Alabama Secretaries of State

William Garrett

William Garrett


Secretary of State: 1840-1852


William Garrett, public official, was born May 6, 1809, at Newport, Cocke County, Tenn.; the son of William and Elizabeth Chilley (Gray) Garrett, the former a Methodist minister, a trader and a farmer; grandson of Lewis Garrett, and of Thomas Gray, of Surry County, Va., who was king's counsel for Lunenburg County, Va., in 1765, was a representative from Dobbs County, N.C., in the colonial assembly of the state in 1768, and was retained as representative for Dobbs and Dublin Counties until the Revolution, was an intense patriot during the War of Independence, a member of the bar of North Carolina for many yars, moved to Jefferson County, Tenn., in 1796, and was appointed by President Washington U.S. district attorney for the new state of Tennessee in 1797; great-grandson of William Garrett; great-great-gransdson of Thomas Garrett; great-great-great-grandson of William Garrett, a Quaker, who came to America from England in 1684, with his brothers John and Thomas, and settled in Darby Township, near Philadelphia, where he died in 1724. The Garretts are of Saxon origin; in the sixth century quite a contingent of them went over to England and helped subdue the Danes. Again a number of them came to England with William the Conquerer. Members of the family have been ennobled and knighted by the English royalty in church and state for centuries past, and they were accorded a coat of arms which is still in use by the family in England. Sir William Garrett was lord mayor of London in 1551, and one William Garrett was first chairman of the original Virginia Colony Company. John Garrett was raised from knighthood to the baronetcy of Lanier by James I.


Col. Garrett was forced to leave school in his eleventh year due to financial reverses which came upon his father. Until he was twenty-one years of age, he assisted on the farm, and spent much of his time in keeping the recrds of his father,who was for thirty-three years clerk of the county court of Cocke County, Tenn. In 1833 he moved to Alabama and settled in Benton, now Calhoun County; engaged in merchandising first at Alexandria and later at White Plains; fought in the Creek War; was elected asistant clerk of the house of representatives in 1837 under Gideon B. Frierson, clerk; was elected clerk of the same body in 1838, 1839, and 1840; resigned the clerkship in 1840 on being elected Secretary of State of Alabama, and held the latter position without opposition for ten years; was again re-elected Secretary of State in 1849 after the seat of government was removed to Montgomery; declined re-election in 1852 to retire to his plantation in Coosa County; was elected to the house of representatives in 1853, and unanimously chosen speaker for that body; was nominated for the senate in 1859 by the Democratic party of Coosa County, and was defeated by forty-seven votes in a total of two thousand three hundred three; was elected a delegate to the Democratic national convention at Charleston, S.C., as a representative of the Douglas Wing of the Democratic party of Alabama; was elected to the state senate from Coosa County in1863 for a term of four years, defeating Capt. Leander Bryan, of Wetiumpka, and served until the legislature was dissolved by the close of the war; was appointed provisional secretary of state, July, 1865, by Lewis E. Parsons, provisional civil governor of the state; resigned that position and was elected to the State Senate in October, 1865; served as chairman of the senate committee on finance and taxation; retired to private life after being disqualified to hold office under the reconstruction acts; was a member of the state constitutional convention of 1875; was a Democrat and a Methodist; wrote and published during the latter years of his life Public Men of Alabama, in 1872, the original manuscript of which, together with his entire correspondence and papers, was burned soon after his death.


Married: (1) August, 1830, Tabitha Taylor, of Virginia, who died at White Plains, Calhoun County, 1835; (2) April, 1843, Julia B. Henry, of Mobile, daughter of Maj. William Henry, a member of Gen. Andrew Jackson's staff at the battle of New Orleans, and a cousin of Mrs. Rachel Donelson Jackson, wife of Gen. Andrew Jackson. Children: by first marriage: two, who survived their mother only a short time; by second marriage: 3. Wiliam H., assistant secretary of the state senate, 1865-1866; 4. Thomas G.; 5. Benjamin F., assistant clerk of the house of representatives, 1872-1873, and assistant secretary of the state senate, 1874-1875; Elmore, assistant clerk of the house, 1885-1886, assistant secretary of the senate, 1890-1891, and secretary of the senate, 1903-1904; and two who died in infancy. Last residence: Coosa County.


Owen, Thomas McAdory, History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography. Spartanburg: The Reprint Company Publishers, 1978 (1921), III, 638-639.