Lauderdale County, Alabama
Historical Address of the Honorable William B. Wood
July 4, 1876
(as published in the Florence Gazette July to September 1876)
Fellow citizens: - The time allotted me – two weeks – for the preparation of this address, will be sufficient apology for any inaccuracies or omissions which may be made. Indeed it cannot be expected that anything like a full or very perfect history of the County can be embodied in an address on an occasion like the present. If I shall be able to mention some of the most prominent men who have lived in, and the leading events of which have occurred, since the organization of this County, I will consider myself fortunate, and, us having answered the demands which you have made upon me.
Turning back the leaves of memory for fifty years, there is spread out before me, an extended panorama of men and things, which at the time of the existence and occurrence of most of them, appeared quite insignificant to their contemporaries, but at this distance of time, when generations have passed away, and but few of the actors, or witnesses, of those events remain, they appear to possess greater interest to us now than ever before; whether they will be of like interest to my audience, I have some misgivings; but as they relate to your fathers and mothers, and to your grand sires and grandmothers, I hope you may at least find it entertaining.
It is natural and very proper that we should look at the brightest and best pages of the record. We have forgotten – as we ought to have done – the faults and foibles of our ancestry, and after the lapse of a few decades, we only see their good deeds; and remember their patriotism, enterprise, triumphs, works of beneficence and useful lives. Calling up the long list of the brave, intelligent and good men, who first rescued this land from the savage Indian, and made it the abode of civilization, refinement and wealth, we find in their characters much to excite our admiration and reverence, and cause us to feel a just pride that we sprung from such noble ancestors. It seems to me that the representative men of forty or fifty years ago, were governed by a higher standard of principles in all their business transactions, social intercourse and political contests, than those of the present age. There is, it is true, more of learning, science, enterprise, and I may say, of religion, in the world now than at any former period, but there is also a degeneracy, corruption, venality and dishonesty in high places as well as low places, that our fathers never dreamed of. The degeneracy of the present time, in this country, may be, and no doubt is, a legitimate result of the demoralization produced by the late civil war. The evils of that unfortunate struggle, it is to be feared, will not be fully eradicated for generations yet to come.
About the beginning of the present century vague reports from those hardy [souls] were carried to the older States of Virginia, North & south Carolina, Georgia, and others, that farther West there still lay a land of beauty, fertility and wealth surpassing any thing that had yet been discovered in the New World; and, that perhaps the most beautiful spot of this beautiful country, was the Tennessee river. This broad, deep stream, of clear, bright water, after breaking through the mountain gorges of East Tennessee, penetrated a lovely valley with the mountain ranges on the South, gradually subsiding towards the West, and a broad level country stretching away Northward, was represented as a perfect El Dorado. All of this country then belonged to the State of Georgia.
In Putman’s history of Middle Tennessee, I find that, in the year 1779, Col. John Donelson, with his own family and servants, the wife and five children of Col. Robertson, left Fort Patrick Henry, on the Holston river, in a boat which he called the Adventurer, to descend the Tennessee river. The water being too low for them to go over the shoals, they were detained two months near the poor Valley shoals. Here they were joined by other boats, filled with emigrants, bound on the same voyage, or for the Illinois, or for Natchez. There were about forty boats in the squadron. Col. Donelson and his party were emigrating to the Cumberland; most of the men under the lead of Col. Robertson had gone by the way of the Gap, through the country, whilst the wives and children, with much of the household property of these emigrants, were to come by way of the river Tennessee, to the upper end of the Muscle Shoals, where, according to the journal of Col. Donelson, the Robertson party were to have marked some trees, and left signs which should indicate, no only “that they had been there,” but “that it was practicable for Col. Donelson and his party to go across by land” to the Cumberland. In 1785 Col. Donelson Savier and others, by authority from the State of Georgia, established a county called Houston, opposite the Indian town of Nickajack, in the bend of the Tennessee opposite the Muscle Shoals. They opened a land office; Col. Donelson was appointed Surveyor, and authorized to issue land-warrants. There were eighty or ninety men in the party. They appointed Justices of the Peace and other officers, elected Valentine Sevier, to represent them in the Legislature of Georgia.
A plat and deed for ten thousand acres, located at the mouth of the Blue Water, opposite Muscle shoals, “to John Sevier, one of the Commissioners of the Tennessee Land Company,” is now in the possession of the Historical Society of Tennessee.
In 1802 the United States purchased of the State of Georgia all the territory which forms the present States of Alabama and Mississippi, and it was called Mississippi Territory. It was at once opened to immigration, and emigrants from the older States began to pour into the new purchase, as it was called. As early as 1802, a party set out from North Carolina, who, with great difficulty, ascended the Blue Ridge, with their wagons, and descended through its gorges, into the valley of the Tennessee. Constructing flat boats at Knoxville, they floated down the Tennessee River, to the head of Muscle Shoals, where they disembarked at the house of Double Head; a Cherokee Chief. This party, however, did not remain in this valley, the lands belonging to the Indians, their title having not yet been extinguished.
It was not until 1812 that any considerable settlements of white people were made in this country. Madison county was being settled up pretty rapidly, and some of the emigrants, more adventurous, were crowding the poor Indian out of their reservations, driving them further west. I am not informed who were the first settlers in Lauderdale, but parties from the older States about this time, were formed, “to go and view out the land,” they traveled in squads, armed for defense, as well against the hostile Indians as the wild beasts that still roamed the forests. The report of Joshua’s spies in reference to Canaan, was scarcely more enhancing and inviting than the reports which were carried back by these pioneer parties. Often, as I have stood upon the mountain brow that overlooks this beautiful valley, and gazed upon the rich and lovely scene as it stretched away northward to the river, have I thought of the wonder and rapture which our fathers must have felt when they first beheld it in all its primeval loveliness and grandeur. We may form some idea of the estimate they placed upon it, when we remember that at the first land sales, many of these lands sold for $90 and $100 per acres, before a tree had been cut down, or a cabin built. There were, however, some settlers in this county previous to the year 1810. ‑‑‑‑ Our worthy and respected fellow-citizen, William Herman, Esq., who lives in the neighborhood of Centre Star, was born in this county, in the year 1810, and he is the oldest native born citizen of the county now living; perhaps the first white child born in this county. I have been told that his father’s house was burned by the United States troops who were sent into this county to drive out the white men who had settled upon the Indian lands. At the Time the soldiers went to the house of Henry D. Allen, who had built a cabin on Blue Water, three or four miles from where the town of Lexington now is, for the purpose of burning down his improvements. Capt. Allen was from home when the soldiers came. They told Mrs. Allen of their orders to burn the houses of all squatters on the land reserved for the Indians; that, however much as they regretted the necessity, their orders were imperative. It was near dinner time, and they were hungry; Mrs. Allen proposed to cook dinner for them; and like a sensible and shrewd woman, she prepared the best she had and seated them to partake of the last dinner in her humble home. After dinner a fire was kindled in one corner of the room, and company departed, leaving the poor woman and her little children to be the only spectators of the destruction of their home. They had not gone far when two of the soldiers, whose hearts had been touched by the kindness of Mrs. Allen, returned to the house and extinguished the fire before much damage had been done; thus the intuition of the woman and law of kindness did more than a whole troop of men could have accomplished. Hundreds of instances of like presence of mind, of our brave and noble women, occurred during the late war; what a thrilling history of trials and sufferings, of watching and endurance, and sometimes of triumphs, would the incidents of the war through which the women of the Border States passed, make, if they could only be collected together.
I cannot now call to mind any other of those early pioneer settlers, but may do so before I get through this historical sketch, and will ask the privilege of inserting their names wherever I can introduce them. Many parties from Kentucky and Tennessee had visited North Alabama prospecting for lands, trading with the Indians, and searching for gold and silver mines, of the existence of which they had heard some marvelous stories as coming from the Indians. There can be no doubt of the existence of silver ore somewhere in the county. The Indians had a great many silver ornaments of their own crude and quaint manufacture; I have seen many of them myself. It is a well known fact that Captain Chisholm, the great grand-father of our respected townsman, T. L. Chisholm Esq., visited this county, in the early part of the century, about 1808 or 9. He was on very friendly terms with the Cherokees, and the Chief Double-Head, was very much attached to him. At the invitation of double-Head he visited the cave where the Indians were smelting and working the silver ore. Before, however, he was permitted to enter the cave he was blindfolded, and his horse being led, was caused to travel many miles, by Indian paths and through the woods, so as to bewilder hi, that he might not retain any idea of the route he came. After he entered the cave the bandage was removed from his eyes and he was permitted to see the work of extracting the precious metal from the ore going on. Double-Head presented him with several bars – not quite as large as a fence rail – which he carried back with him to Tennessee. So well authenticated was the account of silver ore existing some where in the county, that for fifty years, at different times, the mania for discovering the cave has broken out, and prospecting has been carried on to a considerable extent. I think it was in the year 1840 that James Thompson, Levi Cassity and some others, were induced to explore a cave somewhere above Shoal Creek, wherein they found working tools and crucibles which had, evidently, belonged to the Indians, and they believed that they had “Struck Ile”, but for some cause they never carried out their design of revisiting the cave – I think the reason was, because the owner of the land refused to sell it. They consulted me about purchasing it, and made an effort to buy it, as I understood, but the owner would not part with it. Mr. Cassity died in 1849 and Mr. Thompson moved to Mississippi, and thus tended this exploring expedition The precious treasure is still hid away in its dark, and as yet, to the white man, undiscovered natural vaults, awaiting the time when some lucky dog shall stumble upon it, and be so transported with his good fortune as to lose his senses, go crazy, be taken to the lunatic asylum, and spend his days in dreaming over silver Caves and Castles and piles of treasures, found and lost.
