About two years ago, it was suggested that the people of Conecuh take immediate steps toward the preparation of a history of their county. A society was formed bearing the title of "The Conecuh Historical Society" some interest was manifested, and after several meetings the author was requested to undertake the preparation of the present work. The disadvantages under which he was placed, however, were very great. He lived in a portion of the State remote from Conecuh, - and had the pastoral care of a church, which entailed onerous duties upon him. To secure an accurate record, it became necessary for him to visit the county quite often, and to be in constant correspondence with parties in different portions of Conecuh. But after two years of labor, amid the weighty duties of the pastorate, the work is finished and sent forth upon its mission. The author has striven to present facts in their clearest and simplest form, so that the work would be acceptable to all classes of readers.
If, in some portions, the history be thought too minute in detail, I have to say that this is inseparable from the fact that it is a local history. The work is not as complete in its scope as I would desire to have it. It will be observed that marked details exist with respect to some portions of the county, while they are meagre with regard to others. This is entirely due to the fact that a greater amount of data was famished me from some quarters than from others.
Special attention has been given to the biographical portion of the work. The author regrets the absence of several biographies, which would have appeared, could the biographical matter have been obtained.
The author begs leave to acknowledge his indebtedness to "Brewer's Outline History of Alabama," "Pickett's History of Alabama," and " Garrett's Reminiscences of Public Men." For aid rendered in the collection of material he expresses his obligations to the following gentlemen: John Greene, Sr., J. B. Hawthorne, Y. M. Babb, Andrew Jay, Willis Darby, H. Page, Dr. Feagan, J. M. Davison, Dr. Shaw and others. For financial aid, thanks are due Messrs. Ransom Simpson, Dabney Palmer, John B. Robbins, Dr. Shaw, Pinkney Straughn, Dr. Robinson, N. Stallworth, P. D. Bowles, G. B. Famham, J. D. Burnett, P. 0. Walker, and S. F. Forbes.
With the hope that it may not prove uninteresting to the resident of the county, the little book is sent forth upon its mission.
Chapter I. -
Introduction - Conecuh in the Earliest Times - Derivation of Its Name - Original Appearance - Abounding Game - Ferocious Beasts - Early Battle Scene, & etc.
Conecuh is an Indian name, to which, have been given a variety of meanings. But the best translators of the Indian dialect believe its meaning to be "Cane Land," derived from the vast canebrakes which lined its numerous streams, and which covered its extensive tracts of lowlands.
The original word from which the present name is supposed to have been corrupted was "Econneka," which, in the Creek tongue, means "Land of Cane." This is the rendering given by Col. M. H. Cruikshank, of Talladega, to whom the author was referred by Prof. W. S. Wyman, of the University of Alabama. After venturing several conjectures himself, as to the meaning of the word, Prof. Wyman, with genuine good humor, says "The name Conecuh means Polecats Head; being a compound of "kono" the Creek word for polecat, and "ekuh head." "Then," continues the Professor, " this is my best conjecture, and if it should turn out that I have hit the right meaning, it is to be hoped that the good people of Conecuh will not be unduly distressed at the unsavory name of their county. As the rose by any other name would smell as sweet, so it stands to good reason that the goodly land of Conecuh, swept, as it is, by the resinous airs of its own healthful pine forests, visited by the fragrant breezes of the peninsula of orange flowers, and wooed by a touch of the sultry breath of old Ocean himself, smells sweet in spite of its ugly name." After several conjectures, against all of which he raised some objection, Prof. Wyman urged that the whole matter be submitted to Col. Cruikshank, whose practical knowledge of the Indian dialect enabled him to give the meaning presented on the first page. The county took its name from the stream of the same name which penetrates its eastern portion.
To each of these streams the native tribes gave a significant name, derived from some prevailing characteristic, or from some notable event connected therewith. The statement already made as to the meaning of Conecuh, is further corroborated by the glowing description given by the earliest settlers of the appearance of the face of the country. The virgin forests of Conecuh, as described by the pioneer fathers, must have rivalled in appearance the fairest spots of earth. Before one occupying a prominence there was spread oat a scene of panoramic beauty. Vast stretches of land, dipping into occasional basins, ranged visibly in all directions, unbroken by the small undergrowth of shrubbery, which is now a prevailing feature in our forests. The land was radiant with long, waving grass, interspersed with the wild oat and the native pea- vine, and relieved by the monarch pine trees, which stood like so many columns in the great cathedral of nature. Across these smiling landscapes, and through these verdant vales, there roved vast herds of deer and flocks of wild turkeys, together with other game - the evident tokens of a beneficent Providence. Here and there these lands of wild beauty were streaked with clear, flowing streams, the track of whose shining currents could be followed for miles by reason of the native cane, which grew in rank luxuriance along their banks. There was not then, as now, a mixture of tangled shrubbery with the cane along the banks of these streams. The streams themselves abounded in the finest fish, while the lakes and ponds swarmed with countless flocks of wild ducks. From out the thicket jungles there would issue, at night, the hideous growls of wild beasts, the ferocious protests of the native denizen to the encroaching civilization of the white man. Such is the description given of Conecuh when the enterprising settlers first occupied its soil.
