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History of the Shoals by Harry E. Wallace

(as published in the TimesDaily February 25, 1999)

Presented here by permission of the TimesDaily and the author



During the last decade of the 17th century, English colonists in America were pushing westward from the Atlantic coast over the Appalachian Mountains. At the same time, French trappers were advancing down the Mississippi River and eastward toward the Appalachians. At stake were millions of acres of land and a profitable trade with the eastern tribes.

In 1673, Abraham Wood, an English trader from Fort Henry on the Appomattox River of Virginia, sent out an expedition over the mountains to trade with the Cherokees. The expedition was headed by James Needham, accompanied by Indian guides and an illiterate youth named Gabriel Arthur.

Needham was murdered by one of the Indian guides and Arthur was taken as a captive among the Cherokees for about one year.

Arthur made several trips with the Cherokee in search of furs down the Tennessee and is believed to be the first Englishman to see the Shoals.

Sometime around 1692, Jean Couture, a renegade French trapper ascended the length of the Tennessee on his way to Charles Towne (Charleston). Couture offered his services to the English, who used his route into the Tennessee Valley as a principle trade route to the west.

By 1700, Carolina traders were traveling the Tennessee Valley to the Mississippi and courting friendships with the Cherokee, Chickasaw and other tribes to counter a possible alliance between the French and Creeks.

Cherokee expeditions


Two Carolina traders, Thomas Nairne and Price Hughes, proposed to organize the Cherokees into expeditions, led by chosen traders, which would attack and harass the French and perhaps persuade coastal tribes to become loyal to England.

By 1707, Nairne visualized the establishment of trading posts along the Tennessee River, through which the Indian fur trade might be diverted from the French posts.

An Indian uprising in 1715 temporarily wrecked Nairne's plans. During this war, Nairne was captured and killed. Price Hughes, Nairne's partner, tried to continue the dream with one slight variation, establish permanent English settlements along the Tennessee. His plan was one of the first schemes for British colonization west of the Appalachians.

Like Nairne, Hughes' dreams were short lived: he was killed by the Indians as well. The death of both Nairne and Hughes and continued Indian and French problems west of the Appalachians delayed settlement on the Tennessee.

From 1715 to 1763, both the French and Carolina traders continued trade throughout the Tennessee Valley.

In 1763, the French, having lost the French and Indian War, exited North America. Spain had acquired Louisiana and England's America stretched from the Atlantic to the Mississippi River.

Rivalry for trade and alliances with the southern tribes would continue between the Spanish and English.

The movement of English settlers was mainly westward over the mountains through Kentucky and western North Carolina (presently east Tennessee).

South and southwestward movements along the Tennessee mainly were checked by the Chickamauga Cherokees.

Donelson Expedition


One successful movement of settlers west was the famed Donelson Expedition of 1779-1780. Capt. James Robertson and Capt. John Donelson, both of Virginia, and more recently from the Wautauga Valley in extreme western North Carolina, planned to relocate to the French Lick on the bluffs of the Cumberland River, the site of present-day Nashville.

Robertson had journeyed there in 1779 and built cabins, cleared fields, planted crops and left men to guard the outpost.

The second expedition was to be both by land and by river.

Robertson left overland in November 1779, and in December, Donelson, with the families, launched an armada of some 30 vessels and journeyed down the Tennessee.

Donelson's fleet included his flatboat "The Adventure," which contained about 30 people including his 15-year-old daughter, Rachel, future wife of Andrew Jackson.

At Lookout Mountain, Donelson lost one boat of 28 souls to the Chickamauga Cherokees. The boat was in the rear because they were quarantined with smallpox. Another boat with five people was lost at the famed "sucks" below the present-day city of Chattanooga. The remaining vessels arrived at the shoals area on March 12, 1780. They ran the shoals in about three hours and camped for the night below the shoals on the north side of the river. These may have been the first American families to use McFarland Bottoms as a campground.

After four months and more than one thousand miles, the expedition arrived at the Cumberland settlement on April 24, 1780. Southern historians have equated this journey into the western frontier with that of the Pilgrims' journey to New England. Local historian William McDonald, who has spoken and written extensively on this subject, has stated that families who were to become prominent in Tennessee were on this expedition and that they would form the basis for a very influential western aristocracy.

