Williamson Simpson Oldham
1813 - 1868
Senator from Texas to the Confederate States of America
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.
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.
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.
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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