Biography of Hon. Bethel Magness Webb

Hon. Bethel Magness Webb, attorney at law, Smithville, Tenn., was born in Warren County Tenn., September 21, 1847. He is the sixth of thirteen children born to D. W. and Sarah (Magness) Webb. His father was of English descent, Born in Warren County in 1815, a son of Julius Webb, who was a native of North Carolina and came to middle Tennessee in his youth and settled in what is now Warren County. He was on of the pioneers of that section. After marriage D. W. Webb located in the northern part of Warren County, where he lived till his death in 1866. He was a prosperous merchant and a large slave and landholder up to the late civil war. He was a Democrat and went with the South in that unfortunate struggle, and sustained heavy losses during the war. At his death there were eight of his children single and living with him, of whom Bethel was the oldest, and some of them were quite young, and owing to the ravages of the war, they and their widowed mother were left with meager resources for support. Mrs. Webb was of Scotch-Irish descent and was born in 1820 in what is now Dekalb County, Tenn. Her father, P. G. Magness, Sr., was one of the pioneer settlers of that section. He was a strong Democrat and an active influential man in politics and did much in shaping the politics of his section in ante bellum days. He was a prosperous farmer and live stock dealer, and then a prominent merchant in Smithville; and Jacob-like had a long line of respectable descendants, many of whom attained to considerable prominence in financial and intellectual spheres.

Bethel, the subject of this sketch, had but limited educational advantages, owing to delicate health before the late war, and the interruption by the war, and the consequences of the war. Because of delicate health, at the age of eleven he was taken from school at Middleton Seminary and placed in his father’s store, where he was salesman and bookkeeper for two years, when the war broke out and mercantile business was suspended. During the war he worked on the farm in crop time and taught the children of the neighborhood during the fall and winter, and the proceeds of his labor were used to assist in supporting the family. At different times several crippled and discharged Confederate and Union soldiers, were his pupils. He was a boy of seventeen when the war ended, and when he taught his last, about seven sessions as assistant or principal, yet by his inherent executiveness, his well balanced head and heart, and his untiring energy and industry, he achieved victories in his youthful employments that would have been a credit to one of mature years with superior advantages. He never went to school but five months in all after he was eleven years of age, but he applied himself closely and by dint of effort in the judicious use of valuable time, by the firelight and with borrowed books, he succeeded in acquiring a good English and Latin course. While reading law he earned a living for himself and family, and aided his mother’s family in acquiring a support and education, at first by peddling on “barter” with hired wagon and team, and then by farming, trading in live stock, selling goods, etc.

He was married January 11, 1867, to Miss Helen Ware, who was born in Dekalb County, in 1852. Their union resulted in the birth of five children: Hallie, Carrie, Mattie, Robert Bethel, and Nora; the first mentioned is dead. His wife is an amiable good woman, and his children are quite brilliant and well favored. He, with his family, ranks with the first of his town in the social circle and otherwise. Mr. Webb commenced the study of law at the age of eighteen, and in connection with other business devoted as much time as possible to his studies for about six years and was admitted to the bar in 1872, and became the law partner of Hon. Holland Denton, of Cookeville, Tenn., in January, 1873. In 1873 he was elected superintendent of public instruction for Putnam County, Tenn., and in connection with his law practice, he filled this office for one term, when he declined a re-election. In January, 1876, he located at Woodberry, Tenn., where he was associated as a partner in the practice of law with Judges Robert Cantrell and J. S. Gribble, of Lebanon, Tenn. In 1880 he located in Smithville, Tenn., and associated with him Alvin Avant, under the firm name of Webb & Avant. In the latter part of 1886 Mr. Avant retired from the firm, and J. B. Moore, Esq., took his place. In 1886 Mr. Webb was a candidate for chancellor for the Fifth Chancery Division of Tennessee, entering the canvass with but limited acquaintances in the division; yet he ran a good race, made a fine impression, and many substantial friends, who would delight at his promotion. There were six Democratic candidates, however, and only one Republican candidate in the division, where about one-third of the voters were Republicans and the vote was so much divided that the Republican was elected. During the campaign Mr. Webb was the recipient of many complimentary letters, press notices and testimonials from his numerous friends, and from prominent jurists, judges and officials of the State, which speak in strong terms of his many moral and intellectual qualities. On different occasions Mr. Webb has presided as special judge of the circuit and chancery courts, has served as attorney general pro-tempore, and served as chairman and delegate in different political conventions and other representative bodies, and on each occasion dispatched the business before him with efficiency and honesty. Judge Webb is one of the most brilliant and able lawyers in the State. He is a profound jurist and an able advocate. He commands an extensive and lucrative practice, and ranks high as a lawyer in both the inferior and supreme courts. He is earnest and zealous in his pursuits, firm in his convictions, yet social and affable, with good address and a good talker. He is a devoted husband and father, a true friend and a good citizen, and a liberal, charitable, devoted Christian, with temperate habits. He is a Royal Arch Mason and with his wife and two children members of the Methodist Episcopal Church South.


Goodspeed Publishing Co. History of Tennessee from the earliest time to the present. Goodspeed Publishing Co. 1887.

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