Region's riches recognized


During the 1780s men fro Georgia and the Carolinas learned of the value of the Shoals region and tried several times to gain control of it. One attempt occurred in 1784 when John Donelson and John Sevier helped form a company, known as the Mussel Shoals Speculation, to exploit the riches of the Tennessee Valley around the shoals.

Donald Davidson, in Volume 1 of his work "The Tennessee," stated that Donelson and Sevier arranged to purchase the land from the Indians but that they may have mistakenly negotiated with Chickamauga Cherokee renegades. Davidson said both the Cherokees and Chickasaws protested the bogus purchase.

Further action by the company was delayed by the death of John Donelson and political problems resulting from an attempt to establish a state named Franklin. The state of Georgia went so far as to name the area north of the Tennessee River Houston County, Ga.

John Sevier of the Wautauga settlement in western North Carolina played an important role in the attempt to create the state of Franklin from lands ceded to the American government by the state of North Carolina.

At a convention in Jonesboro in December 1784, the state of Franklin was born.

Sevier was elected the governor of Franklin and inexact boundaries were drawn to include the north side of the Tennessee as their southern border.

The Franklin appeal to Congress for recognition failed.

The last hopes of Franklin residents faded when the constitution was adopted in 187 with no provision for a state named Franklin.

In 1795, Tennessee became the 16th state without a boundary to the Tennessee River.

In 1794, the Chickamauga towns on the Tennessee were destroyed and the river was opened as an artery of travel west. But at the turn of the century there was still no permanent settlement at the Shoals.

By this time the advantages of the shoals were well known and whites already were living here.

Most of these white settlers were tenants on the reservation of Chief Doublehead.

Natchez Trace opens


In 1803, the Natchez Trace was opened as a government post road and more whites poured onto Indian lands.

From 1805 to 1816, there would be a series of Indian land cessions involving land along the Tennessee River.

In 1810, the Chickasaws complained that from 4,000 to 5,000 intruders had illegally invaded their territory.

The government response was to construct Fort Hampton at the mouth of Elk River and send Col. Return Meigs with troops to evict squatters on Indian land.

By 1811 there may have been as many as 15,000 intruders and Indians were threatening open war.

To prevent bloodshed, the government ordered all whites evicted, including those still living on lands previously owned by Doublehead.

In 1816, Isaac Barker, a government gent, reported 200 to 300 families living around the Shoals.

Also in 1816, the Chickasaws ceded lands north of the Tennessee River to the government and received three reservations in favor of George Colbert, Oppossum Tubby and John McCleish.

The government would later purchase these reserves.

In 1817, the Cherokees ceded Doublehead's reservation to the United States.

With these land acquisitions, the area north of the river was open for white settlement.

In February 1818, the Alabama territory government created 13 counties that included the following: Blount, Cahaba (now Bibb), Connecuh, Dallas, Franklin (now Colbert and Franklin), Cotaco (now Morgan), Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Marion, Marengo, Shelby and Tuscaloosa.

The migration boom continued to be fueled by high cotton prices and the availability of cheap, fertile land.


Town Building


Immediately after the War of 1812, America began a period of national pride, economic opportunity and westward movement. One reflection of this period was inflated land prices and easy credit.

Dr. Mary Jane McDaniel of the University of North Alabama has written that the majority of the land was sold for agricultural purposes but some of the most feverish activity was in developing prospective town sites. Some of the greatest activity was in the shoals area because it was as far as boats could travel upriver.

At least nine towns wee planned for the immediate area. They included Triana in Madison County, Marathon in Limestone, Cotton Port in Lawrence, Florence and Waterloo in Lauderdale, Bainbridge, York's Bluff, South Port, and Tuscumbia in Franklin.


Lauderdale County Born


Lauderdale County had been one of the original 13 counties created by the Territorial Legislature in February 1818. The namesake for Lauderdale was col. James Lauderdale of Sumner County, Tenn. Lauderdale served in Gen. Andrew Jackson's Army directly under Gen. John Coffee was wounded at the battle of Talladega and died as a result of his wounds on Dec.23, 1814.

Within a month after the county was created, March 12, 1818, a land company was formed in Huntsville in the Federal Land Office of John Coffee, surveyor general of the north Alabama District. The Cypress Land Company was a merger of two competing companies, the Tennessee Land Company and the Alabama Company.

