ENTRY

Ash, William H. (1859–1908)

SUMMARY

William H. Ash represented Amelia and Nottoway counties in the House of Delegates during the 1887–1888 session. Ash was born enslaved and graduated from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University). He settled in Burkeville as a teacher and helped establish the first statewide organization for African American educators in 1884. Three years later the Republicans selected Ash as their candidate for the House of Delegates but his ties to party leader William Mahone likely cost him renomination in 1889. He remained an educator and was an agricultural instructor at Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (later Virginia State University) at the time of his death in 1908.

William H. Ash (1859–1908)

Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute

  • Church and Academic Hall
    Church and Academic Hall

    A photograph of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University) shows the school's chapel, with its 150-foot clock tower, and an academic building at right. The institute was founded in 1868 to educate the formerly enslaved; within a decade the education of Native Americans also became part of the school's mission. This image was taken in 1899 or 1900 by Frances Benjamin Johnston, a well-known photographer from Washington, D.C. Johnston was commissioned by the school's second principal, Hollis Burke Frissell, to document the institute and its students for the Paris Exposition of 1900.

  • Hampton Students Working on Telephones
    Hampton Students Working on Telephones

    Students repair and construct telephones in a class at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University). The institute was founded in 1868 to educate the formerly enslaved; within a decade the education of Native Americans also became part of the school's mission. This image was taken in 1899 or 1900 by Frances Benjamin Johnston, a well-known photographer from Washington, D.C. Johnston was commissioned by the school's second principal, Hollis Burke Frissell, to document the institute and its students for the Paris Exposition of 1900.

  • Students Studying Agricultural Science
    Students Studying Agricultural Science

    Students at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University) measure the amount of force being applied by the screws in cheese presses. This exercise was part of the curriculum devoted to agricultural science. The message on the blackboard behind the class reads in part, "In all its effects, learning the meaning of things is better than learning the meaning of words." The institute was founded in 1868 to educate the formerly enslaved; within a decade the education of Native Americans also became part of the school's mission. This image was taken in 1899 or 1900 by Frances Benjamin Johnston, a well-known photographer from Washington, D.C. Johnston was commissioned by the school's second principal, Hollis Burke Frissell, to document the institute and its students for the Paris Exposition of 1900.

  • Indian Wearing Traditional Clothing in American History Class
    Indian Wearing Traditional Clothing in American History Class

    Louis Firetail of the Crow Creek Sioux tribe wears traditional clothing and stands next to a bald eagle in an American history class at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University). The institute was founded in 1868 to educate the formerly enslaved; within a decade the education of Native Americans also became part of the school's mission. This image was taken in 1899 or 1900 by Frances Benjamin Johnston, a well-known photographer from Washington, D.C. Johnston was commissioned by the school's second principal, Hollis Burke Frissell, to document the institute and its students for the Paris Exposition of 1900.

  • Class in Liberal Arts and Sciences
    Class in Liberal Arts and Sciences

    Students at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University) mold clay to mimic objects hanging from easels attached to their desks. This exercise was part of a liberal arts and sciences class. The institute was founded in 1868 to educate the formerly enslaved; within a decade the education of Native Americans also became part of the school's mission. This image was taken in 1899 or 1900 by Frances Benjamin Johnston, a well-known photographer from Washington, D.C. Johnston was commissioned by the school's second principal, Hollis Burke Frissell, to document the institute and its students for the Paris Exposition of 1900.

  • Constructing a House
    Constructing a House

    Students at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University) work to finish the interior of a house that they built largely by themselves. The institute was founded in 1868 to educate the formerly enslaved; within a decade the education of Native Americans also became part of the school's mission. This carefully composed image was taken in 1899 or 1900 by Frances Benjamin Johnston, a well-known photographer from Washington, D.C. Johnston was commissioned by the school's second principal, Hollis Burke Frissell, to document the institute and its students for the Paris Exposition of 1900.

William Horace Ash was born a slave on May 15, 1859, in Loudoun County, the son of William H. Ash and Martha A. Ash. In 1880, calling himself Horace Ash, of Leesburg, he entered Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University). He had already attended a school operated by a Mrs. Martha C. Reed under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. He graduated from Hampton in 1882.

Ash taught for one term in Southampton County before moving to Nottoway County to teach at Ingleside Seminary at Burkeville, a school for African American girls supported by the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (later Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.). He was a successful teacher and regularly petitioned friends at Hampton for donations of reading matter and other classroom materials. At a summer institute at Farmville in 1884, Ash participated in founding the Teachers Reading Circle, the first statewide organization of African American educators, and he was elected president of the short-lived group.

