Alabama Governors

William James Samford

photo of portrait of Ala. Governor William James Samford




William James Samford was born September 16, 1844 in Greenville, Georgia. Prior to 1850 he moved with his parents, William F. and Susan, to Auburn, Alabama, where he attended private schools, including one year at East Alabama College (now Auburn University). As a youth Samford worked as a printer and typesetter in his father's Tuskegee newspaper office. He also attended the University of Georgia briefly but left the school in 1862 to join the Confederate army.


Samford served in the 46th Alabama Infantry Regiment and fought in campaigns in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi. In May 1863 he was captured at the battle of Baker's Creek in Mississippi and imprisoned at Johnson's Island, Lake Erie, for eighteen months. Lieutenant Samford was released in 1864 and returned to his regiment until the war ended.


After the war Samford returned to Auburn and began growing cotton. He married Caroline Elizabeth Drake in October 1865. They had nine children. In 1867 the Confederate veteran was admitted to the bar and opened a law practice in Opelika.


A deeply religious man, Samford was also a licensed minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He was a member of the board of stewards, served several times as a delegate to the Alabama Annual Conference in 1890 and was a delegate to the general conference of the Methodist Ecumenical Conference in London, England, in 1901 but could not attend due to ill health.


Samford's political career began in 1872 when he served as an alderman in Opelika. Also in 1872 he was a delegate to the state Democratic convention and an alternate elector on the Horace Greeley ticket. He assisted with the gubernatorial campaign of George S. Houston in 1874. The following year Samford was a member of the constitutional convention and a presidential elector in 1876. From 1879 until 1881 he represented the state in the U.S. Congress. Samford represented Lee County in the state legislature from 1882 until 1896, including two years as president of the senate. He was appointed to the University of Alabama Board of Trustees in 1896.


In 1900 Samford was elected governor of the state of Alabama but held the office for only six months. He died in Tuscaloosa on June 11, 1901, while attending a university board of trustees meeting. Two major events occurred during his short time as governor. First and foremost was the 1901 Constitutional Convention which produced the state's present constitution. Samford's other accomplishment was the creation of the Alabama Department of Archives and History.


Because the office of lieutenant-governor did not exist in 1901, the president of the Senate, William D. Jelks, became acting governor upon Samford's death.

Alabama Department of Archives and History, Public Information Subject Files-Governors.
Hackney, Sheldon. Populism to Progressivism in Alabama, 1969.
Owen, Thomas M. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, 1921.
Summersell, Charles G. Alabama: A State History, 1955.