This merger eliminated some of the competition and allowed them to pool resources. The Articles of Association appointed seven trustees: Leroy Pope, Thomas Bibb and John McKinley of the Alabama Company and John Coffee, James Jackson, John Childress and Dabney Morris of the Tennessee Land Company.

The Cypress Land Company purchased 5,515.77 acres from the United States for $85,235.24, for an average of $15.50 per acre.

The Federal Land Act of 1800 required one-fourth of the purchase price to be paid as a down payment and the remainder paid within three years. To raise the necessary down payment of $21,308.81 the trustees of the Cypress Land Company chose to sell 408 shares of stock at $52.23 per share.

In the summer of 1818, Coffee supervised the surveying of the town site of Florence. Assisting Coffee were Ferdinand Sannoner, James Weakley and Hunter Peale. Blocks in town were laid out in squares of almost two acres and divided into four equal lots.

Months before the first land sale, the trustees began a newspaper advertising campaign.

Potential buyers were assured of a tremendous opportunity to invest in a town that was to become one of the largest commercial cities in the Southwest.

The advertisements touted excellent land, abundant timber, the existence of raw materials such as iron and stone coal, and a mild climate.

Future transportation was promised in the form of steamboats as well as Jackson's Military Road to connect Nashville and New Orleans. The company further advertised that Jackson had proposed to the War Department that a military armory supply depot and cannon factory be constructed locally.


Military Road built


Congress authorized the Military Road in April 1816 with surveying and right-of-way purchases completed by March 1817. Actual construction began June 1, 1817 and was completed in May 1820.

The completed road offered faster service for military and mail delivery from Nashville to New Orleans.

The town site was advertised as being on an elevated plain at least 100 feet above the river and bound by cypress Creek on the west and Sweetwater Creek on the east. The advertisement further stated that the town had five main streets; Court, Tennessee, Pine, Market (Wood) and Seminary. These main streets were to be 115 feet wide with all other streets 99 feet wide.

Squares were reserved for a college, open-air farmers market, female seminary, a public walk and a courthouse. A lot also was set aside for a jail and two acres were reserved for a public cemetery.

Prospective buyers were promised liberal credit terms; one-fourth was to be paid down with the remainder in equal installments over three years.

Florence land sale begins


The first public sale began July 22, 1818, and lasted four days. Coffee and two clerks, Sannoner and Weakley, from the Huntsville Federal Land Office were present to handle the paperwork.

McDaniel has written that the trustees announced they would build "a large and commodious tavern," a courthouse, and a jail. She stated this was obviously done to inflate the value of lots and seek to ensure that the town would become the county seat.

The scheme obviously worked. According to the Alabama Republican of July 25, 1818, the first 52 lots sold for more than $18,000.

A few individual lots brought $3,000, some $3,500, but the ferry lot on the river was purchased by J. J. Winston for $10,000. In all, the four-day sale grossed the company nearly $225,000. Most business was on credit and the company offered a 35 percent discount to encourage business construction.

At this point the future looked very bright for the Cypress Land Company and the trustees. But hard times hit in the form of the Panic of 1819. Since most purchases of land had been by credit, it became nearly impossible to collect debts. Trustee John McKinley estimated that there was $24,000 in bad debts from the sale.

To help provide relief during the depression, Congress passed the Land Act of 1820 that reduced the amount of land that could be purchased from 160 to 80 acres and lowered the price from $2 to $1.24 per acre. It also abolished the system of purchasing public land on credit.

Further, in 1821, Congress passed a series of relief Acts that said purchasers of public lands were entitled to a discount of 37.5 percent and a four-year debt extension for cash settlements.

Purchasers of town-site lots were entitled to a 20 percent discount and a four-year debt extension. Another provision of the acts allowed that companies could return part of their original purchase and apply the original down payment to the remainder of their land.


Relief Acts end panic


Turner Rice, in his article on the Cypress Land Company, stated that the company decided to take advantage of the Land Relief Acts and returned a portion of their original acreage and received debt reduction of 37 percent. In return, the Cypress Land Company was required to reduce the debts of purchasers of town lots by 20 percent.

Also in 1821, General Coffee moved the Federal Land Office from Huntsville to Florence and the first steamboat, Osage, arrived at Florence. In addition, the renowned traveler Anne Royall visited Florence and described a boomtown. By all appearances, the panic was over.

According to the Articles of Association of the Cypress Land Company, the trustees were to hold a final land sale within five years.

