Tribute to William Hampton Flowers

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William Hampton Flowers
William Hampton Flowers Family of William Hampton Flowers 1870

"Lives of Great Men all remind us
We should live our lives sublime
And Departing leave behind us
Footprints in the sands of time."

A memorial such as this should remind each of us that each day someone is looking at us.  That day could make a difference in our lives and those of our children from that moment on.  Look at the accomplishments of this man's descendants.  We should all aspire to be such worthy  participants in life and leave such a legacy. 

A Tribute to William Hampton Flowers by

John T. Milner---September 3, 1895

Wade Hampton Flowers is dead-

The death of Mr. Flowers has impressed me more than that of any other man.  when a man reaches my age, (69), and his comrades and friends begin to pass away and leave him all alone, of these who might have fought the battle of life with him, he knows very well that he must soon follow on.  In looking back over the ground, I, with others have trodden together, the history of no man impresses me as does that of William Hampton Flowers.

He was no ordinary man, he had but little education, but wonderful common sense and any amount of proper training in his early days.  I did not know his Father and Mother, but their hardy worth was very evident in the character of their Son.  Measured by the standard of his day and time, it was perfect.  As a husband, a father, and a Church man, he was perfect, and last of all, as a business man, his energy, his integrity, and his capacity placed him head and shoulders above any and all his fellow laborers, as results have plainly shown. 

He despised a lazy man--he despised a fraud.  Until he moved to Butler County in 1856 or 57, I had heard of him only through his friends, as a man of uncommon energy and business capacity.

When I first knew him, he was living in a piney woods place called, Buckeye, six miles south of Greenville, belonging to his brother-in-law Joseph Thames.  An accident brought us together, from which both of us profited immensely.

I owned several thousand acres of virgin pine land on the Railroad below Greenville.  I had taken a contract to furnish several miles of cross ties for the building of the Railroad.  I was then building the L&N Railroad from Montgomery to Decatur.  My office was in Montgomery.  I had about twenty negro slaves under a poor overseer at work getting out cross ties.  I went down from Greenville, where my family lived at that time, to see how my man was getting on.  He was doing badly, in fact about nothing.  I started home in the evening and riding along in my buggy in the open pine woods, I came across Mr. Flowers and his boys getting out cross ties.  It was a hot day in August.  I stopped on a slight elevation and watched him work for about twenty minutes.  there was not a bit of lost motion in any of their movements.  Mr. Flowers was hewing with a broad axe, his sons, John and William on the log serving in, and the two little boys hauling.  I made up my mind that Mr. Flowers was the man I wanted to manage my labor, and rode up near him.  He had not seen me until I spoke, so intent was he on his work.  I said  "Good evening Mr. Flowers"- he replied, "Good evening:.  I then said, "Mr. Flowers I want to hire you to manage my cross tie gang."  He immediately said, "What will I do with my boys?"  "I will hire them too."  What about my team?"  "I will hire the whole layout."  "What will you pay?"  I replied, "$50.00 a month and feed them."  In a moment he replied, "I'll take it."  Monday morning he took charge of my labor, in about four months completed my contract.  I had made about $2200.00 dollars clear money.  I then took a contract to get fifteen miles of cross ties in Florida, on the Pensacola Railroad.  He took my negroes down there, and in about five or six  months finished it and made me a good profit.  I then saw that he was a valuable man. 

I went to Florida to see him finish up and we started back to Greenville in a buggy and the negroes followed us.  It was in May, he could not begin a crop.  He was out of a job.  I did not want to lose him, and though I intended building a saw mill on my land below Greenville, I was not ready to begin.  Driving along, I asked him how he would like to build a saw mill, and take charge of it for me.  He very promptly replied, Mr. Milner, I know nothing at all about a saw mill and I will only be spending your money for nothing."  I had been in the saw mill business all of my life, and knew he had the material in him to succeed.  He continued to object on account of want of knowledge.  We stopped the first night at Flomaton, with my pardner, W. T. Smith, then building the Railroad from Pollard to Mobile.  The next night near Garland--and the next day we looked over ground there.  I built a mill near Forest, four miles below Greenville--he finally agreed to take charge, if I would get a man to put up and run the mill.  The circular saw had then been in use only about eight or gen years--There were only two or three in Alabama--one near Tuskegee and one near Mobile (Otis Bros.).  It was no easy job to get a man who could put up and run a circular saw mill.  I put him to digging a well, about 100 ft. deep--ordered the machinery from Richmond, Virginia.  To get a proper man was the trouble. I finally got a dande of an Engineer from some Northern State and he put up the mill and began to run it.  He was a bright fellow--I forget his name--He proposed to work only ten hours a day--Mr. Flowers never in his life worked less than twelve hours, winter or summer.  He did not like to wait with his negro laborers, and have each morning for the "mill man" to get up and brush his hair and to stop an hour early every evening.  He could file a saw, however, which Mr. Flowers could not then do.  On my first visit, Mr. Flowers told me my man would not do at all.  I told him I would look around and try to get a working man, who was a sawyer.