An old man by the name of Amos Wilkes, told me that he came to this county before General Jackson opened the Military Road, which runs through this county, and which still remains the great thoroughfare from this place to Nashville. I do not know exactly when, the road was cut out, but it was somewhere between 1812 and 1814. Wilkes settled about 2 ½ miles from where we are now assembled, on the Military road; and there is to-day some old oak trees and a wall, to be seen just beyond Mr. Chas. Finley’s, where Wilkes built his cabin. He opened a blacksmith shop and a grocery, and did a thriving business with the Indians and emigrants. It was along this road that General Jackson marched his army of Kentuckian and Tennesseans when he went to New Orleans. He crossed the Tennessee river that the mouth of Cypress creek, which was ever afterwards called the Military Ferry.
Lauderdale County was named for, and in respect to the memory of, Colonel Lauderdale, a gallant officer who fell in the attack on the British forces led by Gen. Coffee on the night of 23d December 1814 at New Orleans. It was one of the original seven Counties which formed the Territory of Alabama. Hugh McVay was the representative in the Territorial Legislature of 1817 and delegate to the convention that formed the State Constitution in 1819.
It was about the year 1818 when immigration began to flow into this county. Some of the men, who afterwards became the most substantial of our citizens, walked all the way from Virginia and Kentucky to begin their fortunes and lay the foundations of a substantial and honorable reputation for themselves and their posterity. I will speak more particularly of them hereafter.
The Cypress Land Company composed of citizens of Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky organized about this period, and purchased the land whereon the town of Florence is located. The town was laid off and the lots sold in 1819. I have a list of the names of the purchasers and prices. It is not the original list but no doubt an exact copy. I think it is in the hand-writing of Dr. Levi Todd. I find some distinguished names on the list of purchasers, Andrew Jackson, James Monroe, James Madison, John McKinley, James Jackson, John Coffee, etc. The most astonishing prices were paid for the lots, some of them sold for $3,000, half acres lots. The lot on the river bank with the ferry privilege was bought by J. J. Winston for $10,100. The aggregate sales amounted to the sum of $310,513. Thus we see that Florence was worth more in its primeval state than it has ever been worth since.
You will very naturally wonder what were the expectations in regard to Florence which caused such extravagant prices to be given for the lots. I can tell you what I have heard from many of those who were present at the sales, some of them purchasers, and you will not be surprised that they expected a great city to be built up with an extensive commerce and, in the course of time to become the great centre of trade between the Northern cities and the vast country of rich and fertile lands lying south of the Tennessee river. The wonder is that their expectations were never realized.
Cast your eye over all that part of Alabama and Mississippi for two hundred miles South, and then along the Tennessee river north, East and West, within a range of fifty miles of this magnificent stream, and where do you find on the face of the globe, in its natural state, so grand and beautiful a country as that which was tributary to the Tennessee. At that time Nashville was a town of not much greater pretentions than Florence is now. Memphis was a mere Ferry known as Chickasaw Bluff. Louisville had not more than four or five thousand inhabitants. All this vast country, soon to be populated with its millions, and capable of sustaining its millions more, was thrown open to, and being rapidly settled up, by the anglo-saxon; the older States were pouring their emigrants, in almost one continuous stream, into its rich and inviting lands. The cultivation of cotton had just began; it brought a high price in the market. Here was to be the great cotton belt of the world. In a few years half the negroes of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and all of the negroes from the Northern States, which our Yankee brethren were more than anxious to sell to us before they should be emancipated, were to be employed in the cultivation of the great staple, which before the was called “King”, but at the present day is more appropriately called “The Devil.” It was, therefore, not unreasonable to conclude that somewhere on the Tennessee river, this broad, deep, placid stream, without an obstruction from the mouth to Colbert Shoals – no snags, nor bars, nor rapids, nor sucks for three hundred miles – a great city would grow up and become the centre of trade between the North and South. Florence being at the foot of the Muscle shoals, and at the head of navigation, with such a vast extent of country all around it to be supplied, it was not unreasonable to expect that it should, in the course of time, become a great city. Its location and advantages were such, that it seemed beyond all possibility, destined for the great central mart of the South-west. So thought such men as James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Gadsden and others, who invested largely of their means in the purchase of lots.
At first the only craft on the Tennessee were barges and flat-boats. Flat-boat-men carried a long tin trumpet which they blew as they neared a town or landing. I have seen a fleet of forty or fifty boats descending the river in one day. They would come from East Tennessee to the head of the shoals and wait for a rise in the river to come over. ‑‑‑ When the rise did come the river would be full of boats, some containing produce, others immigrants, and looked like an extensive city of rude cabins floating gently down the beautiful river.
It was not long however, until a steamboat with its columns of black smoke rolling high above the tree tops, startling not only the denizens of the forest, but the civilized American, was seen plowing its way through the deep blue waters of the Tennessee, belching forth its steam in deep ground like the moaning of some unearthly monster. You could hear the steam from the scapepipe at least five miles. You must try, if you can, to imagine the wonder and fear of those who had never heard of a steamboat, when they first saw the monster approaching them with its fiery mouth wide open and uttering such fearful bellowings. Some thought that the old fellow from the bad world had made his escape and was going about seeking whom he might devour. I remember seeing a boat land at the wharf when I was a little boy; hundreds had gathered on the river bank to see it come into port; as it drew near so that we could hear the hissing of the steam and see the working of the engine, a fear seemed to come over all the women and children; and not a few men, so that many of the children began to cry and beg their parents to take them away; some began to talk of the danger of the boilers exploding, and by the time the boat was opposite the landing, the entire crowd was ready for a panic on the slightest alarm; just then the engineer opened the valve and commenced to blow off steam and such a stampede never was seen; the women and children screamed at the tope of their voices, and all rushed pell-mell to the woods for protection. For many years after, I never went on board of a steamboat without trembling from fear of being “blown up.” I am informed that Mrs. Till, the widow of Capt. Till, an old and perhaps one of the first steam boatmen on the Tennessee says the first steamboat ascended the Tennessee in the year 1820-1. There was great excitement and parade when a boat arrived. The Captain was the most consequential of men; he dressed like a Commodore in the United States Navy, and was feasted and toasted at every town on the river. They would frequently tie up for a week at Vicksburg and Natchez for the purpose of frolicking.
The first steam boat which came up was named Thomas Jefferson; she knocked a hole in her as she came over Colbert shoals, but managed to get to Florence where she remained all summer being repaired for the next winter. It was commanded by Capt. Ohitt [Best guess. Copy is poor.]; several hundred people assembled on the river-bank to see her depart. This was in 1821 or 1822.
Before steamboats, and for a long time after, the only means of obtaining sugar, coffee, salt and other groceries, was by barges or keel-boats, as they were called. It is almost incredible at this day to think that this was the only means of transportation, except wagons and packhorses. But then the wants of the people were few; we had coffee only for breakfast, and sugar in it but once a week – Sunday morning. The habit of drinking only one cup of coffee, and without sugar, grew upon me so strong in my youth that I have never changed it to this day. Fashions were not so arbitrary then as now, and did not change oftener than every four or five years. six yards of French [sic] calico would make a beautiful Sunday dress, and eight or more yards of silk or satin a most elaborate ball dress. The ladies depended on the rose and bloom of their cheeks, which nature and exercise had given, and the long suits of black and auburn hair which hung in ringlets from their heads for their beauty, rather than the cosmetics of the chemists, and the chignons and braids of the manufacturer. The ladies of the present age are beautiful and lovely, but you will pardon me for saying, that nearly a half century ago there was photographed upon my heart one beautiful picture of unadorned womanhood that then, and ever since, has appeared to my eyes, the most lovely among the then thousands that I have seen and admired – I have never seen a more lovely woman than my Mother.
