William Q. Atwood:
Saginaw's African-American Lumber Baron

Lenette Brown



Who was William Q. Atwood? He was the son and slave of Henry Styles Atwood. He was born on Shell Creek Plantation January 1,1839, two and a half miles from Prairie Bluff, a small village on the Alabama River in Wilcox County (Simmons 356). When William's father died he left him and his seven brothers and sisters money and land in his will. The youngsters had to flee the slave state and go to Ohio to get their inheritance, because slaves could not own property in slave states. Then they had a long court battle; they eventually won and were awarded their inheritance. In that time era it was unheard of for a man to leave his slaves something in his will, even if they were his children.

One would think that with the way things started out for young William he would have become a lost cause; however, his hard work and determination prevailed. He became one of the wealthiest men in Saginaw. That is the reason I nominated Atwood for the Saginaw Hall of Fame book and exhibit. He is a true inspiration of what hard work and determination can accomplish.

Atwood was a clever businessman, as was his father before him. When he arrived in Saginaw, preceding the eruption of the Civil War in 1861, he and his brother had already successfully accomplished successful business endeavors in California. Their businesses consisted of operating a restaurant, dealing in horses and speculating in gold (Ruffin 3).

William had very little schooling but managed to amass a million dollar empire in Saginaw. This self-made man became a student of history, philosophy and the classics. Atwood was active in politics. He was a three-time delegate at the Republican National Convention. The 1888 Republican Convention, held in Chicago, saw him in attendance as the delegate-at-large. Most of his education was self-acquired (Ruffin 3).

Atwood worked as a timber cruiser and was compensated in land which he promptly sold and began amassing his fortune (Kilar 606). Always an adventurous businessman, Atwood opened a real estate office at the southeast corner of Water and Tuscola Streets (Mills 446) .

Atwoood met and married Charlotte Echols in Cleveland, Ohio. They had five children together.
William Q. Atwood died in 1910 after a lengthy illness. He was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery on Holland Avenue. He was one of the richest men in Saginaw at the time of his death, worth approximately $103,000 (about 1.7 million dollars in 2002).

Works Cited

"Atwood, William Q. Vertical File." Eddy Historical and Genealogical Collection. Hoyt Library. 2002.
Kilar, Jeremy. Michigan’s Lumbertowns: Lumbermen and Laborers in Saginaw, Bay City and Muskegon. Wayne State Univ, 1990.
Ruffin, Roosevelt. Black Presence in Saginaw. Saginaw, MI: Roosevelt Ruffin, 1978.
Simmons, William J. Men of Mark. Johnson Publishing. 1870.

William Q. Atwood Nomination Letter for Saginaw Hall of Fame
Lenette Brown

Mr. Tom Mudd
Historical Society of Saginaw.
Saginaw, Michigan 48602

Dear Mr. Mudd,


We, the English 111-A class at the Delta College Ricker Center, would like to take this opportunity to nominate Mr. William Q. Atwood as a candidate for the Saginaw Hall of Fame book and exhibit.

In our opinion Mr. Atwood is a prime candidate for the Hall of Fame book and exhibit for his outstanding contributions to the economy and society of the late 1800s and early 1900s Saginaw. As a lumber baron and real estate owner, Atwood provided employment opportunities in a newly developing city.

Born into slavery in 1829, Atwood was given his freedom in Ohio in 1853. Mr. Atwood moved to Saginaw in 1857, owned and operated his own lumber mill from 1874-88 and provided a valuable resource to the thriving lumber business in Saginaw, thereby creating jobs for lumberjacks, shanty boys, cooks and cook helpers. In 1868 he established a real estate office, again providing employment for the citizens of Saginaw. Atwood also served as a three-time delegate for the Republican National Committee.

This great African-American self-made millionaire had very limited schooling but became a self-taught scholar and serves as an example of what hard work, determination and dedication can accomplish.

Attached you will find some other accomplishments of Mr. William Q. Atwood.

Respectfully Submitted,

Lenette Brown and English 111-A Students and Prof. Looby
Delta College Ricker Center

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