Wharton, William Harris (1802–1839)

By: Merle Weir

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: May 4, 2016

William Harris Wharton, orator and leader in the Texas Revolution, son of William and Judith (Harris) Wharton, was born in 1802 in Virginia. His parents died when he was a child, and he and his brother, John A. Wharton, were reared by an uncle, Jesse Wharton, in Nashville, Tennessee. William H. Wharton was graduated with the first class from the University of Nashville and was admitted to the bar in 1826. He was in Texas by December 5, 1827, when he married Sarah Ann Groce, daughter of Jared Ellison Groce. They had one child, John Austin Wharton. William Wharton returned to Nashville until April 1829, when he returned to Texas and established Eagle Island Plantation on land given to the couple by Jared Groce as an inducement to stay in Texas. Wharton early identified himself with the party of the colonists agitating for a more energetic policy toward Mexico. Sources conflict, but many believe Wharton served at the battle of Velasco and was one of those who signed the document of final surrender. He was a delegate from Victoria to the Convention of 1832, which asked for separate statehood for Texas and drew up a provisional constitution for a state government. Wharton wrote the petition to Mexico asking for statehood, a document which has become a political classic in Texas. At the Convention of 1833, he held the office of president. By 1835 Wharton and others were openly agitating for complete independence from Mexico, in opposition to the conservative policy of Stephen F. Austin. Wharton was elected a delegate to the Consultation, where the majority of the members were still in favor of a moderate policy; so the group merely stated loyalty to the Republican Constitution of 1824 as the reason for the war. Austin was elected to command the army, and Wharton was chosen judge advocate. He went with the army in the siege of Bexar, then resigned his commission a few days before he was notified of his appointment as a commissioner to the United States with Austin and Branch T. Archer to secure aid for the Texans.

United by common bonds of patriotism and common responsibilities, Wharton and Austin forgot their enmity of the preceding years and cooperated in the cause to which they were both devoted. Upon completing their mission, Wharton and Archer urged Austin to be a candidate for president of Texas, and they supported him in the campaign in which he was defeated by Sam Houston. In November of 1836 President Houston appointed Austin secretary of state and Wharton first minister to the United States, hoping to secure recognition by and possibly annexation to the United States. The appointment necessitated Wharton's resignation from his seat as senator in the First Congress from the Brazoria District. Recognition was won on March 3, 1837, but annexation at that time was hopeless in spite of Wharton's persuasive pleas.

After he resigned as minister in early 1837, Wharton was captured at sea by a Mexican ship and carried to Matamoros, where he was imprisoned. He succeeded in escaping and making his way back to Texas in time to be elected to the Texas Senate in 1838. Though he resigned before the beginning of the Adjourned Session in May 1838, he was reelected the same year. In December 1838 he introduced a bill to modify the flag and the seal of the republic (see FLAGS OF TEXAS, and SEALS OF TEXAS). Wharton was killed on March 14, 1839, when he accidentally discharged a pistol as he was dismounting at the home of his brother-in-law, Leonard W. Groce, near Hempstead. He was buried in the family cemetery at Eagle Island Plantation near Brazoria. The addresses and political documents that Wharton wrote reveal that he had rare ability as a diplomat and statesman. Wharton County was named in his honor.

James A. Creighton, A Narrative History of Brazoria County (Angleton, Texas: Brazoria County Historical Commission, 1975). William Wharton Groce, "Major General John A. Wharton," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 19 (January 1916). Laura Hale, The Groces and Whartons in the Early History of Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1942). Ethel Zivley Rather, "Recognition of the Republic of Texas by the United States," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 13 (January 1910). William S. Speer and John H. Brown, eds., Encyclopedia of the New West (Marshall, Texas: United States Biographical Publishing, 1881; rpt., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). Texas House of Representatives, Biographical Directory of the Texan Conventions and Congresses, 1832–1845 (Austin: Book Exchange, 1941). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Rosa Belle Wilson, Mission of Austin, Archer and Wharton to the United States (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1937).

Time Periods:
  • Republic of Texas

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

Merle Weir, “Wharton, William Harris,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wharton-william-harris.

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May 4, 2016