William Harrison Tilson, educator, Confederate soldier, attorney, and state representative, was born in Washington County, Virginia, on March 26, 1837, to David and Elizabeth (Cole) Tilson. He was raised in Washington County and received a basic education there. He later attended Mossy Creek Baptist College (now Carson-Newman University) in Jefferson City, Tennessee, and graduated on June 20, 1859. In September of that year Tilson immigrated to Texas and settled at DeKalb in Bowie County. In 1862, following the outbreak of the Civil War, Tilson volunteered for service in the Confederate Army. He joined Crump’s Battalion and ultimately became part of the Thirty-second Texas Cavalry. Tilson saw action with this unit during the 1862 battles of Corinth, Mississippi. During this time, however, he became so ill that he was ultimately discharged.
He returned to Texas and taught school in the vicinities of Bowie and Cass counties. On December 15, 1862, Tilson married Eunice Walker Read in Bowie County. This couple had two sons and two daughters. In addition to teaching, Tilson undertook the study of law and in 1866 gained admission to the bar at Jefferson in Marion County. At this time Tilson relocated to Boston, Bowie County, and began a law practice with partner Benjamin T. Estes. He also served as county attorney and justice of the peace for Bowie County. In 1872 Tilson won election as representative for District 8—comprised of Bowie, Davis, and Marion counties—to the Thirteenth Texas Legislature and served from January 1873 to January 1874. He was a Democrat. Tilson relocated again in October 1876, this time to Texarkana in Bowie County, where he continued his practice. He was a founding member of the First Baptist Church of Texarkana in 1877, and he was chosen as the first church clerk and was a church deacon for twenty-five years. He returned to state politics in 1879 and won election as senator for District 5—comprised of Cass, Bowie, Marion, and Morris counties—to the Sixteenth Texas Legislature. He remained in this office through the conclusion of the Seventeenth Texas Legislature in January 1883 and served as chair of the committees on Private Land Claims and Counties and County Boundaries. Tilson’s wife died in the 1872, and he subsequently married two of her sisters, Rebecca W. Read and Carrie W. Read, on June 18, 1873, and June 23, 1884, respectively. Tilson died at his home in Texarkana on October 6, 1909. He was buried in Read Hill Cemetery in New Boston in Bowie County.
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Biographical Souvenir of the State of Texas (Chicago: Battey, 1889; rpt., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). E. W. Swindells, A Legislative Manual for the State of Texas (2 vols., Austin: 1879–83). Members of the Legislature of the State of Texas from 1846 to 1939 (Austin: Texas Legislature, 1939). Patsy McDonald Spaw, ed., The Texas Senate, Volume II: Civil War to the Eve of Reform, 1861–1889 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1999).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Aragorn Storm Miller,
“Tilson, William Harrison,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 18, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
November 4, 2014