RVA Legends — T. C. Williams Tobacco Company

RVA Legends — T. C. Williams Tobacco Company

A look into the history of Richmond places and people that have disappeared from our landscape.

[RVCJ93] — T. C. Williams Tobacco Company’s Works — Sixth & Canal Streets NE?
[RVCJ93] — T. C. Williams Tobacco Company’s Works — Sixth & Canal Streets NE?

117 South Seventh Street
403 South Seventh Street
Sixth & Canal Streets NE
Sixth & Canal Streets SW

A tobacconist that named a law school.

(Library of Congress) — Box making in the T. C. Williams Tobacco Co. — Images collected by W.E.B. Du Bois & Thomas J. Calloway for the “American Negro Exhibit” at the Paris Exposition of 1900
(Library of Congress) — Box making in the T. C. Williams Tobacco Co. — Images collected by W.E.B. Du Bois & Thomas J. Calloway for the “American Negro Exhibit” at the Paris Exposition of 1900

The T. C. Williams Company, tobacco manufacturers at the foot of Seventh street, operates here, as a single concern, two of the largest factories, making plug and twist chiefly, and fine export tobaccos largely, not of Richmond only, but of the United States.

(Library of Congress) — “Lumpers” at T. C. Williams Tobacco Co., circa 1899 — Images collected by W.E.B. Du Bois & Thomas J. Calloway for the “American Negro Exhibit” at the Paris Exposition of 1900
(Library of Congress) — “Lumpers” at T. C. Williams Tobacco Co., circa 1899 — Images collected by W.E.B. Du Bois & Thomas J. Calloway for the “American Negro Exhibit” at the Paris Exposition of 1900 — “Lumpers,” a term used to describe anyone whose job it is to manually handle freight in a warehouse

This company was incorporated in 1889, upon the death of the late Thomas C. Williams (from whom it takes its name), as successor to the old firm of Thomas C. Williams & Co., whose predecessor was James Thomas, Jr., established more than fifty years ago. It has $400,000 capital stock.

(Library of Congress) — African Americans, mostly women, sorting tobacco at T. C. Williams Tobacco Co. — Images collected by W.E.B. Du Bois & Thomas J. Calloway for the “American Negro Exhibit” at the Paris Exposition of 1900
(Library of Congress) — African Americans, mostly women, sorting tobacco at T. C. Williams Tobacco Co. — Images collected by W.E.B. Du Bois & Thomas J. Calloway for the “American Negro Exhibit” at the Paris Exposition of 1900

The output of its two factories is from 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 pounds of finished stock annually. It furnishes employment to some 700 hands, and is, perhaps, the best known concern of the trade here to the dealers in foreign lands.

(Library of Congress) — Pot presses at T. C. Williams Tobacco Co. — Images collected by W.E.B. Du Bois & Thomas J. Calloway for the “American Negro Exhibit” at the Paris Exposition of 1900
(Library of Congress) — Pot presses at T. C. Williams Tobacco Co. — Images collected by W.E.B. Du Bois & Thomas J. Calloway for the “American Negro Exhibit” at the Paris Exposition of 1900

It was a notable establishment before the war, even, and is still manufacturing many of the brands that were originated by it then. It is best known, perhaps, by its famous “Lucy Hinton” brand; scarcely less so, however, than by numerous others, among them the following:

(iCollector) — advertisement for Nosegay — note the brand is now owned by American Tobacco Co.
(iCollector) — advertisement for Nosegay — note the brand is now owned by American Tobacco Co.

“Mattaponi,” “May Apple,” “Nosegay,” “Paris Medal,” “Golden Eagle,” “Plum,” “Old Dominion,” and many others for domestic consumption; and for foreign trade, “Imperial Ruby,” “Bird’s-Eye Twist,” “Victory,” “Golden Eagle,” “Mabel,” “Juno,” “Janus,” etc.

