- "Sprague Families in America", by Dr. Warren Vincent Sprague, page 299.
Gov. William Sprague resided at Warwick, RI.
1832. Speaker of Rhode Island Assembly.
1836-8. Member of Congress.
1838-40. Governor of RI. ("Old Governor") Portrait in State House, Newport, RI by Lincoln.
1842-5. U. S. Senator.
1848-1856. Presidential Elector from Warwick; cotton manufacturer, A. & W. Sprague, brothers, the first firm of that name.
"Sprague Families in Rhode Island", by Benjamin Knight, Sr., page 21.
William Sprague III was born in Cranston, Providence County, RI, November 3d, 1799. His education was very limited-no more than what is acquired at the common schools. But like his father, he had great strength of intellect. He commenced to labor in his father's little cotton mill when quite a small boy, and then exibited great talent for operating Machinery. With his ingenious mind he observed the skill of others in the operation of machinery. When he was about seventeen or eighteen years of age, or in the years of 1816 or 1817, his father and all the manufacturers were experimenting on looms to weave by water power. They were laughted at by the people generally. The writer of these pages well recollects at that time of hearing his father and mother talking about "Bill" Sprague (as he was then called) trying to weave by water power. I now distinctly recollect my father's saying, "They can card and spin cotton, but never can weave it by water power". A Scotchman named Gillmore brought some drawings for the construction of looms from England about this time, but they were so imperfect it was with difficulty that his plans could be made to work. But after numerous trials at Judge Lyman's cotton mill, in North Providence, they succeeded. And William Sprague II immediately gave them a trial, but with little success. Quite a number of the best mechanics of that day, tried to make the looms operate and weave cloth, but failed in the attempt. Young William III observed all the movements of those making the trial to weave, and at last he went to his father and asked permission to make the trial to weave. His father looked at him with astonishment and said, do you suppose a lad like you could make the looms operate so as to Weave? The lad replied, "Yes, Sir; I can weave if anybody can." His father told him to go ahead, and if he did not succeed they might as well give it up. He did go ahead, and succeeded in making good cloth, to the astonishment of all; and had charge of his father's weaving for a long time, and learned others to weave. Weaving by waterpower then soon become general by the early manufactures. In the year 1821 when his father commenced building his cotton-mill at Natic, he went there to assist his father in starting looms and other machinery, and made Natic and vicinity his permanent home. While thus engaged superindending his father's business, he became acquainted with and married Miss Mary Waterman, the daughter of a well-to-do farmer, whose farm and home was about three miles south of Natic village. Here the reader should understand that the village of Natic is located on the banks of the Pawtuxet river, in the town of Warwick, Kent County, RI. Soon after his marriage to Miss Waterman he built his mansion on a small farm a short distance southeast of the village. As soon as of suitable age, he united iwth the order of Free and Accepted Masons, but on the alleged abduction of William Morgan by the Msons in the State of New York, he seceded from the Masonic fraternity, and united with his father and others in getting up an anti-Masonic political party for the overthrow of Masonry. He was elected a representative to the State Legislature from the town of Warwick, and took his seat in that body May 11th, 1829. Was re-elected and took his seat in the Legislature May 10th, 1830, and was placed on the Committee on Real Estate. He was again re-elected to the Legislature in 1831. At the October session of that year, November 7th, Mr. J. F. Simmons (a member from Johnston) introduced a resolution for the appointment of a committee to investigate the charges against Masonic Lodges in the State. The resolution was unamiously adopted, and Messrs. Hazard, William Sprague, Jr., Simmons, Hale, and E. R. Potter, were appointed on said committee, the Senate concurring, adding Hon. S. B. Cornell to the committee. The anti-Masonic excitement at this time was at its height, and the foregoing committee reported at the January session of the Legislature, 1832. The report was unsatisfactory to the anti-Masons and young William spague (as he was then called), made a minority report, and by uniting the anti-Masonic strength of the Legislature with the Republican or Jackson party, against the National Republican or Adams party, he succeeded in abrogating most of the Masonic charters of the State, and enacting prohibitory laws in regard to extra judicial oaths, etc. At the October session of the Legislature William III was elected Speaker of the House, by one majority, over Joseph L. Tillinghast, Esq., after seven ballotings. Upon the election of Hon. John Brown Frances Governor, in 1833, William III was re-elected Speaker of the House, and at the January session, 1834, was again re-elected over Hon. James DeWolf, by four majority. During this session of the Legislature there was great excitement over the Masonic question, and a bill was passed, providing that the several Masonic societies should make annual returns to the Legislature of the names of their officers and the number of their members, under a penalty of one thousand dollars for neglect or refusal to do so. At the May session of the Legislature, 1835, he was defeated for Speaker of