James W. Roper

James W. Roper built and designed Oakleigh House.

Roper was a brick mason, dry goods merchant and cotton factor from James City County, Virginia. He operated a Water Street brickyard in downtown Mobile on the present-day site of the RSA Battle House Tower.

Roper began building Oakleigh on 35 acres west of Mobile in 1833. Roper designed and built the house himself.

While building Oakleigh, Roper lost his first wife, Sarah Ann Davenport, and a child. He remarried in 1838 upon completion of Oakleigh, and went on to have 6 children with his second wife, Eliza Ann Simison.

As a cotton trader, Roper was hit by the Panic of 1837. Unable to repay the $20,000 he had borrowed to build the house, he sold it to his brother-in-law Boyd Simison, who allowed him to live in it rent-free until 1850. Simison, bought Oakleigh, half of the estate's acreage, and all but one of Roper's 18 slaves. With his business interests failing, Roper followed his brother-in-law's example, becoming a lumber merchant and moving to New Orleans in 1850