From 1818 to 1830 the tide of immigration was continuous; and increasing with each succeeding year filled the country with an intelligent, enterprising wealthy community. Capital was brought in and the building of houses went on rapidly. The large brick Hotel which stood on the brow of the hill on Main Street was built about 1820. The Court House was completed about the year 1820. Nearly the entire block of storehouses on both sides of the Court House were built. Family residences were being rapidly erected. Brick masons, carpenters, and plasterers had their hand full of work and were growing rich. Large warehouses were put up near the river for receiving and forwarding goods. Huntsville, Athens, Pulaski, Fayetteville, and all the counties of Tennessee bordering on Alabama received their groceries and goods here. Every day trains of wagons would come in, receive their loads and depart. it was quite a lively picture to see the streets filled with six-horse teams, to hear the “get up” of the teamster, and the sharp crack of their whips as they rolled out of town to their camp on Sweet water. A large wholesaler as well as retail business was rapidly growing up, and everything indicated that the expectations of the most sanguine, as to the future of Florence, would be fully realized. The culture of cotton in Madison, Limestone and East Lauderdale had progressed with wonderful rapidity and the trade in that direction had become so large, that it was found that the facilities of transportation must be increased. Thus the project of digging a canal around the Muscle Shoals was initiated, Congress made an appropriation of lands for the purpose, Commissioners were appointed to dispose of the lands and build the canal. I do not know how the lands were disposed of, nor the amount realized, but I remember there was considerable dissatisfaction created when they sold; what gave rise to it, or whether it was just or not, I do not know, nor is it material now to consider; the effect of the disaffection was, to greatly embarrass the Commissioners in their work, prevent further appropriations, and ultimately, just as the great work was being finished, to put a stop to it, and allow it to fall into ruin and decay. Every effort was made to get a small appropriation from the General government, and also from the State, but resulted in failure. During this period the political question arose whether the Federal Government ought to make appropriations for Internal Improvements, when the work was of rational [sic – national?] importance, or affected the interests of several states? The Whig party with Henry Clay, as their leader, were in favor of the exercise of the power: and the democratic party, with General Jackson in the lead, opposed it, Alabama was Jackson to the backbone. He had killed the Indians and Packenham, and his popularity was immense. So it was put in the Democratic platform that there should be “No Internal Improvements by the Federal government.” Northern Democrats accepted the platform; but notwithstanding the doctrine was so explicitly laid down, the Congress did make appropriations every year for various works in the North and the Northern Democrats would vote for them. The result was that for thirty years the South got the platform and the North got the money. What did they care for the paper platform when millions of dollars were at stake? They would knock it down every session of Congress and build it up again just before every election. Southern politicians were too conservative, or they had not learned “the ways that are dark” of the shrewd yankee, even so much as to ask for an appropriation. Only to think of the millions of money that was appropriated for northern rivers, lakes, roads, creeks, canals, etc., for thirty years, and scarcely a dollar for the South. But we saved the platform. Principles not men, nor money, was our motto; and like the passenger who got off the railroad car to buy a pie and was left, in his chase to overtake the train, lost his hat and ticket, but comforted himself by saying, “By golly, I saved my pie.”
The canal, however, was so far completed that in 1839-40, a large number of faltboats passed down, and one steamboat passed up through it. The steamboat Melton, was built for the trade above the shoals. On her trial trip a large party were invited to a pleasure excursion through the canal. But alas, for our pleasure, as well as for the enterprise, when the boat entered the first lock it would not close. A lively discussion arose as to whether the lock was too short or the boat too long, which was decided in the affirmative by a fisti-cuff between two of the passengers. During the following winter a break occurred in the dam across shoal creek, and all assistance being refused by both the Federal and State governments, this great work was suffered to go to ruin. but now, after thirty-six years, the government has taken hold of it again, and in a few years we hope to see the boats passing through every day, thus opening up to easy and cheap transportation the vast trade of one of the richest countries in the South, both in mineral and agricultural products.
During the work on the canal two enterprising contractors, John R. and S. S. Henry, concluded to build up a town near the mouth of Blue Water, which from the beautiful situation they called Belle View. They also conceived the idea of building a bridge across the Tennessee river at that point. The river being nearly two miles wide and very shoaly, they thought a trestle bridge could be made to stand. It was, at considerable expense, built and completed; but scarcely had the last span been laid, before the rapids, as if in contempt and derision of the frail structure by which they sought to cross its roaring tide, swept it away, and scattered its timbers from here to the mouth of the river. This bridge gone, the canal at a stand still, Belleview soon subsided and went out of view. John R. Henry afterwards went to East Tennessee where he was living during the war, I have not heard where he was living during the war, I have not heard from him since; S. S. Henry went to Mississippi, I do not know whether he is living or dead.
About this time was also started the project of building a railroad from Florence to Pulaski. At first every one entered heartily into the scheme and it appeared, from the enthusiasm with which it was received. a charter was obtained, commissioners to receive subscriptions of stock appointed, the books opened, a large crowd had assembled in Florence on the day for taking stock, and considerable excitement was created. Unfortunately for this as well as for other enterprises, our ablest and wealthiest men had grown jealous of each other, the people took sides with their favorites, and the community became almost equally divided. By some indiscretion this division got mixed up in the railroad project, and each party attempted to secure a controlling amount of the stock so as to elect the board of directors and president. __ When all the stock had been taken but about fifty thousand dollars, Littleberry Leftwich, a merchant, and a bold fearless man, finding that the party to which he belonged was likely to be in the minority, stepped up and enquired how much was lacking to build the road, and when told, he subscribed it all and closed the books. The other party then withdrew their subscriptions, and the railroad was dead. – Twice since there has an effort been made to revive this enterprise but hitherto it has proved a failure. We hope that it will yet be accomplished, and that future generations will reap a great benefit from it.
The next enterprise was the erection of a bridge across the Tennessee river at Florence. This succeeded, and about the year 1840 the great work was finished at a cost of about $150,000. Thomas Pearsall was the contractor – He is now living Montgomery. This bridge was partially carried away by a tornado in 1854, and one year afterwards the remainder was taken away by another wind. In 1858 the Railroad bridge was erected on the old piers, and in 1862 was burned by confederate troops. This folly of burning our own bridges and destroying cotton was, perhaps, the least excusable of all the follies committed during the war.
A considerable impetus was given to trade by the enterprising spirit of some who had turned their attention to manufacturing. Sam Vanlier erected his iron furnace, on Butlers Creek, about 15 miles from Florence, and his wagons were daily laying down at the wharf tons of blooms and pig metal. Martin & Cassity who had hitherto carried on extensively the carpenters business in Florence, and made a good deal of money, built their lumber and grist mills, and then their cotton mills, on cypress. Then followed the Lauderdale Mills, by Wilson & Key; then the Cowpen Woolen Factories of Foster, Fant & Berter, and Darby, Benham & Co., and James Martin & Sons, and the new Cotton Factory of Martin, Weakley & Co., and the Foundry of Wright & Rice; every year new factories were being built, opening up a large trade, and promising great prosperity to the county. During the war one Dodge, a general in the Federal army, applied the torch to them and reduced them to ashes, for which gallant deed his name will ever be held in hateful rememberance [sic] as it deserves to be. Since the war Martin & Sons have rebuilt one of the cotton mills on Cypress, and Irvine, Brandon & Co, have built a cotton mill on Little Cypress about 7 miles from Florence.
In 1819 the Florence Gazette was established, by W. S. Fulton, and ever since then it has been an institution of this county with but a short intermission. After Fulton removed to Arkansas, about the year 1828, W. R. Wallace became the editor; he was succeeded by Judge S. C. Posey, and he by Joshua D. Coffee, and he by M. C. Gallaway, then it was edited successively by Dalton, Kennedy & Taylor, Kennedy and Peebles, Kennedy & Bynum, then Dr. M. Deavenport took charge of it, who sold it to the Barr Brothers in 1858, who were editors and publishers until the war, when every body turned soldier its publication was suspended. It was revived again by James B. Irvine, Esq., in 1875, and is now still vigorous and healthy, the same old advocate of Democracy, in the 58th year of its age.
A number of other newspapers have at various periods been established; flourished a while and then subsided. The Florence Enquirer, a Whig newspaper was commenced about the year 1840 under the editorial management of R. A. Madra, who afterwards disposed of it to Judge J. T. Harraway, who conduced it to the time of his death in 1844, when it fell into the hands of Wm. L. Todd,. and on the death of Mr. Todd, the paper died also.
During the Know-Nothing excitement, a newspaper was established by that party, called the American Democrat. The motto was “Put none but Americans on Guard.” A fellow from New Hampshire named Wheeler was employed as editor It was not long until he was exposed as a rank abolitionist, and as the South was then too hot a place for such characters, he left between two suns, in order to avoid a coat of tar and feathers which some of the enemy intended to bestow on him whilst the guard slept. John Hatcher afterwards took charge of the paper and conducted it with ability until the Know Nothing party played out and then the paper played out too.
Since the war the newspaper business has been pretty lively. New papers, editors and parties, have sprung up, flourished for a while, and then slept with the generations before the flood.
In the fall of 1863 Dr. D. R. Lindsay started the Florence Journal, and continued it until the first of 1868. during this time Alabama and Georgia were under military rule, Gen. Pope being in command of the department, his headquarters being at Atlanta, Georgia, from where he issued all orders, edicts, &c. Dr. Lindsay being an uncompromising Democrat, handled the Radical party, and General Pope, too, without gloves, which called down the wrath of this petty tyrant upon the heads of all Democratic editors in the State, and caused him to issue his infamous Order known as No. 40, which closed out nearly every Democratic paper in the State by taking from them all legal printing and giving it only to such as would support him in the administration of the political affairs of the department. In order to retain the legal printing at home, the Messrs. Barr took charge of the paper, changed the name to that of Literary Index, and continued the publication of that paper during the year 1868. But it was found that the people were not “Literary” inclined, and so the name was changed back to Florence Journal, and Dr. Lindsay again becoming editor. Democratic in politics it was more to the taste of the people, and flourished. The editor, however, longed for the flesh pots of Washington city, where he had dwelt before the fuss between the North and South, and sold out to Messrs McFarland & Jones Esqrs., who remained in partnership but a short time, Mr. Jones disposing of his interest to Capt. Robt. McFarland who conducted it with ability up to 1872, when he sold it to W. J. Wood, Esq; who had established the Lauderdale Times, and the two papers united, were called Times-Journal, W. J. Wood, editor, Isaac S. Barr, publisher. In 1874 Geo. P. Jones and Jas. K. Powers become editors of the Times-Journal; but in 1875 they disposed of it to J. B. Irvine, Esq., who re-established theFlorence Gazette out of the materials and the Gazette is now the only papers of the county. About the beginning of the year 1874 the party established the Florence Republican, with D. J. Haynes as editor At the general election in November, 1874, the Republicans were defeated in almost all the States, and badly so in this State; the paper did not long survive the defeat of the party. The Grangers purchased the press and W. B. Taylor, Esq, became the editor. It only lived about a year in this new character when it delivered a valedictory, and has not since been revived.
