Called Will Chilton, he was born in Columbia, Adair County, Kentucky, the son of Rev. Thomas John Chilton (a slave-owning Baptist minster) and Margaret Bledsoe, sister of Jesse Bledsoe. Will was a younger brother of Thomas Chilton, Representative from Kentucky and ghost writer of an "autobiography" by David Crockett. As a teenager he left home to live in Tennessee with an older sister, Jane, and her husband Charles Metcalfe. In Athens, TN, Wm. Parish Chilton read law with Return J. Meigs III, passed the bar in 1828, and began law practice there.
In 1831 Will Chilton removed to Talladega, Alabama and set up a law practice. In 1839 he was elected as a Whig to represent his county in the state legislature. Chilton campaigned vigorously for Harrison and Clay, and in 1843 was an unsuccessful candidate for Congress. In 1846 he established a school of law in Tuskegee. One of the first students was his brother-in-law John Tyler Morgan. The state legislature elected him an Associate Justice of their Supreme court on December 31, 1847. He became Chief Justice December 2, 1852 and served in this capacity until January 2, 1856. He was ruling upon the state's slavery laws when Uncle Tom's Cabin was published. Retiring from the bench, he established a law partnership with William Lowndes Yancey and in 1859 was a member of the state Senate, from Macon County.
For so long as secession was a matter of public debate, William Parish Chilton (ruled more by reason than passion) opposed the idea, as did nearly 40 percent of Alabama's population. But as one who respected code duellum, Chilton ultimately felt bound to defend Southern honor. He not only accepted the nomination to represet Montgomery County to the new government, he presided over its birth.
At noon on February 4, 1861 William Parish Chilton ascended the platform and gavelled to order the first meeting of the Provisional Congress. Present were 37 delegates representing six states. On February 9 this body elected Jefferson Davis as their President. On February 18, Davis emerged from his carriage to be escorted into the capitol by Will Chilton and Robert B. Rhett. As the Davis "acceptance speech" ended Chilton rose to move that the body adjourn outside to the front steps. The purpose of this motion was to enable what has become one of the most famous photographs in U.S. history, Jefferson Davis taking his Presidential oath of office. William Parish Chilton stands among the small knot of men surrounding Davis.
Members of the First Confederate Congress were divided as to the best location for the seat of government. Chilton felt that it would be unwise to move the government seat from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond, Virginia. He resisted this choice so strongly and to the very end that he earned the disaffection of some colleagues from other states. Perhaps because of this, Chilton's congressional committee assignments in Richmond were ones in which he had no interest. Nonetheless, he performed his duties with such humble diligence that he became known as the most laborious member of the legislative body. He returned to Montgomery in 1865 physically and financially drained.
William Parish Chilton returned to the practice and teaching of law. He had managed to recoup most of his financial losses by 1870. On January 20, 1871 he died as a consequence of a fall upon stone stairs, some weeks earlier. When Will Chilton died he was then Grand Master of the Masonic Grand Lodge of Alabama.
Chilton County, Alabama, established 1874, is named for William Parish Chilton. Although he never lived within its boundaries, his 10th child, Jennie (Chilton) Speer resided in Clanton for years. Two children Jennie bore died in infancy and are buried in Clanton.
- Confederate Home Front: Montgomery During the Civil War, by William Rogers Jr.
- Political Graveyard
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