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William Tharp
36th Governor of Delaware
In office
January 19, 1847 – January 21, 1851
Preceded byWilliam Temple
Succeeded byWilliam H. H. Ross
Member of the Delaware Senate
In office
January 6, 1839 - January 6, 1843
Personal details
Born(1803-11-27)November 27, 1803
Farmington, Delaware
DiedJanuary 9, 1865(1865-01-09) (aged 61)
Milford, Delaware
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Mary A. Johnson
ResidenceMilford, Delaware

William Tharp (November 27, 1803 – January 9, 1865) was an American farmer and politician from Milford in Kent County, Delaware. He was a member of the Democratic Party, who served in the Delaware General Assembly and as Governor of Delaware.

Early life and family

Tharp's Farmington home
Tharp's Farmington home

Tharp was born in Farmington, Delaware, the son of James and Eunice Fleming Tharp. His great grandfather had settled near Frankford, Delaware in 1735. His father died in 1829 and he married Mary A. Johnson about the same time. They had five children: Ruth, Mary Elizabeth, Martina, Williamina, and Ann Purnell. Through his wife that he inherited his first home on U.S. Highway 13 at Farmington, and began the accumulation of a considerable amount of farmland which he managed for the rest of his life. That home, known as the Tharp House, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.[1] When he was elected governor in 1847, the family moved to Milford and lived at the northeast corner of Church and Front Streets. They were members of the Presbyterian Church and among the organizers of a new congregation in Milford in 1849.

Delaware politics

Throughout the 19th century Delaware politics was characterized by a conservative down state, agrarian and small business majority, in opposition to a Wilmington based industrialist minority. This majority was led into the Whig Party by John M. Clayton. Having lost three straight elections for governor, the minority Democratic Party found a candidate of their own from down state in Tharp.

Governor of Delaware

Tharp was elected to the state senate and served in the 1839/40 and 1841/42 sessions. He sought reelection to the state senate in 1842, but after a months long recount, was found to have lost by 1 vote. He then ran for governor in 1844, but lost to the Whig Party candidate, Thomas Stockton. Because Stockton died in office another gubernatorial election was held in 1846, and Tharp was finally elected, defeating Peter F. Causey, the Whig Party candidate. Although he was elected along with a Whig Party General Assembly, his term began the long dominance of the Democratic Party for the remainder of the 19th century. Tharp served a full term as governor from January 19, 1847 until January 21, 1851.

The Mexican–American War began shortly before Tharp took office, and it was a war he and most Delawareans questioned the need for. Nevertheless, like the unwanted War of 1812, Tharp and Delaware in general responded to the recruiter, and many served honorably from Buena Vista to Vera Cruz. At home Delaware finally handed over Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River to the U.S. government, ultimately for the building of Fort Delaware. Following his term Tharp retired from public service and in 1852, was named treasurer of the Delaware Railroad.

Delaware General Assembly
(sessions while Governor)
Year Assembly Senate Majority Speaker House Majority Speaker
1847–1848 64th Whig William Winder Morris Whig Lewis Thompson
1849–1850 65th Whig William Winder Morris Whig Daniel Cummins

Death and legacy

Tharp died at Milford and is buried there at the Christ Episcopal Churchyard. He was the grandfather of future Governor William T. Watson. Tharp is described as "a very successful and progressive farmer...a strong man intellectually, a substantial citizen, prominent in his community and highly respected by all the people."[2]


Elections are held the first Tuesday after November 1. Members of the Delaware General Assembly took office the first Tuesday of January. State senators have a four-year term. The governor takes office the third Tuesday of January and has a four-year term.

Public Offices
Office Type Location Began office Ended office notes
State Senator Legislature Dover January 6, 1839 January 6, 1843
Governor Executive Dover January 19, 1847 January 21, 1851

Delaware General Assembly service
Dates Assembly Chamber Majority Governor Committees District
1839–1840 60th State Senate Whig Cornelius P. Comegys Kent at-large
1841–1842 61st State Senate Whig William B. Cooper Kent at-large

Election results
Year Office Subject Party Votes % Opponent Party Votes %
1844 Governor William Tharp Democratic 6,095 50% Thomas Stockton Whig 6,140 50%
1846 Governor William Tharp Democratic 6,148 51% Peter F. Causey Whig 6,012 49%


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. ^ History of the State of Delaware, Conrad, Henry C.



Places with more information

Party political offices Preceded byWarren Jefferson Democratic nominee for Governor of Delaware 1844, 1846 Succeeded byWilliam H. H. Ross Political offices Preceded byWilliam Temple Governor of Delaware 1847–1851 Succeeded byWilliam H. H. Ross