The first item of historic interest is connected with a skirmish on Burnt Corn creek, thirteen miles south of Bellville, which was the commencement of the great Indian War. The settlers along the Tombigbee, having learned that Peter McQueen, with a body of warriors, numbering about 350, had gone to Pensacola for the purpose of obtaining supplies from the British, preparatory to an attack upon the whites, sent Col. James Caller, with a small body of cavalry, to intercept them. Returning from Pensacola, ladened with supplies, the Indians had stopped near the banks of Burnt Corn creek, to rest and cook dinner. Having driven their ponies across the stream to a basin of land, thickly overgrown with tender cane, the dusky warriors lay down in the shade to rest, while the squaws prepared dinner. Coming from the opposite direction the advance guards of Caller's forces found the Indian ponies grazing in the tall cane, and immediately reported the discovery to their commander. With great caution the whites advanced, crossed the stream in single file, and commenced to fire upon the reclining warriors. Snatching up their guns, the Indians ran down under a bluff that overhung the creek. Confident of easy victory, Caller and his men began to plunder the Indian camp and to reap the spoils of success. Meanwhile the brave warriors rallied and returned the fire with vigor, advancing all the while upon the over-confident whites. At the first fire from the savages, the unhitched horses of Caller's men scampered off in all directions. In much confusion the whites retreated to the top of the hill, and the results would have been disastrous, it is said, had not Capt. Sam Dale covered the retreat with a small body of men. Filled with a new fire of revenge, the Indians, a month later, fell upon Fort Mimms, the horrors of which event were appalling beyond description. When the earliest inhabitants came to Bellville they found the spot where the tribes held their war dance in honor of McQueen's victory over Caller. Thus was spilt upon Conecuh's soil the first blood of that terrible series of sanguinary conflicts, which culminated in the removal of the native tribes to the far West. What a melancholy history is that of the Red Man! The narrative of their unchecked dominion, contrasted with that of their rapid dispersion, is sad beyond measure. The history of their undisputed sway is written upon the rills and rivers of our fair land to-day. As Alabama's once gifted poet. Judge A. B. Meek, has sung:
"Yes ! tho' they all have passed away,
That noble race and brave,
Though their light canoes have vanished
From off the crested wave;
Though 'mid the forests where they roved.
There rings no hunter's shout, -
Yet their names are on our waters,
And we may not wash them out
Their memory liveth on our hills,
Their baptism on our shore,
Our everlasting rivers speak
Their dialect of yore I
'Tis heard where Chattahoochee pours
His yellow tide along ;
It sounds on Tallapoosa's shores,
And Coosa swells the song ;
Where lordly Alabama sweeps,
The symphony remains ;
And young Cahawba proudly keeps
The echo of its strains ;
Where Tuscaloosa's waters glide,
From stream and town 'tis heard.
And dark Tombeckbee's winding tide
Repeats the olden word ;
Afar, where nature brightly wreathed
Fit Edens for the Free,
Along Tuscumbia's bank 'tis breathed,
By stately Tennessee ;
And south, where from Conecuh's springs,
Escambia's waters steal,
The ancient melody still rings,
From Tensaw and Mobile."
Early Settlement of Conecuh by the Whites - Conflict at Battle Branch - First Settlement at Bellville - Founding of Hampden Ridge- Alexander Autrey - Other Settlers - Land Claims - Emigration, & etc.
Subsequent to the defeat sustained by the whites at Burnt Corn creek, under Col. Caller, it seems that a small body of settlers penetrated Conecuh, under the leadership of Capt. Shomo - now of Monroe county - and chastised the Indians at Battle Branch, eight miles south of Bellville. The details of this second conflict are not given. It is said that the marks of the battle are to be seen to-day, in the impressions made in the bark by the flying bullets of the assailants. In the latter part of 1815, the first permanent settlement, by the whites, was made near Bellville. Samuel Buchanan was the first to establish his home within the borders of the county. He located on what is now known as Hawthorne's Mill Creek, about one and a half miles west of Bellville, near the famous Indian trail known, then, as the Old Wolf Trail, which ran from the present site of Claiborne, on the Alabama river, via Bellville, to some point on the Chattahoochee. At this period no whites resided nearer this pioneer hero than at Claiborne on the west, or Burnt Corn on the north. But shortly after this, Alexander Autrey removed from the region of Claiborne, and settled upon a small stream west of his late residence, which he called Autrey's creek. Subsequent to this, he removed to the line of hills which overlook Murder creek from the west, where he established himself in a new home, and named it Hampden Ridge.
Shortly after Mr. Autrey's removal to Conecuh, there came from North Carolina three gentlemen whose names were Thomas Mendenhall, Eli Mendenhall, and Reuben Hart. The first of these established himself at the spot now known as the Old Savage Place, on the road running from Bellville to Evergreen. Mr. Hart located very near the present residence of Dr. J. L. Shaw. Early in 1817, the population of Bellville, which then boasted of the name of "The Ponds," from the lakes which existed near, was increased by the emigration of Joshua Hawthorne from Wilkinson county, Georgia, to South Alabama. He pitched his family tent in the virgin forests near the home of the late Henry Stanley, surrounded by no other elements of civilization than those already named.
As each emigrant would take up his abode in this land of teeming beauty, he would cast about him for the most favorable location, and one best suited to the interests of his future residence. In order to fix the title of what was then known as the Emigrant's Claim, the early pioneers would select the tract or district best suited to their tastes, and would proceed to indicate their title to permanent tenure by girding a few trees, with impressions cut in the bark, and by laying somewhere upon land desired, the first four logs of a building. This was a monument of possession, and was sacredly respected by the early settlers. The man who would dare disregard this asserted claim, was branded a rascal outright, and incurred the loss of public confidence and esteem.
Near the period above referred to, another batch of emigrants came to Conecuh from Chester District, South Carolina. They settled near Hampden Ridge. These were Chesley Crosby, Robert Savage, Mabry Thomas, and Alexander Donald - then quite a young man. These were accompanied by Robert Herrin and Jesse T. Odum - the former of whom continued on to Claiborne, where he located and resided many years; while the latter removed to Buena Vista, in Monroe county, where he lived to be quite old. All of these flourished conspicuously in their adopted counties, for many years together.
Early Privations and Struggles - Unparalleled Difficulties - Scarcity of Shoes - Undaunted Heroism - Meagreness of Blacksmith Facilities - Joshua Betts - A Barefooted Population - Scarcity of Grist Mills - Georgia Currency, & etc.
Notwithstanding the luxuriant abundance of natural elements, with which the early settlers found themselves surrounded, they were not exempt from the privations then universally incident to pioneer life. Vast forests had to be felled, and the fields to be cultivated, but most scanty was the supply of implements with which the formidable task had to be undertaken; and the few in hand were of the rudest character. A few axes and grubbing hoes, such as the daring emigrants had brought with them from their distant homes, were the only utensils that could be brought into practical requisition.