the House by Henry Y. Cranston, by three majority. There being no election for Governor or Lieut. Governor, the first Senator, Samuel Ward King, of Johnston, acted as Governor. During this year there was an election for Representatives to Congress, and the following candidates were nominated: The Jackson and anti-Masonic parties nominated Dutee J. Pearce and William Sprague, Jr.; the National Republican party nominated Hon. Tristam Burgess and Henry Y. Cranston, Esq. At the October session the votes for Representatives to Congress were counted, and Messrs. Pearce and Sprague were declared elected. The National Republican party charged the Jackson and anti-Masonic parties with expending large sums of money for the election of Pearce and Sprague. But as usual, such charges were more easily made than proven. Here, in connection with the history of the Sprague families, we give a brief history of the names of political parties, showing with what parties the Spragues united politically. During the struggle of the Colonies for their independence, the name of Whig was applied to the revolutionists, and the name of Tory to those who were in favor of Great Britain, or the mother country. During the Revolution, a confederacy was formed between the Colonies, and those who supported it, in opposition to a republican Constitution, were called Federalists, hence the names Federal Party and Republican party. The Federal party was dominant during the administrations of Washington and Adams. The Republican party became the ruling party under the administrations of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. During the administration of Madison, and the second war with England, the Federal party became extinct, and Mr. Monroe was elected as the Republican President, with but one dissenting electoral vote. At the close of Mr. Monroe's administration, in 1825, and during the administration of Mr. J. Q. Adams, the Republican party became divided on government policy. One portion of the party was in favor of rechartering the United States Bank, internal improvements and a portective tariff, for encouragement to manufacturers and home industry, and adopted the name of the National Republican party. The other portion of the Republican party was opposed to the recharter of the United States Bank, internal improvements, and a protective tariff for the encouragement of manufacturers and home industry, and retained the original name of the Republican party, as under Jefferson. But during the first Presidentail campaign between Mr. Adams and Gen. Jackson, the parties seemed to take the name of the Presidential candidates, and were called the Adams party and the Jackson party. Mr. Adams received his nomination and political support from the National Republican party, and Gen. Jackson received his nomination and political support from the Republican party. Upon the re-election of Gen. Jackson to the Presidency, in 1833, the Republican party changed its name to Democratic-Republican. Upon the election of Martin Van Buren to the Presidency, in 1837, the party name was again chainged by leaving off the word Republican, and calling it the Democratic party, a name that it has ever since retained. The National Republican party, in the Presidential campaign for the election of Wm. H. Harrison, in the years 1839-40, changed its name to Whig, and was known by that name until 1857, when it again changed its name to Republican. Thus stands the two great party names of our country, Republican and Democratic, in the year 1881. William III was elected a representative to Congress, and took his seat in the House of Representatives March 4th, 1836, where he made no speeches and occupied his seat but little, in consequence of his father's death and the settlement of the estate. On his return from Congress, at a Whig Convention, January 10th, 1838, he was nominated for Governor, and elected to that office by a majority of 381 over his competitor, John Brown Frances. Again he was nominated by the Whigs, January 10th, 1839, but was defeated at the following spring election. He was elected a representative to the State Legislature, and took his seat in that body October 26th, 1840. At the January session of the Legislature, February 5th, 1842, he was elected to the United States Senate by eight majority over all others. At the time of his election the people of Rhode Island were highly excited over the suffrage question, and the members of the Legislature favorable to the extension of the right of suffrage to non-freeholders, voted (together with the Democrats), for his election to the United States Senate. He was considered favorable to the suffrage movement from the fact that his brother-in-law and most conspicuous political agent, Emanuel Rice, during the previous year (1841) was attending suffrage meetings, making short speeches, and getting non-free-holders in the employ of A. & W. Sprague out to vote for the People's Constitution. It was gratifying to the people that a United States Senator had been elected who was so favorable to the extension of suffrage. After the adoption of the Constitution by the people, an attempt was made to carry its provisions into effect by the election of members of a Legislature and State officers, and organizing a State government with Thomas W. Dorr as Governor. William III then turned about politically, and did all he could against the establishment of the People's Constituion, and the suffrage movement generally. He, with his brother Amas, and brother-in-law, Emanuel Rice, used all their influence to prevent those in their employ voting to support the State government under the People's Constitution. There were no