Hi Everybody,
Thanks for coming back to read more of the story of… another drum roll, if you please! THE ENTREPRENEUR WHO BOUGHT…HIMSELF. If you missed Part II, CLICK HERE!

Last time, we learned how thrifty Uncle Bill purchased members of his family–one-by-one, until they all were free. Now find out how William “Uncle Bill” Lewis became part of history!
Swaim's Jail, for runaway slaves and Union Soldiers

Uncle Bill was an entrepreneur extraordinaire. He was already well-known in Chattanooga as a wealthy, industrious, reliable citizen, but after he freed the members of his family with his hard-earned dollars, he became known as a devoted family man.

But Uncle Bill found fame in another way. During the Civil War and the battles for Chattanooga, Uncle Bill put the shackles on the Andrew’s Raiders.

Andrew’s Raiders were a group of Union soldiers led by Union Capt. James J. Andrews, who stole the famous locomotive, “The General.” The Raiders planned to use the train to burn bridges between Atlanta and Chattanooga to prepare for an attack on Tennessee by the Union Army. Their escapade became known as “The Great Locomotive Chase.”

The Raiders were captured and confined to Swaim’s Jail, an old African American slave jail in Chattanooga once located on what is now a Provident Insurance Company parking lot. Uncle Bill did not voice an opinion on the confederate policies of the day, but since he worked so hard to free the members of his family, it is assumed that he yearned for slavery’s end as much as the Union soldiers. Still, he was called upon to use his blacksmithing skills to shackle the so-called criminals, and he did just that.

According to various eye-witness testimony, it was not Uncle Bill but one of his sons who went into the Swaim’s Jail dungeon and riveted a pair of heavy iron fetters around the ankles of The Raiders. Uncle Bill supervised his son’s efforts. (Photograph courtesy of Civil War Times).

Uncle Bill’s home was a large two-story frame house about a block from Swaim’s Jail. He showed the poor Raiders compassion by befriending them and sending them some lettuce from the large quantity he raised in his yard. This meal was much appreciated, since Union prisoners were not treated so kindly in the early days of the Civil War.

As I've done in the previous posts, here is an image of HAMMERING FOR FREEDOM, the picture book dedicated to blacksmith William "Bill" Lewis:

Well, that’s it for now. Please stay tuned for Part IV 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 posted at


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