After it was widely publicized, the 1823 sale attracted a small crowd and sold $58,000 in lots. By the end of 1823, a total of $324,000 in lots had been sold.

At this second sale, the trustees sold the tavern known as the Florence Hotel to James Jackson's brother John. Also sold were lots for the jail, college and female seminary. Not sold were the blocks listed as the public walk, what is now Wilson Park, and the cemetery.


Company settles debts


After the Panic of 1819 the Cypress Land Company trustees were interested in settling the debts of the company. Each share of stock was to be valued at $475.

Robert Weakley, who kept the company books, stated that the majority of the payments of debts were in stock rather than cash. Eventually, 392 shares worth $186,000 were deposited by the end of 1827. McKinley turned in 71 shares and James Jackson deposited 47 shares.

Tragedy struck in 1827 in the form of a devastating fire that destroyed most company records. James Jackson kept a personal copy of many records but others were reconstructed from memory.

The company survived but was not ready to liquidate its assets.

Another setback to the company came on July 7, 1833 when Coffee died. By all accounts, he was the heart and soul of the company.

Florence lawyer James B. Irvine was hired as an agent of the company to proved legal assistance. On Aug. 17, 1840, James Jackson died, leaving McKinley as the only trustee living in Florence.

By 1841, all but 16 shares of the original 408 shares of stock has been returned. McKinley asked for an accounting and Irvine reported that he had obtained three additional shares but needed payment of $1,000 per share.

In 1825 the company had upped the price from $475 to $500 and McKinley was unwilling to authorize further payment.

In the name of the Cypress Land company a lawsuit was filed against Irvine, who in turn sued the company, McKinley, Leroy Pope and the estates of Coffee and Jackson.

After a long and painful legal process, the case was heard by the Alabama Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the company. This was the final event that led to the liquidation of the Cypress Land Company.

The dreams of the Cypress Land Company to build a large commercial center on the southwestern frontier never materialized, but the company was more successful than most.

The town of Florence was founded and a share of stock originally worth $52.23 was eventually worth $500.

McKinley largest stockholder


Some of the most interesting people who helped contribute to the early years of Florence were three of the trustees of the Cypress Land Company and the civil engineer who helped design the city.

John McKinley moved to Huntsville in 1818 and became a very successful lawyer and land speculator. He was the largest stockholder in the Cypress Land Company from the beginning of the venture.

McKinley was elected to the state Legislature in 1820 and moved to Florence in 1821, where he built a large home overlooking the river on the corner of Spring (now Veterans) and Seminary.

In 1826 McKinley was elected to the U. S. Senate as a Jacksonian Democrat and while in the Senate, he was interested in the federal land laws and the construction of a canal over the area's river shoals.

Defeated in 1830, McKinley returned to the Alabama Legislature where he led the fight in Alabama against the National Bank. Elected to the U. W. Senate again in 1837, McKinley did not serve because he became Alabama's first justice on the U. s. Supreme Court.

Just before President Jackson left office in 1837, William Smith of Alabama was appointed to the high court. When Smith declined, Jackson's successor, Martin Van Buren, appointed McKinley.

In those days, the Supreme Court justices rode circuits, where they heard federal cases. Dr. Robert J. Norrell of the University of Alabama has written that McKinley's circuit covered the frontiers of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

On the court, McKinley became an ardent supporter of states' rights and an opponent of the National Bank. Around 1840, McKinley moved to Louisville, Ky., where he died in 1852, while still serving on the Supreme Court.

Irish immigrant prospers


James Jackson was born in Ireland, educated as a civil engineer and came to America in 1799.

In 1800, he moved to the frontier of Tennessee and settled in Nashville. In 1804, he opened Jackson's General Merchandise and was on his way to becoming a respected and prominent businessman.

In 1810 he married the beautiful widow, Sarah "Sally" Moore McCulloch of the Carolina Moores. Sarah's great-grandfather, James Moore, was a royal governor of Carolina. Her grandfather, Roger, commonly known as "King Roger" founded the famous Orton Plantation on the Cape Fear River near Wilmington.

Sarah's first husband, Samuel McCulloch drowned while on a land-buying trip. Jackson and his bride prospered in Nashville, raising four of their nine children there.

James Jackson moved his family to Lauderdale County in 1821 when his large, Greek temple-style home, the Forks of Cypress, was completed.

