Rives, William Cabell (1793 VA - 1868 VA)


Rives, William Cabell


Father: Robert Rives
Mother: Margaret Cabell

Birth: 4 May 1793, Union Hill, Nelson County, Virginia
Birth Source: Grandfather's diary

Death: 25 Apr 1868, Castle Hill, Albermarle County, Virginia
Death Source: Obituary

Spouse1: Judith Page Walker, m. 13 Mar 1819, Albemarle County, Virginia


Children of William Cabell Rives and Judith Page Walker:
  1. Francis Robert Rives, b. 16 Feb 1822
  2. William Cabel Rives, b. 19 Dec 1825
  3. Grace Rives, b. c1828
  4. Alfred London Rives, b. 25 Mar 1830
  5. Amelie Louise Rives, b. 8 Jul 1832
  6. Ella Rives, b. 15 Sep 1834; d. 12 Apr 1892

William Cabell Rives was born, according to his grandfather's diary and other papers, at "Union Hill," "on the morning May 4th, 1793." "He was educated at home, at Hampden- Sidney (1807), and William and Mary College ( 1809); studied law and politics under the direction of Thomas Jefferson, 1809-181 1; was Aide-de-Camp to General John H. Cocke in 1814-1815, with a body of militia and volunteers called out for the defense of Virginia; came to the bar of Nelson, and soon acquired a good practice. A contemporary describes him as a small man, very much like his father, with a fair complexion, chestnut hair, blue eyes, and handsome features. He represented Nelson County in the Virginia House of Delegates, 1818-1821; married March 24, 1819, Miss Judith Page Walker, of Albemarle; removed to that county in 1821, and represented it in the Virginia House of Delegates, 1822-1823; was the representative of this district for three successive terms in the United States House of Representatives, March 4, 1823 to March 4, 1829; member of the Board of Visitors, University of Virginia, 1828- 1829; was the Minister of the United States to France, 1829-1832. So highly were his talents, integrity, and ability admired, and his services approved, that at the first meeting of the Virginia legislature (Dec. 1832) after his return, he was elected to the United States Senate. 'His support of the anti-nullification proclamation of General Jackson drew upon himself the censure of the Virginia legislature, in con sequence of which he resigned his seat from the Senate in 1834,' but was re-elected in 1835, and served to the end of the term. He was re-elected in 1840, and remained in the Senate until 1845.
"Prior to 1840, Mr. Rives was a decided Democrat; in that year he had cause to abandon the support of Van Buren for the presidency, but did not then go over to the Whig party. He remained a member of a small party, generally called the Conservatives, but in this part of the State called 'the Rives party,' resisting certain measures of the democracy; but in 1844, when the Democrats nominated James K. Polk for the presidency, Mr. Rives abandoned the Democratic party (as did many of his relatives and friends), went over to the support of Mr. Clay, and remained a Whig until the beginning of the war. The Globe, edited by Francis P. Blair, the organ of Van Buren's administration, declared that 'the members of the Democratic party must sink or swim with the administration. Mr. Rives was assured, should he remain true to this Democratic doctrine, the party would make him president of the United States; but he could not forget that 'he had a country to serve as well as a party to obey.'
"He was the executor of his father's large estate in 1845; president of the Virginia Historical Society from 1847 for many years; again a Member of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia, 1834-1849; in 1849, he was a second time appointed a Minister to France, and so continued until the fall of 1853, when he returned to 'Castle Hill,' his seat in Albemarle, and retired from political life until his services were demanded by his native state at the beginning of the late War Between the States. He was one of the five commissioners sent from Virginia to the 'Peace Congress,' which met in Washington, February 4th, 1861. On July 20, 1861, he was elected one of the members of the Virginia delegation to the first Confederate Congress, which assembled in Montgomery, Ala.; in February, 1862, he was elected 'by the unanimous vote of the people' to represent this district in the Confederate House of Representatives, and continued in that office until the end of the war. He was a Virginian, pure and chaste; he loved her soil, her people, her institutions, her prosperity; and in her adversity and hour of trial he remained true to her. After the war 'he was hopeful,' and so ex pressed himself, 'that the people of the United States would eventually do right and restore his native Virginia and the Southern States to their true and proper positions in the Union.' He died in the faith at 'Castle Hill,' April 25, 1868; and in Walker's Church in Albemarle there is a beautiful marble tablet erected in his memory, bearing the following inscription : 'In memory of one of the founders of this church, William Cabell Rives, L. L. D., statesman, diplomat, historian, born May 4th, 1793; died April 25th, 1868.'
"'Uniting a clear and capacious intellect, a courageous and generous temper, with sound learning and commanding eloquence, he won a distinguished place among the foremost men whom Virginia has consecrated to the service of the country; while he added lustre to his talents by the purity and dignity of his public career, and adorned his private life with all the virtues which can grace the character of husband, father, friend, and Christian.'
"'Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord'."
For 54 years he was a servant of the public; from 1823 to his death he published many articles, addresses, speeches, and books (the most important of these being The Life and Times of James Madison, three volumes, Boston, 1859-1869, and the Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, four volumes, Philadelphia 1865); and therefore it is not possible to give in the limits of this sketch an account of his Life, Acts, and Writings; but the following extract from The Richmond Whig will show the place which he held in the hearts of his countrymen:
Last Saturday, at his residence, Castle Hill, in Albemarle, at the age of seventy-five years, the most eminent citizen of Virginia, William Cabell Rives breathed his last. He had been for several years in infirm health, but retained sufficient mental and bodily vigor for the occupations and enjoyment appropriate for the declining years of a life rendered illustrious by learning, by public services, by virtue, by association with the most renowned men of this and other lands, and by participation in the weightiest and most momentous events that have marked the history of the country. It was the great merit of Mr. Rives that he acquired distinction and commanded public favor by the pure force of merit. His reputation was in no part due to the ultreism of the partisan, or the seductive arts or inflammatory power of the orator; his popularity was acquired without flatteries to the multitude, or any attempt to become a people's man. Without hauteur or repulsiveness, he was at all times dignified, and never forgot nor allowed others to forget that he was a gentleman. As a public speaker, he scorned all the tricks of the hustings, - everything that savored of ad captandum,- and discussed the higher topics and grave issues of the day in the language of a scholar and with the ability of a statesman. It may be doubted whether on any occasion of his life before any assembly of listeners, he ever uttered a sentence that in its language or its sentiment, or in the mode of its delivery, would have been unseemly in the most august deliberative body. But let it not be supposed that he was frigid, or stiff, or pedantic, or affected; not at all. The bearing we have spoken of was altogether natural, easy, and graceful, and his style of speech was the vernacular of one deeply versed in the best authors, and habitually accustomed to the most cultivated society. His opportunities were very unusual, and with excellent abilities by nature, and ambition that aspired rather to deserving that winning success, it will be readily understood that he turned them to the best account. Altogether, there is not much risk in saying that Mr. Rives was, with the exception of his great teacher, Mr. Jefferson, the most accomplished man the state of Virginia has produced; and we are not prepared to name any living person in the whole country who has higher claims in this respect. He was born almost contemporaneously with the Constitution, and in his early youth he sat at the feet of more than one Gamaliel among its framers. Constitutional jurisprudence, the philosophy of government, and the history of nations were favorite studies with him and in these subjects he was profoundly learned.
But we are not about to undertake an analysis of his character, endowments, and attainments, or to give an outline of his life and services. This task will be performed, doubtless, by more competent hands. The announcement of his death comes even at the advanced age when further public service was not to be expected of him and will bring a feeling of sadness and depression over many thousands who have been accustomed to lean with confidence on his counsels, and to look with hope to the influence he might exert over public affairs. In his death a bright and perfect orb drops from the horizon of intellect.

