Manufacturer, industrial promoter. Gregg was born on February 2, 1800, in Monongalia County, Virginia (now West Virginia), the son of William Gregg and Elizabeth Webb. At the age of ten, he was placed with his uncle, Jacob Gregg, a watchmaker and producer of spinning machinery. They moved to Georgia, where the uncle built a textile mill that prospered for several years before failing in the years immediately after the end of the War of 1812, when cheaper European-made goods inundated American markets. Gregg was then apprenticed to a watchmaker and spent the next few years in Kentucky and Virginia. By the mid-1820s, he had set up shop in Columbia, South Carolina, where he built a successful business importing and producing fancy goods, silver, watches, and military paraphernalia. He married Marina Jones of Edgefield District in April 1829. They had four children.
Poor health and the acquisition of a substantial fortune from his business led Gregg to retire in 1837. That same year, he became an investor in the Vaucluse mill in Edgefield District, a struggling textile factory on the verge of bankruptcy. Gregg took over management of the mill, and within a year production at Vaucluse doubled and the mill showed a profit of $5,000. Flush with new profits and renewed health, Gregg relocated to Charleston. He established a new business with two Connecticut partners, Nathaniel and Hezekiah Hayden. Their firm, Hayden, Gregg & Co., became the leading importer and supplier of fancy goods and jewelry in the city, and transformed Gregg into a wealthy and influential member of the Charleston business community.
Around 1844 Gregg toured the leading textile manufacturing centers of the Northeast. Returning to Charleston, he wrote a series of articles that appeared in the Charleston Courier, calling on the South to invest in manufacturing and end its reliance on staple agriculture. Later published in pamphlet form, Gregg’s Essays on Domestic Industry found wide circulation and placed Gregg among the South’s leading industrial advocates. Putting his industrial gospel into practice, Gregg and several partners secured a charter from the South Carolina General Assembly in December 1845 to establish the Graniteville Manufacturing Company, with an initial capitalization of $300,000. Erected on the banks of Horse Creek in Edgefield District, the Graniteville factory commenced operations in 1849 and quickly became one of the most successful textile factories in the entire South.
Gregg’s industrial writings continued to be published during the 1850s and 1860s in such influential journals as De Bow’s Review and Hunt’s Merchants’ Magazine. He was elected to the General Assembly from Edgefield District in 1856, but lost a bid for the state Senate two years later. As a member of the Secession Convention in December 1860, he signed the Ordinance of Secession. His Graniteville mill produced cotton cloth for the Confederacy throughout the Civil War. In September 1867, the dam at Graniteville broke and Gregg added his efforts to others standing in waist-deep water to repair the damage. He took ill as a result and died several days later on September 13, 1867. He was buried in Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston.
Downey, Tom. Planting a Capitalist South: Masters, Merchants, and Manufacturers in the Southern Interior, 1790–1860. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005.
Martin, Thomas P., ed. “The Advent of William Gregg and the Graniteville Company.” Journal of Southern History 11 (August 1945): 389–423. Mitchell, Broadus. William Gregg: Factory Master of the Old South. 1928.
Reprint, New York: Octagon, 1966.