Goldsmith Whitehouse Hewitt

Goldsmith Whitehouse Hewitt (1834-1895) represented Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District from 1875 to 1879 and again from 1881 to 1885. He was a member of the Democratic Party and served in the Alabama Senate and House of Representatives. Hewitt was also an attorney and fought in the American Civil War for the Confederacy.

Hewitt was born February 14, 1834, near Elyton, Jefferson County, to James Highnight and Eleanor Martha Tarrant Hewitt; he had seven siblings. Hewitt was the grandson of the Revolutionary War veteran Goldsmith Hewitt Sr. He was educated in the local schools and studied law in Elyton under William Swearingen Mudd, who had served in the state legislature and became a circuit judge in 1856. Hewitt later entered the Lebanon School of Law in Tennessee, was admitted to the state bar in 1856, and joined the law firm of Ernest and Earle. Two years later, he opened the law firm Morrow and Hewitt with John C. Morrow, in Birmingham, Jefferson County. Also in 1858, Hewitt married Sarah J. Morrow, daughter of Hugh Morrow, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County. They had one child. John Morrow and Hewitt practiced together until 1860 when Morrow was elected as a judge.

Hewitt joined the Confederate Army in June 1861 as a private in Company B of the 10th Alabama Infantry Regiment. The unit was commanded by John Horace Forney, older brother of future Alabama representative William Henry Forney, who also served in the 10th Alabama Infantry Regiment. During the war, he fought at prominent battles that occurred in 1862, notably the Peninsula Campaign in Tidewater Virginia, in which the Union Army attempted to take the Confederate capital of Richmond. He was present at the May 31-June 1 Battle of Seven Pines, just outside of Richmond, in which former Alabama representative Sydenham Moore was fatally wounded. Hewitt was also present at the following June 25-July 1 Seven Days Battle, a defeat for the Union and a victory for Confederate Robert E. Lee, who had just recently taken over command of the Army of Northern Virginia.

In August 1862, Hewitt was promoted to captain of Company G of the 28th Alabama Infantry Regiment, which would be led by future governor Edward O’Neal. Hewitt fought at the December-early January 1863 Battle of Murfreesboro and was seriously wounded on September 20, 1863, at the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia, where Union troops were forced to retreat into Chattanooga, Tennessee. At some point that year, his wife Sarah died. In 1868, Hewitt married the widowed Harriet Earle, with whom he had two children. He partnered with William Augustus Walker and opened the law firm Hewitt and Walker in 1870. (In 1884, they added Mitchell Alburto Porter to the firm, naming it Hewitt, Walker, and Porter.)

Hewitt was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1870 and 1871, serving two terms. After this, he was elected to the State Senate in 1872 and resigned in 1874 after he was elected to the U.S. Congress to fill the seat held by Joseph Humphrey Sloss. He served in the 44th and 45th Congresses from 1874 until 1879, when Burwell Boykin Lewis won the seat. Hewitt was then elected over Newton Nash Clements (he took the seat following Lewis’s resignation) to the 47th and 48th Congress, serving from 1881 until 1885.

While in Congress, Hewitt introduced legislation to provide a pension to veterans of the Mexican-American War and Native American conflicts. He understandably voted to repeal an act forbidding pensions for Confederate veterans. He also voted to prohibit banks from issuing currency and to prohibit the retirement of greenbacks, the paper currency issued by the federal government during the Civil War that became hugely inflated after the war. Many debtors, however, including farmers and laborers in Alabama and the wider South, wanted to keep the currency to help pay back debts incurred during the war. Hewitt also voted against the bill that would become the Interstate Commerce Act, opposing its regulation of railroads; the House of Representatives, however, passed this bill in 1885. Hewitt opposed the federal government selling Alabama mineral lands to the highest bidder but attempted to obtain federal funding for the improvement of rivers and harbors in the state.

Hewitt declined to run for reelection after the 48th Congress in 1884; the open seat was filled by John Mason Martin. He instead was reelected to the state legislature from 1886 to 1888. He also continued to practice law and lived with his family in Birmingham until his death on May 27, 1895. He was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Birmingham.

Further Reading

  • Du Bose, John Witherspoon. Jefferson County and Birmingham, Alabama; Historical and Biographical. Birmingham, Ala.: Teeple and Smith Publishers, 1887.

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Goldsmith Whitehouse Hewitt

Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Brady-Handy Photograph Collection
Goldsmith Whitehouse Hewitt