Williamson Simpson Oldham

1813 - 1868

Senator from Texas to the Confederate States of America

Williamson Simpson Oldham was born on July 19, 1813, in Franklin County, Tennessee. His parents, Elias and Mary Burton Oldham, eked out a living as farmers. The family had little means for formal education, and Oldham was largely self-educated. This did not deter him. At the age of eighteen, he opened a school in the hills of Tennessee and began teaching. He subsequently studied law under Judge Nathan Green and was admitted to the Tennessee Bar in 1836.

He soon moved to Arkansas, where he entered law and politics. Oldham quickly became a public figure in Washington County and the state by winning election to the Arkansas General Assembly in 1838. On December 12, 1837, he had married Mary Vance McKisick; together, Williamson and Mary had five children.

While Oldham lived in Arkansas, his political career continued to flourish. In 1844, the state legislature elected him associate justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, a position he would hold until 1848. Although a well-known political figure, Oldham lost a bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846, and was defeated in 1848 by R. W. Johnson in a U.S. senatorial race. These political defeats, along with a mild case of tuberculosis, were the spark that ignited his desire for change; he moved to Austin, Texas, in 1849.

The move to Austin was difficult for Oldham. On May 4, 1849, his wife, Mary, died. Oldham, however, soon married his second wife, Anne S. Kirk. Despite the personal difficulties, Oldham made a name for himself in Texas. In 1852, he served as president of the Austin Railroad Association. From 1854 to 1857, he worked as an editor of the State Gazette, the voice of Texas Democrats. It was while working for the newspaper that Oldham made many of his political connections and began to earn a reputation as a defender not only of states' rights but also of personal and property rights.

In 1859, Oldham and his third wife, Agnes Harper, whom he married on November 19, 1857, moved to Brenham, Texas. Oldham maintained his political connections and activism, campaigning for John C. Breckinridge and Joseph Lane in the 1860 presidential race. By the time the national crisis surrounding the possibility of Lincoln's election arrived, Oldham had clearly established himself as a defender of personal and states' rights and represented Washington County in the Texas-Secession Convention after Lincoln's election in 1861.
 That body sent him to Arkansas to encourage that state's secession and appointed him a member of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America. The following November the Texas Senate elected him to the regular Confederate Senate, a position he held until the collapse of the Confederacy. With the end of the war, Oldham became an expatriate. He lived for a time in Mexico and then moved to Canada, where he learned photography and began a book about the Confederacy. Oldham returned to Texas in 1866 to make his home in Houston. He died of typhoid fever on May 8, 1868, and was buried in the Episcopal Cemetery, Houston. In 1938 his remains were moved to the Masonic Cemetery in Eagle Lake, Texas where he is buried near his son and a daughter. Oldham County in the Panhandle is named in his honor.

W. S. Oldham and Sam Houston

Obituary and burial information

Mary Vance McKissick Page

Texas Handbook Article
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