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William Herman

Contributor: Darren Briggs, May 2005

I am inclined, from associations of my life with the Florence Gazette and the county of Lauderdale, to address you a few lines for publication; provided you can give the space in your highly respected and influential journal; valued on account of the ability and prominent character of its editors, from its incipiency to the present day, and on account of its historical association with Alabama, and especially Lauderdale county. I have read the Florence Gazette, as one of its subscribers, about fifty years, and still read it with more interest than every before.


Though I have now made my home in Texas, yet my affection for and interest in Lauderdale county and the State of Alabama have not diminished, and cause me to rejoice when I learn of their bright future approaching; and that Alabama, and prospectively old Lauderdale, is rapidly marching to the front rank in a general prosperity. It makes me feel especially proud of them because I am a native of Lauderdale, born under the sound of the Mussel Shoals of Tennessee river, March 11th, 1810, the first white child born in the county, so said. My parents had settled near the river, in that territory, though without authority of law; and so many white settlers came in, that the Indians complained to the Government, and we were burned out of house and home and driven to Tennessee. But, after the treaty with the Indians, my father returned to his old settlement, where I was reared, barefooted and in buck-skin trousers and hunting shirt, farming, fishing, hunting and trapping for a livelihood, where sporting was attractive and profitable, and those who engaged, as almost all men did, had many a tumble and tussle on land and water. As an instance: My brother and I were returning from our traps, on an island in Tennessee river, in a rough canoe, when we saw a fine buck swimming towards the bank, and we thought we would give him a chase. The water was deep and we had no gun with us, so we pushed and paddled, and he swam with all his might, but we overtook him. It was a freezing day too, and we had a cold tussle, I holding him by the tail, while my brother tried to kill him with the pole; but my hands became so numb, that I saw we would lose our game, so I caught him by the tail with my teeth, close to its root, shut my eyes, and how he made the water fly with his hind feet! But, by this device, my brother was enabled to pummel him on the head until he killed him.


The country was wild, full of trials and hardships, uncultivated and but little civilization. My father and mother had lived through the Colonial revolution, brought up under the traditions of witchcraft, their minds full of all the horrors of the revolution and the massacres by Indians, so my fireside entertainment in youth was of such scenes and tragic events, but I have lived long enough to survive their effects; and now interest myself in reading of the wonderful developments of our country since that day. Although I only had six months schooling, being raised up during the exciting times of Madison, Monroe, J. Q. Adams and Gen. Jackson, I naturally formed a fondness for reading, especially of a political nature. I have, ever since I arrived at the age of maturity, been a lover of moral and religious writings, and have rejoiced to see the building up of the various denominations of religion in my native county, although, in my younger days I heard none but the preaching of the old Baptists, such as old brothers Aaron Askew and Lancaster, long since deceased.


When I was a young man, a good old Baptist preacher advised me never to keep spirits in my house, having, he said, done so himself, which caused all his boys to be drunkards. I thought it good counsel, and decided to heed it, and did so several years after I had a family; but I had a good peach orchard, and, like most of my neighbors, thought I would distil my peaches, rather than have them waste. So I did, and soon had a barrel of peach brandy in my house, of which I, as was the fashion in those days, would take a drink, well sweetened with honey, merely for the stomach's sake. About this time, I had an elderly lady employed as a domestic to whom, on wash day, at her request, I would give a drink. One day I went [with the family to a quarterly???] meeting in the neighborhood, old brother Driskal being the Presiding Elder, and brother Dickson the Circuit Rider in charge. After service, with said brothers, we returned home, and, to the dismay of myself and especially of my wife, found the dinner on the fire burned up, and the old lady in the bed drunk. Upon examination, I found she had let a great deal of brandy run out, and the smell of old peach was all over the place. You can imagine my feelings with the preachers as my guests. I was reminded of the old Baptist preacher's advice, dismissed the old lady, and like the early abolitionists did their negroes, sold my brandy, and henceforward adhered to the old preacher's advice, and would advise all men to do likewise. I never was drunk and never swore but two profane oaths in my life. But to the old lady. I soon after met her in the road, riding horseback; she had on a heavy pair of mud boots, and a leg on either side, and drunk in the bargain. A beautiful picture. -Wm. Herman 


Source: "First White Child Born in Lauderdale County," Florence Gazette, Saturday, April 19, 1884 "Old Times in Lauderdale"

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