WILLIAM ALEXANDER BLOUNT 1851 – 1921

        Early citizens of America offer a rich tapestry of the diversity and talent that marks settlers buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery.  Their often modest or humble beginnings offer a glimpse of the very outlook and attitudes that allowed them to flourish in their later life.  Exceptional men and women of ability, intelligence and charity offer a glance at the early pioneer families of Pensacola.  The Blount family established themselves in America when the patriarch of the American branch, Englishman James Blount, settled in Chowan County, N.C. in 1669.  Since that time, the Blount family became an important part of the history of America.  Several states have counties named for several of the early Blount family members and a Blount was a Governor of Tennessee and another was a United States Senator. [1]

        The rural south was sparsely settled when William A. Blount, the second of seven children, was born in a log house in Clark County Alabama, on October 25, 1851.  His parents were Alexander Clement and Julia Elizabeth (Washington) Blount.  Alexander Clement was a successful attorney in North Carolina, and at one time held the position of State’s Attorney.  He later took his family to Alabama and located in Clark County. [2]    Because law was a meagerly paying occupation, his father invested in plantation land and also became a farmer and turpentine operator. 

       William lived the life of a country boy, “ plowing, gardening, raising poultry, attending to stock, going to the grist mile and the many other things which tend to make a country boy self reliant.” [3]   Although his father was a practicing Episcopalian, Julia raised William in the Catholic faith as required by the church at the time.  When Julia and Alexander brought young William to Pensacola in 1857, they entered a southern city that welcomed them into the social and business life of the community.  Thus, Alexander resumed his practice of law and left the plantation to caretakers. [4]   

        Secession sentiment surrounded Pensacola during this time and Alexander Clement Blount, representing Escambia County, was one of the few lawmakers who cast dissenting votes against holding a secession convention. [5]   Nonetheless, when Florida officially left the Union on January 10, 1961, Alexander and his oldest son, Frederick, rallied to support the southern cause. [6]

       At this point, Julia took William and his siblings back to the plantation in Alabama. 

Unlike most children of his time, William enjoyed a privileged lifestyle.  Between seven to ten, William “attended winter sessions of a private school in Pensacola.” [7]    At fourteen, he went to public school in St. Louis, Missouri and then attended another private school in the same state for a year.   At eighteen, he entered college, an unusual prospect for young people from the south especially in a region still reeling from the aftereffects of a commercially devastating Civil War.  “After a year of unassisted preparation for the great event,” William entered the University of Georgia, graduating at twenty with a Bachelor of Arts degree and “first honors.” [8]    He returned to Pensacola and began teaching school at Roberts.  It was not unusual for him to take his unwashed students to the creek to clean their hands and faces, much to the displeasure of both students and parents. [9]    While a teacher at Roberts, William was asked to join the University of Georgia as an adjunct professor.   He continued his studies and received an A.B. and later an LL.B. from the University of Florida.  With his law degree, he returned to Pensacola and “soon attracted clients that” stayed with him “throughout his career.” [10]

       William A. Blount married June 19, 1878 to Cora Nellie Moreno, a daughter of Fernando J. and Louisa A. (Talline) Moreno, of St. Augustine.  They eventually had seven children, William A., Jr., Fernando Moreno, Hilda Marguerite, Frederick Jules and Miriam Valerye Blount. [11]     William took his young family to live on East Wright Street in the more affluent section of Pensacola.  This was a healthier area than that found in the marshy, earlier populated areas of Pensacola.   By the end of the nineteenth century, Pensacolians realized that low-lying swamplands might be responsible for disease.  The Blount home sat on a sizeable parcel of land; it resembled a small farm:

     The house was surrounded by a well-kept lawn, a privacy hedge, and a picket fence.  Blount’s barnyard housed ducks, chickens, and horses.  Pigeons and gopher turtles (a species of burrowing land tortoises found in the southern coastal states) were kept for food.   Besides the house and barn there were other buildings: a hot house, where flowers and vegetables were grown, and a storage shed for coal and wood.  Servant quarters were located to the rear of the main house for several black employees of the family. [12]

 

