WILLSON, AUGUSTUSE. (b. October 13, 1846, Maysville, Ky.; d. August 24, 1931, Louisville, Ky). Augustus Everett Willson, who later became governor of Kentucky, was born in Maysville, the son of Hiram and Ann Colvin Ennis Willson. He was the younger brother of the poet Forceythe Willson.
Augustus was orphaned at the age of 12 and lived for several years with relatives in New York and Massachusetts. He attended Harvard University at Cambridge, Mass, graduating with the class of 1869. He moved to Louisville in 1870 and studied law under John Marshall Harlan, who later became an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. After his apprenticeship, Willson was made a partner in Harlan’s law firm. In 1875 Willson was appointed chief clerk of the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., a position he held for just one year. He married Mary Elizabeth Ekins in 1877, and they had only one child, who died as an infant.
In a predominately Democratic state, Willson ran as the Republican candidate for the Kentucky Senate in 1879 and was defeated. He then ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1884, 1886, 1888, and 1892 and lost each time. In 1907 he entered the gubernatorial race against Democratic candidate Samuel Wilber Hager and was elected Kentucky’s 36th governor; he served until 1911. As governor, Willson declared martial law during the Black Patch War (see Tobacco). His administration bogged down over fights concerning the temperance issue and tax reform. At the end of his four-year term, Willson returned to his large and lucrative legal practice in Louisville. He entered politics again in 1914 and was defeated by the Democratic former Kentucky governor John Crepps Wickliffe Beckham (1900–1907) in his race for the U.S. Senate.
Willson died at age 84 and was buried in the Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville.
Kleber, John E., ed. The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1992.
The Political Graveyard. “Willson, August Everett.” http://politicalgraveyard.com (accessed April 9, 2006).
Rootsweb. “Augustus E. Willson.” www.rootsweb.com (accessed April 9, 2006).
Above based on excerpted from page 964 of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTHERN KENTUCKY THE UNIVERSITY PRESS OF KENTUCKY ISBN 978-0-8131-2565-7