But with that heroism which had prompted them to penetrate these forest wilds, they energetically addressed themselves to the stupendous task. But at every step, they encountered new difficulties; one overcome, another was introduced. By dint of arduous and tedious toil, the forests were partially cleared away - but where were the implements of agriculture with which the soil was to be tilled. A few shovels, spades and grubbing hoes, of the rudest character, and an occasional scooter plow, were the only implements with which these primitive agriculturists were to raise their virgin crops. The only instrument used by many of the wealthiest farmers, for several years, was a sharply-flattened hickory pole, made somewhat in the shape of a crowbar, with which holes were, made in the soil and the seed deposited. An embarrassing difficulty arose from the absence of smithy facilities among the early farmers, and hence many saw but little hope of subsequent relief from their perplexity. This embarrassment, however, was partially overcome in upper Conecuh by the possession of a few blacksmith tools by Joshua Betts. He was reinforced by his brother, Isaac - who had, by the aid of the enterprising settlers in that region, supplied himself with a complete outfit of blacksmith tools, for which he agreed to pay with work done in his shop. But one of the severest privations to which the pioneer families were subjected was a great scarcity of shoes. Many of the fathers and grandfathers of the influential families now resident in Conecuh, were, from necessity, barefoot laborers. The early soil was tilled, through heat and cold, by barefooted men. The game was chased over the hills by men wearing no shoes. Men and women taught school, and attended church, with feet totally unprotected. And to show that it was not incompatible with primitive dignity, one of the earliest aspirants to Legislative honors - Captain Cumming - actively canvassed the county of Conecuh, on horseback, with his feet clad only in their native nudeness. It is said to have been not an unfrequent occurrence to meet men, on horseback, with their naked feet armed with a pair of rude wooden spurs.
The year 1816 was noted as being one of sore privation to the heroic families who had confronted the perils of these forest wilds, nerved alone by the hope of future reward, which itself was dependent upon their tedious exertion. To appreciate their struggles with formidable difficulties, one has only to be told that during the year 1816 the settlers of Conecuh had to procure their corn from Claiborne, which had to be transported in sacks across the country on horseback - and that, too, amid the constant danger of falling into the hands of roving bands of savages, who prowled like beasts of prey in all directions. This stupendous disadvantage was further enhanced by the utter absence of grist mills; and hence the planters had to have recourse to a rude contrivance of their own manufacture, which was called a "sweep." This consisted of a pestle, fixed into a horizontal pole, which rested upon an upright forked beam, securely fixed into the ground. Beneath this was placed a mortar, which contained the corn. By the perpendicular operation of the pestle, the corn was gradually pounded into a mealy state. This inconvenient usage was at length obviated by the erection, in upper Conecuh, of a grist mill upon the identical spot where Ellis's Mills now stand. This was built by Captain Cumming. Shortly after this, a similar enterprise sprang up on Mill creek, near Bellville. This was erected by Bartly Walker.* These were the only mills that existed in Conecuh for many years. And such rare enterprises did not fail to become centres of influence for a long time. They were the points of popular resort, whither the fathers of yore would gather, each bringing his ponderous sack of corn on his horse or mule, and accompanied by his trusty rifle. And as the miller would reduce their corn to meal, many would be the feats described, and the adventures recounted, by the hardy fathers of the long ago. Among other hardships encountered by the early inhabitants of Conecuh was that of being forced oftentimes, by stress of necessity, to consume meal made of corn which had molded through age and exposure. And their rapid prosperity becomes to us, more a source of wonder, when, superadded to all these hardships, was that of being compelled to use Georgia currency, which was below par ; so that even though the injured corn was conveyed from such distances, it cost from four to seven dollars per bushel.
But, rising above all these stupendous difficulties, these hardy sons of energy laid the foundations of wealth, and transmitted to the succeeding generation not only the results of their toils, but, besides, the power of a physical and moral courage, whose strength ever rose higher than the confronting barrier, and enabled them to prevail against odds the most formidable. Verily, more than any ever experienced by their offspring, "these were times that tried men's souls."
* The mill rocks used here were dag from the earth near Joseph Burt's, where an abundance of similar stones may still be found.
Indian Hostilities - Troublesome Red Men - Their Depredations - Early Forts - Primitive Means of Defence Unceasing Vigilance - Retirement of the Indians to the West.
Contemporaneous with the events already recorded, were occasional outbreaks from the Indians. Relics of the broken tribes were roving in small bands over the wide and wild waste of country. These were the remnants of the tribes defeated and dispersed by General Jackson in the battle of the Horse Shoe. Numerous were the depredations committed by these wild bands. Frequently the carcass of a cow would be found flayed of its skin and with the haunches removed. And woe betide the poor Indian who was found with traces of blood upon his person, or with moccasins of cowskin upon his feet. He was sure to become the recipient of a severe castigation at the hands of the outraged inhabitants. These depredations kept alive the fire of hostility between the white and red races. Stung with the passion of revenge, these bands of hostile Indians would sometimes fall unawares upon an unprotected community, and after speedily wreaking their vengeance, in the work of death upon the defenceless, would again dash off, and stealthily conceal themselves in the jungles of the forest. Bloody scenes were enacted upon the Forks of Sepulga and upon the Conecuh river. In 1818 these bands, having concentrated, felt sufficiently strong to threaten the extermination of the pale faces. The white settlements having learned of their belligerent designs, considerable alarm was produced, and they felt impelled to take immediate steps toward protection. By concert of action in the several settlements, three forts were accordingly erected - one near the house of Alexander Autrey, one at the fountain head of Bellville branch, near the present house of John H. Famham, and one in the neighborhood of Burnt Corn. The implements of war, like all other works of art, were necessarily scant. Whatever could deal the blow of death, was laid under tribute and conveyed forthwith to these strongholds of protection. The armory of defence consisted of club axes, worn blunt by long usage; knives, old bayonets, gathered from the Indian battle grounds; clubs and old guns. With these implements of protection, the early fathers, together with their families, repaired to these bulwarks of defence. Feeling that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," they slept nightly upon their rude arms, and were ready, at the slightest alarm, to mete out death to their dusky assailants. As the Indians gradually retired, however, to the Big Warrior Nation, tranquility was restored, and by degrees the people of Conecuh resumed the work which High Destiny had entrusted to their hands - that of lifting the country from its primeval inactivity upon the plane of a progressive prosperity. As the slumbering resources of nature were evoked, energy was stimulated, ingenuity was unfolded, difficulties vanished, the boundless forests disappeared before the axe of advancement, and fields were everywhere abloom with natural increase.
