Rhode Island Genealogy » Biographies » Biography of William Henry Pope

Biography of William Henry Pope

It was in the years from 1840 to 1907 that William Henry Pope, a lifelong resident of New England, lived and performed a useful work in the great industrial world. Business enterprises in which he was engaged covered a wide scope; and, though cotton manufacturing was one of his chief interests, it was by no means his only field of activity. For he was one of those public-spirited men who ever contribute to the well-being of others, and whose talents were such as to cause him to be drawn into many different types of commercial, civic and social enterprises. A man of exemplary character and of distinguished attainments in a variety of undertakings, Mr. Pope was an individual of versatility, accomplishment and integrity; one who was loved in life and is affectionately remembered though gone from the midst of his hosts of friends and acquaintances.

He was born in Enfield, Hampshire County, Massachusetts, on July 18, 1840, son of Icabod and Serena (Woods) Pope and a member of an old and honored family. The name Pope is an early English surname of the class whose origin is found in nicknames. It signifies literally “the pope,” and was applied at the beginning of the surname era to one of austere, ascetic or ecclesiastical bearing; the word “pope” itself being derived from post-classical Latin, papa, meaning father. The name in its present form first appears in English registers in 1273. The arms of the family is described as “argent two chevrons gules on a chief of the second an escallop or.” Such was the ancient family background of the Pope family.

William Henry Pope, manufacturer, business leader, town builder, was born in Enfield, Massachusetts, as noted above, and received his education in a private school at Enfield, at private schools in Providence, and at the A. G. Scholfield Business College, from which he was graduated. It was natural that he should seek a business career, as his father, Icabod Pope, had been a prominent manufacturer in England, as well as for several years justice of the peace of his town; the mother, too, came from a family of note, her brother, Josiah Woods, having founded Woods Library at Amherst College and having donated it to that institution; she died in 1846. When the time came for William H. Pope to begin his active career, he was employed with different Providence firms, until at length, in 1863, he became associated with Albert Gallup, then head of Gallup Brothers, cotton manufacturers. He was engaged in this firm’s offices, and so continued until Mr. Gallup removed to New York City. During his period in that connection, he familiarized himself with all the details of cotton manufacturing, as well as with the practical side of business management; and later entered, for a time, the cotton brokerage business. About 1878 he began the independent manufacture of cotton, after having served from 1871 onward as agent for the Robert Watson Mills, of Willimantic, Connecticut. He then purchased the mill and mill village owned by the Smithfield Manufacturing Company, at Allenville, in the town of Smithfield, Rhode Island.

That community took its name from the first mill erected there in 1813 by Governor Philip Allen. Mr. Pope renamed the village Enfield, and proceeded to develop it along progressive civic lines. Enfield, named after the birthplace of Mr. Pope in Massachusetts, later became one of the most prosperous and thriving communities in Rhode Island. The village was the pride of Mr. Pope, whose management of his mills was of such character that the operatives were never known to strike, and that he kept his plants running constantly, without those long periods of idleness so typical of New England textile factories. So it was that, from a state of comparative uselessness, the mills grew to be some of the best managed and most modemly equipped plants in New England.

Mr. Pope also had numerous other business interests. He was active in several of the largest financial and commercial enterprises in the State, and in many of them held executive positions. He was treasurer of the Pawtuxet Valley Railroad for more than forty years; treasurer and secretary of the Providence and Springfield Railroad Company from 1892 until its absorption by consolidation; director of the National Exchange Bank for more than twenty years; at one time the largest stockholder of the Union Railroad Company; director of the Providence Telephone Company from its inception; director of the Providence Dry Dock Marine Railway Company and for several years of the Windham Manufacturing Company; and secretary of the Providence Press Company for a time after its reorganization in 1880.

Such a diversity of alignments in the business world kept him, of course, from participating a great deal in public affairs; but he was, nevertheless, a leader in a number of clubs and fraternal orders. He was a charter member of the Narragansett Boat Club; and, a true sportsman, was keenly interested in yachting. He was one of the first members of the Squantum Association, a member of the Commercial Club, a member of the Home Market Club of Boston, and a member, treasurer for four years, and a governor from 1885 to 1891, of the Hope Gub of Providence. His religious faith was that of the Congregational Church. Into all of his many activities he ever put his fullest measure of energy and enthusiasm, with the result that he was a most useful figure in a variety of social circles and in many walks of life.

William Henry Pope married, on September 27, 1888, Catherine Elizabeth Robertson, daughter of Andrew and Maria (Halcro) Robertson, of Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada. Mrs. Pope survived her husband, and today makes her home in Providence, Rhode Island.

The death of Mr. Pope, which took place on February 16, 1907, was a cause of widespread sorrow in his city and State. For he had contributed in an outstanding way to the civic and industrial development of a great community, and had ever been known in the business world for the high standard of his business ethics and his honorable spirit in his dealings with others. Perhaps no better tribute could be penned in his memory than the words of one who was a close friend to Mr. Pope.

“Who of all that went to him for advice,” asked this friend, “was ever disappointed in the final outcome? Under an impatient manner and an air of desire of being rid of the whole subject, were hidden a careful listening and interest, and in a few days or so there came from him an opinion vested in cautious language. If it was a recommendation, ’twas well to follow it; if a warning, ’twas equally well to heed it. Of his boyish generous nature, how many of us remember his open hand and his heartfelt sympathy?”

Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.

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