An examination of the old records develops that in 1817, when this part of the Mississippi territory, this county was called “Elk county.” In 1818, when it became Alabama territory the name was changed to Lauderdale. W. W. Bibb was Governor, Wm. S. Fulton, Judge of the County Court, George Coalter was clerk of County and Orphans court, Hugh McVay, clerk of the supreme court, Joel Rice, sheriff, Zedekiah Tate, Assessor and Tax collector. The first suit recorded was between Charles Conaway and Wm. Adams, by attachment, issued by Z. Tate, justice of the peace, for Elk county, 11th day of August, 1817. On 1st August, 1818, Isaac Lindsay sued David Mayberry, Joseph Huddleston, Stephen German, Wm. Hannon and others for an assault and battery. The deposition shows that Lindsay and others robbed a barge; that they were arrested and the choice was given them to be carried to Matteson [sic – Madison] county to jail, or take a whipping and be turned loose; they decided to take the whipping, and were tied up and given thirty-nine lashes – they afterwards sued for damages, and recovered.
The civil administration of the county has always been in the hands of faithful and competent men. No case of default, or corruption in office, has ever existed. Many officers, after once being elected, were so well qualified, and proved so faithful and honest, that they were continued in their offices until they died.
The Circuit Judges who presided over the Courts of this county were, Richard Ellis, John White, Wm. Adair, Daniel Coleman, Sidney C. Posey, Leroy P. Walker, John E. Moore, David P. Lewis, John D. Rather, James S. Clark and Wm B. Wood.
The county judges under the old County Court system which existed from 1830 to 1850 were: George Coalter, W. S. Fulton, S. C. Posey, Jno. T. Harraway, Luther T. Thustin and Wm. B. Wood.
The Probate Judges under the new system which commenced in 1850, were Wiley T. Hawkins, B. F. Foster, V. M. Benham, John Walston, Thos. T. Allington and James Jackson.
The Clerks of the County Court under the old system were George Coalter from 1818 to 1820, William W. Garrard from 1820 to 1840, and Wiley T. Hawkins from 1840 to 1850. W. W. Garrard was in office, as clerk, twenty years, and W. T. Hawkins was clerk ten years, and then elected probate Judge, which office he filled twelve years, until his death in 1862.
The Clerks of the Circuit Court were: Hugh McVay, Samuel Craig, Presley Ward, S. P. Waddell, George W. Sneed, Wm. Arnett, R. B. Baugh, V.M. Benham, W. P. Pettus, Jno A. Thompson, James Jackson and A. W. Porter.
The sheriffs were, Joel C. Reid, C. B. Roundtree, Martin Harkins, Saml. Harkins, Michael Young, Jas Benham, Jno Arnett, W. P. Pettus, V. M. Benham, Robert McClanahan, Wm. F. Karsner, Jno. Gracy, S. J. W. Ives, S. B. Hudson, C. W. Wesson, A. D. Lewis and W. T. White.
The country treasurers were Seaborne Roundtree, John Asher, Joseph Bigger, Benjamin F. Karsner, Geo. W. Karsner, T. R. Powers and Jno T. Westmoreland.
The Postmasters, in Florence, were W. S. Fulton, John Craig, James H. Weakley, John D. Coffee, Joshua D. Coffee, George W. Sneed, John A. Smith, Josiah Pollock, and Henry W. McVay.
The Justice of the Peace in Florence beat were, Alexander H. Wood, John Asher, Daniel McNeil, Joseph Bigger, Thomas I. Crow, B. F. Karsner, S. A. M. Wood, O. H. Oates, Josiah Pollock, George W. Sneed, N. H. Rice, W. D. Taylor and P. R. Garner.
The Registers in Chancery Court were, Luther T. Thurstin, J. Coffee Simpson and Toliver L. Chisholm.
The principal churches in Florence have always been the Presbyterian, Methodist and Protestant Episcopal. In the county the Baptists, Methodists and Christian have prevailed. The ministers who have filled the pulpit of the Presbyterian church have been successively, Rev. Dr. Campbell, Jas. L. Sloss, Dr. McAnley, Mr. Hardy, Mr. Van Court, Dr. Witherspoon, Dr. Harrison, Dr. Mitchell and Mr. Frierson.
The Methodist preachers who have had charge of the church in Florence are, Nathaniel Garrett, ___ Morris, J. S. Allen, Thos. Madden, ___ Hollaman, W. D. F. Sawrie, Saml. Kingston, P. T. Scruggs, S. S. Moody, B. F. Weakley, Jno Sherill, Jas. O. Williiams, Obediah B. Ragland, ____ Van Buren, W. P. Kendrick, Justinian Williams, W. H. Jordan, W. G. Gould, A. Mizell, A. J. Gilmore, J. G. Acton, W. Burr, W. G. Dorris, R. P. Ransom, R. H. Rivers, Jno. Matthews, J. D. Barbee, F. A. Kimbell, R. L. Andrews, R. A. Young, John Walston, Jno. B. Stephenson, Thos H. Deavenport, W. Weakly, T. L. Moody, H. Brown, J. W. Whitten and Jno. A. Thompson.
The Protestant Episcopal ministers were, Mr. Wall, Mr. Cook, Dr. Brown, Mr. Smith, Dr. White, Mr. Cobb and Mr. Wager.
The Cumberland Presbyterians have several churches. Many years ago they held a camp-meeting annually at Good springs which was largely attended. They have a church at Centre Star composed of a good and substantial membership, Rev. Felix Johnson was for many years a very prominent minister of the church. He was a blacksmith by trade, and a good workman, but yet he found time to cultivate his mind and become a fine scholar. He was a powerful preacher, and accomplished a great amount of good. He is now living in Texas. Rev. _____ Baldridge, Alva Johnson, _____ Gillis who was killen [sic - killed?]in the army of Virginia, a good and brave man. Claiborn Coffee and others, have been earnest and successful ministers in this church.
The Methodists established in 1820 or 1821 a camp-ground on Cypress. It was sustained by the people for twenty miles around. Thousands would attend, and great revivals would follow the preaching. It continued in successful operation until 1862 when some of the Federal soldiers burned it down. They also for many years had a camp-ground on Second Creek near Waterloo.
The Christians had a Camp-ground on Cypress about thirty years ago, which was kept up several years, but was suffered to go down. This denomination have now a flourishing school under the care of Rev. Larimore, at Mars Hill, near the foundry, which will be noticed more particularly under the head of education.
The Baptists have always had a large and influential church at Gravelly Springs, one on Blue Water, another near Lexington and another in the neighborhood of Cowpen Springs.
Our fathers gave early and earnest attention to the education of their children. The first school that I remember, in Florence, was taught by Mr. Charles Sullivan, who is still living at this home about ten miles from town. The school house was on the lot were Mr. John Weakley now resides. The next schools was taught by Mr. Wall, an Episcopal minister, in the house where Mrs. T. A. Jones now resides; after him Mr. Emerson taught a mixed school in the same house; he was followed by a man named Algernon Sidney Vigus, who was as vicious and cruel as a catamount. He was a very small man, but in the exercise of his authority would whip the largest boy in school, though he were twice his size. He was universally despised and hated by ever student he had. I have never heard one speak well of him. He went from here to Columbus, Miss., and from there to Mobile, and the last I heard of him he was in Memphis, Tennessee. He was succeeded by T. N. Waul, who afterwards went to Mississippi, and thence to Texas. He was a member of the Confederate Congress, and Brigadier General in the confederate army. A scholar and a gentleman loved and respected by his pupils and patrons. Then came an Irishman by the name of Breeze. Some who hear me today have not forgotten what a dust he would raise sometimes when he made it blow hard. He was a good teacher, and, generally well liked by his students. He was followed by others but I do not remember all their names. Rev. James L Sloss had charge of the Male Academy for a number of years. Being a ripe scholar and strict disciplinarian, he made good scholars out of his students. He was at the same time the minister in charge of the Presbyterian church, and was a preacher of more than ordinary ability. Much loved and venerated by his people, and in fact, was greatly esteemed by all denominations. John Lorance had a select school at his residence, six miles from Florence. I have heard that he was very strict in his discipline, and used the rod unsparingly whenever he deemed it necessary. He had the reputation of being an excellent teacher, and was at one time induced to come to Florence and teach, which he did for a number of years. He was an elder in the Presbyterian church. In 1854 the project of [moving] La Grange college to Florence was started. The college had been in a languishing condition for a number of years, and it was understood that the Methodist church, to which it belonged would cheerfully remove it to any place where it could be made a success. At first the idea of removing it to Florence seemed to meet with general favor, but when the conference met it was found that the Trustees, living near the mountain where it was located were violently opposed to its removal. The removal was, however, carried, and the faculty and students, with Dr. Rivers, the President, at their head, came over, and La Grange college at Florence began its course of usefulness. But as the citizens of the southside seemed determined to keep up the old college and employed another Faculty, it was deemed proper to change the name of the Florence school, and it was afterwards chartered the Florence Wesleyan University. It had a very prosperous career for five years and until the war. When the south called for its sons to go forth in defense of its rights, two of the Professors and every student who was able to bear a musket volunteered Many of them fell on the battle field, some attained distinction, all did their duty. An effort was made to revive it since the war, but after a struggle of a few years it failed. It is now the State Normal College and is in a flourishing condition. Prof. S. P. Rice, President, Rev. H. Brown, D. D. Rev. M. L. Frierson, and Jas. K. P. Powers, professors.