Signs of Advancement - Influx of Population - Industrious Signs Prevailing - The First Store-House in Conecuh - The Court House at Hampden Ridge - Churches- The First Sermon - First School - Conecuh Organized into a County - Public Roads - Anecdote of Hayes and Austill.
With the restoration of tranquility there naturally came an influx of immigration from the States of South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. Civilization now began to find expression in the establishment of social institutions. Commerce, though on a scale quite limited, assumed positive shape. Schools were established. Here and there a church edifice, though quite in keeping with the rough life of the pioneer, was erected, and industry was rearing embryonic monuments all over the face of the country. In 1818 there came to the Bellville settlement a young man whose name was Robert C. Paine. He was half- brother to Mrs. Alexander Travis. Prompted by a spirit of enterprise, he erected, in the Bellville community, the first mercantile establishment ever built on the soil of Conecuh. His store-house is described as having been of exceedingly rude appearance - in apt keeping, however, with the principle of "the eternal fitness of things." It was built of pine poles, unstripped of their bark, and had a dirt floor. The stock in trade of this father merchant was a little coarse sugar, which he sold at fifty cents per pound; a little coffee, at one dollar per pound; and a few dry goods, suited to the tastes and the necessities of the early families. These goods he hauled in a small ox-cart from Blakely.
While Bellville was thus rapidly asserting her claims to a more advanced civilization, Hampden Ridge (the Autrey settlement) was setting up rival claims. Here the first temple of justice was erected by the aspiring fathers, in the shape of a rude court house. It was built of chestnut logs, was planted full upon a dirt floor, and in regard to furniture, boasted of a rough table, behind which sat the wearer of the ermine in all his primitive dignity. Having but one room, the retiring juries would have to resort for secrecy, and for the formation of their verdicts, under the eye of a vigilant bailiff, to the surrounding forest. Prisoners were conveyed across the country - a distance of thirty-five miles from the prison in Claiborne. During the session of court they had to be guarded beneath the shades of the ancestral oaks, which crown Hampden Ridge. Favorably for the future inhabitants of Conecuh, her earliest settlers were, to a great extent, men of piety. Along with the development of the several bustling communities of the county, there grew up a desire to erect church edifices, to be consecrated to the worship of "the true and living God."
About 1817 there removed from Twiggs county, Ga., a Baptist minister, whose name was David Wood. Though blind, he was an earnest, practical, devoted minister of the truth. He preached the first sermon ever delivered in Conecuh county, in a small, rude cabin, which stood on the spot of ground now occupied by the graveyard, near the Bellville Baptist Church. A little later than this, the first school ever instituted in Conecuh was established by John Greene, Sr., near the site of his present home. Among his pupils were the Rev. David Lee, now of Lowndes county; his brother, Ithiel, deceased ; Watkins Salter, at one time clerk of the court of Conecuh, and afterward its representative in the Legislature, and still later a representative from Lowndes county ; the late Miles Herrington, and Jacob Betts, a prominent merchant at Burnt Corn - then quite a small boy.
CONECUH IS ORGANIZED INTO A COUNTY.
Conecuh did not become a separately organized county until January, 1818. Prior to this time it was embraced within the limits of Monroe county, which then embraced an extensive tract of territory, extending from east to west, from the Chattahoochee to the Alabama. But after the organization of Conecuh into a county, it was bounded on the north by Monroe and Montgomery counties, on the west by Clarke and Mobile, on the east by Georgia, and on the south by Florida - then a Spanish province. Richard Warren became the first representative of the county in the Territorial Legislature, which met then at St. Stephens, in Washington county. Ransom Dean (brother-in-law to Col. J. E. Hawthorne), was the first sheriff, and by virtue of his office, was tax assessor and collector, as well. Joel Lee (the father of Rev. David Lee), was the first justice of the peace appointed in Conecuh. He was appointed by Gov. William Bibb.
For a long time after the settlement of this portion of Alabama, the inhabitants had to adopt for their highways the beaten trails of the Red Man, which threaded the forests in all directions, and led through the dense cane that skirted the streams, at the only points where it could be penetrated, and where the streams themselves could be forded. To form some estimate of the density of these brakes, which prevailed with uniform impenetrableness along the banks of all streams alike, the present inhabitant of Conecuh has only to be told the following anecdote: On one occasion a gentleman living near Burnt Corn, Captain Hayes, accompanied by his young friend, Jere Austin - afterwards celebrated because of his connection with the famous Canoe Fight - was traveling in lower Conecuh, exploring the fertile lands which lie along Murder creek. Returning after nightfall, they attempted to cross Bellville branch, just where the road now crosses between the village and the house of James Straughn, and became entangled in the glade of cane. After wading through the mud for some time, and finding no relief, in their perplexity they set up a yell of distress, which was promptly answered by Joshua Hawthorne, who hastened to their relief, with several negro men, bearing lighted torches, and extricated them.
In 1822 the first public road that ever penetrated any portion of the county, was cut by order of the Legislature. It was then about the most important thoroughfare in the State. It ran from Cahaba, via Old Turnbull and Bellville, to Pensacola, and was afterwards known as " the Old Stage Road."
A Chapter of Biography - Rev. Alexander Travis Alexander Autrey - Samuel W. Oliver - Dr. John Watkins - Chesley Crosby - Fielding Straughn
REV. ALEXANDER TRAVIS.
