Born on August 6, 1828, to Joseph and Elizabeth Whilden, William Whilden was raised the youngest of seven children in Charleston. By the 1860s, Whilden was a merchant, a partner in a firm, Hayden & Whilden military outfitters, which imported British jewelry and silverware in Charleston 1855-1863. In 1863, Whilden became a lieutenant in the elite Confederate Washington Artillery stationed in Charleston.
After the war, Whilden remained in Charleston as a merchant, Wm. G. Whilden & Co. c. 1865-1871. He went bankrupt in 1873, and then moved to Anderson, SC. When he came to Greenville in 1880, he was a Special Agent for several southern states for the Continental Fire Insurance Company.
Whilden married first, Ellen Amelia Taylor (1831 - 1884), and second, Emma Julia Smith Mauldin (1841 - 1930), the widow of Belton Oscar Mauldin, daughter of Thomas P. Smith of Charleston.