other three men in the State who did more, according to their means and ability, to overthrow the suffrage movement. After the suppression of the People's Constitution, and a large number of suffrage men had removed from the State, public opinion compelled the old Charter party to abolish its old English charter, transmitted from Charles II, and adopt a Republican Consitution; and all legal voters were allowed to use envelopes in which to enclose their ballots, thereby to prevent proscription of the elector, and a registry law was also adopted, to prevent frauds. But notwithstanding these precautionary law measures, Emanuel Rice was charged with openly flourishing money in town meetings to influence electors. And when voting by enclosing the ballots in an envelope, Rice did come up to the polls with a man by his side and inquire of the Moderator if the name of the man by his side was registered on the voting list. If answered in the affirmative, Rice would hand an envelope to the man and stand by and see that he put it into the ballot-box. After the adoption fo the present Constitution, and the troubles growing out of the suffrage movement had subsided, William III remained in the United States Senate until his brother Amasa was murdered by John Gordon. He then resigned his seat in the Senate and returned home. This ended his personal political career, although he subsequently had great political influence in the legislation of the State. William III settled up the business affairs fo the late firm of Amasa and William Sprague, and united with the heirs of his brother, uner the name of the old firm of A. & W. Sprgue, and then pushed forward their business with unceasing energy. July 6th, 1848, he purchased of Stephen Taft a water privilege on Flat river, in the town of Coventry, Kent county, RI. The low dam and small cotton mill on this privilege he at once demolished, and removed the tenement houses into more open order, laying out streets between them. The following year, 1849, he had a high and permanent dam built a few rods further down the river, below the old dam, which had been removed and in connection with this high dam he built a stone cotton mill 350 feet long, 55 feet wide and four stories high, with a boiler house on one end for warming the mill and other purposes. On the other end was a wheel-house. The boiler house and Wheel-house have since been built to the height of the main body of the original mill, making the whole edifice a little over 400 feet long, and in which are now operated 500 looms. Sixty rods further down the river, where Taft's print works formerly stood, he build another mill in 1851, 222 feet long, 68 feet wide, three stories high, and 12 feet between floors, which is now operating 250 looms. A large number of tenement houses were built, which together with the old houses that had been removed to new position, makes the beautiful villiage of Quidnic. Flat river, below Quidnic village, runs in a circuitous route to the south, east and north, supplying water-power to the cotton mills at Crompton mills and Centreville, and continues its course northerly until it empties into the Pawtuxet river at River Point. Between Centreville and River Point villages, in 1852, the firm of A. & W. Sprague purchased another small cotton mill, that was thought of but little vallue. William III forthwith cleared away the small mill and its puny dam, and on its site built a very permanent dam, at the east end of which he erected a large stone cotton mill, 312 feet long, 68 feet wide, four stories high and 12 feet between floors, with an L 92 feet long, 50 feet wide, three stories high and 12 feet between floors. In this splendid mill they operated 612 looms. On the western slope of the high grounds in the rear of this mill he built a large village of tenement houses of unequaled beauty. This village he name Arctic. While he was thus extensively engaged in the erection of cotton mills, manufacturing and printing calico goods, he found time to assist in obtaining a charter and procuring stockholders enough build the Hartford, Providence and Fishkill railroad. He had great influence at this time in the city of Providence, and by his exertions the city (through its government) was induced to loan its credit to build this railroad. He seemed to be the leading spirit in this railroad enterprise. He very sagaciously contrived to have the road surveyed, graded and track laid so as to pass very near their print works in Cranston, and all the cotton mills belonging to the firm of A. & W. Sprague. If the road had been built for their especial benefit, the track could not have been laid any better for their accomodation. While the construction of this road was in progress, he purchased a splendid water-privilege on the Shetucket river, between Williamantic and the city of Norwich, New London county, Connecticut, where he had a large permanent dam built, at great expense, and laid the foundation of the largest cotton mill then in New England. The dimensions of this mill were as follows: The main building 644 feet long, 68 feet wide; wing on the east end 191 feet long, 52 feet wide; wing on the west end 119 feet long, 52 feet wide; fron towers 22x22 feet; rear towers 13x14 feet. The whole length of this unrivaled cotton mill was 954 feet. The foundation was laid and the building subsequently built under the supervision of Mr. Horace Foster, a celebrated arificer in brick and stone, whose equal as a builder would be hard to find in the United States. Mr. Foster had been in the employ of the firm of A. & W. Sprague for several years, superintending the construction of all their stone cotton mills and other edifices.
