Thomas W. Woollen was born in Dorchester County, Md., April 26, 1830. He was the second son of Edward and Anna Woollen, whose maiden name was Wheeler. The Woollens are of English descent. In the forepart of the seventeenth century, Mr. Woollen, wife, and several children emigrated from London to this country, and on the voyage the father and all the children died of disease incident to such journeys, the wife alone, who was enciente [pregnant], reaching Philadelphia. This woman afterward gave birth to a son, from whom sprang all of the name now known to be in this country, so far as their his story has been traced. In 1642, when Capt. Lamberton led an English colony from New Haven into Delaware, John Woollen, who seems to have been something of a backwoods linguist, and who is supposed to have been the son of Mr. Woollen, before mentioned, was employed by Lamberton as Indian interpreter. Mr. Woollen drifted down the peninsula to the eastern shore of Maryland, where there was an English settlement, and settled upon Taylor’s Island, in the Chesapeake Bay. Thomas W. Woollen’s grandfather, William Woollen, was born on Taylor’s Island, something over a hundred years after old John Woollen settled there. The youngest son of William Woollen was Edward, the father of the subject of this sketch, who was born in 1803, in the same county that his fathers had lived in for a century and a half. Edward Woollen was a farmer in moderate circumstances. During the summer months Thomas worked upon his father’s farm, and in the winter he attended the country schools. At fifteen years of age, he removed to Baltimore. He applied himself to the carpenter’s trade, studying every book to which he had access. With none to guide him in the selection of books, it may well be supposed his reading was of a very miscellaneous character, but even such reading was better than none. In 1844, his brother, William Wesley Woollen, left home and went to Madison, Ind. There he was successful in getting public employment, and of course wrote the fact to friends at home. Upon a boy far in his teens, this news could have but one effect. Thomas W. laid aside his miter-box and hand-saw and set out for Indiana; this was in the spring of 1848. John Taylor was at that time clerk of the Jefferson circuit court, and William Wesley Woollen had been his deputy. A deputyship opening for him in the auditor’s office, Thomas was installed as deputy in the clerk’s office under Taylor. There he continued up to the spring of 1852, when he became deputy treasurer under his brother, who had in the meantime been elected to that office. In the fall of that year, Col. John Chambers was elected county treasurer, and he continued Thomas in the office as deputy up to 1854, when, his term being about to expire, the deputy was placed in nomination as the democratic candidate for the office itself. But that was a disastrous year for democratic nominees all over the country. Know-Nothingism, which had sprung up in a night, met with great triumphs that year, and of those who failed to withstand its assaults was the democratic candidate for treasurer in Jefferson County. The entire democratic ticket was defeated. While in the clerk’s office, at the suggestion of the Hon. A. C. Downey, then judge of the Jefferson circuit court, he had been industriously reading law, intending to prepare himself for that profession as soon as he should be able to do so. Under a liberal arrangement with Col. Chambers, while his deputy, he was able to acquire the means to carry out his purpose. Having, in 1850, been married to Harriet J. Williams, daughter of the late Judge Williams, of Jackson County, and now having been defeated and was out of public employment, he sat down in the shade of his own house and continued the study of law. This he kept up to the spring of 1856, when he left Madison and went to Vernon, where Benjamin F. Lewis had just been elected clerk, and, on the suggestion of Judge Downey, Woollen was employed for a few months in the office to introduce the new clerk to its duties, after which he commenced the practice of law. This, however, did not suit him, and, in a short time, he moved to Franklin, and in connection with Jeptha D. New, opened a law office there. But Mr. New returning to Vernon soon after, Woollen was left alone to push his way as best he could. It is not necessary to say he succeeded. As a safe and sound adviser, whether in affairs political or legal, he ranks deservedly high. By reason of his activity in political affairs, he was chosen, in 1862, to make the race on the democratic ticket for joint representative from Johnson and Morgan counties, and was elected over his opponent by 580 votes. The subject of this sketch was elected cashier of the First National Bank in 1865. In 1866, he was the democratic candidate for circuit judge, but was defeated in a circuit overwhelmingly republican by a party majority. In 1868, while actively engaged in his banking business, he was presented before a democratic nominating convention, held at Morgantown, as a candidate for common pleas judge. The directory of the bank now made him president of that institution, and it was thought, with the clerical aid rendered in the bank by the other officers, he would be able to serve as judge, and at the same time supervise the general business of the bank. This arrangement proved unsatisfactory. He was able to attend to his judicial duties up to about the beginning of 1870, when it was thought by the directory of the bank that his active services in that institution were imperatively demanded. In the spring of 1879, his wife had died, leaving him with a large family of children, who needed his presence at home, and he concluded to accept the offer of the board of directors to again take full charge of the bank. During the six years of his connection with the bank, not a dollar was lost to the stockholders by any act of his, and when he left it, its stock was selling readily at $130 to the share. On his retirement from the bank, he resumed the practice of the law, in partnership with Cas Byfield, Esq. In 1872, Mr. Admire, candidate for the lower house from Johnson County, refusing to support Mr. Greeley, the central committee displaced him and put Judge Woollen on the ticket as the democratic candidate. Admire having been regularly nominated and refusing to withdraw, it made the race a doubtful one, but Judge Woollen was elected by a majority of 341 votes. During the legislative term that followed, he took a leading part in the legislation of the state. He was, in some respects, “the acknowledged democratic leader of the house.” In 1874, he was a candidate for the office of attorney-general, but was defeated; but, in 1878, being again a candidate for that office, he was nominated, and, at the general election of that year, was elected to the office over his opponent, Judge D. P. Baldwin, by a majority of 14,461 votes, and it was found that he was singularly well qualified for the position. In 1880, he was again nominated, this time by acclamation, but, at the October election, he went down with the residue of the state ticket. Judge Woollen returned to Franklin and resumed the practice of the law in partnership with his former partner, Judge Banta.

Transcribed by Cheryl Zufall Parker

Banta, D. D. History of Johnson County, Indiana. Chicago, IL: Brant & Fuller, 1888, page 676.