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Governor William Carroll

Governor of Tennessee
1821-1826; 1829-1834

WILLIAM CARROLL, one of the early governors of Tennessee, was born near Pittsburgh, Pa., March 3, 1788.  Opportunities to acquire an education in his youthful days were somewhat limited, and at the age of twenty-two years, with a meager education and a small capital, he went to Nashville, where he opened a nail store, the first in Tennessee.  The undertaking proved a success, and in a comparatively short time he was on the high road to prosperity.  Young Carroll had a decided inclination toward a military career, and therefore became a member of the state militia, of which Andrew Jackson, afterward president of the United States, was commander-in-chief.

In 1812 Carroll became captain of the Nashville Uniform Volunteers, and shortly afterward General Jackson appointed him brigadier-inspector and a little later major of militia.  When Jackson was made a general in the regular army, in 1814, Carroll succeeded him as major-general of the militia.  While serving as major he got into a difficulty with Jesse Benton, and the result was a duel, in which General Jackson acted as Major Carroll's second.  Benton was wounded, and the affair led to another duel, with Thomas H. Benton.  This second duel resulted in a coolness between Carroll and Jackson, who had been such warm friends.  But when Carroll distinguished himself by his bravery in the Creek war, and his gallant conduct in the battle of New Orleans, the old amicable relations were renewed, for it was not in "Old Hickory's" nature to hold malice against a brave and honorable man because of some personal matter.

After the war of 1812 was over, General Carroll became the owner of the first steamboat ever registered at Nashville.  This boat was named the Andrew Jackson, a fitting tribute to his old friend and comrade in arms.  In 1821 he was elected governor of Tennessee, and was re-elected in 1823 and again in 1825.  Having held the office for three terms, he was ineligible for the candidacy in 1827, but two years later he was again elected governor, and was again twice re-elected, making six terms in all that he held the office.  In spite of the constitutional provisions, he allowed himself to be nominated for a fourth term, in 1835, but the people would not endorse such a violation of the organic law, and he was defeated by Newton Cannon.

During his administration the state made rapid strides forward.  Important changes were made in the judiciary; a court of chancery was established; the militia was reorganized on a firmer basis; brutal punishments for petty crimes and misdemeanors were abolished, and a system of state internal improvements was inaugurated.  It was during his administration that the second constitutional convention was called.

Governor Carroll died March 22, 1844.  Carroll county, which bears his name, and the inscription on his monument, tell the story of his life and character:

"As a gentleman he was modest, intelligent, accomplished; as an officer he was energetic, gallant, daring; and as a statesman he was wise and just."

Article above found in NOTABLE MEN OF TENNESSEE, VOL. II, Judge John Allison, Editor, Atlanta, GA, Southern Historical Association, 1905.  Portrait found in GOVERNORS OF TENNESSEE, edited by Charles W. Crawford, Memphis State University Press, Memphis, TN, 1979.  

William Carroll is buried in City Cemetery, Nashville, TN.  His tombstone is inscribed thusly:

"General William Carroll, Commander of General Andrew Jackson's right wing through Creek War and at Battle of New Orleans.  Born in Pennsylvania, March 3, 1788; died in Nashville, March 20, 1855.  Governor of Tennessee for 12 years; Chairman of Democratic Presidential Convention, 1844; longest termed Governor of Tennessee"  Monument erected by the State.

Source : TOMBSTONE INSCRIPTIONS AND MANUSCRIPTS compiled by Jeannette Tillotsons Acklen, Cullom and Ghertner Co., Nashville, TN Publishers, 1933.

- William Carroll, Governor of Tennessee at Find-A-Grave 

Brief genealogical information:

"William Carroll was born in 1788 near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Thomas and Mary Montgomery Carroll; he was the eldest of that union which was to produce seven surviving children.

Accounts differ as to the origin of Thomas Carroll, William's father.  According to one account, the elder Carroll emigrated to the colonies from Ireland shortly before the Revolution. It was said that he had been a British soldier but had joined the Colonial Army and fought first at Bunker Hill, then with the Delaware brigades through the rest of the war.  When advised to change his name by friends who feared the consequences if Carroll was captured by the British, he reportedly declared, "No, I'll keep me own name.  They'll be welcome to hang what's left of me when they get me."

A genealogical history prepared for the family differs from this account, tracing further and more illustriously back to a Daniel Carroll, father of Thomas and a member of the outstandingly patriotic Carroll family of Maryland.  Daniel Carroll was a member of the Continental Congress, signer of the Articles of Confederation, and one of the two Catholic signers of the Constitution.  He was a cousin of John Carroll, who led in the establishment of the Catholic Church in the States, and Charles Carroll "of Carrollton," signer of the Declaration of Independence.  According to family memoirs, Governor William Carroll in 1832 took his 11-year-old son Charles to visit his namesake, the famous Charles Carroll of Carrollton, only to arrive two weeks after the elderly patriot had died.

Whether or not William Carroll was himself a second or a third generation patriot, it is generally agreed that his father, Thomas, of Irish descent and revolutionary devotion, moved with his wife, Mary, the daughter of his captain, from Maryland to a settlement near Pittsburgh around 1783 or 1784.  On the banks of the Monongahela, he set up a nail foundry.  Soon he entered the employment of another hardy immigrant, Albert Gallatin, and later became his partner in a hardware business.  It may have been a tribute to Gallatin that Thomas Carroll named his first son William for William Tell, the hero of Gallatin's native Switzerland.  Gallatin soon literally left Thomas Carroll to mind the store when he entered his long career of public service to the new nation.  In 1810 Gallatin was Madison's Secretary of the Treasury.  He proposed using the Treasury surplus for a broad program of improved transportation, including the rivers of the frontier.  This plan would surely have added to the commercial prospects of Nashville, where the Pittsburgh to Nashville river trade was already valuable as one of the main outlets between East and West --a fact which perhaps influenced Thomas Carroll's eldest son's decision to move South.

"...in September of 1813, he married Cecilia Bradford in a ceremony performed by her father, a civil official.  Of Cecilia herself almost nothing is recorded in the histories of either her husband's career or his family.  It is known, however, that she was born in 1787 on her father's farm near what is now Hendersonville, Tennessee.  Her mother's family were Scottish immigrants to Virginia, and Cecelia is said to have been a devout Presbyterian.  Her maternal grandfather, Josias Paynem, had once served in the Virginia House of Burgesses before moving to Tennessee to take possession of a land grant after the Revolution.  Her mother. Elisabeth Chichester Payne."

Above article from:
GOVERNORS OF TENNESSEE, edited by Charles W. Crawford, Memphis State University Press, Memphis, TN, 1979.

See article on:
William Henry Carroll, son of Governor Carroll

Note: I am not related to Governor Carroll; this article posted as information only.  I have visited his grave and monument in the Nashville City Cemetery.


Collecting Our Kin: A Family History Collection, copyright 1998-2010, is a not-for-profit, personal, on-line genealogy project, formatted and presented by James H. Carroll, Goodlettsville, TN.  Excerpts and contributions from other sources have been used sparingly and with appropriate credit given. You are welcome to copy information found at this site for personal use and share information with other researchers or genealogical organizations, but this information may not be sold or used in a commercial project without expressed permission.