Willingham, Archibald (1786–1857)

By: Douglas B. Willingham

Type: Biography

Published: March 1, 1996

Updated: March 26, 2019

Archibald Willingham, early settler, was born on December 10, 1786, in Columbia County, Georgia. In the War of 1812 he served as a sergeant in Capt. Thomas Carr's Company of Georgia Militia and attained the rank of captain. According to family legend, Willingham underwent some form of medical training during this time and after his discharge was a physician. On December 6, 1809, he married Eleanor Belcher in Columbia County, Georgia. Between 1810 and 1833, they had eleven children, only two of whom died in childhood. As a colonist of Stephen F. Austin, Willingham emigrated from Georgia to Texas in January 1839 and settled with his wife and all of their surviving children near Washington-on-the-Brazos. When he arrived in Texas he was already an old man, by early-nineteenth-century standards. He presumably practiced medicine at this time; his descendants have some of his medical instruments. He was a farmer and a rancher and was involved in the politics of nearby Washington-on-the-Brazos, the first capital of Texas, during the ten years he lived in Washington County. His name appears in a document dated November 10, 1843, that names five individuals to draft a preamble and resolutions resulting from a meeting between a "committee of citizens of Independence and the Honorable Anson Jones."

On December 2, 1848, Willingham's eldest son, Francis Marion Willingham, traveled to Austin as agent for his father and purchased 320 acres of land on Salado Creek from Elijah S. C. Robertson for a dollar an acre. By 1850 Archibald Willingham, who is credited with being the first permanent settler at Salado, and at least two of his sons had settled on that land. The Willinghams built a double log cabin with a dog trot about a hundred yards west of where the Stagecoach Inn was later built. Dr. James Edwin Guthrie, an early Salado physician, and his wife built their first home on the same site, which is now occupied by the Stagecoach Inn offices. Some of Willingham's children remained in Washington County and there raised families. Caroline Eliza Willingham married Henry G. Anderson. Their son, Wilson Anderson, was murdered by the notorious gunman William Preston (Bill) Longley in 1875. Longley was hanged for this murder on October 11, 1878, at Giddings.

Willingham was primarily a farmer and stock raiser. The 1850 Milam County census indicated that he had property valued at $3,000. He was also involved in activities related to the formation of Bell County in 1850. Among these, he superintended construction of a road from Nolanville (Belton) to Chalks Mill on Salado Creek. In 1852 Willingham moved several miles upstream to a place that became known as Willingham Springs. The family built a house there called Three Chimneys. This home, once a landmark, has been in ruins for more than 75 years. Sterling Robertson bought a tract of land from Willingham on January 5, 1854, for $2,000, presumably the same tract he had sold them in 1848, although he was living in the Willingham cabin by March 1852. There he resided while he built the large Greek Revival home to which he moved his family from Austin in 1854. Apparently, Willingham moved to Belton in the last few years of his life. He died on October 27, 1857, and was buried at Three Chimneys.

Worth Stickley Ray, Austin Colony Pioneers (Austin: Jenkins, 1949; 2d ed., Austin: Pemberton, 1970). Felda Davis Shanklin, Salado, Texas (Belton, Texas: Bell, 1960). Texas State Gazette, October 31, 1857. George Tyler, History of Bell County (San Antonio: Naylor, 1936).

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

Douglas B. Willingham, “Willingham, Archibald,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/willingham-archibald.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 1, 1996
March 26, 2019