Thomas Willoughby Newton (1804–1853)

Thomas Willoughby Newton was a Whig member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He represented the First District of Arkansas in the Twenty-Ninth Congress, serving briefly in 1847. Newton County is named after him.

Thomas W. Newton was born in Alexandria, Virginia, on January 18, 1804, to William Newton and Jane Stewart Newton. He received his early education in the local schools before moving to Arkansas in 1820. He settled in Little Rock (Pulaski County), where he became involved in the government, serving as the Secretary of the Council in the Territorial Legislature in 1823, 1825, 1827, and 1828. He also served as the local postmaster in 1824 as well as the clerk of courts of Pulaski County from 1825 until 1829.

In 1827, Newton was offended over alleged disparaging remarks that Ambrose Sevier had made about Newton’s friend Robert Crittenden. Newton challenged Sevier—who was a member of “The Family,” a powerful group of Democrats who dominated Arkansas politics in the years between statehood and the Civil War—to a duel. At the time of the incident, Sevier was Speaker of the Territorial House of Representatives. After a single shot was fired, however, the duel was discontinued at the urging of friends.

Newton then undertook the study of law and opened a practice in Shelbyville, Kentucky, where he had moved. In 1829, while living in Shelbyville, Newton married Mary K. Allen, with whom he would have two sons. After her death, he married Amelia Cordell. In 1837, after Arkansas was admitted as a state, Newton returned to Little Rock. Putting aside the law for a time, he worked as a bank cashier at the State and Real Estate Bank but appeared to stay clear of the banking scandals that marred some of the state’s early banking ventures (scandals reflecting the national banking turmoil that resulted from President Andrew Jackson’s campaign against the Bank of the United States). Newton also won election to the Arkansas Senate.

Newton served in the state Senate from 1844 until 1847, when he resigned to take a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Running as a Whig in a multi-candidate field, Newton emerged victorious, winning election to the Twenty-Ninth Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Archibald Yell, who had chosen to join the army to fight in the Mexican War. In completing the unexpired term, Newton served less than a month, his formal tenure in office running from February 6, 1847, to March 3, 1847. Newton did not seek election to a full term of his own, choosing instead to return to Arkansas and resume the practice of law.

Newton died in New York on September 22, 1853, though it is not clear why he was in the city at the time. His family had his body brought back to Arkansas, and he is interred in Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock. Newton County—the state’s forty-sixth county, which was formed on December 14, 1842—was named for Newton.

For additional information:
“Death of Col. Newton.” Arkansas Gazette, October 7, 1853, p. 2.

Hempstead, Fay. Pictorial History of Arkansas. St. Louis: N. D. Thompson Publishing, 1890.

“Thomas Willoughby Newton.” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. (accessed December 18, 2014).

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School


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