Great attention has been given to Female education, and great success has attended the effort to buildup a Female College. The first Female Seminary was established under the government and instructions of Mrs. Crocker and her sister, Miss Brigham. They had a large and flourishing school. Mrs. Crocker married Capt. Benjamin Harris near Russelville, and Miss Brigham married Mr. Lawrence Thompson. Mr and Mrs. Hentz then opened the Locust Dell Female Seminary and met with the greatest success. They were very popular teachers, and the school was in the highest degree successful. Much of the regret of the people of North Alabama, and particularly of Florence, they determined to move to Tuscaloosa, which they did in the year 1842. Shortly afterwards the Florence Female Academy, with S. S. Stebbins, Principal, and a corps of excellent teachers began its career of usefulness. This school ripened into the Florence Synodical Female College, which from that day to this has continued to nourish and grow until it has become a permanent and substantial institution of learning, with patronage from Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and other States. It is well known that this institution is mainly indebted or its great success and wide-spread patronage to the indefatigable efforts and liberal contributions of Governor Patton, who has bestowed upon it all the anxious care and tender solicitude of a devoted parent. For a number of years before, during, and since the war Dr. W. H. Mitchell was the President. A ripe scholar, strict disciplinarian, and an eloquent divine, he sustained well the reputation of the school, and sent out many excellent scholars to grace the world with their well cultivated minds, and hearts and manners. When the health of Dr. Mitchell failed, Prof. J. D. Anderson was elected President, and is still filling the position. Prof. Anderson is peculiarly adapted to so important a work. With culture, piety, and zeal, he adds pleasant and agreeable manners, which make him popular with everybody with whom he comes in contact. The college is on a firm basis, and will continue to grow and flourish for generations to come.
The political history of the country has been uniformly Democratic. From the time that Adams and Jackson were the contestants for the presidency, this county has followed the lead of Old Hickory. Sometimes the Whig party would put forth extra efforts, as in the elections of 1840 when Harrison was elected, and 1848 when Taylor was elected, but, though they would make some gains, they never succeeded in carrying the county in State or Federal elections. Notwithstanding the decided Democratic majority, many Whigs, by reason of their personal popularity have been elected to office. James Jackson, who was the leader of the Whig party during his life-time was frequently elected to the Legislature and was made speaker of the House. His contemporaries have said that he was par excellence the best presiding officer that ever occupied the chair. W. W. Garrat [Garrard] was a Whig and was re-elected three time clerk of the County Court, thus filling that office for twenty consecutive years. He was succeeded by Wiley T. Hawkins another Whig, who was re-elected several time and continued in it until the Probate Court system was established, when he was elected Probate Judge, and twice re-elected. John T. Haraway and Wm. B. Wood, both Whigs, filled the office of County Court Judge for six years. Gov. Patton was elected, as a Whig, a number of times to the Legislature and afterwards Senator. Baylor B. Barker was several time elected to the Legislature in his speeches he would say “he stood six feet and one inch in his stockings, and every inch a Whig.” W. P. Pettus, an avowed Whig, was three times elected sheriff of the county over Democratic opponents. But in all contests for State and Federal offices, when the contest was narrowed down to Democratic or Whig, the county has never failed to give a Democratic majority. It is Democratic still, but the parties are not now arrayed as formerly, with equal talent and patriotism on either side. Very different the array. On the Democratic side we find the old Whigs and democrats side by side as if they had never differed. Old issues done away and forgotten, or buried, in the patriotic effort to save the country from the domination of corrupt and unscrupulous men who lead the ignorant and silly negroes to the polls and vote them as they please. There never was in the history of the world, and will in all likelihood never be again, such a bum league, to say nothing of the outrage, upon intelligent free government as the endowment of the ignorant free negro with the ballot. They are the mere tools of the corrupt carpet –bagger; and have no higher notions of their duty and privileges than to use it against the men who have ever been their best friends in slavery and in freedom But it is guaranteed to them as the result of the war, let them have it. The day of their power is gone, they can never succeed again. I have given you the principal events of the past half century which make up the history of the county. I now turn my attention to the men who subdued the savage and the forest, who built the houses, inaugurated trade, overcame obstacles, made for themselves and their children respectability and property, and, after serving their generations died, honored, and revered, by the community in which they had so long lived and acted their parts.
But first, let me mention two notorious characters who have created no little stir in the United States, with whose lives our town is conversant, by the fact that that [sic] one of them was once a resident of Florence, and the other, a noted criminal, was here arrested. I mention first in time and in notoriety, Dred Scott, a negro, who belonged to Peter Blow, the hotel keeper, in early times. He brought Dred Scott from Virginia with him, and carried him to St. Louis when he was moved to that place. he became the subject of the celebrated decision of the Supreme Court of the United States which involved all the constitutional rights of property in slaves guaranteed to the slave-holding States by the constitution and the laws, and in which Chief Justice Taney delivered an opinion which will ever remain a monument of wisdom, patriotism, and justice, more enduring than marble. the question became a part of the politics of the day, and the name of Dred Scott, the hostler of Mr. Blow’s hotel, became famous. Dred never dreamed of acquiring such notoriety, and was no doubt as much astonished as any man in the United States at the fuss which the miserable philanthropists of the north affected over his fate. But it answered their ends, and served to inflame the public mind, and ultimately produced the disruption between the North and the south. Future generations will be amazed to see how the constitution and laws, the decisions of the highest courts, and the rights of the south, were so ruthlessly and outrageously trampled under foot by the fanatical hordes of the North, under the name of philanthropy and patriotism. But lest I may be betrayed into politics, I leave Dred Scott and the northern people to the judgment of the future.
Another character not of so great notoriety, but yet, at the time of his operations, the greatest outlaw that had ever infested the south, was once an inhabitant of [the] Florence jail. The name of John A. Murrell had become a terror from Virginia to Louisiana. Highway murders and robbery, burglaries, and stealing of negroes and horses, were of frequent occurrence, and all were laid to the charge of Murrell and his gang. It happened that this highwayman took Florence in his rout on one [of] his raids. – Near the bridge over Cypress creek he had halted and camped for the night. – He was traveling in a handsome jersey wagon drawn by two fine horses. At the bridge he met a colored man named Tom Brandon, and entering into conversation with him, proposed to take him off and set him free, Tom was as free as he wanted to be, but feigned delight at the proposition and promised to meet him again that night. Tom came to town and informed some of the citizens of the proposition that the stranger had made to him. He had not yet revealed his name. A party, headed by George W. Sneed and B. F. Karsner, went out about ten o’clock that night and found him asleep in his jersey wagon. They arrested him and brought him to town and lodged him in jail’ it was not until the next day that they discovered from some papers found on his person, that he was the dreaded outlaw. In a short time a party from West Tennessee came for him and carried him to Jackson, Tennessee, where he was tried and sentenced to the penitentiary. It was reported that he became very religious whilst in the penitentiary and preached to his fellow convicts. It was said of him during his career as highwayman, he would sometimes pass himself off as a preacher, and would attend comp=meetings where he would preach, and then take some of the finest horses he could find, for his pay, and decamp. My recollection of his personal appearance is, that he was rather prepossessing, intelligent and of good manners. But so black were his crimes, or at least the reported crimes that we were accustomed to think of him as a monster in form as well as in the diabolical spirit that ruled him. It was reported that he died shortly after his release from the penitentiary, somewhere in Arkansas.
This county can boast of having furnished some distinguished names to the country. John McKinley was United States Senator, and afterwards Judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. Hugh McVay and Robt. M. Patton have filled the Gubernatorial chair, with credit and honor to themselves and usefulness to the people; Richard W. Walker was one of the Judges of the Supreme court of Alabama, and Confederate State Senator. Sidney C. Posey was a leading man in the politics of the state and twice filled the office of Circuit Judge. John E. Moore was Circuit Judge for about 12 years.
