William Preston Roberts

Not every "famous" local stays in their hometown. They had opportunities to go anywhere in the United States to make a difference. Take William P. Roberts, for instance:

William Preston Roberts (1845-1931)

William Preston Roberts (1845-1931) was born in Gwynedd to Job and Hannah Roberts. He was descended from Robert Cadwalader who was one of the early settlers in Gwynedd during the establishment of the township, which was 1698.

Fun Fact #1: William has been a lifelong Republican. As a school boy, he was a supporter of John C. Fremont.

William was educated in both Pennsylvania and Maryland where he lived for 3 years. He later attended the First State Normal School in Millersville, PA, and graduated in 1867. His college courses were interrupted when the Civil War began in 1861.

Fun Fact #2: The Civil War was also known as "The War of Rebellion."

William was enlisted into the Civil War on June 16, 1863, at age 17, in the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers as a corporal in Company H after General Robert E. Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania. He and the other soldiers who were mustered were ordered to serve under General George Meade (Retreat from Gettysburg).

45th Regiment US Colored Troops Banner

When William was mustered out, he returned to school until he was called in to commission as 2nd Lieutenant to the 45th Regiment US Colored Troop, Company A. He was then mustered out of the Company on November 4, 1865 as 1st Lieutenant. Unfortunately, he just missed the surrender of Lee, "as he was sent back with a detachment to bring up provisions for the whole army".

During the Civil War, he served with the Army of the Potomac and more with the Army of the James.

Fun Fact #3: William was with General Ulysses S. Grant during his last campaign culminating at Appomattox.

After the war, William continued his education to study law at the University of Michigan. He graduated in 1869, and immediately began his practice. He first began in Nebraska for 6 years; the first two years he worked along until he partnered up and became "Cole & Roberts." Unfortunately it dissolved due to William's health condition. He ended up moving to Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1874. He practiced alone in Minnesota until 1878 when he formed partnerships with Col. Ruben Clark Benton and his brother Caleb Henry Benton.

Overtime, the firm was renamed with new partnerships. In 1895, William returned practice alone after his senior partner, R.C. Benton, died.

Most of his work was focused on settlement of estates and trusteeships.

Fun Fact #4: He was elected to the State legislature in 1898, and won re-election in 1900. During his first term, he introduced 2 bills:

(1) to place names of candidates alternatively on the official ballot (became a law); (2) a "primary election law"

He served as a Representative in the Minnesota State Legislature from 1899-1906, representing Hennepin County.

  • 31st Legislative Session (1899-1900), Chairman of the Public Lands Committee

  • 32nd Legislative Session (1901-1902), Chairman of the Public Lands Committee

  • 34th Legislative Session (1905-1906), Chairman of Appropriations and Judiciary: Constitutional Law Committees

William was married twice: he married his first wife Anna M. Pugh in 1869, but Anna died suddenly a year later. He married his second wife Agnes Doyle Taggart in 1876, and had 2 sons together: Horace W. and Roy G.

Fun Fact #5: His sons Horace and Roy served in the Spanish-American War in the 13th Minnesota Volunteers.


Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5: Prepared in Compliance with Acts of the Legislature, Volume 1. (Harrisburg: B. Singerly, 1871): 1107.

"Descendants of Robert CADWALADER: one of the Roberts families of Gwynedd, Pennsylvania, Generation No. 6.(111)" Gwynedd Friends Meeting. Accessed October 19, 2020. http://www.gwyneddmeeting.org/history/roberts6.htm.

Hudson, Horace B. A Half Century of Minneapolis. (Minneapolis: The Hudson Publishing Company, 1908): 163-165.

Hyde, C.W.G. and William Stoddard. History of the Great Northwest and Its Men of Progress:

A Select List of Biographical Sketches and Portraits of the Leaders in Business, Professional and Official Life. (Minneapolis: The Minneapolis Journal, 1901): 342-343.

"Roberts, William P. 'Wm.'" Minnesota Legislature: Minnesota Legislative Reference Library. Accessed January 5, 2021. https://www.lrl.mn.gov/legdb/fulldetail?id=14547.

"William Preston Roberts: Class of 1869." University of Michigan: Law School Graduates Profile. Accessed January 5, 2021. https://www.law.umich.edu/historyandtraditions/students/Pages/ProfilePage.aspx?SID=820&Year=1869.

#pahistory #mnhistory #minneapolis #minnesota #civilwar #USCT #africanamericans #law #gwynedd #welsh #Wales #robertcadwalader #robertsfamily #republican #unionarmy #universityofmichagan #lowergwynedd #MNstatelegislature #MNHouse #UMich #veterans

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