Henry Overton Wills IITobacco seller and philanthropist1828 to 1911August 28, 2016
Thomas CarrTobacco seller and philanthropist1828 to 1911August 28, 2016
Henry, born to Isabella Board and Henry Overton Wills II, had a large family consisting of many siblings. One of these siblings most notably was William Henry Wills, the ‘first Chairman of Imperial Tobacco’.
When Henry was roughly 25 years old in 1853, he married Alice Hopkinson (1827-1881). The pair went on to have seven children including:
- Henry Herbert Wills (20 March 1856-?)
- Walter Melville Wills (28 June 1861-?)
- Arthur Stanley Wills (1863-?)
- George Alfred Wills (3 June 1854-?)
- Henry Overton Wills IV (1859-?)
- Frederick Duncan Wills (1865-?)
- Maitland Wills (1858-1885)
Out of these children, it is documented in the 1881 census that one (Henry Herbert Wills) followed in his father’s footsteps and went on to become a tobacco engineer.
Wills Tobacco Family
Henry was a part of the Wills Tobacco family, which also includes William Day Wills and Sir Frank Wills. Alongside his brother William, Henry was co-owner of the W.D. and H.O. Wills Company which traded tobacco between England and America.
As the slave trade was very impactful during the time Henry and his brother were trading tobacco, there is a lot of speculation about whether he was involved in the slave trade in Bristol.
The family overall, including Henry, were known to be anti-slavery due to their support in the pro-emancipation MP in 1830.
In the Bristol Record Office there is reportedly a letter to Henry Wills’ father (Henry Wills II) from America’s first President, George Washington. This letter, dated November 25 1759 addressed the sale of tobacco between America and the Wills Tobacco family. As George Washington is known to have been a plantation owner, this connection with the Wills family also adds to the speculation of whether they were connected to the slave trade in Bristol.
After his retirement in 1880, Henry turned his attention to philanthropy and ultimately gave £100,000 to University of Bristol in 1908. In 1909, Henry then became a chancellor of the university and remained so until his death in 1911.