat of Harrison County.  Established schools in this era were all but nonexistent, so the mother was usually the one who taught her children.  Betsy West was apparently a great teacher for her children as evidenced by some pages of work done by John Parker West, the first child born in Harrison County, Texas.  She taught her children how to print and write in cursive and gave them a good foundation in math.  They knew how to compose paragraphs and to make a logical presentation of their ideas.

By late in 1845, Texas was no longer a nation unto itself but had become a state in the United States of America, and William Whitehead West was a young man of twenty years.  On May 6, 1847 he enlisted in the United States Army as a private in Clark’s Company of the 1st Texas Mounted Volunteers.  He served six months and fought during the Mexican War which lasted from 1846 through 1848.

By 1850 Marshall had become an important city in Texas and served as the gateway to Texas from the east.  There was a stage line that ran from Shreveport, Louisiana to Marshall and the stage coach had three arrivals and three departures per week, bringing goods in from New Orleans and beyond and shipping local products out to other parts of the country.  On February 14, 1854 the Texas and Red River Telegraph Company established a telegraph line from New Orleans to the newspaper office of the “Texas Republican” in Marshall, making Marshall the first city in Texas to receive telegraph service.  By December of 1855 W. W. West was a member in good standing of the I. M. Gibson Lodge # 13 of the International Order of Odd Fellows.  In light of all that was happening in Marshall, W. W. West partnered with Charles Slater and began a freight company “Slater and West” and brought in products from as far away as Memphis, Tennessee.  Their product line included groceries, hardware, liquor, tobacco products, household products, guns and ammunition, and other items ordered specifically for individuals or companies.  They provided short term credit accounts for local customers and appear to have been going strong in 1858.  Also, on January 15, 1858, William Whitehead West was elected as Assessor and Collector of Taxes for Harrison County.  At this time Marshall was becoming one of the very largest cities in Texas and Harrison County one of the wealthiest counties.  In 1860 Slater and West was still chugging right along and W. W. West, still unmarried, was now Constable for Harrison County.  Marshall had now become the fourth largest city in the state with a population of 2000.  Dallas, which was also founded in 1841, had a population of only 687.  Cotton had become a very important crop in Marshall and the surrounding area, and at this time there were more slaves here than in any other location in Texas.

Events were taking place across the country that would write a new chapter in the life of W. W. West, and indeed a horrendous and abrupt bifurcation separated the northern states and the southern states.  On March 2, 1861, after replacing Sam Houston as Governor of Texas with Edward Clark of Marshall, the state of Texas joined the Confederate States of America.  Sam Houston was completely opposed to secession and had refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy.  On April 12 and 13 of 1861 the Battle of Fort Sumter near Charleston, South Carolina was fought, thus beginning the American Civil War.  By July 3, 1861 W. W. West had traveled to Dallas and enlisted as a private in the Sceyene Reserve Company of Dallas County, 13th Brigade, TST, and was mustered in on September 23, 1861.  Within a year of this date Private William W. West was assigned to the 7th Texas Infantry Regiment and nominated as Regimental Commissary by Colonel John Gregg.  Along with this nomination came a promotion to the rank of Captain.  I need to point out that, in his business dealings with Charles Slater, W. W. West had done business repeatedly with G. G. Gregg and Company.  I think that Col John Gregg was of that Gregg family and knew of the abilities of Pvt West to obtain goods of all kinds from various sources, and that would make him the ideal candidate for Commissary of Subsistence for the Regiment.  Captain W. W. West immediately began executing the duties of his new position.  A bond form and bond was required to be delivered to Confederate Headquarters in the Capitol of Richmond, Virginia, so he arranged for Dr. T. A. Harris to have the bond carried to Richmond.  However, as of June 1863 the bond was stranded in Yazoo City, Mississippi because the Union Army controlled the Mississippi River and nothing could reach Richmond.  During this entire time Capt West was performing the duties of Commissary but only in a position of ACS (Acting Commissary of Subsistence) and not receiving the appropriate compensation for the job.  He was charged with appropriating, organizing, and distributing supplies, ammunition, and even mail to the troops on the line.

Confederate Officer's Uniform

The dress uniform worn by an officer in the Confederate Army

On December 9, 1863, while he was camped near Dalton, Georgia, Capt West wrote a letter to Col George W. Brent AAG asking for a leave of absence to go back to Marshall and retrieve his bond and get it delivered to Richmond.  The letter is well written and he lays out his request logically, respectfully, and yet emphatically.  Also, I must point out that his handwriting was much better than most people I know today.  However, his request was never granted and he served the rest of his time in the Confederate Army in the job as Captain, ACS.  The next correspondence I found was dated March 11, 1865 and was from the Office of Chief of Subsistence ordering him to assist Maj Ellenburg CS in collecting supplies for the Confederate Army in Tennessee.  However, as of May 30, 1865  W. W. West Captain ACS signed an oath of allegiance to the United States of America in Charlotte, North Carolina.  He was released from duty in the Confederate Army, able to return to his home “not to be disturbed by the United States authorities so long as he observes this obligation.”

