WILLIAM BONAPARTE COLE - 1872-1954
Published Rockingham Post-Dispatch, June 17, 1954
Contributed by John Ussery
August 17, 2006
W. B. Cole died at 5:45 a. m. June 13,1954, in Ihe Pinehurst hospital where he had been a
patient since May 25th. He had been practically an invalid for the past several years, and his
death was not attributed to any particular ailment-just the affirmatives of age. He would have
been 82 years of age had he lived one more day. In fact, he was buried on his 82nd birthday.
The funeral was held Monday afternoon from his residence, on Fayetteville Road at five
o'clock. It was conducted by his pastor. Rev. Lester A. Tillery of the First Methodist Church.
Burial was in Eastside cemetery. There was no music, just the simple service of the Methodist
There were some 125 friends gathered in the residence and on the porch for the last rites.
The family had requested no flowers, but a score of lovely designs came anyway. On the heavy steel
casket was a large pall, completely covering casket, of fern, scores of carnations and pink roses,
Internment was on the Western slope of New Eastside cemetery in the large double Cole lot In this
are buried his daughter Catherine; his brother Bled Cole; his parents, Atty, John Wyatt and Kate
Steele Cole and their two infant children born in the early 1870s.
William Bonaparte Cole was born June 14, 1872, son of Atty, John Wyatt and Kate Steele Cole,
His father John Wyatt was born March 6, 1837, and died July 3,1902, His mother, the former Kate
Steele, was born Oct. 2, 1847, and died Feb. 13, 1919. She was the daughter of Robert Leak and
Hannah Pickett Steele, he born March 15, 1821:, died Dec. 15, 1895, and who was one of the pioneer
mill men of this section. Mr. Cole's grandfather was the late William Bonaparte Cole who was born
July 15, 1810, died Feb. 8, 1881, and who married Elmira Jane(Jennie) Crawford, she born Dec. 6,
1815, died July 16, 1902. She was the daughter of William and Betsy Cole Crawford; and Betsy (Elizabeth)
was daughter of James (b 1755) and Hannah Sweeny Cole who lived on the lands that is now Watson Heights.
His grandfather "Boney" Cole and grandmother Jennie Crawford were cousins.
W. B. Cole is descended from John and Jane Bounds Cole through two of their sons-James and John
Jr. John and Jane Bounds were married in Bedford comity, Va., in 1753, and after their first child,
James, was born in 1755 the entire family trekked to the Cole's Bridge section of Richmond county at
the Drowning Creek road crossing where John operated a Tavern; and a little later John and Jane and
their family moved to what is now the Watson Heights area south of Rockingham; and it is said he built
one of the first frame dwellings m Richmond county. Some of the children of John and Jane (married in
1753) were James born 1755 and married Hannah Sweeney, progenitors of our W, C. Cole Patsy born 1758
married John Wall, Stephen b 1762 and married Elizabeth Covington-also progenitors of our Mr. Cole.
This Elizabeth was the daughter of William (Uncle Billy) Covington and his wife Mary Covington and
Uncle Billy and his cousin Mary were married April 1 1799. John Jr. and wife Elizabeth were parents
of William Bonaparte Cole, who was the father of Atty. John Wyatt Cole who was the father of our W.
John Jr and wife Elizabeth about 1785 owned the land in the center of Rockingham where the
Confederate monument now stands, and donated that bit of land to the Town. Other children of John
and Jane Cole were Nancy born in 1764 who married John Sneed; William born 1767 who married Martha
Bounds; Mary born in 1769 who married Jeremiah Chambers; Jess born 1772 who married May Long, Peter
Hunter born 1774 married Nancy Love, Reuben torn 1778 married in Georgia; Samuel born 1781 married
Polly Gibson. Three of the above brothers-James, Stephen & John Jr. served in the War of the Revolution.
The parents of W. B. Cole were buried in the Leak cemetery northeastern edge of Rockingham.
These were Atty. John Wyatt and Kate Cole (and two infants.) John died July 3, 1902, and his wife
Kate Steele Cole died Feb, 13, 1919. In the Thirties our W, B. Cole had the bodies of his parents
and the two infants moved from the Leak cemetery to New Eastside cemetery in his large Cole Plot.
Deed is recorded where on Jan. 3, 1881, William Bonaparte Cole and wife Elmira Jane (Jennie Crawford)
Cole sold 400 acres of land lying south of Rockingham, from Falling Creek pond south and southeast,
excepting a little plot on which was the Cole family graveyard, situated just east of where Victory's
Market now is on Watson Heights.
On Aug. 24, 1927, a quit-claim deed was signed by 56 Cole heirs granting the graveyard rights over
to the H. C. Watson Estate in return for which the 22 bodies in the graveyard were removed to suitable
plots in the Town's Eastside cemetery. The removal by Watson-King Undertakers occurred around 1.928. In
the list of 22 moved to Eastside were those of William Bonaparte Cole and his wife Jennie Crawford Cole
and of Mary Leak Cole born July 1, 1855, died May 23,1884 And also the bodies of William Bonaparte's
daughter and her husband, Bettie Crawford Cole born Feb. 16, 1842 and died Sep. 7, 1891, and her husband
John C. Ellerbe, born Jan. 30. 1831, and died July 23, 1892, and their son, Eben, age 8.
This Bettie Cole and John Ellerbe were the parents of Mrs. Henry Clay Watson; and so it made our
W. B. Cole and Mrs. Jennie Watson first cousins. Mr. Cole's mother was Kate Steele, daughter of Robert
Leak and Hannah Pickett Leak Steele, and this Hannah Pickett was the daughter of the original cotton mill
founder, Walter Francis (1799-1879) and Mary Cole Leak. (A sister of this Hannah Pickett was Mary Cole
Leak who married Major John M. Scales, and Ann C. who married Colonel J. W. Leak. Mary Cole Leak, wife
of Walter Francis Leak, was daughter of Thomas and Judith Moseley Leak Cole.) So you see that the Coles,
Leaks, Steele's and Covington's are pretty well knit. And you see how W. B. Cole got the name "Hannah
Pickett" for his 1906-1908 mill.
