Witherow, Thomas (1824–90), presbyterian minister and historian, was born 29 May 1824 in his maternal grandfather's house at Ballycastle, near Limavady, Co. Londonderry, eldest in a family of four children of Hugh Witherow, a prosperous farmer and grazier from Aughlish, near Dungiven, Co. Londonderry, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Martin. Thomas Witherow (who was baptised into the Church of Ireland at the instigation of his grandmother) had at least one brother. After local schooling, he was sent to the academy in Aghadowey kept by the Rev. James Bryce (qv) (d. 1857); after several years, he went to Belfast Academy and then Royal Belfast Academical Institution, where he studied in the college department. He attended classes in Edinburgh in 1843–4, and in February 1845 was licensed by the presbytery of Glendermott to preach. Aged only 21 and initially very diffident, he was ordained 1 October 1845 as minister in Maghera, Co. Londonderry, where he remained for twenty years. He was an energetic and popular minister; he served on a local famine relief committee in 1845–6, oversaw the renovation of the meeting-house, organised the establishment of four national schools and Sunday schools, and supported Samuel McCurdy Greer (qv) in elections between 1852 and 1859. His interests were historical, rather than strictly theological, but one of his books, The apostolic church – which is it? first published in 1856, was influential in its day and was reprinted in 1955 by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Scriptural baptism, its mode and subjects (1859) was held by supporters to be a definitive refutation of adult baptism, and was an important contribution to the contemporary controversy with the baptists.
In 1860 he was a candidate for the chair of church history in the faculty of his church in Belfast, but was defeated in a vote in the general assembly, chiefly because of the power in that body of Henry Cooke (qv), who was supporting his son-in-law Josias Leslie Porter (qv). In 1865 Witherow was appointed first professor of church history in the newly opened Magee College. He was also first librarian of the college, and worked hard to acquire books and manuscripts for the new library; he was later secretary of faculty. Witherow had always been fascinated by family stories about the siege of Derry, and in 1873 published Derry and Enniskillen in 1689, which gave Witherow's assessment of events from a presbyterian perspective. In 1879 he published The Boyne and Aghrim, which did not sell as well as the very popular book on Derry. He published editions of two journals of the siege: those of Thomas Ash (qv) and Jacob Richards. Witherow's magnum opus is probably Historical and literary memorials of presbyterianism in Ireland (1623–1800), which is one of the main sources of biographical information on many presbyterian ministers. He wrote many articles in reviews and in 1878 succeeded Richard Smyth (qv) as editor of the Derry Standard; this entailed merely the writing of editorials, and Witherow greatly enjoyed it; he resigned in 1886. He was also editor of the Presbyterian Review. In 1878 he was elected moderator of the general assembly; in 1883 he was awarded a DD by the Presbyterian theological faculty; in 1884 he was appointed to the senate of the RUI; and in 1885 he was awarded the RUI degree of LLD.
He married (13 April 1859) Catherine, daughter of Thomas Milling of Maghera. Their son Hugh died of scarlet fever just a few days before they left Maghera for Derry; both parents were devastated. Another son, also called Hugh, died as a baby; a son became a presbyterian minister in England and there were seven daughters. Catherine Witherow died of puerperal fever 5/8 May 1879; her heartbroken husband had to complete his moderatorial year while trying to organise care for his young family, including a newly born baby. Witherow left in manuscript an interesting autobiography, which was published in 1990; he died in Derry 25 January 1890 and was buried in the city 28 January.