Today's double profile highlights the lives and political careers of two men with the unusual first name Publius. The first of these men is Publius Virgilius Lawson, a resident of Menasha, Wisconsin who gained notoriety as a manufacturer, author, lawyer and historian in addition to his political career. Lawson received his unusual name from his father (also named Publius Virgilius) and it's assumed that both men were named in honor of the famed Roman poet and Aeneid author Publius Virgilius Maro (better known as Virgil).
Publius V. Lawson was born in Corning, New York on November 1, 1853, the son of Publius Virgilius Lawson Sr and his wife Elizabeth. At a young age Publius removed with his family to Menasha, Wisconsin and attended public schools here. In 1873 he entered the University of Wisconsin, and later studied at its school of law. Lawson eventually graduated from this institution in 1878 with a Bachelor of Laws degree.
P.V. Lawson began a law practice in the year of his graduation and in this same year was elected as Winnebago County supervisor. In 1884 he married Florence Josephine Wright, and eight children were eventually born to the couple over 13 years time. Lawson continued in the practice of law until 1888 when he began venturing into the field of manufacturing.
Soon after leaving the law profession, Lawson set about developing an improved wood split pulley that could be used in power transmission. After obtaining a patent for his work, Lawson founded the Menasha Wood Split Pulley Company, and throughout the succeeding years the company would see substantial business, shipping its stock throughout North America and the world. In addition to his manufacturing business, Lawson was also the owner and operator of a large flour mill in nearby Clintonville, Wisconsin.
As Lawson's business and family life continued to grow throughout the 1880s and 90s, his political career followed suit. In 1882-83 he served as a Menasha city alderman and in 1886 was elected as the Mayor of Menasha. In all, Lawson would serve a total of six terms as mayor (1886-1889, 1893, 1896) and in 1890 launched an unsuccessful campaign for a seat in the Wisconsin State Senate. The Who was Who in America, 1897-1942 edition notes that Lawson won election to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1918, where he served a one year term. A Wisconsin legislative website also mentions this term, but gives his year of service as 1927 (this is obviously incorrect, as he would have already been dead several years!)
This portrait of Publius V. Lawson appeared in a Wisconsin State Atlas in 1881.
While Lawson had already ventured into a number of different vocations, his career as an author didn't begin until later in his life. Throughout the 1890s and early 1900s Lawson authored a number of scholarly articles, many of which were published in newspapers, magazines and journals of the time. In 1904 and 1906 he authored the respective works Bravest of the Brave and Rocks and Minerals of Wisconsin. Lawson's most prominent book would eventually be published in 1908, the two volume History of Winnebago County. He would also go on to author a family genealogy centering on a number of notable Wisconsin families, including his own. The portrait of him shown at the top of his article here was found in this very book!
In addition to his already prolific life, Lawson is mentioned by many sources as being a well known civic leader in Wisconsin, and the following list is but a brief snippet of some of the positions Lawson served in: Director of the Menasha Public Library Board (1895-1903), Menasha Park Commissioner (1895-1903), President of the Menasha Museum History and Art Association (1895-1903), Vice President of the Wisconsin State Archaeological Society and President of the Wisconsin State Library Association, 1901-1903.
One can note that Publius V. Lawson lived an extremely active public life, and he continued being an productive Menasha citizen practically up until his death, which occurred on December 1, 1920 at age 67. He was subsequently memorialized in the February 1921 edition of the Wisconsin Archeologist as "a man among men, a friend of truest type, whose kind acts and worthy deeds will live long in the memory of those who have been proud to know P.V. Lawson as a friend and fellow citizen. In the home a void has been left in which human power cannot fill."
Publius Rutilius Rufus Pray was a New Englander by birth, being born in Maine in either 1793 or 1795. Pray's obscure life has one or two inconsistencies, mainly centering on his dates of birth and death. Many sources list his birth year as 1793 but others give 1795 as the correct year. Even his year of death is of some confusion, occurring on January 11 in either 1839 or 1840.
Pray is listed as marrying his cousin (Maria Learned) in 1820 in Maine. At some point in his short life he removed from Maine to Mississippi, where in 1828 he was elected to the state legislature. Four years following his service in the legislature, Pray was named as the President of the Convention that adopted a newly revised edition of the Mississippi State Constitution.
Pray's public profile continued to rise throughout the 1830s, and in 1837 was appointed to the Mississippi State Court of Appeals and Errors. He served on this court until his death, which occurred on January 11, 1840 (or is it 1839?) Pray was subsequently buried in the Belle Isle Cemetery in Pearlington, Mississippi.
You Can Help!
I'm currently trying to locate more information (as well as a possible picture) of Publius R.R. Pray. As there is next to nothing available online about this wonderfully named man, maybe someone out there knows more than what is already stated in his article. If any reader, amateur historian or possible descendant stumbles across his article here, please don't hesitate to comment below!