Boatwright

Herbert Lee Boatwright (September 12, 1862-January 23, 1935) was a dedicated and influential citizen who gave freely of his time and means for the improvement of Danville and its institutions. He, along with R. L. Dibrell and A. B. Carrington, composed the successful business team which was the guiding force behind the growth ofDibrell Brothers, Inc. Their intelligent leadership and judgment carried the company through many years of progress and prosperity.

H. Lee Boatwright, as he was known as an adult, was born in Buckingham County, the son of Dr. John Guerrant Boatwright, native of Buckingham County, and Pattie Pendleton Phillips Boatwright, native of Albemarle County. The lineage of the Boatwright family traces back to a Welsh origin. The original American representatives settled in Virginia in the Colonial period.

Dr. John G. Boatwright, after graduating from the University of Virginia became one of the leading physicians and surgeons in the City of Danville. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he entered the Confederate Army as a surgeon serving throughout the war as a major. After the war, he returned to Danville where he engaged in a successful medical practice from 1865 until his death in 1875 when Herbert Lee, his fourth child of six children, was only twelve years old.

H. Lee Boatwright received his early education in Danville but was forced to abandon his education after his father’s death and go to work in George S. Hughes’s local tobacco factory. During five years in the factory, he acquired an extensive knowledge of the tobacco trade while becoming an excellent judge of leaf tobacco. Careers could be built on such discriminating knowledge in late-nineteenth-century Danville. The development of bright tobacco before the Civil War and the proliferation of the innovative, loose-leaf sales system after the war combined to make Danville the leading tobacco market in the United States between the 1870s and World War I. Boatwright made good use of his discerning eye.

By 1879, at the age of seventeen, he had become the manager of Ferrell and Flinn, leaf tobacco brokers. Later, he was a member of the firm of Schoolfield & Boatwright, large tobacco dealers, and when this firm went out of business at the death of Mr. Schoolfield, he established his own business under the name of H. L Boatwright & Company. In 1904 he joined Dibrell Brothers becoming its secretary-treasurer after it reorganized in 1905. Being an instinctive judge of tobacco, he was placed in charge of all leaf purchases, determining what to buy, when to buy it, and what price to pay.

Throughout his life, Boatwright was known for his uncanny tobacco sense, making him an important part of the famous triumvirate of Dibrell Brothers, Inc., consisting of Dibrell, Carrington and Boatwright, which guided the firm for many years. At the Dibrell’s death in 1920, Boatwright was promoted to vice-president, the position he served in until his death.

Boatwright’s tobacco and business acumen translated into positions of increasing civic responsibility. He served as president of the Danville Tobacco Association from 1903 to 1904, was a founder of the local Young Men’s Christian Association in 1907 prior to its opening to the public on Thanksgiving Day 1908, and led in the formation of the Commercial Association, which later became the Danville Chamber of Commerce.

He served as a trustee of the Roanoke College for Young Women (later Averett College) and the University of Richmond. A lifelong Democrat, he guided the local party through the political crisis of 1928 when party members divided over the presidential candidacy of Alfred E. Smith, whose opposition to Prohibition and membership in the Catholic Church alienated many Virginia Democrats. Boatwright chaired the city Democratic committee and supported Smith. He continued to be active in state and local politics, being closely associated with his friend, Rorer A. James.

Boatwright was initiated into Roman Eagle Masonic Lodge No. 122 on October 28, 1895, and was elected Master of the Lodge on December 9, 1907. Elected a trustee of the Lodge in December 1927, he served until his death while continuing to be active in other Masonic bodies including the Shriners.

Boatwright and his wife were both zealous members of First Baptist Church where he was chairman of its deacons for many years.

Boatwright married Mary Elizabeth Vaughan (November 29, 1868-November 7, 1955) of Halifax County, daughter of Edgar Vaughan, on December 18, 1889. They had three sons and three daughters: Edgar Vaughan, John Guerrant, Alice Pendleton who married a Williamson and lived in New York, Florence who married a Sanford and lived in Evanston, Illinois, Marion who married a Dudley and lived in Richmond and Herbert Lee, Jr. who lived in Baltimore, Maryland. The Boatwright home, at 904 Main Street was where Mrs. Boatwright lived until her death. John Guerrant Boatwright (August 21, 1892-June 4, 1983) married Mary Archer Glass, daughter of Senator Carter Glass and Aurelia McDearman Caldwell, who lived at Dan’s Hill and retired from Dibrell Brothers. His daughter, Elizabeth (Betty) married Dr. Glenn B. Updike, Jr. and inherited Dan’s Hill.

Herbert Lee Boatwright died of heart complications following an influenza attack and was buried in Greenhill Cemetery as were many of his family. The headline of his obituary reads, “Throng Attends Mr. Boatwright’s Funeral Service,” and despite a request by the family that no flowers be sent, more than a hundred floral tributes were laid upon his grave. Honorary pall bearers totaled over eighty five and included many prominent Danville citizens. Boatwright left an estate estimated at $600,000 to his widow and children.

There are two streets in Danville which bear the Boatwright name, Boatwright Avenue which runs southeast from 745 Patton Street to Loyal Street and in 2005 contained six businesses, and Boatwright Street, a short street which runs south from 1234 Stokes Street to a dead end at the Norfolk-Southern Railroad tracks and in 2005 contained only one dwelling.