       In the later years, Blount’s family grew and required larger living quarters.  During the early twentieth century, prosperous Pensacolians often had summer homes on the water, either in East Pensacola Heights or on the Bayshore near the popular Pensacola Country Club. [13]   In 1905, W.A. Blount built his summer home called ‘Seamarge’ on the Bay Shore.  Conveniently, this beautiful thirty-room home was on the streetcar line to the Navy Yard (present day Naval Air Station).  The streetcar would stop by the residence.  Of course, William’s influence and connections to the rail lines certainly influenced this stop.  The home itself, sitting on two hundred fifty feet of the highest point of the Pensacola waterfront, is stately and magnificent in the midst of large live oaks dotting its grounds. [14]   It is a southern plantation mansion with an “opulence befitting its original southern heritage on a scale of size and craftsmanship” that cannot be reproduced. [15]   The home’s grand foyer opens to a mahogany staircase. The formal living room features mahogany paneling, a large fireplace with the same mahogany, and the large leaded glass windows overlook the bay. [16]   The home includes seven bedrooms, has hardwood flooring throughout and houses a paneled and mirrored elevator serving all three floors.

 

      Obviously, W. A. Blount was doing very well in Pensacola.  Upon his move to Pensacola, William began practicing law with Charles W. Jones, who had practiced law in Florida since 1857. [17]    According to some historians, the 1870s were difficult years to begin a professional career in the south.  A sluggish economy amid a city plagued by rampant attacks of yellow fever epidemic led to slow development. [18]   Like other businessmen of the time, William became a land speculator.  There were few attorneys in Pensacola in these reconstruction years after the Civil War and fewer with the skills, personality and popularity of William Blount.  Though his father’s connections he was able to build a large and impressive clientele.   He was the Pensacola city attorney serving from 1884 to 1894, and again from 1897 to 1900. [19]    With the advent of lumber and railroad interests in Florida, William’s corporate law degree served him well as the 1880s brought escalating expansion in local corporations.  In the Pensacola area, burgeoning expansion meant predestined interest in activities that facilitated that growth.  Lumber and railroad activities were coming under corporate control. [20]  

        William was always interested in public affairs yet he held but few offices for profit. [21]    In 1887, Governor Drew appointed him a member of the board of public instruction of Escambia County. [22]   Members of the same board were J. Dennis Wolfe and Phillip K. Yonge.    He was a member of the constitutional convention of 1885, which adopted a state constitution.  In 1892 he was asked to be chairman of the revision of the laws of Florida, the commission that “practically rewrote the laws of this state.” [23]     From 1903 to 1905 he served as a Florida state senator.  He ran again in 1910 withdrawing from the race only to be defeated in 1912 “although he received a flattering vote and carried his own county.” [24]    While in the state legislature, he introduced a bill that changed the face of education in Florida. [25]    Until the late 1800s, children were not required to attend but ten years of school.  When A.C. Clubbs School opened in 1910, it would be the first school in the state to require students to attend twelve years of school and the first designated high school. Junior High Schools were added to the school system in 1938 and in 1941. [26]    The old J.B. Lockey School honored the legislator for his innovation and was renamed W.A. Blount Junior High School. [27]     

        He continued to practice law in the growing firm of Blount, Blount and Carter that also represented some of the largest and most influential corporations in the state.   He and his brother A.C. Blount built one of the tallest buildings in Florida.  The seven story brick building on Palafox Street is known as the Blount Building.  There is still

       W.A. Blount’s brother A.C., also an attorney, had an impact on the City of Pensacola.   He practiced in the firm of Blount, Blount and Carter until he became a judge also serving on the school board, serving from 1897 to 1905.  He was born in October 1860 and died July 5, 1923. He married Clara Ganier Dorr. Their son, “A. Clement Blount III, was a long-time head of Mutual loan and Savings, now a part of Amsouth Bank.” [28]  

