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William Sprague: A Featured Biography

Image of Senator William Sprague of Rhode Island

William Sprague (1830-1915) lived a life fit for novels. His father, a rich mill owner, was murdered when the boy was just 13. William inherited the family fortune at age 26. Elected governor of Rhode Island in 1859, he was among the first to respond to Lincoln's call for troops. He fought valiantly in the Battle of Bull Run. Sprague resigned as governor in 1863 to become a U.S. senator. That same year, he married beautiful Kate Chase, daughter of Secretary of the Treasury (later Chief Justice) Salmon P. Chase. Sprague's life seemed charmed. It did not last. The "Panic of 1873" wiped out his family's wealth, and his marriage ended in divorce after Kate's notorious affair with New York Senator Roscoe Conkling. Sprague eventually remarried and retired to his beloved Rhode Island estate, Canonchet. In 1909, an elderly Sprague, the "last of the Civil War governors," watched Canonchet burn to the ground. He spent his final years in Paris, where he died on September 11, 1915.