William Sharon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

William Sharon
William Sharon - Brady-Handy.jpg
United States Senator
from Nevada
In office
March 4, 1875 – March 3, 1881
Preceded byWilliam M. Stewart
Succeeded byJames G. Fair
Personal details
William Tang Sharon

(1821-01-09)January 9, 1821
Smithfield, Ohio
DiedNovember 13, 1885(1885-11-13) (aged 64)
San Francisco, California
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Maria Malloy, Sarah Althea Hill
ResidenceVirginia City
ProfessionAttorney, Real estate

William Tang Sharon (January 9, 1821 – November 13, 1885) was a United States Senator from Nevada who profited from the Comstock Lode.

Early life[edit]

Sharon was born in Smithfield, Ohio, January 9, 1821, the son of William Sharon and Susan Kirk. He attended Ohio University. After studying law in St. Louis, Missouri, he was admitted to the bar. In addition to practicing law, he engaged in mercantile pursuits in Carrollton, Illinois.

Career in the West[edit]

Sharon moved to California in 1849, accompanied by his friend John Douglas Fry (July 1, 1819 – February 3, 1901). Sharon and Fry engaged in business together for a short time in Sacramento. Sharon then moved to San Francisco in 1850, where he dealt in real estate. In 1852, he married Maria Malloy (Quebec, 1832 – San Francisco, May 14, 1875). He moved to Virginia City, Nevada in 1864 as manager of the branch of the Bank of California and became interested in silver mining.

Senator Sharon was a business partner of William Chapman Ralston, and was the Nevada agent for the Bank of California. He and Ralston profited greatly from loaning money to mining operations and then foreclosing on those operations when the owners defaulted.

William Sharon acquired many of Ralston's assets in 1875 when Ralston's financial empire collapsed and he died. He was thought by some of his contemporaries to have actually aided the collapse. He certainly was the main beneficiary of Ralston's assets. Those assets included the Palace Hotel in San Francisco and Ralston Hall in Belmont, California.

His daughter Clara married Francis G. Newlands, who became a Congressman and Senator from Nevada. He was also the father of Florence Emily Sharon, who married Sir Thomas George Fermor-Hesketh, 7th Baronet.


He was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate for Nevada and served from March 4, 1875, to March 3, 1881. He served as the chairman of the Committee on Mines and Mining in the 45th United States Congress.

Sharon spent the majority of his term in office living in California, missing more than 90% of votes.[1]

Later years[edit]

Sarah Althea Hill

He resided in San Francisco until his death there on November 13, 1885. He was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in San Francisco.

His final years saw a legal battle that was the juiciest scandal of its time. Senator Sharon was alleged to have remarried a woman named Sarah Althea Hill, and he sued to have this alleged marriage cancelled. Judgment (in his favor) was rendered after his death, but the consequent legal proceedings, which included a Bowie knife fight in the courtroom of the Circuit Court for the Northern District of California, an altercation between Justice Stephen Johnson Field of the US Supreme Court and David S. Terry, a former Chief Judge of the California Supreme Court and the fatal shooting of Terry by a US Marshal, both in the breakfast room of a California railroad hotel at Lathrop, which culminated in a landmark US Supreme Court decision in the case "In re Neagle (Cunningham v. Neagle)", on the supremacy of federal law over state law. 135 U.S. 1; 10 S. Ct. 658; 34 L. Ed. 55 (1890).[2] His legal battle was the inspiration for Eleazar Lipsky's novel The Devil's Daughter (1969).


  1. ^ McLaughlin, Mark (August 1, 2018). "William Sharon, King of the Comstock: Part III". Tahoe Weekly.
  2. ^ For details see, for example, http://lawbooksusa.com/cconlaw/neagleinre.htm.


  • Kroninger, Robert. Sarah and the Senator. Berkeley, Calif.: Howell-North, 1964
  • Roberts, Gary L. In Pursuit of Duty. American West 7 (September 1970): 27-33, 62-63

Further reading[edit]

  • Makley, Michael J. (2006). The Infamous King Of The Comstock: William Sharon And The Gilded Age In The West. University of Nevada Press.
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
William M. Stewart
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Nevada
Served alongside: John P. Jones
Succeeded by
James G. Fair