Portrait from the Wisconsin Archaeologist, Vol. 20, 1921.
Today's double profile highlights the lives and political careers of three men with the unusual first name Publius. The first of these men is Publius Virgilius Lawson, a resident of Menasha, Wisconsin who gained prominence 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 both father and son were named in honor of the 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, being the son of Publius Virgilius Lawson Sr and the former Elizabeth Fleming. At a young age, Publius removed with his family to Menasha, Wisconsin and was a student in the public school system of that city. In 1873 he entered the University of Wisconsin at Madison and later studied at its school of law beginning in 1876. Lawson graduated from this institution in 1878 with his 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 a Winnebago County supervisor. On August 5, 1884, he married Florence Josephine Wright in Neenah, Wisconsin, and eight children were eventually born to the couple over thirteen years time. Lawson continued in the practice of law until 1888 when he ventured 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 of a large flour mill located 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. Prior to his election as mayor Lawson served as a circuit court commissioner for Wisconsin's 6th circuit, serving from 1880-1888.
The Who was Who in America, 1897-1942 edition relates that Lawson was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1918, where he served for one 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 work 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.
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 held at one point: 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 active in the affairs of Menasha until shortly before 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."
A Wisconsin legislative roster from 1851.
Another Wisconsin "Publius" that ventured into politics is the obscure Publius Virgilius Monroe (1814-1861) of Waukesha County. A one-term member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from that county in the session of 1852, little is known of Monroe's life. A native of New York, Monroe was born in Chenango County on April 16, 1814, a son of William and Rebecca Monroe.
Migrating to Wisconsin in 1837, Monroe settled in New Berlin township and during his early residency aided in the laying of roadways. He would become a prominent figure in the early history of this township and was elected as its first town clerk, as well as donating land for the establishment of the town cemetery. In 1849 he went west to California, and after two years out west returned to New Berlin, where he resided until his death on November 5, 1861 at age 47. He had been preceded in death by his wife Cordelia in 1855 and was survived by two sons, Joseph and Alonzo. Monroe was later interred at the New Berlin Cemetery.
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.
P.R.R. 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?) He was subsequently interred at 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!