W. E. Sefton: Reformatory Superintendent and Civil War Veteran

William Edgar Sefton was born in Norwalk, Ohio, February 11th, 1841, to Thomas and Jane (nee Weible) Sefton.

It was only shortly after he was born that his parents moved to Ashland county, where Sefton grew up working on the farm and attending the local schools. When he was eighteen, he began working to become a blacksmith, but this pursuit was never to be. His studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the Civil War, and in 1861 he enlisted with the newly formed company G of the Twenty-Third Ohio Infantry Regiment. The Twenty-Third is a well-known unit for many reasons, the first of which is that two soldiers from this regiment would later become United States presidents and a third would become a United States Senator. In fact, William McKinley specifically served in Company G, the same company as Sefton. The other future president who served in the Twenty-Third was Rutherford B. Hayes.

One of the other reasons Sefton’s company is well-known is because of the number of important battles they served in. Sefton personally fought in the following battles: Carnifex Ferry, West Virginia, September 10, 1861; Princeton, West Virginia, May 15, 1862; South Mountain, September 14, 1862; Antietam, September 17, 1862; Cloyd Mountain, May 9, 1864; New River Bridge, May 10, 1864; and Buffalo Gap, June 6, 1864. Sefton was injured at the Battle of Cloyd Mountain in 1864, but continued to serve as a corporal until his term of service expired June 10th, 1864.

After the war, Sefton took up work with the Etna Manufacturing Company, then became a traveling salesman and agent for the C. Aultman Company of Canton for about thirteen years. From there, he worked in several capacities for the Princess Plow Company, eventually becoming the general manager before leaving the company.

It was at this point that Sefton changed his line of work, and 1896 he was elected as the first assistant superintendent of the newly-opened (though still under construction) Ohio State Reformatory, under the supervision of the first Superintendent W. D. Patterson. Even as Assistant Superintendent, his duties were significant, as was apparent in the first two months of his tenure, during which there were multiple escapees from the Reformatory. In October 1896, William Kelly took advantage of a guard’s negligence to escape through a cellar door while he was supposed to be washing windows. The guard failed to report the escape to Deputy Superintendent Sefton immediately, and after this incident Sefton changed the way in which guards patrolled the border and tightened up security.

Less than six months after being elected, Patterson resigned as the Reformatory Superintendent, and Sefton took over the position. He established a prison library of more than 300 volumes, and continued to manage a staff of more than 30 people with 350 inmates in residence at the Reformatory.

Although Sefton’s tenure as superintendent was longer than Patterson’s, it was only three years after taking the position that Sefton resigned, citing ill health. He returned to his home in Mt. Vernon and returned to the apparently less strenuous work of a salesperson, continuing on in this field until he became ill, and died on December 9th, 1918 from complications of the illness.

Sources:

  • Baughman, A.J. Centennial Biographical History of Richland County.
  • Roster of Ohio Soldiers, War of the Rebellion, Vol. III
  • Butler Enterprise, 22 October 1896, page 1.
  • Mansfield News,  17 December 1900, page 1.
  • “Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” database with images, FamilySearch
  • Mansfield News, 10 December 1918, page 4.
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