William Wyatt Bibb

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William Wyatt Bibb

William Wyatt Bibb (born October 2, 1781 in Prince Edward County, Virginia; died July 10, 1820 near Coosada Station, Elmore County) was the first governor of Alabama. A member of the Democratic-Republican political party, Bibb served as governor of the Alabama Territory from 1817 to 1819, and as governor of the state of Alabama from 1819 to his death. Bibb County, Alabama, and Bibb County, Georgia, are named for him.

Bibb was the oldest son of Revolutionary War officer and Virginia legislator William Bibb and his wife, the former Sally Wyatt. Their family moved to northeast Georgia in 1784 in the company for General George Mathews, hero of the Battle of Brandywine. They planted tobacco on acreage granted in gratitude for their service in the vicinity of the confluence of the Broad and Savannah Rivers. Bibb's father died in 1796, leaving Sally with eight children.

Bibb attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg ,Virginia and went on to earn a degree in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1801. Afterward he returned to Georgia and began practicing medicine in Petersburg, Elbert County. In 1803, he married Mary Freeman, fathering two children.

In 1802 at the age of 21, Bibb was elected to the Georgia state legislature, his first political office. He served four years before being elected to the 9th United States Congress in 1806, assuming the seat left vacant by the resignation of Thomas Spalding. He was re-elected four times, and, while a member of the House of Representatives, consistently sided with President James Madison. When William H. Crawford resigned his Senate seat in 1813, Bibb won election to that office. Bibb's support for the Salary Act, which doubled Congressional salaries, cost him re-election in 1816. Instead, Bibb resigned from the Senate to accept President James Monroe's appointment to serve as Governor of the Alabama Territory, moving his family to the frontier capital of St Stephens in Washington County.

In his address to the Alabama Territorial Assembly in February 1818, Bibb asked the body to invest in transportation links to unify the more-developed Tennessee Valley with the rest of the state. He jump-started that initiative the following November by overruling a public commission's choice of Tuscaloosa as the state capital in favor of an undeveloped site at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba, a speculative city to be known as Cahawba. Bibb's imperious order triggered resentment in Northern Alabama. Tuscaloosa politician Marmaduke Williams began campaigning to replace Bibb as Governor. Bibb narrowly escaped the challenge, 8,342 to 7,140 in the 1819 Alabama gubernatorial election, thereby becoming the first Governor of the State of Alabama upon its creation on December 14 of that year.

While Cahawba was still being prepared, the state legislature met in the established city of Huntsville from October 25 to December 17, 1819. Under the 1819 Constitution of Alabama Bibb's powers were significantly curtailed from those he had enjoyed in the Territory. He was limited to two two-year terms of office, his vetoes could be overridden by a simple legislative majority, and he lost the power to appoint judges and the heads of departments in his own executive branch. The constitution also provided that the state assembly would be empowered to select a permanent seat of government in 1825.

Bibb also suffered from a bout of tuberculosis, contracted shortly before the 1819 election. He spent most of his time during his first months in office working to establish Cahawba's claim to be the state capital. He led a public fundraising campaign to supplement the meager allotment of $10,000 in state funds for construction of a capitol building, for which ground was broken in 1820.

Injured in a fall from his horse while riding through Autauga, County, Bibb was confined to bed in agonizing pain at his estate near Coosada Station in Elmore County. His inability to fulfill the duties of the office opened the door for his brother, Thomas, as president of the Alabama State Senate, to assume the mantle of acting Governor. William Bibb succumbed to his injuries on July 10, at the age of the 38. He was buried near his home. Thomas completed his brother's term of office.


Preceded by:
Position Created
Governor of Alabama
Succeeded by:
Thomas Bibb