William Crawford Sherrod

William Crawford Sherrod (1835-1919) represented Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives for one term, from 1869-71. Sherrod served in the Alabama House of Representative prior to his election to the U.S. Congress and in the Alabama Senate after his term in Congress. A wealthy plantation owner and Democrat who served in the Confederate States Army, Sherrod believed that the Civil War would prove costly to the South and Alabama, but he served in the Confederate military anyway and would regain his prosperity after the war.

Sherrod was born on the Pond Spring plantation in Lawrence County on August 17, 1835, to Benjamin and Tabitha Goode Sherrod, Isaac’s second wife. He had four half siblings from his father’s first marriage and three siblings from his second, to Tabitha, though one died quite young. His father was from North Carolina and had moved to northern Alabama in 1818. He purchased Pond Spring in 1827 and greatly expanded it to its current appearance. Benjamin Sherrod became a very wealthy plantation owner, enslaving some 700 individuals at some point, was an early industrialist, and helped establish the state’s first railroad, the Tuscumbia, Courtland, and Decatur Railroad in 1832. He died in 1847, and William’s mother and older brother Charles are listed as a fairly well-to-do farmers in the 1850 Census. (Charles would become a very wealthy plantation owner by the time of the 1860 Census. Another relative, Daniella Jones Sherrod, would marry Confederate general Joe Wheeler; the couple built a home that is connected by a walkway to the main house.) William was privately tutored in his youth and after attending the University of North Carolina like his father, he became the owner of his own plantation. In 1856, he married Amanda Morgan, daughter of businessman and manufacturer Samuel Dold Morgan of Nashville, Tennessee. She was a cousin of John Tyler Morgan of Huntsville, Madison County. The couple had eight children. Son Charles Morgan Sheppard would practice law in Courtland and Moulton and would later serve as a district judge in Texas, where he was elected to both its House of Representatives and Senate.

By 1860, Sherrod owned 59 enslaved persons in Lawrence County alone, according to the 1860 Slave Schedules. He reportedly had plantations in Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas. In addition to owning large swaths of land and overseeing dozens of enslaved individuals, Sherrod had shares in railroads, mining, and real estate ventures. From 1859-60, Sherrod served in the Alabama House of Representatives. In 1860, he was a delegate at the Alabama Democratic Convention, and later was a delegate at the Democratic National Convention, held in Charleston, South Carolina. Sherrod supported Illinois senator Stephen Douglas for president. Most of the Alabama delegates, unlike Sherrod, thought Douglas was not going to support slavery strongly enough, and they reconvened in Montgomery. The state convention split into two different factions, one nominating Douglas and the other pro-secessionist bloc nominating John C. Breckinridge, a former vice president of the United States. After Republican Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election, Alabama seceded in 1861. Sherrod was one of the few Alabama legislators who did not sign the state’s ordinance of secession.

Sherrod joined the Confederate Army when Alabama began to raise volunteer regiments and became a colonel in the Confederate State Army at age 30. He most notably served under Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a highly skilled cavalry officer and future founder of the Ku Klux Klan. During his service, Sherrod acted as an assistant commissary officer with the Fifth Alabama Cavalry. The regiment enlisted recruits from Sherrod’s community in Lawrence County as well as Fayette, Franklin, Lauderdale, Marion, Morgan, and Tuscaloosa Counties. The regiment fought from 1862-65, serving in the Departments of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. Most notably, the regiment fought at the battles of Brice’s Crossroads and Selma. On May 6, 1865, the remnants of the regiment surrendered in Danville.

After Alabama was readmitted to the United States in 1868, Sherrod returned to politics. He ran for Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District against Republican Charles Hinds and independent sitting congressman Thomas Haughey. At the time, the Sixth District consisted of Blount, Franklin, Jefferson, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Marion, Walker, and Winston Counties. During the campaign, a Hinds supporter shot and killed Haughey. Sherrod ultimately won the election and served from 1869-71. Because he was originally a Unionist, he was credited by some historians for being a reconciliatory figure in the 41st U. S. Congress. A Democrat, he was a part of the House minority during his time in Washington, D.C. While in office, the Fifteenth Amendment preventing voter discrimination based on race was ratified, as well as major pieces of legislation introduced by Republicans that addressed repaying war bonds with gold, reforming the judiciary, and empowering federal authorities to prosecute Ku Klux Klan terrorism. Sherrod, like most of his party, opposed these large changes. By the time Sherrod left office in 1871, he garnered acclaim for his involvement in the creation of the Southern Pacific Railroad bill. He declined to run for reelection and was replaced by Democrat Joseph Humphrey Sloss, a native of Morgan County and fellow Civil War veteran who defeated Republican J. H. Masterson in the general election.

Leaving federal politics behind, Sherrod remained in the private sector until 1875. He returned to the Alabama legislature representing the Second Senatorial District, serving on the Finance Committee. After leaving the Alabama Senate, he relocated to Florence, Lauderdale County, where he became a leading figure in local business. He helped found the Florence Land & Mining Company and served as the vice president of the W. B. Wood Furnace Company. Sherrod also invested in local railroads, coal coke, and iron companies in the region. Eventually, he served on the board of directors of all the companies he invested in during his time in Florence.

In 1893, Sherrod and his family relocated to Wichita Falls, Texas, near the Oklahoma border. He was elected mayor of the town six years later, but he declined to serve because of poor health. Sherrod died in Wichita Falls on March 24, 1919, at the age of 83. He was buried in the town’s Riverside Cemetery. Amanda Morgan Sherrod died two years later and was buried in the same cemetery.

Further Reading

  • Brewer, W. Alabama: Her History, Resources, War Record, and Public Men, from 1540 to 1872. Montgomery, A.L.: Barrett & Brown, 1872.

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William Crawford Sherrod

William Crawford Sherrod