Amidst his extensive business, with this unrivaled foundation for a cotton mill begun, William Sprague III was removed by death from his earthly labors. He died of typhoid fever, in the city of Providence, October 19th, 1856, aged 57 years. He left a widow and one son, Byron, and one daughter, Mrs. Latham, on New York. His remains were interred in the family cemetery in Cranston, beside his father and brother, Amasa; but subsequently his remains were removed and deposited near his monument, on Forest avenue, Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, RI.
"The History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Platations" - Biographical, Pages 400-402.
The Cranston-Johnston branch of the Spragues formed one of the mast notable and historically prominent of Rhode Island families since the beginning of the seventeenth century. Members of this family have been leaders in practically every department of the life of the State throughout two centuries. Three generations of the Cranston Spragues, William Sprague, his sons, Governor William and Amasa, and the latter's sons, Amasa, Governor William (2), and Byron, together and in turn founded and developed one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of the cotton cloth manufacturing industries of the day in the world. William Sprague, Governor of the State of Rhode Island, during the Rebellion, a gallant soldier and citizen whose name occupies a brilliant page in the history of the State, was of this branch. Closely allied by bonds of kinship to this illustrious branch of the family are the Johnston Spragues, and it is with this family, in the line of the late William Anson Sprague, that this article is to deal.
"Who's Who In American History", page 499.
SPRAGUE, William, senator, gov. R.I., congressman; b. Cranston, R.I., Nov. 3, 1799; ed. in classical studies. Became Mcht.; mem. R.I. Ho. of Reps., speaker, 1832-35; mem. U. S. Ho. of Reps (Whig) from R.I., 24th Congress, 1835-37; gov. R.I., 1838-39; mem. U.S. Senate (filled vacancy) from R.I., Feb. 18, 1842-Jan. 17, 1844 (resigned); whig presdl. elector, 1848; became cotton and paint mfr. Died Providence, R.I., Oct. 19, 1856; buried Swan Point Cemetery.
From The Political Graveyard Website
·William (1799-1856) of Warwick, County R.I. Uncle of William Sprague (1830-1915). Born in Rhode Island, November 3, 1799. Speaker of the Rhode Island State House of Representatives, 1832-35; U. S. Representative from Rhode Island at-large, 1835-37; Governor of Rhode Island, 1838-39; U.S. Senator from Rhode Island, 1842-44. Died October 19, 1856. Interment at Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, R.I. Sede also: congressional biography.
From James J. Kallal, correspondent, note of April 20th, 2007
Above you will find reference to a huge river dam and cotton mill he built in CT. He died before the mill was completed. Nevertheless the mill was completed and the Town of Sprague was created in 1861. It is interesting that American Spragues continued their interests in water powered mills as their British forebears. The St Lawrence settlements of Gouverneur and Fowler were selected based on suitable conditions to build mills on the Oswegatchie.
There is more info on the Town of Sprague at this website.
The following two snips extracted from website above were written by a town historian. The amendations in brackets [ … ] by jjk.
"The Shetucket River flows through the village [of Baltic, Town of Sprague, New London, Connecticut] going from northwest to southeast and for years was the life blood of the village as the A[masa] & W[illiam] Sprague Manufacturing Co. and later the Baltic Mills Co. were built along its banks. It provided all of the water power necessary to run both mills and manufacture electricity for the Baltic Mills and the village. The Sprague mill was built in 1856 and burned in 1887. Frederick Sayles of Pawtucket R.I. purchased the property in 1899 and started the Baltic Mills Co. and operated it until 1963 when they sold it to a syndicate from N.Y. The syndicate operated the mill until 1967 when they ceased operations and sold all the machinery and the property other then the mill. Later on March 5, 1970 the Casper Division of Bevis Industries, a mail order company purchased the mill for $325,000.00. After 114 years of cotton mills being on that site another type of business took over the area and that was the end of cotton mills in Baltic [in the Town of Sprague]."
"The Sprague Public Library and the Sprague Historical Society are located in the Grist Mill on the first floor, with a large hall on the second floor. The Grist Mill is located on Main Street across the street from the town hall. The Grist Mill was built by the Sprague Company about 1856-57. It was long a grist mill, then a coal and lumber business, a warehouse, a jail and for years was empty. About 1967 the town purchased the grist mill from the Sayles family." [4, 5]