The sacred position which Mr. Travis occupied, together with the wholesome work accomplished by him in giving so much moral tone to the character of Conecuh county, demand that he occupy the first place in the biographical sketches of her useful and prominent men. Alexander Travis was born in Edgefield District, South Carolina, on August 23rd, 1790. He was the child of humble, though respectable parents. Having been reared on a farm, he was inured to hard service, and thereby the better fitted for the toilsome duties which awaited him in the latter half of his useful and eventful life. The educational advantages of young Travis were limited - not exceeding an imperfect training in the rudiments of the English. But possessing more than an ordinary stock of native intellectual power, he absorbed much information from divers sources, which gave him a respectable position in society. In appearance, Mr. Travis was tall and dignified, and by the gravity of his bearing commanded universal respect. He was converted in 1809, and baptized into the fellowship of the Addiel Church, in South Carolina. One year later, he was licensed to preach ; and in 1813, was ordained to the full work of a Baptist minister. Assuming charge of several churches, he retained his pastorate until his removal to Alabama in 1817. Upon coming to Conecuh, he located near Evergreen, where he resided till his death. Such was the zeal of this consecrated missionary, that he would gather together, as he could, a batch of hearers, from Sunday to Sunday, to preach to them the richness of grace in Christ Jesus. Nor were his efforts vain ; for soon he collected a sufficient number of converts together, with those who had previously been members of Baptist churches, to organize a church near his home. Hence he became the founder of the famous Old Beulah Church, situated between Sparta and Brooklyn. This he did in 1818. Nor were his labors restricted to this particular section; for in all directions his energies were exerted in the organization of yet other churches. The sparseness of the population compelled him to take long and trying journeys from week to week. But never did inspired apostle address himself to his work with more alacrity. During the week he was an earnest, active student. His library was a plain English Bible ; over this he would assiduously pore, by the aid of blazing pine knots, after his labors in the field. Such was the devotion of this pioneer disciple, that he would leave his home early on Friday morning in order to walk to his appointments, thirty-five miles away. And not unfrequently, in these foot-marches, he would encounter swollen streams ;. but, nothing daunted, he would strap his saddlebags - which he always carried in his hands - about his neck, boldly plunge in, and swim to the opposite shore. Through his indefatigable exertions, thriving churches were established in different parts of the county, and some in districts quite remote from others. And such was his zeal, his success, his ability as a preacher, and his affable firmness as a pastor, that he remained in charge of several of these churches from the period of their formation to his death. This was true with respect to the Beulah and Bellville churches. Of the former he was pastor thirty-five years; of the latter thirty-two. A large and flourishing interest was established by him in the Higdon settlement, between Burnt Corn and Evergreen. Because of his peculiar parliamentary ability, Mr. Travis was chosen the Moderator of the Bethlehem Association for more than twenty consecutive sessions ; and because of his earnest support of education, he was made the first chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Evergreen Academy, for many years together. So evenly balanced were all his powers - mental, physical and moral - that he was admirably fitted to the work Providentially assigned him in a rugged, pioneer region.
Elder Travis died in 1852, at his old home, where he had lived full thirty-five years. His death was a public calamity, and was universally lamented. He was emphatically a good man. He was, in many respects, a man of greatness. He was unswerving in his principles, and had the courage of his convictions, which he boldly evinced when occasion required; and yet, in his general deportment, he was as meek as a child. At the pulpit end of Old Beulah Church may be seen to-day by the passer-by, a plain marble shaft, which marks the resting place of this sainted pioneer hero.
was the second white man to settle upon the soil of Conecuh. His biography, therefore, is inseparably connected with the history of the county from its colonial period. He was born of French and German ancestry, in North Carolina, on January 4th, 1780. On March 5th, 1803, he was married to Parthenia B. Irvin. In 1810 he removed to Georgia, whence he removed to Monroe county, Alabama, shortly after the establishment of peace with Great Britain in 1815. Here he must have remained but a short time, for we find him in the early part of 1816 the founder of Hampden Ridge, on the range of hills west of Murder creek. In stature, Mr. Autrey was tall, rather disposed to stoop, and of lean physique. He practically illustrated in his life what could be achieved by genuine pluck and perseverance. The odds encountered, and the dangers braved by him in coming to Conecuh, only served to stimulate him to more vigorous exertions. He came up from the most straitened circumstances, enduring all the privations of pioneer life, and yet when he died he was one of the wealthiest men in Conecuh.* The controlling traits of his character were an indomitable will and a vigorous energy. Whatever engaged his attention at all, fired him with an ardent enthusiasm. He reared a large family, both of sons and daughters, of whom only one remains - Mrs. C. P. Robinson, of Vermilionville, Louisiana. Mr. Autrey died at his residence on September 22nd, 1857, at the advanced age of seventy-seven years.
* The writer has heard his mother, whose father Mr. Autrey was, relate what she had often heard her mother state - that she (Mrs. A.) would often hold a lighted torch at night for her husband to deposit his seed in the earth.
SAMUEL WHITE OLIVER.
This distinguished citizen was a native of Virginia, where he was born about 1796. The early portion of his life was spent in Clarke county, Georgia. His literary course was taken at Franklin College, and was fitted for the bar in Litchfield, Connecticut. In 1819 he removed to Conecuh, and located near the new county site at Sparta. He soon associated with himself, in the practice of law, Hon. John S. Hunter. By his ability, Mr. Oliver soon won the confidence of his fellow citizens. In 1822 he was elected first to the Legislature, in which position he was retained by the popular voice of the people for twelve years. In 1834 he was chosen Speaker of the House. Two years later he was elected to the State Senate from Conecuh and Butler, but this position he resigned upon his removal to Dallas county, in 1837. During this year he was the candidate of the anti- Van Buren party for the office of Governor. But in the contest he was defeated by a majority of 4,000 for Hon. Arthur P. Bagby, of Monroe county. Colonel Oliver died at his residence, on Pine Barren creek, in Dallas county, January 18th, 1838. He was a gentleman of shining qualities, spotless reputation and popular bearing. Had his life been prolonged, he would doubtless have attained great distinction.