From 1822 he was active in state politics and eventually served in both houses of the Alabama Legislature. In 1839, Jackson was named president of the state Senate.

Once a political adviser to Andrew Jackson, James Jackson and the future president split over personal business and James Jackson became a leader in the Whig Party in Alabama.

James Jackson was renowned as a sportsman and breeder of thoroughbred horses. The horses from the Forks of Cypress are nationally recognized as bloodstock for the famous Kentucky thoroughbreds.

When Jackson died in 1840 at the age of 58, he was regarded as the richest man in Alabama.

Coffee succeeds in Florence


John Coffee was the driving force behind the Cypress Land company. Born in Virginia, raised in North Carolina, and moving to Nashville in 1798, Coffee became close to the Overtons, Donelsons and Jacksons.

After a failed business venture in 1807, partially because of a depression, Coffee became a successful land surveyor.

In 1809 he married Mary Donelson, niece of Rachel Donelson Jackson.

During the War of 1812, Coffee served as Andrew Jackson's cavalry commander in the campaigns against the Creek Indians at Horseshoe Bend and later against the British at New Orleans. For his service, Coffee was appointed surveyor general of the North Alabama district in 1817. One of his first jobs was to establish the land office and survey the town of Huntsville.

After the forming of the Cypress Land company in March 1818, Coffee and his crew began to survey the site for the town of Florence.

For himself, Coffee purchased 1,280 acres on Cox Creek north of Florence and established his plantation, called Hickory Hill.

Knows as one of the most prominent citizens of Florence, Coffee helped establish churches, schools, gins, mills and other commercial enterprises.

After returning from a visit with President Andrew Jackson I Washington, Coffee became ill and died on July 6, 1833.

President Jackson wrote his epitaph: "As a husband, parent and friend he was affectionate, tender and sincere. He was a brave, prompt and skillful general, a disinterested and sagacious patriot and unpretending, just and honest man."

Italian engineer leaves mark


Another colorful personality in the early history of Florence was Italian surveyor Ferdinand Sannoner. Local historian Oscar D. Lewis stated that Sannoner was born in Italy and highly educated, becoming an engineer by age 18. In 1816, at age 23, Sannoner came to America to help survey the frontier.

After settling in New York for a short period, Sannoner was sent to Gen. Coffee in Huntsville. When the Cypress Land Company purchased land for a city at the shoals, Coffee personally supervised the surveying but entrusted the design of the town to Sannoner.

Legend has it that the trustees of the company gave the honor of naming the city to Sannoner, who named Florence after his favorite Italian city. Sannoner moved his family to Florence in 1824 when the Federal Land Office was moved to Tennessee Street.

Sannoner operated a bakery-delicatessen on Tennessee Street in partnership with his brother and served as county clerk for a period. Sometime in the 1850s Sannoner moved to Memphis and died there in 1857 at age 66. He was survived by his wife, five sons and one daughter.


Early towns Flourish


Jill Knight Garrett in her history of Lauderdale County mentioned a vast number of other towns and communities founded in Lauderdale. Some of the earliest include Anderson, Gravelly springs, Green Hill, Lexington, Rogersville, Smithsonia and Waterloo.

Anderson was founded around a mill owned by the Anderson family. An early iron foundry making agricultural implements also existed in the community. The Ingram family also became prominent in the area.

Gravelly Springs was a stage stop on the original Natchez Trace and the road from Waterloo to Florence. The David Houston plantation Wildwood was located near the springs. The springs also saw the formation of Wilson's large Union cavalry in late 1864 and early 1865 with the Cannon home serving as Wilson's headquarters.

Green Hill and the surrounding community near Cowpen Creek were the sites of two important mills and factories in the antebellum period.

The Kennedy family members were famous gunsmiths and operated the Kennedy Gun Works manufacturing the famed Pennsylvania-Kentucky long rifles.

One original Kennedy gun now hangs in Pope's Tavern Museum in Florence.


Cloverdale Called Rawhide


Rawhide, later renamed Cloverdale, served as an early leather-tanning center, earning a tough name and reputation. One early settler was Jonathan Paulk, who owned and operated a tannery on Cypress Creek. After the 1890s the community was settled by a small contingent of Finns, earning the name "Little Finland."

Rogersville was settled about 1820 by the Rogers family and served as a stage stop on the Huntsville-to-Florence road. The Lamb family operated a ferry crossing on the river near Rogersville.