Flush times prevailed during the decade from 1830 to 1840. Every body had plenty of money. Young men and ladies dressed fine. Balls and parties, and weddings were of frequent occurrence. Our friends, Neander H. Rice and Toliver L. Chisholm were considered the handsomest men in the county. Colonel John G. F. Wilson had the finest horses and gig – there were no buggies then. Young ladies and gentlemen went visiting on horse back. Very often the gentleman took the lady up behind him, and carried her to a quilting or dance. Nearly every young man owned a fine horse and fiddle. Lewis Visor was the greatest beau of the county. He was very handsome; loved, waited on, and courted all the girls. Our friend Solon Whitten reminds me of him. The Eagle Hotel was built during these times, and numbers of people would come from farther south and spend several weeks of the summer here. There were no railroads; people traveled in their private carriages, on horse-back and in stage coaches.
The first hotel in Florence was in the large brick on the brow of the hill, which was burned by the Yankees during the war. Nathaniel Marks and somebody else, I don’t recollect his name, built it. It was at this hotel that Gen. Jackson, when he was President, gave a grand reception. Our town was filled people that day. They came forty and fifty miles to see him. The streets were crowded with people from the place where I now stand to the hotel, bowing, shouting, waving hats, banners and handkerchiefs to the hero of New Orleans. It was a notable day for Florence ‑‑‑ never to be forgotten by those who witnessed it.
Burns Hotel stood on the lot opposite the Masonic Hall. It was much patronized. Blow’s Hotel stood on the lot where Jack Farmer now lives. He afterwards went to St. Louis with his family. They became quite prominent there; some of them wealthy, and one a member of Congress. In those days there was a Jocky Club in the county, and the races came off spring and fall. Great crowds would attend, and many fine horses were brought from other counties and States for the occasion. The old Virginians also brought with them that relic of Spanish cruelty, cockfighting, which, we are sorry to say, has not yet entirely disappeared from the land.
In speaking of the men who first settled in this county, I may not be accurate as to the year when many of them came. I have already stated that from 1816 to 1835 there was a great influx of population. Merchants, mechanics, professional men and planters poured in, in an unceasing tide. Leading men of every profession soon became prominent in civil and social life; whilst others, just as good and valuable citizens in a more humble sphere, contributed to the building up of the wealth and intelligence of the country. Of course, I never knew all the early settlers, and have forgotten many that I did know. I will mentions the names of those whom I can now call to memory, and leave to others, if they see proper, to add to these reminiscences the names of many worthy citizens whom I may omit.
The one who attained the highest honors of any one citizen, was John McKinley. He was a man of talent and indomitable will. He would bear not contradiction; was very imperious, and often so overbearing as to make bitter enemies. It is astonishing how he ever succeeded as a politician. Only by the force of ability and strong partisanship can his success be accounted for. He was an ardent supporter of General Jackson, and aided materially in his elevation to the Presidency. He was elected to the U. S. Senate, and whilst senator, was rewarded for his zeal in the support of Gen. Jackson with the appointment of Judge of the Supreme court of the United States. After receiving this appointment he moved to Louisville, Ky., where he continued to reside until his death.
James Jackson was contemporary with, and the rival of McKinley in the political contests of that day. Jackson was the equal of McKinley in ability, and his superior in popular oratory and manners. Personally, Jackson was far the most popular of the two. He was frequently elected to the Legislature although his party was five or six hundred in the minority, in the county. He was a large man, of fine personal appearance, very agreeable manners, and a fine speaker. His friends were devoted to him. He died in the year 1840. Mr. Jackson gave great attention to raising fine stock. He imported a number of the best English horses as well as cattle; amongst them were the celebrated horses Leviathan and Glencoe, whose colts have stood at the head of the list of successful race-horses. The death of Mr. Jackson was a great loss to our county.
Hugh McVay, was a prominent man from the first organization of the county. He was a delegate to the Legislature when Alabama was a territory, and, as I have already mentioned, a delegate to the Convention that formed the State Constitution. He was often elected a Representative, then Senator; and was elected President of the Senate; whilst in this position the Governor of the State was elected U. S. Senator and McVay by virtue of his office became Governor, at the close of his term he retired to private life and at an advanced age died at his residence in this county.
My first recollections of the political contest in this county are associated with the names of McKinley, Jackson, and McVay. They were the leaders. Many very exciting canvasses were made and their friends were exceedingly zealous in their behalf. Gov. McVay was not an orator, but he was a man of the people, a great electioneror, and of unbounded popularity.
Judge Coalter was an early settler. I have already stated that he was the first Clerk of the County Court. He had the reputation of being a good lawyer. I do not know whether he ever engaged in politics. He moved away at an early day, and I do not know anything of his subsequent life.
William S. Fulton, was, for many years, Judge of the county court; also editor of the Florence Gazette. A strong partisan of General Jackson, he was not forgotten by Old Hickory when he was made President. He appointed Judge Fulton to a lucrative office in Arkansas, whither he removed, and where he died. I know nothing of his career after he went to Arkansas.
General John Coffee, moved to this county in the year 1821. Gen. Coffee was Surveyor General of Alabama. He held his office first at Huntsville, but in the year 1821 it was moved to Florence. – Gen. Coffee was, of course, an ardent supporter of his old friend and comrade, whom he had followed through all the Indian wars of Alabama, and the battles of New Orleans, in 1814-15. He died about the year 1835, and was succeeded by James H. Weakley as Surveyor General.
James H. Weakley came to this place with Gen. Coffee when the Land Office was removed. He had surveying contracts under Gen. Coffee from the establishment of the land office in Alabama. When Gen. Coffee came to Florence he brought Judge Weakley with him as first clerk, and Ferdinand Sannoner, as draftsman. Judge Weakley was never a lawyer, but obtained his title as Judge by his skill as a surveyor. Whenever the surveyors in the field would have any disputes about the corners or calculations, or anything pertaining to their work, they would refer it to Weakley for decision, and thus he obtained the title of Judge. He bore the title as long as he lived and was worthy of it. A man of dignity, fine ability, excellent judgment, warm in his attachments, agreeable in manners, he was universally esteemed by the whole community.
Ferdinand Sannoner, was a native of Italy. He came to this place with the land office and lived here for more than thirty years. He was engaged in the confectionary business for many years and no boy or girl raised in Florence will ever forget Sannoner’s candy shop. In his old age he went to Memphis to live with his children who were in business there, and died in the year 1866.
Of the legal profession, amongst the first was William B. Martin. He was a lawyer of great shrewdness, wit, and power before a jury. I have heard many anecdotes of him but have not time now to mention them He was a brother of Gov. Joshua L. Martin, and Judge Peter Martin. He was a dissipated man, and would often make some of his best hits under the influence of liquor. But it was a sad sight to see such a brilliant intellect go down to an early grave under this debasing and ruinous habit.
Peter Anderson, was a great lawyer. Very tall, dark complexion, scrupulously neat in his attire, with dignified, courtly manners, he was a lawyer after the old English style. Law with him was a science, and an accomplishment. He never indulged in bumcoumbe or rhetoric; logic, reason, the inexorable law, and the stubborn facts, were his fort. He moved from Florence to Holly Springs, Miss., and from there to New Orleans, where he took rank with the first of the great lawyers of that city.
James Irvine was for a long time, the partner of Mr. Anderson. Mr. Irvine has but too recently passed away, for me to say anything of him but what is familiar to the present generation, but for those who may come after us, especially of the legal profession, I record with pleasure that he honored and dignified his profession. He was of the Anderson school, and I believe read law with him. Mr. Irvine was not an eloquent man, so far as beauty of style was concerned, but in the presentation of his cases to the Court and jury he had great power of analysis and much force of expression. He was always in earnest, and this carried conviction. He was a great student and as a consequence well versed in law. Mr. Irvine was also an enterprising citizen. He took stock in everything that had for its object the good of the town or county. He was President of the board of Canal Commissioners; of the board of Bridge Directors; was at one time largely interested in Steamboats; was extensively engaged in planting; a trustee in the colleges. He died in 1869, leaving a family of sons and daughters who may be justly proud of their ancestor.
Sidney C. Posey was among the early members of the bar of Florence. He was at one time Judge of the county Court under the old system; was elected circuit Judge in 1845 by the Legislature and under the change in the Constitution went out of office in 1850. In 1865 upon the reorganization of the State government by Gov. Parsons, he was appointed Circuit Judge in the place of Wm. B. Wood, who had been a Colonel in the Confederate army. He went out again in May 1866 when Wood was re-elected. Judge Posey was for a number of years a Representative and Senator in the Legislature of Alabama where he acquired considerable reputation. He was at one time editor of the Florence Gazette and was the leader of the Democratic party. He was also a local preacher of the Methodist Church. Judge Posey was a timid man in politics. He never thrust himself forward. If he had been as bold and ambitious as some of the politicians of the present day, and pressed his claims on the party, he might have attained to the position of Governor, or United States Senator. He was not an orator, but spoke with terseness and force. Earnest and excitable, when he did speak, it was to impress his hearers with the sincerity of what he said. Judge Posey was a public spirited citizen. He gave his countenance and means liberally to every object that was calculated to advance the public good. Schools, Churches, and other benevolent enterprises, received his earnest support. He lived with the sincere esteem of his people and died universally regretted by all who knew him.
Colin S. Tarply came to Florence about the year 1880 from Tennessee. He was considered a man of fine ability and an orator. He did not remain many years but removed to Jackson, Mississippi, where he took high rank in the legal profession.
