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Henry Alexander Wise

Gov. Henry Alexander Wise

  • January 1, 1856 - January 1, 1860
  • Democratic
  • December 3, 1806
  • September 12, 1876
  • Virginia
  • Washington College
  • Married three times--Ann Jennings, Sarah Sergeant, Mary Lyons; four children by his first marriage and three children by his second marriage
  • Representative, Ambassador
  • Army


Born in Drummondtown, Virginia, HENRY ALEXANDER WISE was orphaned at a young age and raised by his uncle, Major John Custis. After graduating in 1825 from Washington College in Pennsylvania, he studied law and began a law practice in Nashville, Tennessee. Returning to Virginia in 1830, he was elected to two Congresses as a Jackson Democrat, to three Congresses as a Whig, and to an additional Congress as a Tyler Democrat. Declining appointment as Secretary of the Navy under President John Tyler, he was appointed Minister to France in 1843 but was not confirmed. Instead, he served as Minister to Brazil from 1844 to 1847 before waging a successful campaign for governor. During his gubernatorial administration, he promoted internal improvements in the state and was successful in securing liberal appropriations from the Virginia Legislature for completion of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. His administration was marked by John Brown’s raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, which ended with Brown’s capture and execution. After leaving office, Wise was appointed Brigadier General-and later promoted to the rank of Major General—in the Confederate Army, taking part in the defense of Richmond and Petersburg and in the retreat to Appomattox. He returned to his law practice after the war ended and later served on the commission fixing the boundary line between Virginia and Maryland.


Library of Virginia, Papers of Henry A. Wise (1806-1876). Accession 36084. State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA  23219

Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols

Salmon, Emily and Edward D. C. Campbell, Jr.  Hornbook of Virginia History. 4th ed. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1994.

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 5. New York: James T. White & Company.

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