DR. JOHN WATKINS
was a distinguished physician, who removed at quite an early period, to Conecuh, where he found himself almost alone, for some time, in his practice. Dr. Watkins was born within a short distance of the scene of General Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, in 1775. Having received a liberal education, he pursued his medical studies in Philadelphia, whence he was graduated in 1804. He first located at Abbeville Court House, South Carolina, where he practiced in the family of Senator John C. Calhoun. He removed to Alabama in 1813, and located first on the Tombigbee river. Later we find him at Claiborne - the only physician between the Alabama and Chattahoochee rivers. Notwithstanding his decided usefulness in his chosen profession, he was urged to represent Monroe in the Constitutional Convention in 1819, and during the same year was elected to the Senate from the same county.
At quite an early period after the settlement of Conecuh, he removed to that county, where his ability was speedily recognized as a physician. But here again he was destined to share in political honors, for in 1828 he was sent to the Senate from Conecuh and Butler. Several years afterward he was chosen to represent Conecuh in the lower branch of the Legislature. In 1842 his services were again demanded in the realm of politics, and he was chosen Senator from Conecuh and Monroe counties. His devotion to his chosen profession, however, continued unabated, and he was assiduous in the accumulation of scientific works, that he might be the more fully prepared to meet the advancing demands of medicine. Dr. Watkins died at his home, near Burnt Corn, in 1854. He was a man of extraordinary physical powers. In manners he was exceedingly plain, and oftentimes very blunt. The following characteristic anecdote is related of him: He had a patient who had for a long time suffered from extreme nervousness. Dr. Watkins having learned that she had a peculiar fondness for coffee, admonished her to discontinue its use. Having been called to visit her again, he found her with her head resting upon her palms, and leaning over the fire-place, where he spied the coffee pot, poised upon a pedestal of glowing coals. Without ceremony, he knocked it from its position, causing the contents to flow out, and then proceeded to kick it across the room, through the door, and into the yard. But he was universally esteemed for his benevolence and hospitality. His memory will ever be cherished in Conecuh, because of his superior public worth.
The subject of this sketch was born is Chester District, South Carolina, July 22nd, 1788. Here he grew to manhood, when he removed to Conecuh, which was in 1818. When he came to the county he found a few struggling settlements, there having preceded him but few of the early emigrants. Like all others, he erected a rude house, and commenced his labors in the boundless forests of Conecuh. Along with the growth of prosperity in the county he continued to accumulate wealth, and by dint of energy and economy, had amassed considerable property before his death. Mr. Crosby was the ancestor of a large offspring. Many of these reside in Conecuh, some in adjoining counties, and others in different and distant States. He was a man of many sterling qualities of character. In him the widow and orphan ever found a sympathizing friend. And when convinced of the worth of a public enterprise, no one was more liberal in contributing to its success. A praiseworthy example of his liberality is found in the Baptist church at Bellville, to which he gave in a cash donation $500. In consideration of this marked liberality, a seat, stained with mahogany hue, was prepared for him, and which he occupied in his attendance upon the services of the church. After a long and useful life of seventy-five years, Mr. Crosby died at his home, between Bellville and Sparta, on May 22nd, 1864.
Among the earliest inhabitants of Conecuh was Fielding Straughn, who was in very many respects an extraordinary man. He was born in Chatham county, North Carolina, in 1783. In 1817 he came to Conecuh, in the full vigor of manhood, and settled his home where Thomas Bobbins at present resides. Such was the hardiness of his physical constitution that he defied all the difficulties encountered by him in this pioneer region. He was a modern Nimrod amid the abundant game that thronged the primitive wilds of Conecuh. It is said to have been a marvel how he could penetrate with bare feet and short-cut trousers, the dense everglades of cane and tangled thickets of briar, as he would chase the flying deer or the retreating bear. Though unlettered, he is said to have been a speaker of marked ability in the religious assemblies, of which he was from time to time a member. In early manhood he had a passionate fondness for pancakes and molasses, and indicated an ambition to become sufficiently wealthy to have them every day, instead of only on Sunday. The object of his gastronomical ambition was finally attained, and finding his desires for other objects increasing with his acquisitions, he declared that every man had a pancakes and molasses point in life which was never reached. Mr. Straughn lived to be quite old, having died in 1867, after reaping his share of the prosperity of the county during "the flush times" of its early history. Because of his calm judgment and extensive practical knowledge, he served the county for a long time as one of her most efficient commissioners. Among other descendants he left two sons - Pinkney and James - the former of whom has been a prominent and useful citizen of Monroe for many years, and the latter of whom has served the county of Conecuh with efficiency, as surveyor, for several successive terms.
Centres of Population - Bellville - Hampden - Ridge - Sparta -Brooklyn - Fort Crawford.
Reference has already been had to the settlements at Bellville and Hampden Ridge. Between the years of 1817 and 1823 the population of both these points was steadily increased. Several brothers, whose name was Bell, came to Bellville, then called "The Ponds," about 1818 or 1820, and having commenced an enterprising life in this region, they called the village after their own name - Bellville. At Hampden Ridge, the home of Mr. Autrey, as at every advance post in this uncivilized region of country, there was a nucleus formed, around which the elements of growth would accumulate as the stream of immigration would continue to flow. As has already been said, by the permission of Mr. Autrey, and partly by his direction, the first court house of the county had been built on Hampden Ridge during the year 1817. After this there came, in rapid succession, and settled hereabouts, the families of Savage, Charlton, Thompson, John and Duncan McIntyre, Dr. Houghton (who soon after died). Major Bowie, Stringer, Causer, Thomas Hodge and Jesse Baggett, the father of Richard Baggett, of Castleberry, who was the first white child born in the county of Conecuh.