Sam L. Probasco came from Ohio. He was a great student, a fluent and forcible speaker, careful and laborious with his cases. He soon acquired the reputation of being an excellent lawyer, as he was. No one ever succeeded more rapidly to a lucrative practice. He died in 1846 in the meridian of life and in the midst of a successful career.
John T. Harraway was raised in this county, near Rodgersville. He was Judge of the County court for eight or ten years, was a well-read lawyer, and an excellent Judge, but he was no speaker. Never attempted to argue a case at the bar. In the social circle he was one of the most pleasant and agreeable of visitors. He was at one time editor of the Florence Enquirer and was a polished and forcible writer. He died in 1845 greatly lamented.
Benjamin W. Edwards was a member of the bar in the early history of the county. He was regarded as a very promising man, but died early in life.
Charles Savage was another very promising young lawyer who was cut down by the hand of death in early life. He was the son of Capt. Samuel Savage, a wealthy planter living in Colbert’s Reserve, of whom we will speak hereafter.
William Cooper, although not a citizen of Florence; yet he has been a constant practitioner at this bar for 50 years, and is as much a member of it – and more so – than any one now residing here. Mr. Cooper is still living; he is a lawyer who is “first among his equals” and his equals are few. He is still active and vigorous, laborious, and as full of energy as a steam engine. Full of fire, quick as thought, sharp as a Damascus blade, he was always ready for a tilt at the bar with the best that could be arrayed against him. He has been a student all his life and, of course, one of the best of lawyers. He is now the Nestor of the bar and enjoys the profound respect and admiration of every member of it. He has never sought office, but followed his profession all his life, satisfied with the high eminence of being at the head of the bar of North Alabama, where there are many men of talent and extensive reputation. Long may he live to adorn a profession to which he had added dignity and grace by his successful and beneficial career.
John E. Moore was a native of Alabama, born and raised in Limestone County. Educated and graduated at the University of Alabama, at Tuscaloosa. He first began his career as a lawyer in Greensboro, from there he came to Florence. Was elected a Representative in the Legislature, and then Judge of the 4th Judicial Circuit, which office he filled for more than ten years. he was a prominent candidate for Governor when A. B. Moore received the nomination.
Richard W. Walker, was a native of Madison county Alabama. Educated and graduated at Princeton College, N. J. He commenced the practice of law in 1844, and was elected Solicitor of the 4th Circuit about the close of the year. He settled in Florence soon after he commenced the practice, and continued to reside here until the close of the war, when he removed to Huntsville where he lived until his death in 1874. He was appointed one of the Judges of the Supreme Court of Alabama, by the Governor, and afterwards elected. In 1863 he was elected Confederate States Senator and continued in that position until the Surrender. He then resumed the practice of his profession, in which he was eminently successful, until death cut him down in the prime of life and in the midst of his usefulness, universally lamented.
William H. Price was a young lawyer of much promise. He was one of the first to volunteer for his State in the late civil war. He rose to the rank of Major and was attached to the staff of Gen. S. A. M. Wood and was killed at the battle of Perryville in October 1862. He was a gallant and noble young man.
Theophilus A. Jones, was a Kentuckian by birth, settled in Florence some years before the war. Volunteered at the first call, rose to the rank of Colonel, and acquitted himself with honor and gallantry during the whole war At the close of the war he resumed his practice in which he continued until cut down by death in the year 1873.
Of the living members of the bar I deem it unnecessary to speak; as long as they live they can speak for themselves; after they and the writer pass away some abler pen will do them justice.
Dr. Gabriel Bumpass was one of the physicians of the county in ability as well as in point of time. Of very large stature, weighing about three hundred pounds; very eccentric in manners and laconic in expression, an excellent physician and ruling spirit, he acquired considerable celebrity. He possessed an endless variety of proverbs and never wasted any breath in giving expression to his thoughts. His rule seemed to be multum in parvo. He lived to the great age of an hundred years, having died a few years ago at the residence of his daughter, Mrs. Till, in this county. His sayings, are often quoted to this day by the people who knew him as the words of a wise man, which he was.
Dr. John H. Woodcock was a decided character both as a citizen and physician; a tall, fine looking man; bold and reckless in the expression of his views a well-read physician, and decidedly partisan. He was an accomplished physician, and had an extensive practice. – He moved to Mobile about forty years ago and died a few years since.
Dr. Levi Todd, a good and faithful doctor whom so many loved, and had great reason to love. A Kentuckian, with all the noble qualities of the Old Kentucky gentleman. If there ever was a true and honest, a faithful and upright man it was Doctor Todd. Nearly twenty years have passed since he quit the state of action, but his memory is fresh and green in the hearts of many still living, who were the recipients of his kind attentions and skillful ministrations.
Dr. Bruce was an excellent man and physician. He died in the meridian of [It appears that there should be another line of type here, before the word ‘life.’]life. Had he lived he would have attained to eminence in his profession.
Dr. Rucker, was without a superior. An accomplished physician, a man of great mind and well cultivated; a Christian and prominent member of the church. He died in the prime of life as deeply regretted as any man who ever lived in our community.
Dr’s. Powell, Cowels and Dickey, were all excellent physicians and enjoyed the highest respect and consideration of this community. Dr. H. J. Posey and Dr. Mattingly were highly esteemed as physicians; both moved away, and I think, both are now dead. But of all the physicians that ever lived in our town, none were the superiors of our lamented James T. Hargraves. No man ever had such a hold on the confidence and affections of the people, and retained it with such unvarying success, to the end. For more than forty years, he enjoyed a position that few ever attain. His social qualities made him the life of every company and the welcome guest of every household. He was noble and generous, and left behind him living testimony of his benevolent acts in many who were the recipients of his generosity. He was of the first order of physicians, and, what is most remarkable, had the sincere, respect and confidence of the profession without any of the jealousies which, unfortunately, prevail too much in that noble profession.
Dr. Ross and Pugh Houston, were intelligent and skillful physicians. Brothers of Governor Houston, and like him, men of note in their profession. Dr. Calicott and Dr. Reeder were justly esteemed in that portion of the county where they resided, and their memory will be held in sacred remembrance by the thousands to whom they ministered in their afflictions.
Dr. B. F. Crittenden was one of the best and purest of men, as well as skillful and intelligent as a physician. Of fine personal appearance; open, frank, and cordial in his character; generous and noble, he was a man to be loved as well as esteemed. His impulses were always of the highest and his big heart made him the friend of every one, and every body his friend. He died in the prime of life, deeply lamented.
Dr. John Beckwith was one of the earliest physicians of the country. He was esteemed a good physician; a devoted friend to this friends, a bitter enemy of his enemies. He was quite a politician as long as Henry Clay lived; when Mr. Clay died he believed the country lost, and gone to a distant place, not worth striving for, so he took little or not interest in politics afterwards.
Dr. N. Rowell is still living, though long since retired from the practice of medicine. He came to this country about forty years ago from Ohio. For many years he practiced his profession in Florence very successfully. He then removed to the country and turned his attention to planting, in which pursuit he met with success. Dr. Rowell resides at present on his plantation, and though of advanced age, is still the same tall, straight, dignified, intelligent, affable, and Christian gentleman, that he always was. In his mature years he enjoys the highest regard of the entire community.
There were many other physicians who adorned their profession who have moved away to other States, and some still living in the county well worthy to be noticed in these sketches; but my object is not to speak of the living, as they are still making history; unless it be of some who have retired from public walks, and in the calm sunset of life are sending back the mellow rays which shine from a spotless character and an unspotted record. May their examples be as “lights along the shore that never grow dim”, to guide the youth of our land to honor and prosperity.
I desire to say to the readers of these reminiscences, that when I first consented to the publication of the address which I delivered on the 4th of July, I expected to furnish the manuscript as delivered, with a few corrections; but at the request of many of the older citizens, some of whom have kindly furnished me scraps of history, I have greatly enlarged its scope, and have been trying to record those events which were of interest to the people of the county, for the double reason, of affording the aged the pleasure, peculiar to old age, of living over the scenes and associations of their youth, and at the same time giving the present and future generations an insight into the labors and struggles of their ancestry to build up for themselves and their posterity a good name, a competency of this worlds goods, and an enlightened public sentiment. Let no man be ashamed of his ancestors’ employment if it were honest and respectable. Many of our best and most worthy men have sprung from humble parentage; many of the poorest have, in the changes that are constantly going on in the world, become wealthy, whilst many who were wealthy have become poor in respect to property; thus the truth and justice of the couplet,
“Honor and fame from no condition, rise,
Act well your part - there all the honor lies.”
Having concluded to speak of our fathers by classes, or professions, I come now to those who, as a class, do more to build up the prosperity of a country than any other class or profession. The business of merchandizing has always been hazardous, and very few, comparatively, become permanently rich. Of course the commerce of the world is built up and promoted by them. To them every other profession, trade and occupation is indebted for the necessaries and luxuries of life. However much we may cry out against them we cannot dispense with them. They are a necessity for the good and welfare of any community, and it is a great mistake to call them a ‘necessary evil.” Such expressions are the offspring of prejudice and envy, unworthy of enlightened minds. The truth is, there is no honest occupation a “necessary evil.” Every trade, and profession, and business, followed with an honest and earnest desire to benefit the human family in any way, is a necessary good, and should be encouraged.
