Members of the General Assembly 1887–88

William H. Ash (1859–1908)

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. MORE...

 

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.

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.

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.

Time Line

  • 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 - 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.
  • 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, J. T., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. William H. Ash (1859–1908). (2014, August 10). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Ash_William_H_1859-1908.

  • MLA Citation:

    Kneebone, John T. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "William H. Ash (1859–1908)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 10 Aug. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: April 17, 2014 | Last modified: August 10, 2014


Contributed by John T. Kneebone and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. John T. Kneebone is associate professor and chair of the history department at Virginia Commonwealth University.