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"Founder, 1870, of Webb School, since 1886 in Bell Buckle, Tenn. Confederate soldier, U.S. Senator, 1913. Born 1842, one mile S." William Robert Webb (1842-1926) in 1870 founded the Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Widely respected in the Volunteer State, Webb was selected to fill out an unexpired term in the U.S. Senate in 1913. He remained the principal at Webb until his death in 1926.
Webb, born near Mount Tirzah in Person County, North Carolina, was reared by his mother after the death of his father when he was six. The nickname “Sawney” originated at an early age, being a Scottish diminutive of Alexander, his father’s name. His formal education was gained at the Bingham School and at the University of North Carolina. After Confederate service he completed studies at UNC, he took a teaching post at Horner Military School in Oxford but soon moved to Tennessee, married Emma Clary, and took over a moribund preparatory school in Culleoka. At the school he was joined by his brother John, also a UNC graduate. Early graduates of the Webb School, all young men in its early years, excelled at Vanderbilt University, opened in 1875.
Webb’s objection to the sale of liquor in Culleoka led him in 1886 to move the school thirty-five miles west to Bell Buckle. Of his classroom style it is said that he “made of teaching a drama in miniature” and cut a striking figure in his frock coat. By force of personality he engendered loyalty from Webb graduates. The Senate appointment came in 1913 when Tennessee Sen. Robert Taylor died. Webb then filled out the term, serving from January 24 until March 3.
Upon his death in 1926 Webb was eulogized widely and praised as the “South’s greatest teacher of boys.” During Webb’s tenure, the school produced more Rhodes Scholars than any other secondary school in the nation.
Carroll Van West, ed., Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture (1998)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, VI, 151—sketch by Matthew Hodgson
Laurence McMillin, The Schoolmaker: Sawney Webb and the Bell Buckle Story (1971)
Edd Winfield Parks, “Sawney Webb: Tennessee’s Schoolmaster,” North Carolina Historical Review (July 1935): 233-251
Rudolph Elliott, “Old Sawney,” The Atlantic Monthly (August 1920)
Nashville Banner, June 6, 1912, and December 20, 1926
Webb School website: http://www.thewebbschool.com
Related Themes: C.S.A., Confederate States of America, Confederacy
North Carolina Civil War Historical Markers.