James Sample was the first merchant in Florence. He brought the first stock of goods in 1817, and built a log store house on the lot at the intersection of the Military road with Main Street. Mr. Sample was also a brick mason, and soon after the sale of the town lots there was such a demand for work in this line, that he sold out his goods and devoted himself entirely to building brick houses as Master Mechanic. He followed this vocation about thirty years. Nearly every brick house and chimney built in Florence, and many in Tuscumbia, as well as numbers in the country, were built by Mr. Sample. And the business is still carried on by his son, our worthy townsman, Mr. Henry W. Sample. In the year 1852, Mr. Sample who had acquired a fair fortune and become the owner of a good many negroes, purchased a plantation near Tupelo, Miss., and removed there, where he spent the remainder of his days.
Richard Rapier was the next person who opened a store in Florence. He built the house where the Drug Store is now kept, opposite the Court House. He was the first who brought a barge loaded with goods up the Tennessee River, about which I gave some account in the beginning. He was an old bachelor, and lived on the lot where Mr. Blair now lives. The colored man, John Rapier, who for forty years was the barber of our town, belonged to him, and was reputed to be his son. Mr. Rapier died about the year 1829 or 30, and was buried, at his own request, on the lot, somewhere near where Mr. Blair’s stable now stands. Of John Rapier, though a colored man and laboring under disadvantages on that account, let it be said, that he always enjoyed the reputation of being honest, peaceable, industrious and intelligent. He became free and raised his family to the best advantage possible. Educated his children and taught them their duties and obligations to society. Since emancipation one of his sons, Jim Rapier, was elected to congress from the Montgomery District where there is a large majority of colored voters. He stands high in the Republican party, and proportionable low with the white people of the State.
John and Thomas Simpson were amongst the first merchants of this county. Mr. John Simpson acquired a large fortune and enjoyed the confidence of the entire county. For a long period he did the largest business of any merchant in the town; his popularity and credit were almost without bounds. a public spirited and enterprising man, he entered heartily into every proposition that had for its object the advancement of the material or social interests of the town or county; and always contributed liberally of his means to its promotion. I have heard him say, that he made frequent trips from here to Philadelphia, on horse-back, leading pack-horses to carry his money, for the purpose of buying goods. The goods were sometimes transported to Pittsburg by wagons, and thence down the Ohio river in flat-boats, and up the Tennessee in barges. Mr. Simpson lived to raise a large family of sons and daughters, some of whom still reside in this town and county, and may justly feel proud of the inheritance of a name which was so honored by his fellow citizens He died in 1866.
Hugh Thomson came to this county in its flush times. He was first a clerk with Simpson, McAlester and Co., then, I believe a partner. He married Miss Boggs and having received a handsome estate from Ireland bought the tract of land now known as the “Peters home place” and went to planting cotton. This not proving profitable he sold out, come [sic] to Florence and went to merchandising in which he continued up to the year 1848. He then went to New Orleans, and early in1849 when the cholera broke out he fell a victim to the pestilence. Mr. Thomson in his early life was a high-liver, fond of fine horses, fine wines, gay company and entertained like a nobleman; and thus he spent most of his money. In a few years, however, he changed his entire life; joined the Presbyterian Church, became devotedly pious and so lived and died. He was a noble-hearted, generous and good man.
Bayles E. Bourland was a merchant, first in Florence, then in Rodgersville. No man ever lived in this county who enjoyed more of the public esteem, and who was more worthy of it, than he. He filled various offices and always with honor. Justice of the Peace all his life; Superintendant [sic] of public schools; County Surveyor; member of the Legislature; in public and private life he was the same quiet, intelligent, honest and conscientious citizen. He was killed by lightning whilst stopping under a small tree by the road side, for shelter from the rain, in the year 1868.
Edwin B. Westmoreland carried on the mercantile business at Lexington in this county. He was a very industrious and popular merchant, but like many others too indulgent with his customers. He raised a large family of daughters and one son, our present County Treasurer, John T. Westmoreland, who has followed merchandising all his life, and always with success until the late financial troubles which have involved and ruined so many of our best merchants.
Thomas Simpson, after merchandizing some years in Florence, was appointed by Gen. Jackson to a land office, in Demopolis where he remained. After a number of years he returned to Florence, having met with the sad misfortune of losing his eye-sight. He was an elegant and intelligent gentleman, and spent the latter years of his life in visiting the merchants stores and lawyers offices, to hear the read the current news of the day in which he always took a lively interest. He was always welcome to every fireside, for he was a social and pleasant companion and good man. He died in the year 18__.
Thomas and James Kirkman were of the early merchants of Florence. Thomas Kirkman lived and died here. James Kirkman went to New Orleans, and engaged in the cotton and commission business for a long series of years, and died there just before the war. These gentlemen became wealthy. They had an extensive trade in Florence, and another store in South Florence. Mr. Thos. Kirkman engaged extensively in planting in Mississippi, and in later years went into the iron business down in West Tennessee near the Cumberland river He was also, at one time, largely interested in steamboats. He was the owner of a number of the best race horses in the country. The renowned Peytona belonged to him. He died in 1863.
Martin & Saml. Harkins were large merchants and amongst the first. They commenced business with a grocery and gradually enlarged until they became extensive dealers in every thing. Both of them were at different periods elected sheriff of the county during the flush times. Neither of them ever married. Mr. Martin Harkins is still living, an octogenarian, on his plantation in this county.
Percifer F. Pearson for twenty years was an extensive and popular merchant. But he acquired two very ruinous habits for any man, more especially for a merchant. He was very fond of gaming, and its associate vice of drinking. In a few years after he gave himself up to these destructive vices, he became involved, lost his business, made assignments, closed his doors, became a drunken beggar, and died dependant on friends for his burial. A sad example of the evil effects of drinking and gaming.
John Edie was an early merchant about whom I have very little recollection. I remember, however, of a great excitement produced by the robbery of his money drawer by one of his clerks. The unfortunate young man hid the money under the steps which lead to the galley in the Presbyterian church. There was at that time a company of Regulators, composed of some of the best citizens of the town, who often took the violaters of the law into their hands without waiting for the “due course of justice,” which was too dilatory; they called themselves “Captain Slick’s company.” This company took the young clerk in hand, and after putting him through what they called an examination, he confessed his guilt, and returned the money They then bestowed on him their benedictions and gave him a coat of tar and feathers, and sent him out into the world to seek his fortune.
Henry A. Bragg & Marshal Clark were for a long time prominent merchants. They confined themselves strictly to dry goods. Mr. Bragg was an elder in the Presbyterian Church, a good man, and an excellent citizen. He went from this place to Memphis where he died. Mr. Clarke continued business in his own name until his death.
Ezra Webb came here from Louisville and for several years was extensively engaged in the wholesale grocery business and largely interested in steamboats, both in the Ohio and Mississippi rivers lines. In those days the prospects of Florence to become a city were bright. A number of wholesale houses were established. Four or five of the largest class New Orleans boats were running regularly in the trade and as many to Louisville, and merchants with capital and enterprise engaged in business. But the “crash” as it was called which followed the “flush times” destroyed all these bright anticipations. Col. Webb went back to Louisville and engaged in business there up to the time of his death.
Peter Saffarrans was an early resident and commenced as a Tinner. He carried on an extensive business, made money, and went to merchandising in 1838. He was just in time to be involved in the general crash which followed. He died in 1840, and his estate was so involved that but little was left to his family. His widow, however, was energetic and brave and opened a Milliners establishment by which she supported and educated her family. The entire family are now dead.
Dr. Waddy Tate came here from Limestone County and engaged in business during flush times, but succumbed when the crash came.
R. M. Patton was largely engaged in the mercantile business, and continued in it for more than twenty years. The writer [William B. Wood] entered his store in 1836, as under clerk. There was constant employment for four or five clerks. Gov. Patton was one of the successful merchants. He was Bank director of the Decatur Bank; went to the Legislature, attended to his planting interests; was interested in steamboats, and many other pursuits engaged his attention. A man of business and financial skill, he has made life a success in every department from the counter to the chair of Governor of the State.
John M. Davis was a merchant in Florence, then in Lexington, then again in Florence, and continued in business until the war closed all the store doors. He then removed to Louisville, Ky., and has been in business there until lately, we met him a few days ago on our streets – age sits lightly on him. He was a safe merchant, fine book-keeper and financier, therefore he succeeded.
Wood & Thompson commenced merchandising about the year 1832 and continued about ten years, when Thompson moved to Mt. Hope, Ala., and Alex. H. Wood continued the business until about the year 1855 when his health failed and he closed his business. I will have something more to say of my father under the head of Mechanics.
Henry Anderson & James Hanna were largely engaged in business of wholesale grocers for many years. Anderson moved to Mississippi and Hanna to New Orleans. They were men of wealth and business qualifications, but not realizing their expectations in the growth of Florence, they sought wider fields of operation.
George A. Pynchon was associated with the Kirkmans for many years, he moved to New Orleans and remained in business there until he died.
John W. McAlester was associated with John Simpson for thirty years. Before the war he was a successful merchant – since then he has, like thousands of others, had to succumb to the losses and depression which has fallen upon the country. He is still living amongst us and we hope to see him under full headway again when commercial and financial affairs right up.