Hi Everybody,
Thanks for coming back to read more of the story of… drum roll, please! THE ENTREPRENEUR WHO BOUGHT…HIMSELF. Last time, we learned where Bill Lewis was born, how he came to Chattanooga, and how he purchased his two most precious commodities: his wife and himself.

If you missed Part 1, CLICK HERE TO READ IT. Otherwise, read on to find out what William “Uncle Bill” Lewis did next.

Yes, Bill had purchased two precious commodities…his wife and himself, but he wasn’t finished. He had his eye on other important “buys.”

Bill set his sights on other family members: He bought his six-year-old son for $400. Below is a 1904 picture of H.B. Lewis, one of Uncle Bill’s sons. H.B., who served as both a teacher and a postal carrier in Chattanooga, is holding his own son in his lap.

Now, historical records show that Bill purchased his wife to be sure all their children were free. Since her freedom secured the status of any children she had thereafter, it is assumed that the son Bill paid $400 for was born before Bill finished paying for his wife. In any event, by 1851, Bill also purchased both his mother and his aunt for $150 each—a small sum since the two delicate ladies were already elderly. He then purchased his two brothers for $1,000 each, and enlisted the help of a slave trader to buy his sister for the bargain price of $400.

In total, Bill spent $5,100 to free himself and his family, an amount equal to well over $100,000 in the new millennium.

Since the laws of his day forbade Bill to do business in his own name, he had to pay a white man to legalize all his transactions. But the man was happy to do this service for Bill. Chattanoogans knew him as “a rugged man of much intelligence, and one who always bore an excellent name for thrift, honesty and sobriety.” Soon they began to refer to him as “Uncle Bill,” to signify that he was like a member of the family.

Bill, the entrepreneur and the family man, was making a name for himself.

UPDATE: My first picture book, HAMMERING FOR FREEDOM, celebrates the life and legacy of William Lewis. Here’s an image of the cover:

Well, that's it for now. Please stay tuned for Part III of The Entrepreneur Who Bought...Himself.

Be sure to pick up your copy of African Americans of Chattanooga and find out about other African American entreprenuers. Just click on the icon to the left, and you'll be taken directly to's website, where you can make your purchase.

Best wishes and happy researching,

Rita Lorraine

This article originally debuted at


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