Smithsonia is in the Bend of the River and was first the site of a ferry operated by Christopher Cheatham. Named for Columbus Smith, Smithsonia served as a steamboat landing and a gin site.

Waterloo Incorporated


Waterloo was founded around 1819 and is one of the oldest incorporated towns in Alabama, incorporated Dec. 13, 1832. According to Eva Dendy, local historian and beloved Waterloo teacher, Waterloo was a major port on the north side of the Tennessee.

Waterloo was founded by a joint-stock company that included Tyree Rodes, Macmillian Buchanan, German Lester, John McCracken and Gabriel Bumpass.

The town's name is derived from Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, Belgium in 1815.

During the Indian removal, knows as the Trail of Tears, Waterloo was a major site for shipping American Indians west to the Oklahoma Territory. Dendy said Waterloo was destroyed twice, once by a massive flood in 1847 and later by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the early 1930s after the building of Pickwick Dam.

Like Lauderdale, Franklin County was created by the Alabama Territorial government in February 1818. The first county seat was Old Russellville, incorporated Nov. 27, 1819, and located on the crossing of the Gaines Trace and Jackson's Military Road. A new election was held in 1849 and the county seat was changed to a new, undeveloped, town near the center of the county later known as Frankfort. Frankfort would remain the county seat of Franklin County until 1879.

In the 1820s there were five major towns projected and surveyed: Ococoposa (Coldwater), York's Bluff, South Port, Bainbridge and Marion.


Ococoposa has rocky start


The most important of these towns was Ococoposa, chartered by the territorial government on March 3, 1817 but not incorporated until Dec. 20, 1820.

The first known white settler was Michael Dickson, who arrived sometime in 1815 with his wife and family. Legend says that Dickson purchased a large tract of land from Chickasaw chief Tashka Ambi (Tuscumbia). However, the 1816 treaty with the Chickasaws nullified the deal. As compensation, the government gave Dickson a choice of several surveyed lots.

In 1817, Dickson was joined by four brothers-in-law: Isaiah Dill, James McMann, Hugh Finley and Matthews. Randall Johnson arrived in May 1817 and recorded in his diary that the town had three houses and one store.

In May 1817, the southern section of the Military Road was constructed through Coldwater. By the time the road was finished in May 1820, thousands of settlers were flooding into Alabama.

The first public land sale in Ococoposa was conducted in 1820and the town was incorporated as Ococoposa. Chickasaw for Cold Water Springs.

Colbert historian John McWilliams stated that surveyor John Coffee had requested the name Cold Water Springs but the citizens preferred Big Spring. He said that once the town was legally incorporated, the name could be changed, so on June 14, 1821, the name was changed to Big Spring and changed again on Dec. 3, 1822 to Tuscumbia.

According to McWilliams, John Coffee and the trustees of the Cypress Land Company conspired to prevent Tuscumbia from challenging the commercial prominence of Florence by designing Tuscumbia with a commons.

Boston and Allegheny, Pa., are the only other cities with such commons.

The commons completely encircle the town and were to be used for public good and not for commercial purposes.


Since that time, all laws concerning the use of the Commons have been legally repealed.


Tuscumbia On The Move


The era of the 1820s represented rapid economic and social growth for Tuscumbia. Michael Dickson built the first stage stop and hotel on he hill overlooking the big Spring.

One of the cabins has been rescued and moved across the road from its original site.

By 1824 there were four hotels in a town of less than 1,000 people. Such accommodations were available because the Military road and stage routes converged in Tuscumbia.

The southern mail arrived on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and departed Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The northern mail arrived Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and departed Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Tuscumbia was virtually cut off from the river. To rectify this, a steamboat landing was constructed at the mouth of Spring Creek in 1824 to take advantage of river traffic.

Steamers and keelboats would unload and the supplies were hauled by freight wagons to and from the town.

York's Bluff becomes Sheffield


The town of York's Bluff never officially materialized despite two land sales in 1820 and 1834.

No houses or commercial businesses were erected until the 1880s when the town of Sheffield was founded.

South Port was unofficially established in 1813 when Joseph Heslip arrived.

In 1818, Heslip opened Alabama's first iron furnace south of Russellville. By 1820, South Port proudly displayed eight large warehouses on the river to accommodate steamboat traffic.

People in Florence commonly referred to South Port as South Florence because the Florence Ferry landed there.