(VCU) — 1889 Baist Atlas Map of Richmond — Plate 1 — showing the Sixth & Canal Street locations
(VCU) — 1889 Baist Atlas Map of Richmond — Plate 1 — showing the Sixth & Canal Street locations

It is hardly necessary to go into details concerning the processes of manufacture in this establishment. It is sufficient to say, in that respect, that its management is in the hands of experts in the business of life-long identification with it, and that its fame, both in this country and abroad, conclusively establishes the superiority of its products.

(Find A Grave) — Thomas C. Williams Sr.
(Find A Grave) — Thomas C. Williams Sr.

The late T. C. Williams was manager of it for the founder of the business before he reached the head of it himself; and to his efforts, in large part, the development of this trade is due. He succeeded Mr. Thomas in 1862, and the firm of T. C. Williams & Co. succeeded him in 1886.

(VCU) — 1889 Baist Atlas Map of Richmond — Plate 8 — showing the 403 South Seventh Street factory
(VCU) — 1889 Baist Atlas Map of Richmond — Plate 8 — showing the 403 South Seventh Street factory

Robert S. Bosher, James T. Parkinson and Thomas C. Williams, Jr., were his partners in that firm. Mr. Bosher is president of the company now; Mr. Williams, vice-president; Mr. Parkinson, superintendent; and Mr. W. S. Wortham, secretary and treasurer.

[RVCJ93] — T. C. Williams Tobacco Company Factory 2 — 403 South Seventh Street?
[RVCJ93] — T. C. Williams Tobacco Company Factory 2 — 403 South Seventh Street?

Mr. J. C. Knox manages the company’s “No. 2” factory. Mr. Bosher is a native of the city, and has been with the house from his sixteenth year. He may certainly be said to have been raised to the business. Mr. Parkinson has been in the business twenty-two years; Mr. Wortham seventeen years; and Mr. Williams eight or ten years. [RVCJ93]

[RVCJ93] — T. C. Williams Tobacco Company Factory 3 — Sixth & Canal Streets SW?
[RVCJ93] — T. C. Williams Tobacco Company Factory 3 — Sixth & Canal Streets SW?
T. C. Williams was another of those tobacco men who also dabbled in railroads and banks, and became stinking rich in the process. He was also a trustee of Richmond College and gave generously to that institution.

September 2019 — looking toward Sixth & Canal Streets NE
September 2019 — looking toward Sixth & Canal Streets NE

When he died at the relatively young age of 57 in 1899, the family donated $25,000 as an endowment for the Richmond College law school, which was named the T.C. Williams School of Law in 1920. Sadly, UR rebranded it as the University of Richmond School of Law in recent years and lost the connection to its early benefactor. (Find A Grave)

September 2019 — looking towards Sixth & Canal Streets SW
September 2019 — looking towards Sixth & Canal Streets SW

As for the company, in 1903 it was gobbled up by the British-American Tobacco Company, a joint venture of Imperial Tobacco and the American Tobacco Company as part of their tobacco war truce. T. C. Williams continued to operate as a subsidiary in Petersburg, but eventually, the company vanished. (Duke University Libraries)

September 2019 — looking toward 117 South Seventh Street
September 2019 — looking toward 117 South Seventh Street

As for the factory locations, the 1893 edition of Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James doesn’t tell the whole story. It says that the business operated “at the foot of Seventh street”, and Baist shows both of these South Seventh Street locations as belonging to the James Thomas Estate, so they are likely the originating factories.

September 2019 — looking towards 403 South Seventh Street, which would be somewhere near the top of the stairs
September 2019 — looking towards 403 South Seventh Street, which would be somewhere near the top of the stairs

However, Baist also shows the Sixth Street addresses under the ownership of T. C. Williams, so the business expanded to four locations by 1889. Unfortunately, Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James is aggravatingly silent as to where each of the three illustrated buildings actually stood. The tentative identification here is purely guesswork based on orientation and topography.

(T. C. Williams Tobacco Company is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [CDRVA] Chataigne’s Directory of Richmond, Va. J. H. Chataigne. 1881.
  • [RVCJ93] Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James: The Book of Its Chamber of Commerce and Principal Business Interests. G. W. Engelhardt. 1893.

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