William Whidden, a pioneer settler of the Oak Grove community, was a Union soldier and farmer.
William Whidden was born June 28, 1848 in Hillsborough County, Florida. He was the eleventh of thirteen children of Willoughby and Eliza (Pennington) Whidden. He was listed with his parents in the censuses of 1850 Hillsborough County and 1860 Manatee County, being located in the Fort Hartsuff area in the latter, near where now Heard Bridge crosses the Peace River.
After the war, William settled in what is now known as the Oak Grove community, west of present-day Wauchula. A farmer, he registered in Manatee County on September 1, 1871 his mark & brand crop, upper bit in one ear, under bit in the other.
On September 27, 1890, he applied for a pension from his service in Company B under the Act of June 27, 1890. He gave his post office address as Wauchula, DeSoto County. Charles A. Whidden and Albert Carlton appeared as witnesses on his behalf. On November 15, 1890, William Wiggins, 33, and Robt. Roberts, 48, both of Wauchula, in "Neighbor's Affidavit" averred that William was "wounded about eleven years ago while lifting a sugar can one edge of which struck him on the privates causing excessive hemorrhage which continued about three weeks." Continuing his pension claim no. 920170 on October 29, 1891, A. E. Roesch, Exam. Surgeon, measured him as being 5 feet 8 inches and 155 pounds and diagnosed disease of the urinary organs, i. e., "Hypertrophy of prostate gland caused by a fall upon the edge of an iron sugar kettle. This occurred about 12 years ago." Records provided by the Veterans Administration are incomplete but tend to indicate that his claim was approved.
William Whidden died on September 17, 1901. He was a member of New Zion Baptist Church and is buried in New Zion Cemetery.
William was married twice. In Manatee County on April 14, 1870, he married Martha Howard, daughter of Seth and Harriet (Weeks) Howard. Rev. William P. McEwen officiated. Martha was born May 1, 1845, Alafia, Hillsborough County, Florida, and died, after being struck by lightning, on July 31, 1897 and was buried in New Zion Cemetery.
In Manatee County on November 9, 1898, William married (2) Mollie McLeod of Hendry, Florida. Rev. W. D. Payne officiated. Mollie was born September 10, 1867 in Manatee County. She was the eldest child of William, McLeod, Jr. and Susan (Howard) Arnold McLeod and a granddaughter of William, Sr. and Emily (Sloane) McLeod and Seth and Harriet (Weeks) Howard. Susan had married (1) Furman D. Arnold on August 4, 1859; (2) William McLeod, Jr.
In DeSoto County on September 26, 1887, Mollie had first been married by the Rev. J. M. Hendry to John Rooney. In DeSoto County on October 27, 1898, Mollie had been granted a divorce from John Rooney "...defendant is guilty of habitual intemperance, extreme cruelty and the habitual indulgence of a violent and ungovernable temper towards complainant." Her maiden name was restored, and she was given custody of their son, John B. Rooney.
On October 22, 1901, Mollie in applying for pensions on behalf of her children under the Minor's Claim Act of June 27, 1890 declared that she was the legal guardian of the children of the soldier, William Whidden, i.e., Freddie, born Feb. 21, 1900, and Susan A., born Nov. 29, 1901. She gave her postoffice address as Fort Green.
In "Declaration for Widow's Pension" under the Act of September 8, 1916, Mollie on September 23, 1916 applied for a pension. Lessie Roberts and T. W. McLeod acted as witnesses. Continuing her claim on November 24, 1917, she gave her postoffice address as Wauchula, living midway between Ona and Wauchula, and stated in part:
"I was born and raised right here and have been here all my life. I was married twice and no more. My first husband was J. B. Rooney. He died about ten years ago. I was divorced from him in this county before I married the soldier William Whidden. He was my second and last husband. I have lived on my farm and have gone only as Mollie Whidden. I have lived right here with my children. I am well known to every one in this section. Sam Hull, Jim Raney, Clara Hendry, and Robert Roberts have known me for years."
Mollie lived just north of today's Oak Grove Baptist Church, on the west side of the road, between the (1990) homes of Annie Hart and Griffin Whidden. A member of New Zion Baptist Church, Mollie Whidden died June 28, 1955.
By her marriage to John Rooney, Mollie had a son, John B. Rooney, whose middle name of Bascom was changed to Basil or Basile (spelling varies). John B. Rooney (1890-1972), an educator, was the first elected superintendent of public instruction of Hardee County, being first elected on November 7, 1922 for a two-year term to succeed the appointed W. R. Gramling, and subsequently re-elected for four-year terms on June 3, 1924 and June 5, 1928. His wife, Bessie (1890-1982), was a schoolteacher.
Issue of William and Martha Whidden # 1-13, by Mollie # 14-15:
1. Meribah E. Whidden, born February 26, 1871; died December 10, 1948; married on April 20, 1893 Riley Bailey Gause.
2. Milton Whidden, born February 17, 1873; died on August 31, 1960; married on April 15, 1897 Ona Platt, daughter of Nathan Cicero and Florida (Hagan) Platt.
3. John Otis Whidden, born October 25, 1874; died September 4, 1959; married several times, including Mollie Lanier.
4. William Thomas Whidden, born March 9, 1876; died August 13, 1955; married on August 22, 1898 Jessie Blanche Albritton, daughter of Oliver and Caroline (Ivey) Albritton.
5. Jesse Love "Tuck" Whidden, born 1877; died 1934; married on August 4, 1898 Susan Octavia Cordell.
6. Samuel Whidden, born 1879; died 1957; married on October 15, 1899 Lillie V. Albritton, daughter of Thomas G. and Georgia Ann (Coker) Albritton.
7. Martha "Dean" Whidden, born May 25, 1881; died 1955; married (1) on July 19, 1896 George W. Harp; (2) __________; (3) ___________.
8. Infant son, twin of Dean; born and died May 25, 1881.
9. Mary Vashti Whidden, born March 8, 1883; died January 16, 1968; married on April 14, 1898 Alton Hudson Carlton, son of Albert Carlton and Martha (McEwen) Carlton.
10. Webster Blocker Whidden, born February 7, 1885; died February 16, 1956; married on August 7, 1902 Lessie Cowart, daughter of Reason L. and Mollie (Coker) Cowart. Blocker Whidden served as Sheriff of Hardee County, Florida.
11. Cornelius Whidden, born December 28, 1886; died July 7, 1887, triplet to 12 & 13.
12. Lillie Whidden, born December 28, 1886; died July 16, 1887; triplet to 11 & 13.
13. Hettie Whidden, born December 28, 1886; died July 16, 1887; triplet to 11 & 12.
14. Fred Whidden, born February 21, 1900; died November 26, 1975; married Opal Albritton.
15. Susan Annie Whidden, born November 27, 1901; died March 12, 1998, Wauchula, Fla.; married on July 7, 1935 Frank S. Hart (died March 15, 1992).
References: Pension applications of William and Mollie Whidden; Richard Livingston, "Willoughby Whidden 1799-1861," South Florida Pioneers 11 (Jan. 1977), pp. 8-11; "Seth Howard 1804-1887," South Florida Pioneers 15/16 (Jan.-April 1978), pp. 3-5; Vera and Harry Merritt; T. C. Underwood; Don Whidden; Garnette Williams; New Zion Cemetery. This article is adapted from The Herald-Advocate of December 6, 1990.