       It is important to tell about this young son because he, too, was instrumental in the growth of Pensacola.  Blount finished Horner Military School in Oxford, N.C., at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Unlike medicine at the time, which required formal and circumscribed schooling; A.C. was able to study law in his father’s office before being admitted to the bar in 1913. [29]   Originally, A.C. III was named to the board of Mutual Federal Saving and Loan Association from a rented concern to the concrete and glass Mutual Federal offices on North Baylen Street that beautify and compose the landscape of downtown Pensacola.  Named to the board in 1921 with a salary of fifty dollars a month, Blount kept the books, made appraisals, closed loans and solicited accounts in the one-man operation. [30]   He often joked that the assets at the time consisted of one four hundred dollar iron safe, a wooden chest of drawers and a single vacant lot. [31]   He recognized the need to strengthen the savings and loan associations across Florida and was instrumental in the formation of the Florida Savings and Loan League. [32]   Like his father, A.C. and W. A. Blount, A.C. III inspired his company to support Pensacola projects, helping with little leagues, boy scouts, civic organization, and various community service projects.   All three men were men who believed in their city, promoted its present, and who envisioned its splendid future. [33]    Therefore, later generations of Blount’s were directly affected by the influence of W.A. Blount and his brother’s investments as well as his contacts.

     W.A. Blount was General Counsel for the East Coast Railway Company and as such was extremely influential in the growth of Florida’s transportation network. [34] His work with different organizations indicates a man dedicated to Northwest Florida (particularly Pensacola) politics and policies.  He served on the advisor board of Stetson University and was a member of the American Bar Association later serving as its President.  He was a member of the Sons of American Revolution and a member of the Society of Cincinnati.  Like most white men in Pensacola, he was a member of the volunteer fire department housed on Garden Street. [35] He was one of the trustees of the Flagler Estate and through his “trusteeship brought much money to Escambia County.” [36]    He was a conservative (Bourbon) Democrat and was instrumental in framing many of the policies of Escambia County and the state of Florida.  His actions reflected “conservative Bourbon principles and, at other times, liberal Populist-Progressive principles…epitomizing the leadership” of the New South after 1877. [37]   Socially, he was an admired and trusted member of the Protestant Episcopal Church, the Osceola Club and the Pensacola Country Club. [38]

        William Blount was known for his fairness and charity.  He assisted “needy children, bought land and homes for loyal servants, helped friends start businesses, and paid rent for a widow.”  [39]    A well-educated ship captain named Gunderson, got in trouble in Pensacola during a visit.  William brought him home, allowing him to stay in the servant’s quarters for eight years until the seaman died.  William then gave him a respectable funeral.  One of his paid servants was “Sydney Wynn, a son of a slave who had been owned by the Blount family prior to emancipation.” [40]    Sydney was responsible for milking the cows, tending the garden that supplied food for the family, served W.A. Blount as a butler and “served the meals dressed in a white coat.” [41]   The Blount family considered him a lifelong friend of the family.

          Although William’s father may have influenced his choice of clients, William Blount was a leading member of the bar and one of Pensacola’s most influential citizens. [42]    One of his most notable clients, and one who is also interred in St. Michael’s Cemetery is Daniel F. Sullivan.    Sullivan, an Irish immigrant, became a “forceful leader in the banking, lumber, and railroad industries of West Florida” purchasing the Pensacola and Louisville Railroad (P & L) in 1877.  [43]   When Sullivan purchased the Pensacola and Louisville Railroad, Blount was there to transact the sale of control of the railroad to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company (L & N) on February 27, 1880. [44]   Some of the machinations of the sale reverberated within Northwest Florida and certainly had an influence on the growth of Pensacola.  Instead of legal expenses, Blount often received company shares, as his payment as he accurately recognized the potential and impact these changes would make on Pensacola and the Florida Panhandle.  As noted in Tom Muir’s Master Thesis on William Alexander Blount, Blount’s influence throughout Florida was the catalyst for continuing change in Pensacola:

         Subsequent to this agreement the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad Company (P & A), with the L & N as its major stockholder, was formed to purchase Sullivan’s Pensacola and Louisville Railroad.  The P & A received a charter of incorporation on March 21, 1881, from the Florida legislature, permitting Pensacola and West Florida to connect with the railroad systems west… [45]

    

