William Procter’s Pilgrimage to Cincinnati

Procter's hardships followed him to the New World, where cholera—a disease all too familiar to P&G today—claimed his wife's life upon their arrival to Cincinnati.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012 10:14 am EST

Stories handed down the Long Blue Line—whether heartwarming or heartbreaking—give us great glimpses into the past that shine a light on our roots and inspire us to work harder to improve everyday life today, and tomorrow.

The account of founder William Procter’s journey with his wife Martha from England to Cincinnati is, as his grandson describes it in his memoirs, “a pathetic story of two young people starting out in the new world.”

Procter’s fledgling woolens store in London, ravaged by fire and ransacked by robbers in close succession in the early 1830s, left him destitute and desperate to start a new life and get out of debt. Had he not been given a gift of a thousand pounds by a friend of his father’s, Sir John Lubbock, who had “taken a great fancy to him”, he and Martha could not have even considered such a move.

Their pilgrimage west across America through the Allegheny Mountains was relatively uneventful, despite rumors of pirates along the riverbanks who would prey on westward travelers like them. Being warned of them early on, Procter kept his rifle ready and was spared their advances along the way.

But their fortune would come to an end one dark day on the Ohio River:

When the young couple reached Cincinnati and tied up, the plague was on and she took cholera and died; she was buried there with the cholera victims. He said he did not care to go any further...

Reeling from the sudden loss of his closest companion in life, Procter decided to settle in Cincinnati, where he "got a position in the bank." Perhaps it was the emotional connection to Martha’s burial plot, or the uncertainty of continuing on, that compelled him to stay. But he would never leave Cincinnati after that loss.

There is much more to this story. But the cause of Martha’s untimely death is a tragedy that we should stop to ponder, because of its sobering significance to P&G today.

Now, almost 180 years after Martha’s death, cholera is still a global killer, claiming the lives of thousands of children and adults with its deadly grip throughout the developing world.

How remarkable—and inspiring—that the small soap and candle company the grieving William Procter would soon form would one day devote significant energy and resources toward preventing the very disease that claimed the life of his wife. Today, P&G and 100 global partners have formed an all-out front against the spread of cholera and other water-borne diseases through the P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water (CSDW) Program.

Without a doubt, the P&G CSDW Program is one that, if alive today, William Procter would pour himself into with every ounce of passion he had.

How rewarding that so many of the everyday lives we touch today connect so closely to this "pathetic story" that took place at the dawn of our Long Blue Line. Though pathetic, it’s a story that serves to deepen the roots of our resolve to improve more lives caught in the crosshairs of cholera.

Photo: View of Cincinnati’s Ohio River bank around the time William and Martha Procter arrived from England in the early 1830s. (Source: "Cincinnati 1835" by John Caspar Wild, 1802-1846; Cincinnati Historical Society Collection)


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