Born June 14, 1872, young Bill Cole attended the local schools; it was inevitable that he become a
mill man, as his forebears on every side of the family were pioneer textile men. His great-great grandfather,
Walter Francis Leak, was one of the charter signers and promoters in forming the Richmond Mill, chartered
in December, 1833, and put into operation in early 1837, as a yam mill-the seventh mill built in North
Carolina. This mill was burned in March, 1865, by General Sherman's bummers, but it was rebuilt in 1869
and started again in 1870 as Great Falls mill. His mother's father, R. L. Steele, who died in 1895, was
the promoter of Pee Dee in 1874, Roberdel in 1882, and Steele's mill in 1895.
On Nov. 28, 1892, he was elected bookkeeper for Great Falls mill. In 1897 he took time out to go to
Lowell School for a year. While at school the late J. W. Cannon came to the school looking for a likely
prospect as Superintendent of his Concord mill, and at once employed W. B. Cole. He remained with the
Concord mill until Nov. 1, 1899, when he came to Steele's mill as Superintendent. He remained at Steele's
mill until about 1907. On Feb. 19, 1906, he chartered a new mill-the Hannah Pickett Mfg. Co or, rather,
he and the late R- L, Steele Jr. did. It was begun in late 1906 and the mill put into operation October 1,
1908, at first a hosiery yam mill, later changed into cloth, and eventually expanding into one of the
best operated and largest mills in this section. The mill was named by him in memory of his great-
grandmother, Hannah Pickett, a saintly woman.
The Entwistle mill was organized July 24, 1909, with William Entwistle as president and W. B.
Cole as vice president and general manager. This mill was sold Feb. 18, 1946, for $2,720,000 ($860
a share) to Lowenstein and it now operates as Aleo mill,
Hannah Pickett was his pride and joy. And he made it hum and pay. In 1923 another mill was started.
Leak mill, and he of course was a stockholder. The mill was bought by his H- P. Company in 1929, and
became known as H. P. No. 2. This made his Hannah Pickett mills have 101,468 spindles and 2,848 looms.
None of the Cole properties were ever unionized. On August 22,1932, a strike started in his two Hannah
Pickett mills and in adjoining Entwistle mill, but it was busted
after 58 days with employees going back to work Oct 19, 1932, (And 15 years later his former mill-
changed to Safie in 1944-had a strike of 140 days with the CIO again losing out-April 16 to Sept. 8, 1847).
About 1940 Mr. Cole made himself Chairman of me board, and put his son Robert Little Cole. in as President
and treasurer and his long time close friend Alex Monroe as Secretary.
With President Robert Cole in the Army-a Captain stationed in Washington (July 11, 1942 to Oct. 20. 1945),
Mr. Cole and his stockholders decided to sell his No. 1 mill. On Sept. 22, 1944, the stockholders formally
accepted the Safie offer of $2,88,000. Or $2,400 per share for the $100 per value shares. But Mr. Cole
retained the No. 2 (Leak) mill and continued to operate it. He sold this No. 2 mill on Dec. 17, 1945,
to the Karl Robbins chain, and Robbins sold it July 1, 1947, to J. P. Stevens interests who turned it
into a woolen mill (and on May 16, 1954, the J. P. Stevens Co. bought controlling interest in the five
mills of the Robbins chain.
With the sale of his No. 2 mill Mr. Cole definitely retired from active business, content to look
after his investments and private matters.
However the mill fever was still in his blood; and so on Feb 1, 1950, Mr. Cole and Bob and C. W.
Guests firm incorporated me Sandhurst Mills/for making fine-grade hosiery. The mill got into operation
early in 1951, but in late March, 1951, the Coles sold their interests in the Sandhurst to R. H. Guest,
and early in April Billy Entwistle bought some of the stock and joined the company as Treasurer. And
Billy operates Sandhurst mill as Treasurer and General manager-and in respect to his memory, the mill
closed for the time of the funeral June 14th.
W. B. Cole confined his activities almost entirely over the years to mills and was a sought after
director in many mills. His judgment was unfailingly good and he made his properties pay dividends. As
is evidence by the fact that the one mill, Hannah Pickett No. 1, was sold for $2,400 a share in 1944,
and next year his No. 2 mill at a fancy price?
W. B. Cole was married on Feb. 14, 1900, to Miss Elizabeth Love Little of Little Rock, Ark. - and
R. A. and L. L. Little of Little Rock were original stockholders with him m forming the Hannah Pickett
mill Feb 19 1906 each of them with 100 shares.
On Feb. 14, 1950, Mr. and Mrs. Cole celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, with many friends
calling to pay their respects on their Golden anniversary.
Surviving now are his wife and two children-Elizabeth and Bob-a closely knit little family with
Mr. Cole as the hub and head Also there is a brother Dr. Watt Cole, in Greensboro and a sister, Mrs.
H. C. Rancke in Rockingham.
He was a member of the First Methodist Church of Rockingham and had resided m his two story house
on Fayetteville Road for nearly fifty years
In the large Cole lot, on the western slope of New Eastside cemetery, are buried not only Mr.
Cole's parents but his daughter Catherine Cole who was born 1903 and died in 1937, and his brother
Albert Bledsoe Cole, born 1878, died 1948, And two infant brothers of Mr. Cole-John Leak Cole born
Nov. 1, 1874, died July 4, 1875, and Peter Hunter Cole born April 5, 1871, died July 4, 1872.
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