The Andrew Low House
Wealth, tragedy and international intrigue coursed through the life of Andrew Low. Hear the rags to riches story of Andrew Low a man William Makepeace Thackeray portrayed as a “great man” and described Low’s home as the most “comfortable accommodations in America”. Opportunity brought him to Savannah in 1829 and he became the wealthiest man in Savannah.
Information from the history files of www.AndrewLowHouse.com site
Andrew Low II was born in Kincardinshire, Scotland on July 20, 1812,. His father was a grocery merchant in the cathedral town of Brechin, on the windswept northeast coast. As a boy, Andrew probably attended a local school and helped in his father’s store. The virtues of thrift and hard work would have been instilled in him from an early age.
His uncle. Andrew Low I, had come to America earlier and had become a prosperous businessman by the late 1820’s . He had never married and by 1829 was aging and needed an heir. Two of his brothers had been with him in Savannah for a time but both were now dead. His partner, Robert Isaac had died in the yellow fever epidemic of 1827. He looked back to Scotland and to the family of his eldest brother, William. There he found a promising candidate.
On October 17, 1829, Andrew Low II, age seventeen, arrived in Savannah, on the Georgia, a ship owned by his uncle’s company. Andrew Low II applied himself and within two years was publicly listed as agent for his uncle’s company. In the next few years he joined the St. Andrew’s Society, rented a pew in The Independent Presbyterian Church, and went off to Florida on a brief campaign with the Savannah Blues during the Seminole War.
During his first ten years in America Andrew Low II acquired a thorough understanding of the company’s business as it evolved from general merchant/agent/shipper to cotton factor. He earned the respect of the business community and already served as director of at least one local bank. From this base, he rose to become the premier cotton factor in pre-Civil War Savannah. His ships frequently carried cargoes worth a million dollars or more bound for Liverpool. (Records report only one “lost at sea”.) The company’s Liverpool office handled shipment to the hundreds of textile mills located in Manchester and the English midlands. In 1857 Andrew Low II wasSavannah’s richest man, with an income of $257,000. A fortune in those days!
On January 25, 1844, in Christ Church, Andrew Low II married Sarah Cecil Hunter, daughter of Alexander and Harriet Bellinger Hunter Within a year the couple had a son, named Andrew for his father and uncle. Two daughters followed Amy in 1846 and Harriet Anne (Hattie) in 1848.
In July 1847, Andrew Low II purchased the southwest Trustees’ Lot on Lafayette Square and hired John Norris, a New York architect then in the city, supervising building of the new Custom House, to design and build a fine house for his growing family. The neo-classic style house John Norris designed for Andrew Low II is today Savannah’s premier museum house.
On August 30, 1848, an “annus horribilis” began for Andrew Low II, his son, Andrew, not yet four years old, died; February 23, 1849, his father, William Low, died in Scotland; May 20, 1849, the heaviest blow fell when his wife, Sarah, age 31, died. It closed August 31, 1849, with the death in Liverpool of his uncle and mentor, Andrew Low I. In his will, after making bequests to several close family members, Andrew Low I left the entire remainder of his estate, business and property, to his nephew, Andrew Low II . Before the end of 1849, wealthy, somber Andrew Low II moved into his fine new house with his two little daughters.
Then, the skies brightened! Andrew Low II began to court the twenty year-old daughter of William Henry Stiles, Georgia politician, former Representative in Congress and most recently U.S. Minister to Austria. Her mother, Elizabeth Ann Mackay (Eliza), came from an equally prominent Savannah family. On May 20, 1854, forty-two year-old Andrew Low and twenty year-old Mary Cowper Stiles were married. The ceremony was performed by the Bishop of Georgia, The Right Rev. Stephen Elliott, at Etowah Cliffs, the Stiles plantation home in north Georgia. A special train carried Savannah relatives and guests to the wedding. (Andrew Low was a director of the Central Railroad of Georgia and friend of its president.)
The newlywed couple spent the summer in Europe then returned to Savannah to share what must have been the happiest years of their lives in the Lafayette Square house. Eight year-old Amy and six year-old Hattie and a governess returned with them. The following year, 1855, a daughter, Katherine (Katie) was born, followed in 1856 by a child who lived one day. In 1858, a second daughter, Mary, was born and on August 3, 1860 a son, William Mackay Low, was born in Newport,Rhode Island, where the family was spending the last summer before the coming war.
Andrew Low II’s sympathies were understandably with the south, where he had lived and worked for over 30 years.. He regularly traveled to Liverpool on business and also to Brighton, where Amy, now 14 and Hattie, age 12 were in boarding school.
See The AndrewLowHouse.com for more information about the South sympathizing Andrew’s adventures during the Civil War and their connections with his business partner, Charles Green, during this time which resulted in their arrest by Union forces. . Mary Low was allowed to go to Baltimore, where she stayed with friends for some time before being issued a permit to pass through the Union Lines and travel south
In March 1862 Andrew Low was freed on probation and about three months later permitted to return home. He reached Etowah Cliffs on June 3, 1862, where he was reunited with his family. Two days later, the couple’s youngest child, Jessie, was born.
Life in the south altered as the privations of the war and its human toll mounted. Mary Low’s father and both brothers were in the Confederate Army. Other relatives and friends received the dreaded news of death of a loved one. That fall the Lows returned to Savannah, where cotton filled the warehouses on the river but trade was blocked. Fort Pulaski, near the mouth of the Savannah River, had fallen and even daring blockade runners no longer attempted to pass. In June 17, 1863, as Robert E. Lee and the Confederate forces were heading toward what became the defining battle of the war, at a small town in Pennsylvania called, Gettysburg, Andrew Low II received what must have been the most devastating blow of his life, Mary Low, died, age 31. In their separate ways, these events forever changed Andrew Low II’s life.
Inexperienced Amy and Hattie took over management of the Lafayette Square household. Andrew Low II, the good father, realized his children would have better lives in England than in the impoverished south of reconstruction.. He had the means to stay or go. If Mary Low had lived, the family might have stayed in Savannah. Without her, his decision was made for his children and their future.
By the fall of 1867, the family was living in Leamington, England. A suitable staff ran the household, the children were given sound educations and within a few years Amy and Hattie had made very successful marriages. Andrew Low II returned to Savannah each fall tending to business and entertaining friends. A number of prominent guests stayed with him, including Robert E. Lee in 1870 and the Earl of Roxbury in 1874..As he sat alone in his fine house, Andrew Low II must sometimes have thought of the happy times spent there before the war.
In 1872 Andrew Low and Company was sold. Andrew Low II remained a silent partner in the company for several years, gradually shifting his financial interest into investments in railroads, steel mills and shipping. These new responsibilities brought him to New York and Savannah each year. In 1876, Katie, now 21 and Mary, 18, daughters from his second marriage accompanied him. In 1880 Jessie, then 18, came for the first time. William came in November 1881, the year he had finished at Oxford.. By 1883, William was making these annual trips to New York and Savannah for his aging father.
Andrew Low II died at his home, Beauchamp Hall, in Leamington,England on June 27, 1886. William Low accompanied his father’s body when it was returned to Savannah that November for burial beside his wives, Sarah and Mary and his young son, Andrew III, in Laurel Grove Cemetery.
For more information, please visit www.andrewlowhouse.com