William H. Andrews (b. ca. 1839)


William H. Andrews was a member of the Convention of 1867–1868 and served in the House of Delegates (1870–1871). Little is known about him, although his appearances in the public record indicates a troubled man who struggled with alcoholism. Andrews won his seat in the convention called to rewrite Virginia’s state constitution in a racially polarized vote. Although he served quietly during the convention and generally voted with the Radical Republicans, for unexplained reasons he became the only African American delegate to vote against the new constitution. He narrowly won election to the House of Delegates from Surry County in 1869, but he acted erratically during his term. He was arrested multiple times, accused of whipping a page, and charged with bribery. He served out his term despite several attempts to expel him from the House. Andrews disappeared from public records after his term.

Early Political Career

The State Convention At Richmond

Andrews was born around 1839 and reportedly had been a schoolteacher in New Jersey before he came to Virginia. Newspaper accounts described him as a mulatto. No other evidence has come to light on his origins or activities prior to October 22, 1867, when he easily defeated George T. Clarke in racially polarized voting to choose a delegate to a state constitutional convention from Isle of Wight and Surry counties. Clarke won the votes of only four blacks in the two counties, while Andrews received a single white vote in each county. In the convention Andrews served on the Committee on the Pardoning Power but otherwise did not play a significant role, although he rarely missed a session. After voting generally with the Radicals, he shifted his stance and became the only African American delegate to vote against the new constitution, an erratic and unexplained course that prefigured his disastrous term in the assembly.

Whatever his constituents thought of his convention votes, Andrews remained prominent in Surry County, where he was one of several men appointed on June 4, 1869, as registrars for the coming statewide election. Soon thereafter he received the Republican Party’s nomination to the lower house of the General Assembly and defeated William Dillard by seventy-eight votes on July 6.

In the House of Delegates, Andrews was appointed to the standing Committees on Propositions and Grievances and on Manufactures and Mechanic Arts, and political observers no doubt expected him to serve quietly and vote with the Republican minority. Andrews was an alcoholic, however, and Richmond provided far more opportunities for dissipation than did Surry County. He took advantage of them and soon showed himself to be dangerous when drunk. On March 5, 1870, city policemen arrested him on charges of drunk and disorderly conduct and assault. Two days later the House assigned a committee to investigate the charges, and after reporting that Andrews had admitted his guilt it recommended a reprimand from the Speaker. After some debate, the House tabled the committee’s report.


William H. Brisby

Less than two weeks later William Henry Brisby and other African American delegates charged that Andrews had struck a House page with a whip and called for his expulsion. After other delegates questioned the severity of the punishment, on March 22 Andrews made a public apology to the House and accepted a reprimand from the Speaker. One newspaper reporter stated that he immediately left the chamber, drew his pay, and departed for the saloons.

Andrews conclusively burned his political bridges on March 25, 1870, by calling for the expulsion of two of his accusers. One of them, George Fayerman, of Petersburg, reported to the House on April 23 that Andrews had been jailed in that city four days earlier for drunkenness and for firing a pistol in a public place. Despite seemingly universal agreement about Andrews’s incapacity while under the influence of alcohol, Fayerman’s proposal that he be expelled was tabled.

Andrews apparently then hired William Grey to accompany him on his nightly rounds and to bring him home safely, but Grey soon tired of his unpleasant duty. In mid-June Andrews charged him with theft. Testimony given later suggested that he intended the accusation to scare Grey into remaining in his employ. In quick succession Andrews dropped the charge, brought and dropped it a second time, and then made the charge yet again. His patience finally gone, the justice of the peace accused Andrews of perjury. On June 30, 1870, the Richmond mayor’s court agreed and sent him to jail without bail.

In response Andrews hired G. D. Wootton, an attorney who petitioned the assembly about this outrage against a sitting member (although, in fact, assembly members could be jailed on felony charges). Perhaps in response, the judge then set bail at $500. Thoroughly discredited, Andrews returned to the assembly and to his wastrel ways while his case hung fire. In January 1871, as the assembly settled into protracted debate over bills presented by competing railroad interests, members objected to Andrews’s equally protracted absence from the House. When he offered a physician’s note certifying his ill health, they dropped the inquiry.

Bribery Charge


One month later, on February 21, 1871, Wootton finally obtained a nolle prosequi judgment on the perjury charge, meaning that the state had declined to prosecute the case. The attorney later testified that he did so in return for a promise by Andrews to vote in favor of the construction of a railroad from Washington to Richmond, a measure favored by the Pennsylvania Central Railroad and opposed by William Mahone‘s Atlantic, Mississippi, and Ohio Railroad. Lobbyists for the contending interests swarmed the halls of the Virginia State Capitol, and rumors of bribery circulated widely enough that the House appointed a committee to investigate them.

