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Philips, William Copeland (1823–1906)

Elizabeth N. Kemp Biography Entry

William Copeland Philips, Texas secretary of state, was born in Boone County, Missouri, on January 14, 1823. He was the son of John G. and Mary (Copeland) Philips. Some listings of the secretaries of state of Texas give his name as D. W. C. Phillips, but this is an error. On September 24, 1846, he married Martha Ann Robertson. He was graduated from Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky, on March 5, 1847, and practiced medicine in Missouri until 1850, when he went to California. He returned to Missouri sometime in 1852. After the death of his wife on July 11, 1852, he married Penelope Pope Hall in Columbia, Missouri, on April 28, 1853. They had nine children. In December 1853 he moved to Austin, Texas, and set up a medical practice. He was a strong Unionist who wrote under the pseudonym of Vesicula Calculus and was elected president at the Union Club's first meeting in September 1860. He was a staunch supporter of Sam Houston for governor, and as a result, he fought a duel with John Marshall, part owner of the Texas State Gazette and chairman of the state Democratic party. He left Austin and returned to Boone County, Missouri, during part of the Civil War. On his return trip to Texas, Philips was captured by a Confederate detachment. Union soldiers eventually overtook the detachment and freed him. In 1864 the Philips family built a home on their large cattle ranch northwest of Austin. In 1867 he was appointed secretary of state under Governor E. M. Pease. He was chief clerk in the office of the state comptroller in 1871. In 1876 he brought a celebrated racehorse, Silent Friend, to Austin, where he and his son John Hall Philips offered the horse as stud from the Elmonia Stock Farm. Philips continued his Republican party activities in the state, attending the inauguration of President James A. Garfield in 1881 and serving as delegate to both state and national Republican conventions until 1886. In 1888 he and his daughter moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he worked as paymaster inspector of the Metropolitan Street Railroad Company. He was living in Rocheport, Missouri, when he committed suicide on November 16, 1906. He left a note asking that his only epitaph be, "He was Secretary of State in Texas under Governor Pease."

Austin American-Statesman, May 7, 1982. Frank Brown, Annals of Travis County and the City of Austin (MS, Frank Brown Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin). Pease-Graham-Niles Family Papers, Austin Public Library.


  • Health and Medicine
  • Physicians and Surgeons
  • General Practitioners

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Elizabeth N. Kemp, “Philips, William Copeland,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 05, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: