William Adams Curry

William Adams Curry was born on March 12, 1827, in Culpeper County, Virginia, to John Douglas Curry and Martha Hughes. Around 1837, the family moved to Jefferson City, Missouri, where John worked as a hotel keeper. The family owned at least 7 slaves. On June 17, 1846, one month after Congress declared war on Mexico, Curry mustered in as a private in Captain William Z. Angney’s battalion of Missouri volunteers. Curry was stationed in New Mexico for most of his service, and he probably took part in the Battle of Santa Fe in August 1846, the Battle of El Brazito in December 1846, and the Battle of the Sacramento River in Mexico in February 1847.

Curry enrolled at the University of Virginia in 1849 to medicine. He left after only one year, and by 1850, he was working as a physician in Jefferson City, Missouri. He served as secretary of the Missouri State Medical Convention in 1853, and Governor Sterling Price appointed him as the physician to the state prison in the mid-1850s. He married Jenny Burris Smith on November 12, 1857, in Fayette, Missouri, and they had at least 6 children together: Martha, born January 6, 1859; Charles Smith, born November 1, 1862; William Adams (Jr.), born July 20, 1864; Jenny, born around 1869; Mary Royall, born around September 12, 1870; and Louisa, born around 1872. By 1860, he owned more than $30,000 in property.

Although Curry came from a slaveholding family and may have owned slaves himself, he remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War. In August 1861, he spent two weeks as a quartermaster in the 1st United States Reserve Corps, a loyal home guard unit. In 1862, he won a seat in the state legislature, where he aligned himself with the Unconditional Union Party. Then, around January 1863, he began editing the Missouri State Times. He championed “hard war” policies, including immediate emancipation, African-American military service, and the “confiscation of rebel property.” He cheered the Emancipation Proclamation, observing that it ushered in a “new era in American history.” In “all future ages,” he predicted, Americans would view the proclamation with “as much reverence as an Englishman looks upon the great act of the Magna Charta.”

The General Assembly declared Curry the state’s public printer in 1863, and he became a political leader for Jefferson City’s radical Unionists. He served as president of a local “Union and Emancipation League” and called for the “extinction of slavery throughout the United States as a means of securing a permanent peace.” He petitioned Abraham Lincoln on the league’s behalf, urging the president to leave more loyal men in Missouri to “protect our families and the remnants of our property” from Confederate “guerilla[s]” and “bushwhacker[s].” Recalling his own brief military service, he observed that every member of the league had “shouldered the musket in the hours of peril,” and many league members were still fighting for the “protection of the Union.”

In 1864, Curry joined the Union Party’s State Central Committee, acted as president for a county Union Convention, and endorsed the “Radical Union Ticket” in the fall elections. Although he declared slavery an “accursed evil,” he remained a racial conservative. He declared African-American suffrage “distasteful” and consciously avoided discussing it in his newspaper. He believed freedmen lacked the “intelligence necessary” to vote, and he feared the debate would destroy the state’s Unionist coalition. He resigned his post as editor in April 1865, having accomplished his goals of defending the Union and promoting emancipation.

After the war, Curry moved to St. Louis and worked as a contractor. He returned to Jefferson City in 1870 to open a banking house and that year, he and his wife reported owning $40,000 in property. Curry remained active in civic life, playing prominent roles in the Jefferson City Library Association, the Jefferson City Building Association, and the Jefferson City and South West Railroad Company. He also served as a trustee for the Lincoln Institute, a local freedmen’s school. He continued to support the Republican Party, acting as chairman for a local “Radical Convention” in 1872 and chairman of the party’s county organization during the mid-1870s. In 1876, he attended the county’s Republican County Convention, which endorsed Rutherford B. Hayes for president and defended the “rights of citizenship” for all Americans. That fall, he ran for a seat in the state legislature but received only 40 percent of the county’s votes.