N. J. Hinton, an Irish-born Radical and formerly a doorkeeper at the constitutional convention, saw an opportunity to make money as a broker of bribes on behalf of the Pennsylvania interests and approached several legislators. Some of them, he testified, had already sold their votes, others said that they could obtain more money elsewhere, and some refused a bribe entirely. Only Andrews accepted his offer (never mentioning that he had already pledged to vote for the bill). After Andrews failed to supply Hinton’s fee for brokering the bribe, he went to Andrews, whom he believed had already been paid. Andrews denied that he had received his bribe money and, foolishly, wrote a letter of complaint for Hinton to carry back to his employers. The legislative committee investigating rumors of corruption called Hinton to testify, and he gave it Andrews’s letter.

The latter indiscretion, not corruption, distinguished Andrews from his peers. Observers then and now agree that the assorted railroad interests distributed vast quantities of alcohol, cash, and other favors to corral legislators. The newspapers predicted that under the circumstances nothing would come of the legislative inquiry, but Andrews’s letter, coupled with his weak defense that he had viewed the offered cash merely as a generous gift, made his action impossible to ignore. On March 29, 1871, the final day of the session, legislators once again introduced a resolution calling for his expulsion, and once again the House voted to table it.

From the beginning of his troubles with the law, Andrews’s fellow African American legislators were his most outspoken critics and as a group would have readily voted to expel him. The white Conservative majority obviously preferred the erratic and often absent Andrews to a more competent Radical legislator who might have taken his place, and it therefore voted to protect him from punishment. Andrews disappears from the records after 1871. Perhaps he went elsewhere, reformed, and led a productive life. Given his past, it seems likelier that he went swiftly to a bad end.

ca. 1839
William H. Andrews is born. The location of his birth, the identity of his parents, and whether he is free are unknown.
October 22, 1867
William H. Andrews, a Republican, defeats George T. Clarke to represent Isle of Wight and Surry counties in the constitutional convention.
December 3, 1867—April 17, 1868
William H. Andrews, a representative of Isle of Wight and Surry counties to the constitutional convention, serves on the Committee on the Pardoning Power. He is the only African American delegate to vote against the new constitution.
June 4, 1869
William H. Andrews is one of several men appointed as registrars for the upcoming statewide election.
July 6, 1869
Republican William H. Andrews, of Surry County, defeats William Dillard by seventy-eight votes and is elected to the House of Delegates.
March 5, 1870
William H. Andrews is arrested in Richmond on charges of drunk and disorderly conduct.
March 7, 1870
The House of Delegates assigns a committee to investigate charges related to Delegate William H. Andrews's arrest for drunk and disorderly conduct and assault. Andrews admits guilt. The report is tabled.
March 22, 1870
William H. Andrews makes a public apology to the House of Delegates and accepts a reprimand from the Speaker after being accused of striking a House page with a whip.
March 25, 1870
William H. Andrews calls for two fellow members of the House of Delegates to be expelled after they accuse him of striking a House page with a whip.
April 23, 1870
George Fayerman, of Petersburg, reports to the House of Delegates that his fellow member, William H. Andrews, had been jailed in that city four days earlier for drunkenness and firing a pistol in a public place.
June 30, 1870
The Richmond mayor's court sends William H. Andrews, a member of the House of Delegates, to jail without bail. The judge later sets bail at $500.
January 1871
Members of the House of Delegates object to fellow delegate William H. Andrews's protracted absence from the House. When he offers a physician's note certifying his ill health, they drop the inquiry.
February 21, 1871
The state announces it will decline to prosecute William H. Andrews, a member of the House of Delegates, on felony charges of assault. The state attorney later admits he did so in return for a favorable vote by Andrews.
March 29, 1871
Amidst charges of bribery, the House of Delegates introduces a resolution calling for the expulsion of William H. Andrews, a Republican. The House votes to table it. This is Andrews's last appearance in the historical record.
  • Kneebone, John T. “Andrews, William H.” In The Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1, edited by John T. Kneebone et al., 171–173. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998.
  • Lowe, Richard G. “Virginia’s Reconstruction Convention: General Schofield Rates the Delegates.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 80, no. 3 (July 1972): 341–360.
  • Moger, Allen W. “Railroad Practices and Politics in Virginia after the Civil War.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 59, no. 4 (October 1951): 423–457.
APA Citation:
Kneebone, John & Dictionary of Virginia Biography. William H. Andrews (b. ca. 1839). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/andrews-william-h-b-ca-1839.
MLA Citation:
Kneebone, John, and Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "William H. Andrews (b. ca. 1839)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 12 Apr. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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