      A small controversy during his public service career involved his earlier connection with these railroads.  In response to public support for a new constitution in May 1885, W.A. Blount as well as Augustus E. Maxwell, J.E.D., Yonge and E. Whitmire represented Escambia County in Tallahassee. [46]   This call for a state convention came at the “height of Bourbon, or conservative Democratic, dominance in Florida politics” and the Bourbons were sympathetically disposed to corporate interests.  [47]   Alleged corporate influence by the Liberal Democrats, suggested that W.A. Blount’s pass to the convention at the expense of the L & N railroad was influence peddling and the Liberal’s demanded Blount to retire his seat at the convention. [48]    The controversy resulted in a provision that prohibited salaried members to receive passes on railroads that may precipitate influence.   Blount later served on the judiciary, taxation, and finance committees of this convention. [49]

       He was a member of the board to revise the code of procedure inequity in the United States circuit court. [50] Although Blount voted conservative during most of his time as a state legislator, he had definite opinions of the populace.  During this time, he believed, unlike the populists of the time, that judges should be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate. [51]    According to some historians, this indicated that he feared that many citizens of Florida, “due to meager education opportunities, were not capable of voting intelligently on such serious matters.” [52]   As such he submitted a poll tax bill, which later passed and became law in 1889, and required citizens to pay a fee before voting. [53]   Of course this act excluded poor white and black citizens.

        His vote and influence was significant on such matters as permitting “foreigners and aliens” to purchase tracts of land, as this was important to railroads who wanted to encourage immigration to Florida.  [54]    His opposition, the early Populists, were ‘nativists’ who did not want immigrants.   Considered a Progressive, Blount supported women’s rights, favored prohibiting the “state’s credit or tax revenues, or revenues from any county, city, borough, or township from being used to benefit individual corporations.” [55]    In 1901 – 1902, he was a member of the commission to reconstruct the capitol building at Tallahassee. [56] Locally, he served on as President of the Chamber of Commerce for four years. [57]

       By the time Blount was elected President of the National Conference on Uniform State Laws, in 1919, the country was in the middle of World War I.   He encouraged his colleagues to continue the quest for uniformity of the law, “so that the glory…won on the embattled field of France may not be lost in the submergence of law in passions born in the attainment of that glory.” [58]    His eloquent and impressive speeches soon attracted a national following when he was elected President of the American Bar Association in 1921. [59]

     Soon after this great honor, W.A. Blount became ill and left for Watkins Glen, N.Y. for “rest and medical care” eventually ordered by his doctor, Richard H. Follis, to go to Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment. [60]   Before he could be treated, W.A. Blount died of a heart attack at six o’clock a.m. on June 15, 1921.   Fittingly, two days later, a train brought his body for burial in Pensacola.  In honor of Blount, the supreme court of Florida adjourned on the day of his death as a mark of respect and sent Mrs. Blount a message of condolence. [61]    His body was returned to Seamarge, followed by a procession of mourners, which followed the hearse into the gates. [62]    When his body was placed in his old bedroom, Sydney Wynn “placed Blount’s favorite flower, begonias, and tall candles in the room.” [63]    As was the custom of the day:

     People in all walks of life came to pay their respects to Blount.  Close friends sat with the body.  On the day of the funeral, a ceremony was held in the living room of Seamarge.  Railroad operations halted on the L & N and the Florida East Coast Railway to pay respect to Blount.  The flags in the city were flown at half-mast, and the United States Supreme Court adjourned in Blount’s honor, a rare tribute to someone not a member of the court.  Blount was buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery in the family plot beside the son who had been named after him and his two small children who had died at an early age. [64]

 

      Clearly, the life of William Alexander Blount had a tangible impact on the history and fortunes of Florida.  As a resident of a “comparatively small city his reputation as a lawyer was nationwide” resulting in his selection of the American Bar Association’s highest unofficial honor, that of President of the ABA. [65]     In all things, Blount was considered a man with integrity and although representing many corporate entities, was never questioned as to his ethical standards.  He made a mark in law, politics, transportation and philanthropy.  Additionally, his kindness and generosity reached all levels of Northwest Florida.   Never discourteous or envious, he took delight in the “success of his neighbors and professional brethren, and would go out of his way to assist and encourage” young people in their pursuits. [66] Although the Blount family received several letters of condolence and numerous public tributes about his leadership, the black citizens of the city offered a memorable homage and fitting closing that underscored the disparity and subtle changes of the time:

      Though custom forbade us from following the remains of this noble hearted man to his last resting place… we as a people loyal to every interest of our community, join with the white citizens in mourning the loss of one of

Florida’s noblest sons.”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selected Bibliography

 

 

 

Newspaper articles:

 

Pensacola Journal. 17 January 1974. 16 June 1921. 

