William Lewis Moody, entrepreneur, was born on May 19, 1828, in Essex County, Virginia. The son of Jameson and Mary Susan (Lankford) Moody, he was raised in Chesterfield County, Virginia. Moody was orphaned at fifteen. He attended law school at the University of Virginia and graduated after three years in 1851. In 1852 he moved to Texas and settled at Fairfield in Freestone County. After three years of practicing law, he was joined by his brothers and went into the mercantile and cotton business as W. L. Moody and Brothers. Moody married Pherabe Elizabeth Bradley on December 1, 1860. They were the parents of six children. One was still born and two daughters died in infancy. His two sons, William Lewis Moody, Jr., and Frank Bradley Moody, were in business with him. William Lewis Moody, Jr., would become one of the most significant financiers in Texas during the first half of the twentieth century. His surviving daughter, Mary Emily Moody, married Sealy Hutchings of Galveston. The Moodys lived in Fairfield until 1866, when they moved to Galveston where they lived for the remainder of their lives. With the coming of the Civil War, Moody was an ardent secessionist. In the summer of 1861 he organized Company G of the Seventh Texas Infantry and served as captain of the company. His unit, under the command of Moody's friend John Gregg, was captured at the fall of Fort Donelson. After months in prison camp, Moody was exchanged in September 1862 and participated in the reorganization of the Seventh Texas Infantry, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. He fought through the spring 1863 campaigns in Mississippi and was commended for bravery at the battle of Raymond on May 12. On July 10 he was seriously wounded in fighting near Jackson, Mississippi. He was sent back to Texas to convalesce, promoted to colonel, and spent the remainder of the Civil War in Austin.
After returning to Fairfield, he determined that there were better opportunities in Galveston. Arriving in Galveston in the summer of 1866, he opened his firm of W. L. and L. F. Moody on September 1, 1866, as cotton factors. The name of the firm varied over the years, becoming Moody, Bradley and Company in 1867, Moody and Jemison in 1871, and W. L. Moody and Company in 1881. During Reconstruction Moody devoted his attention to his business and related activities. In 1872 he participated in the founding of the Galveston Cotton Exchange and served as president of the exchange for the years 1877–82, 1884–88, and 1898–1900. He also was involved in founding the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway and served as a director for the line. In the early 1880s Moody became chairman of the Galveston Deep Water Committee, which sought help from Congress in funding the development of Galveston as a deep-water port. Although the committee failed to gain passage of its bill while Moody was chairman, the legislation finally won congressional approval in 1890. With the end of Reconstruction he became active in the Democratic party and was elected to the Texas legislature in 1873. In February 1874, at the request of Governor Richard Coke, he resigned to become the Texas financial agent, selling bonds in New York City. Moody remained an active Democrat although he never again held political office. He was particularly close to governors Francis R. Lubbock, Coke, and James S. Hogg. Along with Hogg, he was a major supporter of William Jennings Bryan and was known as the only "free silver" banker in Texas. He was considered as a possible Secretary of the Treasury had Bryan won the presidency. Moody and Hogg were deeply involved in Bryan's nomination in 1896, as well as later campaigns. Bryan and Hogg, as well as other politicians, visited Galveston frequently, taking advantage of the hunting and fishing facilities offered by the Moodys.
Moody's business activities centered on his cotton and banking interests in Galveston under the auspices of his firm, W. L. Moody and Company. The firm handled a substantial portion of the cotton business in Texas. In 1894 it built the first dockside cotton compress in Texas, and in 1913 it established a major press complex in Galveston. In 1916 it was separated into two parts, W. L. Moody and Company Bankers, Unincorporated, and W. L. Moody Cotton Company. Although always involved in business, Moody was an avid sportsman, spending many hours duck hunting and fishing. In addition, he was involved in the establishment of Fairfield Female College. Also, he was long time president of the Galveston Association of Alumni of the University of Virginia, a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, a member of Knights Templar, a Shriner, a Thirty-second Degree Mason, and a member of the Methodist Church. He remained active throughout his life, working up almost to the day of his death on July 17, 1920. Moody was buried in the family cemetery in Chesterfield County, Virginia.