John Campbell Maben (1839-1926) was born into a wealthy Richmond, Virginia family. His father was a tobacco and cotton merchant, and he grew up on a bucolic estate called “Strawberry Hill”. (I wonder if they had slaves? SURELY they had slaves.) Educated in the finest private schools, Maben dropped out of Princeton just shy of graduation to enlist in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He served in the Twelfth Virginia Regiment, where he was eventually commissioned as a captain.
After the war, he moved to New York where he worked on Wall Street as a high-finance banker. When his firm failed during the financial panic of 1873, he set about to start his own company. Maben was the first director of the “Terminal Company”, which eventually became the Southern Railway.
Later in life, he was the president of the Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Company, where he was a huge proponent of the notorious “convict lease system” in their coal mines.
From the Encyclopedia of Alabama:
Between 1875 and 1928, the state and counties of Alabama profited from a form of prison labor known as the convict-lease system. Under this system, companies and individuals paid fees to state and county governments in exchange for the labor of prisoners on farms, at lumberyards, and in coal mines. Following their convictions, prisoners were transported directly to the work site and remained there for the duration of their sentences.
His son Spencer Merchant Maben is one of the few stones I noticed around the plot. I found this little tidbit about his society marriage from the “What’s Going On In Society” column of the February 5, 1902 NY Times: