Josiah Morris was a pioneer and entrepreneur of the classic American model. The hardships of farm life in his native Maryland led Morris, like so many of his generation, to look westward for greater opportunity. Setting out on his own at the age of 15, he settled in Columbus, Georgia, under the mentorship of an influential citizen. Morris thrived in Columbus for 16 years before moving to New Orleans to become a commission and forwarding merchant. A few years later, he permanently resettled to Montgomery and began a successful banking career.
Morris lived in Montgomery from just before the Civil War until his death, working always to help the state grow. As a civic-minded banker, he supported and promoted local merchants. As president and director of the Mobile & Montgomery Railroad Company, and director of the South and North Alabama Railroad, he helped lead Alabama into a new economic era. All of his professional interests and talents seemed to combine in the visionary project for which he is best remembered.
Recognizing the rich natural resources of the land around Elyton and well aware of the potential importance of the railroad crossroads there, Morris organized the Elyton Land Company in 1870. With his partners in the venture, in the offices of the Morris Bank on January 26, 1871, the man who had been homeless at 15 created a new city. With moral and financial support from Morris, the city he named “Birmingham” became the industrial heart of the state. Even though Birmingham’s industrial golden age passed within a century, banks founded by Morris – the City Bank of Birmingham and Birmingham Trust and Savings – grew and merged with others to make the city a formidable financial center. Without Josiah Morris, there would be no Birmingham as it is now known.
This man of faith, devoted to St. John’s Episcopal Church in his home city of Montgomery, also had great faith in his own abilities and in the great potential of the state. Time and again, he led Alabama forward.