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Home > People > William Bebb

William Bebb (1802 - 1873)


Early history

William Bebb was born in the village of Paddy's Run, Butler County, on December 8 1802, the eldest of three children born to Edward Bebb and his wife Margaret. His father, Edward, was one of the contingent who emigrated from Llanbryn-mair in 1795, and one of the first settlers in the Paddy's Run area.

The land west of the Great Miami River had not been inspected at the time, and was therefore not for sale to settlers. Edward Bebb, Ezekiel Hughes, and others, had to camp nearby for around 4 years until the land came on the market. When the chance came, Edward Bebb bought half a parcel of land from the Government in Dry Fork, Morgan Township, Butler County, where he built a wooden cabin. He then embarked on a return journey to Wales to visit his home district of Llanbrymair and to look for a partner.
Cabin built by Edward & Margaret Bebb

Cabin built by Edward & Margaret Bebb
On the way, he visited his friends in Ebensburg, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, and happened to met Margaret Roberts Owen, his former girlfriend from Llanbryn-mair. She had recently emigrated to America with her husband, Rev Owens, but he had died on the sea-voyage, and when Edward Bebb met her again she was staying with her brother, Rev George Roberts, one in the first contingent who had emigrated with him in 1795. Edward and Margaret married on February 2 1802, then returned to Dry Fork, Ohio, to start a family. It is said that William was the first white child born west of the Great Miami River in Butler County.

Teaching career

He was educated at home by his mother, before attending the local school for some time from the age of 7. He started work as a teacher when he was about 20 years old. He taught at North Bend school for a period, where he met Sarah Shuck (1806-1892), his future wife, who was also a teacher. They married on October 16 1824, and they had 3 children. A new school was built in Paddy's Run in 1826, and it is assumed that William Bebb was the first teacher there. Two years later, William and his wife opened the Sycamore Grove School, a residential school for boys, in a purpose built wooden building on his father's farm. It was a very successful school, attracting pupils from Cincinnati and the South, with many of them becoming prominent in law and politics.

Governor William Bebb(By permission of The Ohio Historical Society)

Governor William Bebb
(By permission of
The Ohio Historical Society)

Governor of Ohio

While teaching, he studied for the Bar, passing the examinations in December 1831. Following this, he closed the school in order to start a law career in Hamilton, Ohio, and became a prominent member of the Whigs. He started his political career as a campaigner and supporter of William Henry Harrison in the Presidential elections of 1840. Bebb soon became prominent enough to be nominated by the Whigs as a candidate for Governor of Ohio in 1846. Central to his campaign was banking, taxes and currency, opposing slavery and promoting human rights. In a close election, Bebb captured the seat and became the 19th Governor of Ohio on 12 December 1846. His economic policies were successful and he respected the Government's request to raise a group of soldiers for the war in Mexico, even though he opposed the campaign, like the majority of northern Whigs, due to its association with slavery. He failed in his attempt to abolish the Black Laws.

He wasn't nominated for re-elction and never held another elected role. However, his political interest continued and he held a number of government jobs until he retired to his farm near Rockford, Illinois. There, in May 1857, he accidentally shot and killed a man who took part in his son Michael's wedding celebrations, and appeared at Winnebago County court, charged with manslaughter, in February 1858, but was found not guilty.

Retirement and attempt to establish a Welsh community in Tennessee

After retiring, he continued to be active in several projects. He worked as an examiner in Washington's pension office during Abraham Lincoln's Presidency. In 1855 he visited Wales, encouraging his cousins, Samuel and Gruffydd Rhisiart Roberts and their families to support him in his initiative to settle groups of Welsh people in east Tennessee and establish a Welsh community there. He moved with his family to Knoxville in 1860 in order to supervise the work of the settlers but due to the threat of war, the emigrants were scattered and Bebb was advised against returning to Tennessee. After the war, he returned, with his wife to Illinois. He turned down the post of United States consul in Morocco in 1868, and stayed in Rockford until his death on October 23 1873. His wife Sarah died on January 10 1892.

The wooden house built by his parents remains to this day and is kept as a historical building, the centrepiece of the 'Pioneer Village' in the 'Governor Bebb MetroPark', a 264 acre park in Butler County.

Digitised materials

digital library documentNLW 13203D: Letters to Governor William Bebb (1846-1848)




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