William Blackford (1801–1864)


William Blackford was a journalist and diplomat. Born in Maryland, he moved to Fredericksburg in 1825 to practice law. From 1828 to 1841 he owned the Fredericksburg Political Arena and Literary Messenger, which supported the Whig Party. With his wife, Mary Berkeley Minor Blackford, he was active in the colonization movement. From 1842 to 1845 he served as chargé d’affaires to the Republic of New Granada, helping to negotiate a new postal treaty. In 1846, he purchased a paper in Lynchburg, which he sold in 1850 to become postmaster. In 1853 he became the cashier of the new Exchange Bank of Lynchburg, a position he held until his death. Blackford supported the Confederacy during the American Civil War (1861–1865) and served as the Confederate States Treasury agent in Lynchburg. He died in 1864.

William Mathews Blackford was born on August 19, 1801, at Catoctin Furnace in Frederick County, Maryland, the third of four sons and fourth of six children of Benjamin Blackford and Isabella Arthur Blackford. He grew up there and in Shenandoah County, where his father owned and operated a large and profitable ironworks. By 1824 Blackford had qualified as an attorney, and in January 1825 he moved to Fredericksburg and began to practice law. On October 12, 1825, he married Mary Berkeley Minor in Caroline County. They had two daughters and six sons.

American Colonization Society Token

In addition to his law practice, Blackford acted as an agent for several years for the Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia. In 1828 he bought the Fredericksburg Political Arena and Literary Messenger from his brother-in-law and plunged into the presidential campaign on behalf of President John Quincy Adams. Blackford owned and edited the Political Arena until October 1841 and consistently and vigorously supported the Whig Party. Blackford and his wife were both active in the Episcopal Church, in the temperance movement, and in Fredericksburg auxiliaries of the American Colonization Society, which they were instrumental in founding and running.

On February 10, 1842, President John Tyler appointed Blackford chargé d’affaires to New Granada. Blackford and his son William Willis Blackford lived in Bogotá for almost three years while he tried to settle the long-standing American claims against New Granada resulting from seizures of ships and cargoes during the South American wars for independence. Blackford soon concluded that he would have as little success as his predecessors unless the United States imposed a naval blockade. He turned his attention to negotiating a postal convention, which was signed on March 6, 1844, and ratified on December 20. Blackford also negotiated a commercial treaty between New Granada and the United States, but because the treaty did not end discriminatory duties, the United States Senate never ratified it. While in New Granada Blackford also kept a watchful eye on French and British attempts to secure exclusive rights to construct a railroad or a canal across the Isthmus of Panama.

Blackford returned to the United States on February 12, 1845, after the Democratic Party won the presidential election of 1844, and he resigned as chargé d’affaires effective May 13, 1845. In March 1846 he bought a controlling interest in, and became the editor of, the Lynchburg Virginian, the most influential Whig newspaper in Piedmont Virginia. Blackford sold his interest in the Virginian in 1850 when he was appointed postmaster of Lynchburg. After the Democratic Party took over the presidency in 1853, Blackford lost his job as postmaster, and on May 4, 1853, he became cashier of the new Exchange Bank of Lynchburg. He remained cashier until his death.

Blackford opposed secession in 1861 but after the fact became a firm supporter of the Confederacy. Five of his sons fought in the Confederate army, he opened his home to sick and wounded Confederate soldiers, and after the Battle of Fredericksburg he raised $4,000 for the citizens of his old hometown. Blackford was an early admirer of Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and served as an escort when his body passed through Lynchburg. In June 1863 Blackford accepted the position of Confederate States Treasury agent in Lynchburg. Blackford died at his Lynchburg home during the night of 14–15 April 1864 and was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery there.

August 19, 1801
William Blackford is born in Frederick County, Maryland.
January 1825
William Blackford moves to Fredericksburg and begins to practice law.
October 12, 1825
William Blackford and Mary Berkeley Minor are married in Caroline County.
William Blackford buys the Fredericksburg Political Arena and Literary Messenger.
October 1841
William Blackford sells the Fredericksburg Political Arena and Literary Messenger.
February 10, 1842
President John Tyler appoints William Blackford chargé d'affaires to New Granada.
March 6, 1844
A new postal convention between the United States and the Republic of New Granada is signed.
December 20, 1844
The U.S. Senate ratifies a new postal convention with the Republic of New Granada.
February 12, 1845
William Blackford returns to the United States from New Granada.
May 13, 1845
William Blackford resigns as chargé d'affaires to New Granada.
March 1846
William Blackford buys a controlling interest in, and becomes the editor of, the Lynchburg Virginian, a Whig newspaper.
William Blackford sells his interest in the Lynchburg Virginian and becomes postmaster of Lynchburg.
May 4, 1853
Having lost his job as postmaster of Lynchburg, William Blackford becomes cashier of the new Exchange Bank of Lynchburg.
June 1863
William Blackford becomes the Confederate States Treasury agent in Lynchburg.
April 14 or 15, 1864
William Blackford dies during the night at his home in Lynchburg.
  • Gunter, Donald W. “Blackford, William Mathews.” In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1, edited by John T. Kneebone, et al., 525–526. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998.
APA Citation:
Gunter, Donald & Dictionary of Virginia Biography. William Blackford (1801–1864). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/blackford-william-1801-1864.
MLA Citation:
Gunter, Donald, and Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "William Blackford (1801–1864)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 20 Jul. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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