Andrew Low was a multi-millionaire at a time when that term was little used in Savannah, or elsewhere. However, he was not to the manor born. His life would take him from Scotland’s windy coast to the warmth of Savannah, where he would amass his wealth. But deep personal sorrow would invade his life and he, at one point, would be jailed for his part in a plot of international intrigue.
Low was born in 1812 in Kincardinshire, Scotland. His father, William, was a grocery merchant and Low helped out in the store after school. How Low arrives in Savannah is a story within a story. His uncle, Andrew Low I, had come to Savannah in 1800 to work in a store owned by a Glasgow firm that had outlets in southern ports. He was able to buy out the Savannah store, giving it a colorful name, “Andrew Low and Company, the Sign of the Buck” For about 75 years a regal 13-point highland stag was the trademark of the company, which was located adjacent to Johnson Square.
The company moved from selling general merchandise to the exporting of cotton, primarily to England, and Low opened an office in Liverpool run by another Scotsman, Robert Isaac. But Andrew Low never married, and as he grew older, he realized he needed someone to take over his successful business. It occurred to him that his brother’s son, named after him, might just be the answer. That same year, Andrew Low II, at age 17, arrived in Savannah to help his uncle and within two years was listed as an agent for the firm, allowing his uncle to return to England and oversee the Liverpool office. It was an exciting time in Savannah for the cotton traders and shippers. Eli Whitney had built the prototype of his cotton gin here in Savannah in 1789, and the railroad was extending its reach. By 1857, Andrew Low II was the wealthiest man in Savannah.
In 1844 Low married Sarah Cecil Hunter and within a year welcomed a son Andrew Low III with two daughters following in 1846 and 1848. In 1847 Low purchased land on the southwest corner of Lafayette Square and chose the New York architect, John Norris, to build his neo-classic home.
The Low family would not long enjoy their good fortune. In 1848, their four-year-old son died. In 1849, not only did Low’s father die but also his beloved wife, Sarah, died at age 31.That same year, Low’s uncle died, leaving his entire estate, personal and business, to his nephew. It was a much saddened Andrew Low who moved into his beautiful home with just his two daughters, Amy and Hattie.
Low would be 42 years old when he married 20-year-old Mary Cowper Stiles in 1854. In 1855 a daughter Katie was born followed by Mary in 1858 and in 1860 a son, William Mackay Low, was born. He would in later years marry Juliet Gordon.
By 1861 the Civil War, with its Union coastal blockade was having an effect on the cotton business. The young Confederacy was finding it difficult to raise funding for arms, munitions and other equipment it needed to fight the war adequately. Both Low and his partner in the cotton business, Charles Greene, backed the South in its war because cotton was the source of the wealth for both men. Charles Green was asked by the Confederate Government to go to England to amass funding for necessary military purchases. He sailed with his sister Eliza. Andrew and Mary journeyed to Quebec and then on to England. It was all under the guise of business trips for both men. But while Green was securing funding, Low was seeing that ships were outfitted with necessary goods and sent on their way to southern ports.
However, they had not escaped the scrutiny of Union agents. Both men’s activities had been watched. Charles Green was arrested in Boston, along with Eliza.. Low and his wife were arrested in Cincinnati. Low was purportedly bringing in necessary drugs and medicines for injured troops. Both Green and Low were imprisoned at Ft. Warren in Boston Harbor.
Because she was pregnant, Mary Low was sent to Baltimore to stay, and after a period of time, was issued a permit to return to Georgia. Low would be released from prison in 1862 and would arrive in Georgia just in time to witness the birth of his son Jesse. But he was to receive yet another devastating blow, for during the next year, his wife Mary died at age 31.
(Major Edward C. Anderson was a Foreign Agent for the Confederacy, and in the book, “The European Diary of Major Edward C. Anderson,” it recounts the interactions of both Low and Green with him in England.}
The years following the war’s end were not easy ones for the impoverished south. Low felt his family would do better in England. So by 1867, the Low family was living at Beauchamp Hall in Leamington, England. He died there in 1886. His son, William, brought his body back to Savannah to be buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery beside his two wives and the son named after him.
(It is said that as Low was being buried at Laurel Grove, the flags on the ships of the Ocean Steamship Company in Savannah’s harbor were lowered to halfmast.)
Copyright - 2017