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LEVY, WILLIAM TAYLOR

Gravestone of W. T. Levy.
William Taylor Levy, lawyer and immigration inspector at the Port of Galveston, also helped organize the First United States Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Spanish-American War. Courtesy Find A Grave Memorial and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

LEVY, WILLIAM TAYLOR (1868–1900). William Taylor (W. T.) Levy was a lawyer, military officer, and civil servant who, in 1896, was appointed as the first United States immigration officer assigned to duty at the Port of Galveston. Levy was born on September 26, 1868, in Norfolk, Virginia, and was the son of Richard B. Levy, Sr. (originally from Norfolk) and Edmonia Preston (Taylor) Levy. About 1871 the family moved to Longview, Texas, where William spent his youth. His father served as the first county and district clerk of Gregg County, Texas, and was the personal secretary of Texas governor James Stephen Hogg. W. T. Levy’s older brother, Richard B. Levy, Jr., also of Longview, served in the Texas legislature and was one of the original judges appointed to the Texas Sixth District Court of Appeals.

William Levy was among the early groups of students to attend the University of Texas at Austin as part of the class of 1888. While attending the University of Texas, Levy was a founding member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity Alpha Nu Chapter in September 1884. After completing his studies at the university, he returned to Longview where he served as deputy county clerk and studied law. Levy was admitted to the Texas bar in 1889. He served as a private and a non-commissioned officer in the Longview Rifles of the Texas Volunteer Guard (TVG) from 1886 to 1889 and rose to the rank of first sergeant.

In 1890 William T. Levy married Eoline Griffin of Tennessee. By that same year, the Levy family moved to Childress, Texas, where he established a law practice with Stovall Johnson, the district attorney for Childress County. While residing in Childress, Levy organized the Panhandle Calvary Company TVG and was elected captain. In 1891 he moved his law practice to Velasco, Texas, where he established a partnership with W. M. Holland.

In 1893 Levy was appointed to the newly-established position of immigration inspector with the United States Customs Service in Pembina, North Dakota. He was recommended for the position by United States Congressman Constantine Kilgore of Texas’s Third Congressional District and was appointed by President Grover Cleveland. Shortly after his appointment, Levy was promoted and assigned to a similar position in New York. In 1894 he was appointed Commissioner of Immigration at Quebec, Canada, by President Cleveland.

Galveston was made a regular port of entry for immigrants in 1896, and Levy was appointed as the first immigration inspector at the port by President Cleveland. Levy performed his first service as an immigration inspector at Galveston on December 11, 1896, when the North German Lloyd steamship Halle arrived carrying almost 150 immigrants at the port. These European immigrants came from Germany, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Moravia, Bohemia, and Galicia (an area that is within the current borders of Poland and Ukraine). The Port of Galveston became the gateway to America for approximately 200,000 primarily European immigrants.

While serving in Galveston, Levy was a strong supporter of the immigrants arriving at the port. In his March 1898 monthly report, he described the immigrants arriving at Galveston as “the very best class that comes to America.” On one occasion in Galveston, he arranged the marriages of two arriving immigrant couples before they departed for their final destinations in the United States. This act of kindness was reported in newspapers throughout the state of Texas. While immigration inspector, Levy’s investigations led to the punishment of men engaged in the trafficking and sale of French women immigrants. He also helped dismantle a group bringing contract Croatian stave makers to the Southern states in violation of immigration law.

While residing in Galveston, Levy assisted in organizing the First United States Volunteer Infantry (Immune) Regiment during the Spanish-American War. On June 21, 1898, President William McKinley appointed Levy major of this regiment.  Later Levy organized the Galveston Sharpshooters TVG and was elected to the rank of captain.

On September 8, 1900, a major hurricane struck Galveston Island (see GALVESTON HURRICANE OF 1900) and killed an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 people, including the entire Levy family. Levy was thirty-one years of age at the time of his death; his official death date is listed as September 10, 1900. He died attempting to save his wife Eoline, sons Wortham and Griffin, and daughter Eoline.

Levy Family Memorial.
The W. T. Levy family perished in the Galveston hurricane of 1900 and is memorialized in Greenwood Cemetery in Longview, Texas. Presbyterian minister and poet Romulus Morrison Tuttle also commemorated the family in a poem titled "Our Loved and Lost," published in Tuttle's Poems in 1905. Courtesy Find A Grave Memorial and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

At the time of his death Levy was eulogized by Assistant Secretary of the Treasury H. A. Taylor as one of the most valuable men in the department. Adj. Gen. Thomas Scurry of the Texas Volunteer Guard issued a statement describing Levy as a citizen and soldier who had won the confidence and esteem of all who knew him. General Scurry wrote, “The State has lost a valued son, the guard an efficient officer.” Upon learning of Levy’s death, the Dallas Morning News reported, “As an officer of the Federal Government, a military officer and citizen, he commanded the highest esteem of the people of Galveston.”

Romulus Morrison Tuttle, a Presbyterian minister, authored a poem titled “Our Loved and Lost” in memory of the W. T. Levy family. The poem, which Tuttle dedicated to Levy’s parents, was published in a book titled Tuttle’s Poems in 1905.

William Taylor Levy was buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in Longview, Texas.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Austin Weekly Statesman, December 17, 1896. Dallas Morning News, May 30, 1900; September 18, 1900; October 4, 10, 17, 1900. Fort Worth Daily Gazette, September 27, 1885; January 27, 1889; August 9, 1889; October 17, 1891. Galveston Daily News, September 30, 1893; December 31, 1893. Texas Adjutant General Service Records 1836–1935:  Levy, William Taylor—Texas Volunteer Guard, Texas State Library and Archives Commission (https://www.tsl.texas.gov/apps/arc/service/index.php?formType=name&lastname=Levy&firstname=&searchType=beginLike&organization_code=TVG&call_no=&dosearch=Search+Now), accessed January 2, 2017. “William T. Levy,” Find A Grave Memorial (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Levy&GSfn=William&GSmn=T&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSob=n&GRid=5699855&df=all&), accessed January 1, 2017.

Steve Hooper

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Handbook of Texas Online, Steve Hooper, "Levy, William Taylor ," accessed June 25, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fleva.

Uploaded on March 30, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.