I’m not so sure about this relative’s legendary status, but he is somewhat infamous. William Worth Belknap is my 6th cousin 4x removed. We are both descended from Abraham Belknap, my 9th great-grandfather. My Belknap line comes from Abraham’s son Samuel, while William’s Belknap line comes from Abraham’s son Joseph.

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Major General William W. Belknap, about 1865 (https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2018666395/)

William was born in New York in 1829 and graduated from Princeton University in 1848. He moved to Keokuk, Iowa and joined the Democratic party. He was elected to office and served in the Iowa House of Representatives from 1857 to 1858. He joined the Union army in 1861 and was commissioned as a major, recruiting the 15th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. He served at Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, and Atlanta. By the end of the war, he was made a Brevet Major General. After serving as the Iowa Collector of Internal Revenue, having been appointed by President Andrew Johnson (and during which time he became a Republican), William was appointed Secretary of War by President Grant in 1869.

Due to the Trader Post Scandal and all that went along with it (including involvement by 2 of his wives), William resigned as Secretary of War on March 2, 1876, but was still impeached by the House on March 3. He was acquitted by the Senate on May 29, 1876.

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Illustration from the cover of “The days’ doings”, v. 16 (March 1876), showing wife (Amanda Tomlinson Belknap) of Secretary William Belknap at the home of Mr. Blackburn pleading on her knees to save her husband’s honor. https://lccn.loc.gov/89711264

William moved back to Iowa and practiced law. He maintained an office and a residence in Washington, D.C. He died there in October 1890. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

One of the good things William can be remembered for is purchasing thousands of negatives from the Civil War photographer Mathew Brady when he was going bankrupt in the early 1870s. According to the National Archives, where the photos are stored, “After the Civil War, business for Brady’s studios gradually declined, until in July 1874 Secretary of War William Belknap purchased part of Brady’s collection of negatives (ca. 2,250 plates) at public auction for $2,500 because of Brady’s bankruptcy. In April 1875, the War Department purchased 3,735 plates directly from Brady under express Congressional authorization… .”

Lots more information about William Worth Belknap can be found in his Wikipedia article.

Week 26 (June 24-30): Legend

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