William Mahone

By then Ash was involved in politics. Interested in the local Republican Party from the time of his arrival in Nottoway, he served as a county delegate to the state party convention in 1884. Three years later the party nominated him for the House of Delegates from the district comprising Amelia and Nottoway counties. The Democrats offered only token opposition, but divisions within the Republican Party forced him to act cautiously, for Ash supported the party’s powerful leader, William Mahone, who had alienated many other Republicans. In the senatorial district that included Amelia County, Samuel P. Bolling, of Cumberland County, ran as an independent candidate against Nathaniel M. Griggs, a Mahonite. Ash explained to Mahone that he had refrained from campaigning in Amelia in order to avoid publicizing his support for Griggs and thereby possibly losing votes. His caution proved excessive, for he carried both counties by wide margins.

In the assembly Ash voted with the Republican minority and served on the standing Committees on Propositions and Grievances and on Printing. He remained concerned with education, proposing an investigation of student complaints at Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (which became Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute in 1902 and Virginia State University in 1979), in Ettrick, near Petersburg, and introducing an unsuccessful bill concerning appointments of teachers in the public schools. He also began to study law and later identified himself as a lawyer, although he is not known to have practiced.

John Mercer Langston

Meanwhile, Ash’s political career came to a sudden end. In 1888 John Mercer Langston ran against Mahone’s handpicked candidate for Congress. Ash warned Mahone of Langston’s popularity in his district but stood by his leader. After the bitter election, another black Republican, Henry Johnson, of Amelia County, replaced him in the General Assembly. Ash returned to teaching.

On May 29, 1889, Ash married Sallie B. Miller, a native of Nottoway County and a fellow teacher. They had no children. In 1891 they moved to Leesburg in Ash’s native Loudoun County and taught there, although he owned twenty acres of land in Nottoway County. They had returned to Nottoway by the beginning of 1904, when Ash tried to purchase a defunct school for young white women. He intended to turn it into a school for African American boys, modeled after Ingleside Seminary. That venture fell through, and in September 1904 Ash accepted a post at Swift Memorial Institute in Rogersville, Tennessee, where he taught nine classes ranging from Latin to beekeeping.

In 1907 Ash accepted an offer to teach agriculture and oversee the farm at the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute in Ettrick. On February 14, 1908, after six days of illness, William Horace Ash died at the college from kidney failure. Funeral services took place at his home in Burkeville.

MAP
TIMELINE
May 15, 1859
William H. Ash is born a slave in Loudoun County, the son of William H. Ash and Martha A. Ash.
1880
William H. Ash, using the name Horace Ash, enters the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute.
1882
William H. Ash graduates from the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. He teaches briefly in Southampton County before moving to Nottoway County to teach at Ingleside Seminary, a school for African American girls.
1884
In Farmville, William H. Ash participates in founding the Teachers Reading Circle, the first statewide organization of African American educators. He is elected president of the short-lived group.
1884
William H. Ash serves as a county delegate to the state Republican Party convention.
1887
The state Republican Party nominates William H. Ash for the House of Delegates from the district comprising Amelia and Nottoway counties. He wins both counties by wide margins but loses his reelection campaign.
May 29, 1889
William H. Ash marries Sallie B. Miller, of Nottoway County. They will have no children.
1891
William H. Ash and his wife, Sallie B. Miller Ash, both teachers, move to Leesburg, in Loudoun County, where they teach.
1904
By the beginning of the year, William H. Ash and his wife, Sallie B. Miller Ash, have returned to Nottoway County, where they own twenty acres of land. William Ash fails in his attempt to purchase a defunct school to found an institution for African American boys.
September 1904
William H. Ash accepts a post at Swift Memorial Institute in Rogersville, Tennessee, where he teaches nine classes ranging from Latin to beekeeping.
1907
William H. Ash accepts an offer to teach agriculture and oversee the farm at the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute in Ettrick, near Petersburg.
February 14, 1908
William H. Ash dies of kidney failure at the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute in Ettrick, near Petersburg. Funeral services are at his home in Burkeville.
FURTHER READING
  • Jackson, Luther Porter. Negro Office-Holders in Virginia, 1865–1895. Norfolk: Guide Quality Press, 1945.
  • Kneebone, John T. “Ash, William Horace.” In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1, edited by John T. Kneebone, et al., 222–223. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998.
  • Moger, Allen W. Virginia: Bourbonism to Byrd, 1870–1925. Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1968.
  • Moore, James Tice. Two Paths to the New South: The Virginia Debt Controversy, 1870–1883. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1974.
CITE THIS ENTRY
APA Citation:
Kneebone, John. Ash, William H. (1859–1908). (2021, February 12). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/ash-william-h-1859-1908.
MLA Citation:
Kneebone, John. "Ash, William H. (1859–1908)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (12 Feb. 2021). Web. 04 Aug. 2021
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