Worth, William Jenkins (1794–1849)

By: Arvin W. Turner

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: February 1, 1996

William Jenkins Worth, United States Army major general, the son of Thomas and Abigail (Jenkins) Worth, was born in Hudson, New York, on March 1, 1794. A member of an old seafaring family, Worth returned with his father to Edgartown, Massachusetts, the family's original home, after the death of his mother sometime before 1800. By 1812 young Worth had returned to Hudson, where he was probably educated at Lenox Academy. Worth was a dissatisfied clerk in a wholesale establishment when the War of 1812 began, and he enlisted as an army private. He was commissioned a first lieutenant, Twenty-third United States Infantry, on March 19, 1813, served as aide-de-camp to generals Morgan Lewis and Winfield Scott, and rose to the rank of captain on August 19, 1814. Worth was severely wounded and permanently lamed at the battle of Lundy's Lane, but he remained in the army after the war. He transferred to the Second Infantry on May 17, 1815, and to the First Artillery on June 1, 1821. He became an instructor of tactics at West Point in 1820 and in 1825 was made commandant of cadets. By the time of his transfer to field duty in 1828, Worth had instilled high standards of conduct and discipline still evident today in the West Point Cadet Corps. He was promoted to major, ordnance bureau, on May 30, 1832. During the 1830s Worth served under Scott in the Illinois campaign against the Black Hawks and participated in the removal of Cherokee Indians from the southeastern United States. He helped maintain peace between the United States and Great Britain when Canada's Patriot War erupted along the border and was promoted to colonel. In 1840 Worth was transferred to Florida, where in 1842 he successfully ended the Seminole War, and was made a brigadier general on March 1, 1842.

During the Mexican War Worth served under generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. He participated in the battle of Monterrey in 1846, led the first troops ashore in the United States amphibious landing at Veracruz in March 1847, and commanded the troops that captured Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City in September 1847. For these accomplishments he received a sword of honor from Congress and a promotion to major general. The war's end led Worth to a public dispute and break with former friend and mentor Scott, who incorrectly held Worth responsible for the publication of a letter criticizing the commanding general's conduct of the war. In the midst of this controversy, Worth was assigned as a commander of the newly created Department of Texas, with headquarters in San Antonio. His tenure in Texas was brief, for he soon contracted cholera from the troops under his command and died in San Antonio on May 7, 1849. Eight years after his death, the city of New York reinterred his remains in a public monument and tomb, fifty-one feet tall, located at the juncture of Broadway and Fifth Avenue. The monument, run-down and covered with graffiti, was restored during the early 1990s; the work was financed by donors who included Worth's great-great-grandson, retired navy commander James A. Woodruff, Jr. The city of Fort Worth and a large lake in Florida are named in Worth's honor. Worth was a member of the Church of Christ (Congregational), a Democrat, and a Mason. He married Margaret Stafford of Albany, New York, in 1818. They had three daughters and a son.

Edward S. Wallace, General William Jenkins Worth (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1953). Edward S. Wallace, "General William Jenkins Worth and Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 54 (October 1950).
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas

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

Arvin W. Turner, “Worth, William Jenkins,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/worth-william-jenkins.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1996