By mutual agreement between the white residents on Hampden Ridge, and the Indians, whose camps and villages lay beyond Murder creek, this stream was fixed as the boundary. But regardless of the agreement, the savages would now and then cross the creek in predatory bands, and commit depredations upon the white settlers, by stealing their cattle and driving them beyond the stream, and to the headquarters of the tribe at Old Town. So enraged did the whites finally become, that they resolved upon a total suppression of these wrongs. Accordingly they mustered every one who was able to bear arms and moved in a body to Old Town. This, they attacked with considerable spirit, driving the native inhabitants, terror stricken, away. They next proceeded to set fire to their town of huts and wigwams and reduce it to ashes. Flushed with victory, the triumphant whites returned to their homes, no more to be molested by the prowling Red Man. The Indians having disappeared from this region, the whites commenced to remove to the eastern side of Murder creek. Major Richard Warren was the first to venture across the stream and pitch his home in a region so lately filled with peril. He was soon after followed by his son, who located at the point where he died, one mile east of Sparta. During the same year Malachi Warren entered eighty acres of land and built a log cabin on the spot where, afterwards, stood the Rankin House. This cabin was the first building erected upon the site of old Sparta, which, at this period, had not been honored with its classic name. At this point Malachi Warren opened a place of business that might have been aptly described as a pop-corn grocery. Between the homes of Major Warren and his son, Hinchie, a gentleman, whose name was Spires, located. The place occupied by him was afterwards called the Callahan Place. He was the first to begin the improvement of what has been since known as the Gary Plantation. In 1819, Thomas Watts (uncle to Ex-Governor Watts), removed from Georgia and settled near Malachi Warren's home. During the same year a man named Gauf removed from Tallahassee, Florida, and built below the point where afterwards stood the Eankin House, on the road leading from Sparta to Brooklyn. It was near this spot, too, where the first jail was erected. Mr. Gauf established here the first hotel built in Sparta, and in honor of himself, called it the Gauf House. Like most other structures of this period, this primitive inn was of pine poles and flat upon the ground, and, in the absence of lumber with which to construct shutters for the doors, calico curtains and counterpanes had to be suspended as flaps. About this time there came to this community a Northern physician, whose name was Jonathan Shaw. He engaged board in the Gauf House, and built an office near where the Masonic Hall afterwards stood. It was just subsequent to the events already related, that the court house agitation sprang up between the rival communities of Hampden Ridge and the settlement on the opposite side of the creek. A vigorous effort was being made by the Warrens, Boykins and Hunters, to transfer the site of the county from Hampden Ridge into their own midst. Alexander Autrey led, in a stout opposition, but the decision of the ballot was against him, and, much to his dissatisfaction, he had to yield. Accordingly, in 1820, a new court house was built, and the village thereupon received the name of Sparta - given to it by Thomas Watts, an attorney, in honor of Sparta, Georgia, from which point he had removed. This second court house is said to have been a slight improvement on the one originally built on Hampden Ridge. It was constructed of pine logs, and was, in size, about 20 by 30 feet, and had two doors. In the absence of a local church edifice, it served the double purpose of temple of justice and house of worship. Another court house - the one consumed by fire in 1868 - was erected three years later, by a man named Simmons, from Tallahassee, Florida, and the Masonic Fraternity gave him $500 additional to place the lodge room and attic above. Evidences of improvement began now to become manifest in all directions. The evidences of an ambitious civilization were beginning to show themselves in schools, and in more pretentious forms of business than had hitherto existed. The first school here was undertaken by John McCloud, who taught but a brief period, when he was succeeded by Murdock McPherson. The last named gentleman is said to have been the first Mason buried with the honors of that Fraternity upon the soil of Conecuh. To give marked solemnity to the occasion, a fiddle was brought into requisition, and its solemn tones were evoked in the strain of a funeral march, by a wooden-legged doctor, named Ogden. Anderson and Blackshear, two brothers-in-law, and John and Reuben Dean, built two places of business in this rapidly growing village. And after the removal of the court house, the bar of Conecuh was increased by the location of Samuel W. Oliver, Eldridge S. Greening and John S. Hunter, at Sparta.
Prior to the settlement of Brooklyn proper, quite a community had been formed on Ard's and Bottle creeks. There were in this community, as early as 1818, two stores, owned respectively by McConnell and George Feagin. There was also a school being taught here by Mr. Graham, of Georgia ; and a blacksmith shop, owned by John Brantley. No trace of this settlement, which was about six miles northwest of the present location of Brooklyn, remains. The last vestige has been obliterated by plantations. Among the earliest settlers here were Asa and Caleb Johnston, and Aaron Feagin - their father-in-law. They removed from Georgia in 1818. Richard Curry, grandfather to Rev. W. G. Curry, now of Wilcox, was also one of the founders of this community. The first settler of the village of Brooklyn was a man whose name was Cameron. He established a ferry across Sepulga river. Edwin Robinson, from Brooklyn, Connecticut, bought out Mr. Cameron's interest, opened a store, and called the place Brooklyn, for his native village in New England. This occurred in 1820. He was reinforced pretty soon by the location of Dr. Milton Amos, after whom Milton, Florida, was named. Then followed the families of George and Reuben Dean and Benjamin Hart, who had first settled at Bellville. Improvements were rapidly made in the promising village, and thereabouts. A church was erected in 1821, the pastor of which was Elder Alexander Travis; a school was established under Mr. Scruggs; a grist mill contributed to the comfort and convenience of the expanding village; new places of business were opened, and thus Brooklyn became, in 1821, the emporium of trade to Conecuh, and the river, which runs hard by, became the commercial outlet of the entire region of country.
