FAIR HILL — The great wide open country at the top of Cecil County is often referred to these days as Fair Hill in a lump sum of the area. At one time, however, the area was divided into sections and known by other names, including New Munster, North and South Milford Hundred, Rock and Appleton to name a few.
Those early names, long gone by the wayside, can sometimes make it difficult to search out historic events or personages in various areas, as the communities don’t technically exist in modern methods of filing or mapping.
For example, the name Robert Fulton in relationship to the steamboat is a near immediate recognition. But the name William Savin Fulton likely doesn’t ring as many bells.
Yet, William S. Fulton, who was born June 2, 1795, in South Milford Hundred in Cecil County, certainly made a name for himself in Arkansas, including on the map with the naming of Fulton County, Ark., in his honor.
Fulton attended school under the Rev. Samuel Knox in 1803, courtesy his mother’s wealth, before going to Baltimore College where he graduated in 1813. He wanted to practice law, but with the outbreak of the War of 1812, he shifted gears to enlist in a company of volunteers at Fort McHenry, not far from the Baltimore College campus at the time.
He served as a corporal in the Baltimore Fencibles, an elite volunteer unit, fighting alongside his father David Fulton, an Irish immigrant known for his fighting nature. Both father and son were present in the days leading up to the 14-hour naval bombardment at Fort McHenry in 1814.
Rather than starting his legal career, Fulton chose to travel to Florida in 1815 to serve as the private secretary to a close family friend by the name of Gen. Andrew Jackson during the Seminole War. After serving with Jackson, he went to Tennessee in 1820 and from there to Florence, Ala., where he not only practiced law, but started writing editorials for the Democratic newspaper, the Florence Gazette. In the 1820s, he was elected judge of Lauderdale County, Ala., and was joined there by his extended family who moved from Cecil County with the encouragement of the day to “go west and seek their fortunes.”
In 1823, Fulton married Matilda Frances Nowland, who had come to Alabama with his extended family, as she was his first cousin. The couple had several children, including Elizabeth Rebecca, David Peregrine and Mary Jane in Alabama, and after moving in 1829 their family grew by: Hickory, Sophia, another Mary Jane, Matilda Frances, Maria Eller and Ida. Only Elizabeth, Sophia and Ida lived to adulthood.
While still penning editorials and continuing as a lawyer, Fulton was tapped again by Jackson, then serving as the president of the United States, in 1829 to serve as the secretary of the territory of Arkansas, to replace Whig candidate Robert Crittenden. So a majority of the Fulton family loaded up the wagons and moved to Arkansas that summer, where William immediately took over as acting governor in the absence of Gov. John Pope.
Due to newly found political power in Arkansas, Fulton meted out political appointments to family members with his brother, John, named secretary to the governor and his father, David, appointed postmaster of the capital, Little Rock. Even William’s brother-in-law earned a post as a merchant, in those days sutler, at Fort Gibson in Indian Territory.
While in Little Rock, Fulton purchased several plots of land, including one he called “Rosewood,” where one can now find the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. All the while, he was frequently called upon to serve as acting governor when Pope was out of the area. Jackson finally appointed his friend governor on March 9, 1835.
With his full political might, Fulton debated forcefully against Arkansas being admitted as the 25th state to the Union, since he felt neither the people nor the resources were ready for the move, bearing the brunt of much criticism in the meantime. Despite the controversy, Arkansas’s legislature elected him to serve in Congress as its junior senator in 1836.
Fulton would spend the majority of his time in Washington until his death in 1844, during an infrequent visit to his mansion Rosewood. His death, coincidentally, was considered mysterious.
He died in the night while sleeping in a newly painted room in the mansion. The father of nine, former governor and sitting senator was only 49.