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Gen. Wm. B. Stokes, one of the leading attorneys and best-known citizens of Alexandria, was born in 1814 in Chatham County, N. C. He is the second and only surviving one of their children of Sylvanus and Mary (Christian) Stokes. The father was of English descent, born in Chatham County, N. C., in 1783, a son of Thos. Stokes who was a native of Virginia and a cousin of ex-Gov. Munford Stokes, of North Carolina. Sylvanus was married in North Carolina about 1810, and in 1818 started for Tennessee, where his father owned large tracts of land. While en route his team ran away and he was killed by the wagon running over him. The family proceeded on their journey and located in Smith County near Temperance Hall, where the widow remained until her death in 1853. She was a native of the same State and county, and also same age as her husband.
The subject of our sketch was educated in the best schools of Smith (now Dekalb) County. In January 1832, he married miss Parilee A., daughter of Abraham and Hannah Overall, of Dekalb County, where Mrs. Stokes was born in May 1815. Thirteen children came to this union, of whom one son and six daughters are now living: Melissia J., wife of W. T. Hoskins, of Dekalb County; Hannah L., wife of Jas. L. Calhoun, of Davidson County; Harriet A., Wife of Hon. W. A. Bryan, of Nashville; Fannie, wife of Dr. Elial Tubb (deceased); W. Jordan, of Texas; Sallie, wife of Geo. McNelly, and Norah Stokes. Mrs. Stokes died in May 1880. She was a devoted wife and mother, a woman of rare accomplishments and a consistent member of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
For several years Col. Stokes was one of the county’s most practical and successful farmers. He owned herds of fine blooded stock, the celebrated racer “Ariel” being one of the number, and with which he traveled and won some of the best races ever made. His political career began in 1849, when he represented Dekalb County in the Lower House of the General Assembly, in the State Senate, serving two years. In 1859 he was brought forward by the Whigs as candidate for Congress of the Third Congressional District. His opponent was Hon. J. H. Savage, who had served the eight years previous to the civil war. He was one of the brave “Little Spartan Band.” Although one of the youngest members of the House, he was soon recognized as the champion and leader of the Union cause, and in defense of which he delivered on of the most able and effective speeches made during the term, and one which was universally applauded in the North.
Upon his return home he discovered how unsafe it was for him to remain there. When the Union Forces arrived in Nashville, he went there and requested to enter the service. He organized the Fifth Tennessee Cavalry, better known as Stokes’ Cavalry, of which he was commander until the downfall of the Confederacy. He opened the battle of Stone River on the morning of December 30, 1862, and fired the last shot on the Manchester Turnpike after the surrender at Murfreesboro. For his gallant and faithful services during the war he was brevetted Brigadier-general by President Andrew Johnson. In 1865 he was again elected to Congress and re-elected, his term expiring in 1871. He was verbally commissioned by Johnson to represent him (Johnson) in the Conservative Peace Convention at Nashville, of which he was made spokesman. During 1871 he served as supervisor of the internal revenue, since which time he has been engaged in the practice of law with the same activity and energy that so characterized his past. He is now one of the leading practitioners of the State, a man of intellect and indomitable will.
He was formerly a Whig, casting his first presidential vote for Hugh L. White in 1836, but since the dissolution of that party has affiliated with the Republicans. He has repeatedly served as one of the presidential electors and has done more practical work as canvasser than any man in the State. He has raised and finely educated a large family of children. He is a generous contributor to all laudable enterprises. The Colonel has been a Mason since 1849, and a resident of Alexandria since 1868, but still owns the old farm, which contains 250 acres of valuable improved land on the Smith Fork. He also owns property in town.