 

Pensacola News Journal.  21 August  1999. 12 November 1978.

 

The Public Record. 3 August 1948.

 

Specific titles of News Articles:

 

“A.C. Blount Dead at 89.” News editorial, unknown source. November 16, 1978.

 

“Appointment Caps 54 Years with Financial Firm.” Pensacola Journal, January 17,

1974.

 

 

Dawkins, Mary. “Blount a Prestigious name from City’s past.”  Pensacola

News Journal. August 21, 1999.

 

“End Came Yesterday Morning as Result of Heart Failure,” in Pensacola 

         Journal. June 16, 1921.

 

“Judge W. A. Blount to Enter Hospital: Well Known Pensacolians Will Be

         Patient At Johns Hopkins,” news article from Pensacola Historical

         Society. unknown paper, undated.

 

Taylor, Frank. “Savings and Loan Pioneer A. C., Blount Dead at 89.” Pensacola News

         Journal, November 12, 1978. 

 

Wentworth, T.T.  Biographical Sketches of Early Citizens of Pensacola. The

        Public Record, August, 3, 1948.

 

Books Consulted:

 

Armstrong, Henry Clay. History of Escambia County, Florida. St. Augustine: The

         Record Company Printers, 1930.

 

Caldwell, A.B. Makers of America Atlanta, Ga., 1909.

 

Muir, Thomas, Jr. William Alexander Blount: Defender of the Old South and Advocate

          of a New South.  Master’s Thesis, University of West Florida, 1978.

 



[1] “William Alexander Blount, Sr,” Makers of America, Vol. 1, copy. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] “End Came Yesterday Morning as a Result of Heart Failure,” Journal, June 16, 1921.

[4] Thomas Muir, Jr., William Alexander Blount: Defender of the Old South and Advocate of a New South, 1979, 2.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “End Came Yesterday.”

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. 

[10] Makers of America.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Muir, 7.

[13] Mary Dawkins, News Journal correspondent, “Blount a prestigious name from city’s past,” Millennium Milestone Column, Pensacola News Journal, August 21, 1999.

[14] See Appendix 1, Denise Daughtry photograph, 2000.

[15] “Spectacular Mansion goes on the auction block,” Northwest Daily News, July 18, 1999, G1.

[16] Ibid. 

[17] Muir, 6.

[18] Ibid.

[19] End Came Yesterday.

[20] Muir, 9.

[21] End Came Yesterday.

[22] Ibid.

[23] T.T. Wentworth, Biographical Sketches of Early Citizens of Pensacola, The Public Record, August 3, 1940.

[24] End Came Yesterday.

[25] Dawkins.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] “Appointment Caps 54 Years With Financial Firm,” Pensacola Journal, January 17, 1974.

[30] Ibid. 

[31] Ibid.

[32] Frank Taylor, News-Journal Staff Writer, “Savings and Loan Pioneer A.C. Blount Dead at 89,” Pensacola News-Journal, November 12, 1978.

[33] “A.C. Blount Dead at 89,” The Beacon, November 16, 1978.

[34] “Judge W.A. Blount To Enter Hospital, undated newspaper article.

[35] Muir.

[36] “Judge…to Enter Hospital. 

[37] Muir.

[38] Wentworth.

[39] Muir.

[40] Muir, 7.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid, 9.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid, 11.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid, 13.

[50] “End Came Yesterday.”   

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid, 14.

[54] Ibid, 13.

[55] Ibid, 14.

[56] “End Came Yesterday.”

[57] Ibid.

[58] Muir, 60.

[59] Dawkins.

[60] “End Came Yesterday.”

[61] Ibid.

[62] Muir, 62.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid.

[65] “A Valuable Citizen Gone,” from the archives of Pensacola Historical Society, undated news article.

[66]   Ibid.