JOSEPH DAVID WHITHAM, Sergeant, Company "D"
Submitted by Jane Carson Topoly.
Submitted by Jane Carson Topoly.
Joseph David “J D” Whitham was born on 10 August 1835 near Valley Grove, Virginia, the eldest child of Peregrine David and Christiana Frazier Whitham. Though reared on the family farm, J D took little interest in the agrarian life. He attended Ohio Central College in Iberia, Morrow County, Ohio from 1855 through 1859. Though he professed an intention to take up the ministry, he instead migrated westward, becoming a silver prospector in the Colorado Rockies. This would change his life forever. He returned to the family homestead in the spring of 1861 and was swept up in the patriotic fervor surrounding the start of the Civil War. He joined the 12th West Virginia Volunteer infantry along with his first cousin, William Faris Whitham, and other Ohio county kin. He rose to the rank of sergeant during the war and was discharged with the unit in 1865.
After the war, J D began a short teaching career in Ohio, but lacked the enthusiasm to instill knowledge into his students. He spent time traveling along the east coast and in the midwest looking for business opportunities, but never quite settled anywhere. He once again returned home and on 17 December 1870 married Mary Jane Murray in Ohio County. They set up household on the old homestead and three children were born to them: Datemus Brunel; Xavia Christiana; and Kalla Frederika Bronte. J D attempted to manage his aging father’s farm, but it just was not his chosen vocation. His thoughts always wandered back to the western mountains. In the late 1870s he established a mining venture and spent several years in the Wheeling-Pittsburgh area soliciting financial support. Around 1882 he moved his family to Sierra county, New Mexico Territory and began mining in earnest.
J D and his family initially prospered in New Mexico. His mining ventures were profitable enough that he was able to build a substantial mansion in Denver, Colorado where his wife and children spent a great portion of their time. He was involved in local and state politics in the New Mexico Territory and published a weekly newspaper. He was highly enthusiastic about the future prospects of the Territory. Many of his initial investors back in Pennsylvania and West Virginia prospered as well. 1889, however, brought a severe downturn in western mining. J D was forced to liquidate most of his holdings, save a small mine that he could operate mostly by himself and a small ranch near Hillsboro, New Mexico. He also chose the wrong side in a political dispute and his newspaper went bankrupt. He moved to Denver and began working as a mining engineer for some of the large commercial mining companies. J D died in Denver on 25 June 1908, not living long enough to see his beloved New Mexico become the 47th state in the Union. Mary Murray Whitham moved back to the New Mexico ranch where she lived with her two daughters until her death on 1 March 1926 at age 81.
Joseph David Whitham was a highly literate man and a skilled writer. He began a journal in 1852 which he maintained in several volumes until 1892. Only two large gaps of time appear in the journal: the time of his service in the Civil War; and the first eight years of his married life. The journal is filled with personal prose and poetry, as well as commentary about the life and times around him. It makes for a fascinating read. The journal stops abruptly on 1 August 1892. The volumes are now in the possession of J D’s great grandson Joseph Earl Whitham of Dallas, Texas.