W W West release from Confederate Army

Oath of Allegiance to United States

By the time veteran William W. West returned to his home in Marshall he was by my standards a young man.  At age 40, he had served in two different wars for two different countries, the Mexican War for the United States Army and the Civil War for the Army of the Confederate States.  And without ever relocating from his Harrison County home he had been a citizen of three different countries:  those countries are the Republic of Texas; the United States of America; and the Confederate States of America.  He also had been involved in local politics and had started his own business and had been a member of a prominent service organization, quite a list of accomplishments for someone of his age.  He probably decided it was time to settle down and start a family.

By all indications, toward the end of the year 1865 W. W. West was married.  There are specific dates for the marriage listed in other West family trees, but I have not verified either.  According to a list of births, marriages, and deaths found in a West family Bible he was married to Margaret Finetta.  On December 8, 1866 a daughter, Mary Annie Elizabeth West, was born to this union.  Apparently, by the end of that month, Margaret died from complications of childbirth.

By late 1866, and I have been unable to corroborate a specific date, he was married for a second time.  This time he was married to Louisa Josephine Glenn, about fifteen years his junior.

Louisa Josephine and William Whitehead West 001

Louisa Josephine Glenn (1840-1886) and William Whitehead West (1825-1909), from a thumb drive provided by a West family member. His hair looks like it could be red.

To this marriage six children were born:  Charles Wyne West August 17, 1868; Pinkney Francis West May 31, 1871; Florence Josephine West December 11, 1872; Mittie Lee West September 17, 1875; Ella Matilda West August 31, 1877; and the child most important to many who may read this, William Bird West July 15, 1880, born in Hawkins, Texas.  During the period of this marriage W. W. West provided for his family primarily by farming, although there is evidence that he occasionally bought and sold items for a profit.  One such instance was his purchase in June of 1876 of a variety of fruit trees to be delivered to Hawkins from the nursery in Memphis, Tennessee in October of 1876.  The idea here may have been to produce fruit for the family and sell the surplus, because he ordered a total of 48 fruit trees.  Throughout the entire length of their marriage they resided and farmed in Wood County.  Mittie Lee West died at the age of three on October 4, 1878.  Then, on October 9, 1882, Mary Annie Elizabeth West, the daughter by his first wife,  died.  In less than four years W. W. West’s wife Louisa Josephine passed away on July 31, 1886.  All three were buried in Kay Cemetery in Hawkins.  All the rest of his children went on to marry and have very productive lives, and the legacy of William Whitehead West lives on through his grand children, their children, and so on.

At the age of 63, W. W. West found a new wife.  He was married to Nancy E. Griffin, the name substantiated by a marriage record from Upshur County, Texas on May 31, 1888.  She was born on January 20, 1844, and apparently outlived him because she drew his pension from his service in the Confederate Army after his death.  I have been told that he lost his sight during the later years of his life.  On the Census form for 1900, dated June 8, he is listed as a farmer, and a black man, his wife and child were living with them probably to assist with the farming.  They were still living in Hawkins.

William Whitehead West, who lived through some of the most fascinating history of this or any era, passed away at the age of 84 in his beloved Hawkins, Wood County, Texas on November 13, 1909.  He was buried in Kay Cemetery along with his wife and children.  The more I read about the life and accomplishments of this man the more I respected and admired him, and felt like his story needed to be told.  No embellishment was necessary.  I hope you enjoyed reading about W. W. West as much as I enjoyed writing about him.

I’ll see you on down the road.

Uncle Thereisno Justice

If you have comments, questions, or other information, please contact me at justicecw8@gmail.com.

Sources:

A great many of the documents referenced were obtained from a thumb drive supplied by a West family member who I will not name because I failed to get the proper authorization to use the name.

The oath of allegiance to the United States of America was discovered in a group of papers in a file folder from the office of Guy C. West after his passing.

A great deal of the information came from Ancestry.com in the form of Census documents, marriage records, birth records, Find-A-Grave records, death certificates, and military records.

Historical information concerning the Civil War was retrieved from Wikipedia.

Information concerning Marshall, Texas was obtained from the Texas State Historical Association as well as from the Texas Historical Commission at http://www.thc.texas.gov.

 

 

 

 

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