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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Cherry, William Walton

by Francis Speight, 1979


William Walton Cherry, legislator, was born near Windsor in Bertie County. His father, Solomon Cherry, was at one time or another sheriff, clerk of the court, and member of the General Assembly. His uncle, William Cherry, was graduated from The University of North Carolina in a class of three in 1800, was a trustee of the university from 1804 to 1809, and had a brilliant career as an attorney until his untimely death, hastened by intemperance, at the age of twenty-seven.

Cherry studied at The University of North Carolina but did not graduate. He taught school for two or three years, married Mary Etheridge of Colerain, and was in the mercantile business for about two years. Afterward, he began the study of law with James H. Jones, a well-known lawyer of the day, and in due course was admitted to the bar. He became interested in politics and in 1838, after two unsuccessful attempts, defeated the wealthy and politically powerful Dr. Alexander Mebane for the state senate.

In the senate he was made chairman of the Committee on Education and in that capacity worked with those who had for several years been trying to establish free public education. His influence enabled a bill for that purpose to be reported favorably. Called the Cherry Bill, it passed the senate, and a similar measure was passed in the house. Cherry is thus associated with the establishing of free public education in North Carolina.

In 1840, Cherry was a delegate to the national convention of the Whig party in Harrisburg, Pa. He went as a supporter of Henry Clay for president, but after the nomination went to Harrison, Cherry worked diligently to help elect him.

In 1844, Cherry was again in the North Carolina legislature, this time in the House of Commons representing Bertie County. In 1845 he was unanimously chosen as the Whig candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from the first district, but he died the following week. Having gone to Jackson to attend the Northampton County Court, he became very uncomfortable and unresponsive to friends' salutations in the court room on Monday morning. That night he went to bed with a severe chill, and his death occurred Friday morning, bringing to a close, when he was just thirty-nine, his brilliant and promising career.


Samuel A. Ashe, History of North Carolina, vol. 2 (1925).

Richard Benbury Creecy, Grandfather's Tales of North Carolina History (1901).

J. G. de R. Hamilton, ed., The Papers of William A. Graham, vols. 1 and 2 (1957.1959).

John Wheeler Moore, History of North Carolina (1885).

William H. Valentine diary (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill).

Windsor Ledger-Advance, 18 Oct. 1956.

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