From the 1830s to 1860, this community was a thriving cotton port but the Civil War would virtually destroy South Port.

Bainbridge, across from the mouth of Shoal Creek, conducted its land sale on Jan. 16, 1819. One reason this town thrived was because the first state-funded highway passed through on its way to Tuscaloosa on the Black Warrior River, connecting the Black Warrior with the Cumberland River at Nashville via the Military Road.

When Tuscaloosa became the state capital, the Byler Road became a toll rod. Bainbridge eventually was abandoned because of the railroad.


Short-lived towns


The town of Marion was on the site of what would later become the TVA chemical plant. The land sale was conducted on Feb. 26 and 27, 1819, but the town never survived the Panic of 1819.

Another important town in Franklin County was first called Jeffer's Crossroads but later was changed to Leighton after William Leigh, a Baptist minister who arrived in 1817.

In 1820,an important event occurred when 15 wagons arrived from Wake County, N. C., carrying prominent planters looking for new land. They were led by Henry King and included John Rand, Edward B. Delony, Col. James Fennel, Thomas Lyle, Drury Vinson, Elisha Madding and Richard Preuit.

In 1815 Abraham Ricks sold his plantation, Cotton Gardens in Lawrence County, and built the Oaks in Franklin County.

Franklin County had examples of the three major types of towns: river towns, road towns and railroad towns. 


History of the Shoals, Page 3: Antebellum Period

A conspicuous feature in Judge Wood’s busy life has been his active interest in public improvements, and long before the war, his friends inform us, he was forming combinations for railroad enterprises and manufacturing industries. It is not surprising, therefore that in the rejuvenation of the south he should have taken an active part. Hence we find him ten years ago, or more, calling public meetings of the citizens of Florence whose welfare has always been nearest his heart, to communicate to them the new spirit then first awakening. His efforts were presistent [sic] and effective, and the new life now pervading the community is directly traceable to the seed he had sown, which has resulted in a train of circumstances that have placed Florence in the lead of the growing cities of the south. His first effective work in this direction was the organization of the Land, Mining and Manufacturing Company, whose work gave Florence a commanding position before the county and accomplished great things for the city. Subsequently, in connection with Maj. Field and others, Judge Wood organized the railroad & Improvement Company, of which he became the president. The great work of this company is too fresh in the minds of our people to need mention here.

In "Northern Alabama" a handsomely illustrated volume, published in 1888,we find the following article concerning Judge Wood. The article, though brief, speaks volumes of the unwearied labors of this distinguished gentleman, and proves how justly the title of "Father of Florence" has been earned by him:

"William Basil Wood, president of the Florence Land Mining & Manufacturing, of the W.B. Wood Furnace Company, of the Charcoal and Chemical Company, of the Florence, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery Railroad Company, of the Florence & Chicago Railroad Company, and secretary of the Alabama Improvement Company, was born at Nashville, Tenn., October, 31, 1820. His parents were Alexander H. and Mary E. (Evans) Wood – his father a native of Virginia, his mother of England.

"Wm. B. Wood’s paternal grandfather was secretary to Alexander Hamilton, and had commanded troops in the Colonial army. His father was an officer in the war of 1812. Upon his mother’s side, his grandfather Evans was a colonel in the British army, but after the declaration of peace he chose to return to this side of the water and cast his lot with the ‘Rebels.’

"The subject of this sketch was educated at LaGrange College, Franklin county; read law under Judge Coleman (afterward of the supreme bench); was admitted to the bar at Florence in 1842; began the practice of law at once, and in 1844 was elected judge of Lauderdale county. While in the army in 1862 he was elected judge of the circuit court, and in 1866 was re-elected and occupied the bench until 1880, except during the reconstruction period. In August 1861, he was elected colonel of the sixteenth Alabama Infantry, in fact, he raised that regiment and organized it at Courtland, became its colonel and commanded it for nearly two years.

