Born on June 24, 1807 near Louisville, Kentucky, William Marshall Anderson spent his youth in Kentucky. Anderson's father, Colonel Richard Clough Anderson, was a veteran of the American Revolution who served as aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Lafayette.
Born on June 24, 1807 near Louisville, Kentucky, William Marshall Anderson spent his youth in Kentucky. Anderson's father, Colonel Richard Clough Anderson, was a veteran of the American Revolution who served as aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Lafayette. Anderson's mother, Sarah Marshall, was a first cousin of John Marshall, a Chief Justice on the United States Supreme Court. Upon the Revolution's conclusion, Richard Anderson embarked upon a career as a surveyor. Anderson was one of several surveyor's of the Virginia Military District in the Northwest Territory and settled in Louisville with his family. Anderson also engaged in farming at his home, which he had named "Soldier's Retreat."
William Anderson's parents emphasized the importance of an education, and they enrolled their son at the Chillicothe Academy in Chillicothe, Ohio and then in the Transylvania Academy in Lexington, Kentucky. Anderson's father died in October 1826, and Anderson returned home to manage the family farm. In 1829, Anderson sold the farm and began to study law in his brother's, Larz Anderson's, law office in Louisville, Kentucky. In May 1832, Anderson passed the Kentucky bar exam and decided to travel to the Rocky Mountains on a fur-trading expedition. Anderson's principal reason for traveling west was to try and improve his health in a new climate. While studying the law, Anderson contracted yellow fever, and he was still suffering from the illness.
In 1834, Anderson returned home and began to practice law. In 1839, he became the Surveyor General of the Virginia Military District, a position that his brother-in-law, Allen Latham, previously held. Now residing in Ohio, Anderson settled in Chillicothe and purchased a small piece of land that he called Glen Mary. He lived in Chillicothe with his wife, Eliza McArthur Anderson, the daughter of Duncan McArthur, a former Ohio governor. In 1853, the Andersons moved to Circleville, Ohio, where they purchased a small farm named Seven Oaks Farm. The Andersons had two children, a son, Thomas McArthur Anderson, and a daughter, Mary Anderson. Eliza Anderson died in 1855, and William Anderson remarried in 1857 to Ellen Columba Ryan. The couple had one son, Robert Marshall Anderson.
In 1839, William Anderson converted to the Roman Catholic faith. For the remainder of his life, he strongly supported the Cincinnati (Ohio) Archdiocese. He actively sought to convert non Catholics to the faith, and his persistence eventually divided his family. By the 1870s, his sons and sister had come to resent him.
During the American Civil War, William Anderson supported the Confederate States of America. Although a Copperhead, he did not join the Southern military, but upon the war's conclusion in April 1865, he traveled to Mexico to help Matthew Maury establish the New Virginia Colony, a colony for ex-Confederates. He returned to Ohio in 1866, following the colony's failure. Interestingly, Anderson's brother, Robert Anderson, was the commander of Union forces at Fort Sumter, the opening battle of the Civil War. Another brother, Charles Anderson, was a wartime lieutenant governor of Ohio during the conflict. William Anderson also had a son, Thomas McArthur Anderson, who fought for the North. He first served as a private in the 65th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry and was then commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 5th Regiment United States Cavalry and then as captain of the 12th Regiment United States Infantry. He finished the war as a lieutenant colonel.
Following William Anderson's excursion to Mexico, McArthur returned to a life of farming and legal work in Circleville. He also furthered an interest in archaeology that he had developed originally in the 1840s. This involvement had led to his appointment as secretary of the American Art Union for the promotion of the Fine Arts in the United States in June 1844. During the 1870s, Anderson principally investigated mound-building Native American cultures in New York.
Anderson died from complications of pneumonia on January 7, 1881 in Circleville. He is buried in Oakdale Cemetery in Urbana, Ohio.
During the twentieth century, several manuscripts completed by Anderson were published. The two most noteworthy works were his diaries from his trip to the Rocky Mountains in the early 1830s and his diaries from his two years in Mexico at the end of the Civil War. These works were respectively titled The Rocky Mountain Journals of William Marshall Anderson: The West in 1834 and An American in Maximilian's Mexico, 1865–1866: The Diaries of William Marshall Anderson.
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