Lawyer, plantation owner, and politician Luke Pryor (1820-1900) served briefly in the U.S. Senate and is little known today, but he played key roles in promoting the railroad interests that would shape Alabama’s economic and industrial future. In addition to serving in the U.S. Senate, Pryor also served in the Alabama State Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives.
Pryor was born on July 5, 1820, to Luke and Anne Batte Lane Pryor at the Green Bottom Inn, in Huntsville, Madison County. Pryor’s parents had relocated to Alabama from Brunswick County, Virginia, not long before his birth. Pryor’s brother, Benjamin, would become a noted racehorse trainer. In 1824, the family moved to Limestone County near the city of Athens, and Pryor attended school at Mooresville, Limestone County, and Washington College in Natchez, Mississippi. After reading law under Judge Daniel Coleman, he passed the bar in 1841 and became a partner in the law firm of Robert C. Brickell in Huntsville and later that of Egbert J. Jones. Pryor married Isabella V. Harris on August 18, 1845, and the couple would have eight children. In addition to his law practice, Pryor owned a lucrative plantation and is listed as owning 39 enslaved people in the 1850 census. In the 1860s, Pryor and his family moved to Flower Hill Farm in Athens, where he would live until his death.
Pryor was a strong supporter of developing Alabama’s rail system, believing that it was a necessary step for economic prosperity. His election to the state legislature in 1855 gave him a broader platform for these views. Under his persistent prodding, lawmakers passed a bill to raise $200,000 to invest in stock of the Tennessee and Alabama Central Railroad Company. The act was vetoed by Gov. John A. Winston but overridden by the legislature. During his term in the Alabama legislature, Pryor ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate but was defeated by future Alabama governor Benjamin Fitzpatrick. On January 7, 1880, Gov. Rufus W. Cobb appointed Pryor to fill the Senate seat opened up by the death of Sen. George S. Houston. Pryor served until the following November but refused to seek election. In 1883, he was elected to a two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Pryor died on August 5, 1900, and was buried in Athens’s City Cemetery. Pryor’s descendents continue to live at Flower Hill.
Note: This entry was adapted with permission from Alabama United States Senators by Elbert L. Watson (Huntsville, Ala: Strode Publishers, 1982).