"In 1863 he was transferred to the army of Northern Virginia, appointed by Mr. Davis, president judge of the military court of the first army corps, and was there to the close of the war. As colonel, he participated in the battle of Fishing Creek, Ky., where Zollicoffer was killed. He was also at Triune, Tenn., Murfreesboro, and his regiment was at Shiloh and all the battles of the Army of Tennessee. At the close of the war he returned to Florence, and as we have before seen presided over the circuit court of his district. Prior to the war Mr. Wood, in addition to his professional duties, was largely interested in various other enterprises. He was engaged in the manufacture of woolens; was interested in the steamboat business; was principal owner and controlled a line of steamers which plied the Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi rivers. He was in the steamboat business after the war. His company built the ‘Rapidan’ in 1868, and the ‘Florence Lee’ in 1870. He also owned the ‘James R.’, built the ‘Sallie Wood’ and the ‘William Dickinson,’ and retired fully from steamboat business not until 1876. In 1882, he began turning his attention to railroads. He was one of the organizers of the Indiana, Alabama & Texas railway, now completed between Clarksville, Tenn., and Princeton, Ky., and was its vice-president. He was also one of the organizers of the Birmingham & Tennessee railroad, now known as the Sheffield & Birmingham. He organized the Alabama & Tennessee railroad and sold it to the Nashville, Florence & Sheffield Company. November 29, 1886, as one of the organizers of the Florence Land Mining and Manufacturing Company, he was made president, and re-elected in November, 1888.

"Judge Wood is a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a Master Mason, R. A., and Knight Templar, and in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows was grand master of the state two years (1869 –70).

"He originated the idea and raised the subscription for the Florence Wesleyan University; (now the State Normal college); gave liberally to it himself and was for some years president of its board of trustees. Its endowment being exhausted at the end of the war, he succeeded in having it sold to the state and it was converted into the State Normal School, with which Judge Wood has been sine officially identified.

"Away back in 1844 he organized the Methodist Episcopal Sunday school, to which he has since given particular attention and devoted much time and money. That he has since its organization been its superintendent, teacher and regular attendant, he says he ‘regards as the proudest achievement of his life.’ He has been steward and trustee in his church since 1846. He organized the Sunday school two years before he became a member of the church.

"He was married April 21, 1843, to Sarah B. Leftwich, daughter of Major Leftwich of Virginia."

On an inside page of the same paper is the following:


"The life-like engraving of Hon. W. B. Wood, which we present today, does credit to our artist and gives to our patrons a view of one of the best and noblest gentlemen the state has ever produced. The Times is pleased to announce that Judge Wood’s health is improving and that his physicians speak in a very encouraging manner, of his condition."



Hon. W. B. Wood is Dead.

Florence Loses a Citizen Whose Loss Cannot be Repaired.


Judge William Basil Wood is dead. On Friday evening last at 7:30 o’clock the dread messenger came, and the spirit of Florence’s leading citizen took its flight to the realms of the unknown.


Immediately after having eaten supper, and whilst sitting before the fire, the action of the heart ceased, the beloved citizen fell forward on his face, and before he could be placed on his bed, the end came. At the time, he was talking to his nephew, Mr. Sam Rice, and was in his usual good spirits.


Thus has passed away a great and good man, one whose active life constitutes a large part of the local history of his time. A born leader of men, with a broad and vigorous mind, of unconquerable perseverance and boundless energy, he naturally arose to the leadership of any movement of public spirit among his people, and his friends recall the fact that he originated and organized nearly every enterprise which resulted in the great material development seen on every hand in our beautiful city. In peace and in war, he ever acted a prominent part, and as a soldier, as a pure and upright and just judge, as a public spirited citizen, and in the holier circles of the church, in society and the family, he built a character that will linger affectionately in the memory of our people for generations.


We have neither the time nor the data, at present, to do justice to the character and services of Judge Wood. By other hands these will be done ample justice, and we can only here record our high regard for the distinguished citizen who is no more, and point to his example as a model for our younger generation.


On Sunday afternoon, with the unostentatious and impressive service of the Methodist church, the remains were interred in the Florence cemetery, Rev. G. W. Briggs, assisted by Rev. Dr. Heard, conducting the ceremony. The large auditorium of the Methodist church was filled with the relatives and friends of the deceased, and the procession to he grave was one of the largest that ever escorted a departed citizen to that city of the dead. The pall-bearers were Judge H. C. Jones, Henry W. Sample, Judge Geo. P. Keys, Dr. J. C. Conner, Geo. W. Karsner, E. S. Gregory, T. B. Ingram, S. D. Rice, George P. Jones, Andrew Brown, S. C. Brown and Hon. R. T. Simpson.


To the stricken wife and other relatives our whole people extend expressions of sincere sympathy and condolence."


Source: The Florence Times, Saturday, April 11th, 1891.

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