Senator William Sprague, Jr. (1799-1856) was one of the most prominent members of a family that ranked as one of Rhode Island’s richest and most powerful during the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century. He was the son and namesake of William Sprague, founder of the great textile empire, the younger brother of Amasa, whose murder in 1843 gave rise to the infamous trial of John Gordon, and the uncle of William Sprague, Rhode Island’s Civil War Governor and later U.S. Senator.
Prior to his father’s death in 1836 and Amasa’s murder seven years later, William devoted more attention to politics than to the family business. He served successively as a state legislator from Cranston, speaker of the House (1832-35), Whig congressman (1835-37), governor (1838-39), and United States senator (1842-44). He resigned from the senate in January, 1844 to assume control over the family business after Amasa’s death.
In William’s twelve years at the helm of the A & W Sprague Company, the firm experienced greater growth than during any pervious period. By the time of his death, he had expanded the business by constructing large mills in Coventry and Warwick and the massive (68' x 954') Baltic Mill in Connecticut and by enlarging the Cranston Print Works to make that original facility the largest calico printing company in the world. Sprague also acquired controlling interest in several banks and was a leading promoter of the Hartford, Providence, and Fishkill Railroad. He had become the undisputed king of Rhode Island industrialists.
Upon his death his son Byron together with his nephews (Amasa and William) took over the direction of the Sprague empire which continued to grow and prosper until its tragic collapse in the national Panic of 1873.
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