William Cobb Whitfield was born 20 August 1860 in Lenoir County, North Carolina, to Colonel Nathan Bryan and Betty Green (Cobb) Whitfield. Although he grew up during Reconstruction in the South, his family was able to send him to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the late 1870s. He earned his medical degree in 1884 from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. After graduating, Whitfield returned to North Carolina to practice medicine, and immediately joined the North Carolina Society of Medicine. He lived in Seven Springs in 1884, upon his return to North Carolina, and by 1903 lived in Grifton. In 1908, Whitfield served as the President of the Pitt County Medical Society. Whitfield maintained his practice in his home in Grifton. As Grifton was a small, rural community, people could go to his home and know when they could find him, or roughly when he might be back. Quite often, people would wait until he returned.
Whitfield married Annie Watson Barbour in 1888, and they would have Metrah Barber "Jack," Annie Roslyn, and Nathan Samuel Cobb Whitfield. His wife died in 1893, and he married second Rachel Donnell Patterson in 1899. William and Rachel would have one son, William Patterson Whitfield, who would live only a few months. The Whitfield's would take in Mattie Morisey in 1918, after both her parents died.
In the late 1930s, Rachel had heart problems. Dr. Whitfield gave up his practice in Grifton and they moved to Salisbury thinking the higher elevation and lower humidity would help her. Throughout his life, Whitfield was an avid reader, accumulating a very large library. He was a big Mason, Shriner, and Episcopalian, and was very involved in those organizations.
Whitfield died 13 May 1938 in Salisbury, North Carolina, and is buried in Kinston.