Wise As It Was: What’s in a name?

By Messenger Staff | Published Saturday, January 20, 2018

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Wise County, Texas, officially established in 1856, was named after Henry A. Wise.


Henry Wise


Henry Alexander Wise was born in 1806 and died in 1876. He was from a remote part of Virginia that is separated from the rest of the state by the Chesapeake Bay, known as the Eastern Shore.

Up to 1856, Henry Wise was a lawyer and a politician. He married three times and fathered 14 children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1833 to 1844. He was then the U.S. minister to Brazil until 1847. From 1847 to 1855, Wise was an active member of the Democratic Party and practiced law. In 1855, he was elected governor of Virginia.

1856 was a good year for Wise, having two counties in two states named after him: Wise County, Texas and Wise County, Virginia. At the time, he was governor of Virginia and was well-known for being an ardent supporter of Texas annexation while in Congress.

AFTER 1856

He continued to serve as governor of Virginia until 1860. As the Civil War approached, he was a strong advocate for Virginia’s secession. Frustrated that secession wasn’t happening, he helped plan actions to seize the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry and the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk. These plans, which were not sanctioned by the incumbent governor or the Virginia militia, never occurred because Fort Sumter forced Lincoln’s call to arms and Virginia voted for secession two days later.

Despite having no military training, he was commissioned as a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army. He served in various parts of Virginia throughout the Civil War and was with Robert E. Lee at Appomatox Court House.

After the war, Wise settled in Richmond, Va. and remained there for the rest of his life. He became a Republican and was a strong supporter of President Ulysses S. Grant. In 1872, he wrote a book called Seven Decades of a Union.

According to a biography written by his grandson, Henry A. Wise had an “excitable disposition, which made him wayward and impetuous.” He fought one duel after his first election in 1835 and made challenges for two others over the course of his career, although those were not accepted.

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