I finally got a fellow from Tallapoosa County.  He was the roughish and most uncouth specimen of a man I ever employed, but could file a saw.  One morning he turned up at my office in Montgomery and said Mr. Flowers had discharged him, and stated, that I had hired him, and demanded twelve months pay.  I settled with him.  I thought the mill was bursted then, as I knew of no man to take his place.  Saturday I went down to the mill--before I got there I heard the saw buzzing and everything going ahead--I got out of my buggy and went up in the mill, and there stood one of Mr. Flowers' little boys, William at the lever running the saw back and forth just as if he had been at it all of his life--the little fellow was not larger than a "pound of soap after a hard day's washing" --He seemed proud of his position and was filling the position well.  Mr. Flowers was happy--by this time he could file a saw himself.  His boys, William and Asbury (whom he had well trained) could trim the saw--He then did not have to wait for his sawyer to get up, and comb his hair--His boys went with the rising and setting sun--Here was one secret to his success.  He made and moulded ever man and everything around him, to act his part in his work.  Owing to the War, this mill was not much of a success.  In 1865 after the War, I put up a mill at Bolling--the foundation in use there now.  In 1867 I placed Mr. Flowers in charge of this mill.  In 1870 I was at Decatur conferring with Son Tate and Associate Contractors to complete the South and North Alabama railroad.  I received a dispatch stating my mill was burned!  I showed the dispatch to Major Campbell Wallace--I was in great distress--he asked if I was going to rebuild.  Yes.  If I could raise the money.  In his genial and sympathetic way he said, "Go ahead, you shall have the money."  The railroad company owned me then $20,000.00.  We went to Montgomery.  We saw the president (then Governor Patten) and told him he must pay me 7,000 of which he did.  I borrowed the balance--the rebuilding costing me $12,000.  I went to Greenville, and the next day to the embers of the mill.  Mr. Flowers had accidentally burned the mill himself.  He attempted to burn up the fleas under the mill and the sawdust, which was saturated with dripping oil, flashed up and no power could put it out.  I met him and his first words were, "Mr. Milner, I have burned your mill.  What are you going to do with me?"  I good humoredly said, "I am going to put you to work rebuilding today."  He still wanted to explain that he was at fault and perhaps expected that I would be angry--but I was quite the reverse.  I knew he was the only man I knew to aid me in bridging over the calamity--besides he was not the man to endure the frowns of any man.  If he accidentally burned up twenty mills, I would have acted as I did.  I knew his worth in prosperity, and it was much more to me in adversity.  He ran the mill for me until January 1873--Then he and his Son, Joh, bought a half interest, valueing the mill and my teams at $19,000.00.  I then turned him loose and my one object in writing this, is to show the phenominal results of his labors.

He started with a capital of say $20,000.00-- by the end of this year, the Bolling Mill will have paid about 800,000.00 in cash dividends, and have a property valued at $400,000.00--he made in twenty three years, over fifty times his capital.

I was the progenitor and promoter of the City of Birmingham, bought all the land and was a stock holder in the famous Elyton Land Company.  It neve realized more than thirty times its capital stock of $200,000.00--the results of Bolling under Mr. Flowers management, are far greater than those of the Elyton Land Company, in proportions to capital and all owing to the good sound character and indomitable energy of Mr. Flowers.  He has left his boys to manage the business, and they are doing it well--but if Mr. Flowers had not lived, they never would have been the Mill Men they are now.  Several years ago, I was at the mill--he was very much afflicted with Asthma, and unable to attend to his duties.  we were paying him a salary.  He said to me, Mr. Milner, you are paying me a salary now for nothing."  I replied by asking him if he had an old coat?  Altho he was full of quaint and curt sayings, he was too matter of fact to understand a joke.  He replied, "I suppose I have."  "Well, just go and hang it up in the mill once in  while, and we will be paid."  He knew what I meant.  I have never yet seen a man, white or black that could or would play off when he was around, and he was always around, when he was able to walk. 

Some three months before he died, i went to see him--he was wonderfully glad to see me.  On leaving he said, "Mr. Milner, you will never see me again alive."  I remarked, "Mr. Flowers, you have been a success in life, in every sense of the word--You have left a broad white path behind you."  He handed me his hand, saying, "I thank you"--tears were in his eyes as he said it.  Turning to part his family who were standing around, he said, "I, through Mr. Milner, have made Bolling what it is--he always stood up to me."  I always did--I could do nothing else, but stand up to him, as he was always the central figure, and controlling spirit, in every undertaking even when only managing my property, before he bought an interest January 1873.  I never gave him an order, or treated him as an employee==He was very considerate towards me, but I knew very well he would not work for me a day, if I appeared at all dissatisfied with him--and i never did--After he bought an interest, I turned him loose.  It was perhaps better that I did, as results show. 

(This document was obtained by P. B. Flowers of Columbus Georgia, author of The Descendants of William Hampton Flowers.  He writes:  I obtained this document from James Drury Flowers, 2214 Allendale Road, Montgomery, Alabama, who obtained it from his father, the late James D. Flowers, Sr. who obtained it from his father, John Jefferson Flowers, oldest of William Hampton Flowers.  The original presumably remains with the family of James Drury Flowers, Jr.)



Copyright 1996  These are my own working genealogy files that I share with you.  The errors are my own.  But, perhaps they will give you a starting point.  All original writing is copyrighted.  Webmaster

Copyright 1996  These are my own working genealogy files that I share with you.  The errors are my own.  But, perhaps they will give you a starting point.  All original writing is copyrighted.  Webmaster