For Curry, the 1870s also brought financial hardship and personal tragedy. His wife Jenny died in Jefferson City on March 13, 1874. A writer who attended the funeral confessed that he had “rarely witnessed a more solemn scene,” describing the “bereaved husband [and] the motherless children, all weeping as if their hearts would break.” The financial crisis of the early 1870s shuttered his bank and forced him to declare bankruptcy by 1878. As a local editor observed, Curry had to “give his creditors his assets and commence anew the battle of a business life.” On February 7, 1881, he married Mary L. Johnson, a wealthy widow who owned extensive property in Waco, Texas. He moved there soon afterwards, but the marriage quickly deteriorated. In January 1882, officials arrested Curry and charged him with aggravated assault after neighbors heard screams coming from their house. As a local gossip writer reported, tensions had been simmering for “some time,” and Curry had shaken her “violently” and thrown her to the ground. Friends promptly paid his $200 bail, and he spent less than 30 minutes in jail. The couple probably divorced soon afterwards, although the details remain unclear.

For the rest of his life, Curry divided his time between Waco, Texas, and Kansas City, Missouri, where his son Charles had become a local Republican politician. He died at the Bonaventure Hotel in Kansas City on July 28, 1914, and was buried in Jefferson City.


William A. Curry on Emancipation, January 3, 1863

William A. Curry Helps Found an Emancipation League

William A. Curry Gives Up His Newspaper, April 29, 1865

Name:Curry, William Adams
Alternative names:
  • Currey, William A. (alternative name)
  • Soldier
  • UVA (Union)
1st Regiment, US Reserve Corps, Missouri Home GuardF&S
Branch of service:
Residence at UVA:Jefferson City, MO
UVA Begin Year:1849
UVA End Year:1850
Residence at enlistment:
Rank In:
Rank Out:
Highest rank achieved:
Birth date:1827-03-12
Birth date certainty:Certain
Birth place:Culpeper County, VA
Death date:1814-07-28
Death place:Jefferson City, MO
Causes of death:
Occupations:Doctor, Editor, Hotel Keeper, Printer
Person 1Relation TypePerson 2
Curry, William Adamsparent ofCurry, Martha
Curry, William Adamsparent ofCurry, Charles Smith
Curry, William Adamsparent ofCurry, Jr., William Adams
Curry, William Adamsparent ofCurry (daughter), Jenny
Curry, William Adamsparent ofCurry, Mary Royall
Curry, William Adamsparent ofCurry, Louisa
Curry, Jennywife ofCurry, William Adams
Curry, Mary Louisawife ofCurry, William Adams

Sources: 1850 and 1860 U.S. Slave Schedules; 1850, 1860, 1870 U.S. Federal Census; “William A. Curry,” Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the Mexican War, available from http://www.fold3.com/image/307189697; William Elsey Connelley, Doniphan’s Expedition and the Conquest of New Mexico and California (Kansas City: Bryant & Douglas Book and Stationery Co., 1907); Catalogue of the University of Virginia, Session of 1849-’50 (Richmond: H. K. Ellyson, 1850); Glasgow Weekly Times, April 28, 1853; Missouri Marriage Records, 1805-2002, available from http://www.ancestry.com; “William A. Curry,” Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Missouri, available from http://www.fold3.com/image/234893482; Petition of F. A. Nitchey and William A. Curry to Abraham Lincoln, August 1863, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, available from https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/papersofabrahamlincoln/PAL_Images/PAL_PubMan/1863/08/301926.pdf; The Perryville Weekly Union, December 12, 1862; Daily Missouri Republican, December 29, 1862; The Palmyra Spectator, December 11, 1863; The Missouri State Times,  July 11, 1863, October 3, 1863; August 20, 1864, April 29, 1865; Westliche Post, May 28, 1864; Weekly People’s Tribune, May 4, 1870; The Peoples’ Tribune, July 5, 1871, August 21, 1872, and August 28, 1872, March 18, 1874; The Missouri Republican, May  7,1872; The Sedalia Democrat, March 17, 1874; The State Journal, September 18, 1874, January 8, 1875, June 23, 1876, November 10, 1876, April 26, 1878; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 17, 1881; The Kansas City Times, April 25, 1895; 1885 Kansas State Census Collection, available from ancestry.com; The Kansas City Star, July 28, 1914.