William Cabell Rives married March 24, 1819, Judith Page Walker, born March 24, 1802, at "Castle Hill," where she died January 23, 1882, daughter of Francis Walker, born June 22, 1764; married in 1798, Jane Byrd Nelson; member of Congress, 1793-95; died March, 1806, son of Dr. Thomas Walker (son of Thomas Walker—by his wife, Susanna Peachy, whom he married September 29, 1709, and who was a grandson of Thomas Walker, of Gloucester county, Virginia; member of the House of Burgesses, 1662); born in King and Queen county, January 25, 1715; attended William and Mary College; became a physician; married in 1741, Mrs. Mildred (Thornton) Meriwether, widow of Nicholas; commissary to the Virginia troops in Braddock's campaign of 1755; was several times a Virginia commissioner for treaty-making with the Indians; and who is best known to history as the earliest explorer of the Western slopes of the Alleghanies; died November 9, 1794, having built in 1765 the home known then and now as "Castle Hill." Jane Byrd Nelson was born at Yorktown, Virginia, about 1776, daughter of Hugh Nelson, 1750-1800, of Yorktown, son of William Nelson (son of Thomas Nelson—son of Hugh and Sarah Nelson—who was born February 20, 1677, at Penrith in Cumberland, England; emigrated to Virginia about 1700; married about 1710, Margaret Reid; and died October 7, 1745, at Yorktown); President of the Virginia Colonial Council; married in 1738, Elizabeth, daughter of Nathaniel Burwell, of Gloucester county, Virginia, and Elizabeth Carter, his wife, daughter of Robert Carter, of Corotoman, of the Colonial Council, and Judith Armistead, his first wife.

William's birth (without his name) is mentioned in his grandfather William Cabell's diary. His headstone gives his year of birth as 1793 which identifies him as the one mentioned.

Although Reliques doesn't list here, there is a Grace Rives listed with them in 1850, possibly a daughter. However, there is no young female in the household in 1830, so she may have been a relative.

W. C. Rives was buried in the Rives-Troubetzkoy Cemetery, Cismont, Albemarle County, Virginia.

Research Notes


Birth:          Brown, Alexander. The Cabells and their kin, p220
Marriage1:  Virginia, Compiled Marriages, 1740-1850 (Ancestry)
Death:        Richmond Whig, 28 Apr 1868

1820 Census:  Nelson County, Virginia
1830 Census:  Albemarle County, Virginia
1840 Census:  Nelson County, Virginia
1850 Census:  Albemarle County, Virginia
1860 Census:  Fredericksville Parish, Albemarle County, Virginia