Transportation was begun on the Conecuh and Sepulga rivers in 1821. It is believed that George Stoneham was the owner of the first boat that sailed upon the waters of Conecuh. The inauguration of this movement was but the signal for many similar enterprises; for in rapid succession were boats entered by Messrs. Edwin Robinson, James and John Jones, Starke and Harry Hunter, and Frank Boykin, so that within a few years the river was alive with well-ladened boats, plying between Brooklyn and Pensacola, and when the depth of water would justify it, ascending as high as Montezuma, above Brooklyn. These were keel- boats, and would carry from fifty to sixty bales of cotton. In capacity they were from sixty to seventy feet long, and eight to ten wide. They were entered in the Custom House at Pensacola, tonnage paid, and then license obtained for steering into port. But the heroic enterprise of these early inaugurators of navigation on the Conecuh river, deserves more extended mention than a bare passing notice, and hence a detailed account of their reverses and successes is reserved for a subsequent chapter. Fresh additions were constantly being made to the population of Brooklyn, and but a short time after its location, we find the families of Hart, Hodges, Meeks, Manning, Slaughter, Folks, Amos, Turk, Burson, Horton, Lee, Halstead, and several families of the Stoneham relationship. These were, for the most part, men of enterprise, and under their direction the work of advancement went steadily on. Vast tracts of land were cleared in the direction of the river, where were soon some of the best improved plantations in the county. Eleven miles below Brooklyn there was a settlement founded on the river, the first inhabitant of which was Malachi Ethridge, who removed with his family from North Carolina in 1818. This well-to-do colony were not neglectful of the advantages which they had enjoyed in the older States, and hence one of the first considerations was the erection of houses of worship. The first church built in this region was a Methodist house of worship, which enjoyed the pastoral ministrations of Rev. James King - favorably known for many years after, as "Father King." In another portion of the community a Baptist church was erected, under the ministerial auspices of Elders Travis and Ellis.
One of the chief attractions of this thrifty community was a manufacturing establishment, which had been built by Thomas Mendenhall, whose ingenuity at that time was proverbial in all parts of the county. Here he was resorted to, from all directions, as the only manufacturer of chisels, augers, cotton-cards, spinning-wheels and gins. Near the village of Brooklyn is a large cave, known as Turk's Cave. A tradition among the earliest inhabitants has it, that it was a place of resort to the noted highwayman, Joseph T. Hare, and his accomplices. It is said to have been the spot where they stored their treasures, and whence "they sallied forth to rob and murder the traders who plied their vocation between Pensacola and the Indian country."*
*Brewer's History of Alabama, p. 194.
now in Escambia county, was one of the points earliest settled in Conecuh. It derived its name from an officer in Jackson's command. Benjamin Jernigan seems to have been the first to pitch his tent in this region. He settled within two and a half miles of where Fort Crawford subsequently stood, and on the west side of Burnt Corn creek, within three-quarters of a mile of the present site of Brewton. This was in the latter part of 1816, or early in 1817. Not more than two or three settlements had been made in the county at that time. Soon after Mr. Jernigan came here, he was joined by James Thomson, Benjamin Brewton, E. J. Cook, Lofton and Loddy Gotten. At this time the fort was occupied by the Seventh Georgia Regiment. General Jackson was in the habit of visiting the home of Benjamin Jernigan - the father of the venerable William Jernigan, now a resident of Pollard. Mr. Jernigan had removed with his family from Burnt Corn Springs for the purpose of herding cattle for Jackson's army. From the direction of Pensacola, Jackson sent the Jernigan family supplies by the Conecuh river, and many were the annoyances to which the boatmen were subjected by the Indians firing upon them from the thickets along the banks. The army quartered at this point received their supplies from Montgomery Hill, on the Alabama river. They were hauled in wagons across the Escambias to Fort Crawford, where for a time all the citizens of this section went to procure bread. The erection of the fort was commenced in 1817. Prior to this time only temporary earthworks had been thrown up. No Indian settlements were then near; but now and then prowling bands would pass through the country, ostensibly on hunting excursions. They usually encamped about the heads of streams, and built temporary shelters of pine and cypress bark. Sometimes they would linger at such points a week together, and then pass onward. In the winter of 1817, tracts of swamp land were cleared of the trees and rank cane, which were burned in the following spring, and the soil planted in corn. Though unprotected by fences, these cleared spots yielded immense crops. The following year an effort was made to fence with the tall cane, but failed.
Soon after the formation of the settlement. Rev. Radford Gotten, a Methodist clergyman, settled in its midst. He was afterwards joined by Rev. Mr. Shaw, also a Methodist minister. Some time prior to this, services had been from time to time held at the fort by Rev. Thomas Walls, a Baptist minister. These services were held at the request of the officers of the fort. In 1818, a church edifice was built on the west side of the river, about four miles above the fort, at a point called "The Bluff." It is thought to have been erected through the influence of Elder Walls. Near this spot a store-house was also built.
The inhabitants living in the neighborhood of Fort Crawford were devoted to farming and to raising cattle and hogs. As early as 1817 they furnished to the markets of Pensacola vast quantities of pease and pumpkins, which they transported in wagons, and exchanged for such delicacies as coffee. So highly were these farm products valued by the Pensacolians, and so great was the abundance of coffee at that period, that a bushel of peas was readily exchanged for a bushel of coffee. The year 1818 was one of sore trial to this interior settlement. The soil had been most fruitful in its yield, but the resources of the earliest farmers had been subjected to great drain by reason of the constant influx of immigration. Such were the straits to which this region was subjected, that corn was sold for four dollars per bushel. During that year the community sent Bartley Colley to New Orleans to purchase supplies of corn, which were shipped to Pensacola. As the Indians persisted in their disturbance of all boats ascending or descending the river, wagons were employed to convey these necessaries across the country. A decided check was put upon these troubles from the Indians, in 1818, by the capture of four hundred warriors, by General Jackson, at Ferry Pass.
In 1818, Mr. Walls, brother to the minister, erected a small grist mill near "The Bluff" and a few years later, Thomas Mendenhall built a saw mill above Fort Crawford. Very little of the lumber sawn here was sold to the citizens, and Mr. Mendenhall, aided by a man whose name was Roily Roebuck, transported his lumber on rafts to Pensacola. Prior to the erection of this mill, the "whip saw" had been used to some extent in the community. The lumber with which were built the houses of the officers of Fort Crawford was sawn with the "whip saw." Other timbers were cut and rafted down the river to Pensacola. The readiness with which man adapts himself to surrounding circumstances is strikingly illustrated by the unique plan adopted here by the residents for conveying the products of their diminutive farms to a favorable market. These fresh bottom lands were abundant in their yield of pumpkins. In order to ship these to Pensacola, a huge cypress was scooped out, somewhat in the shape of a mammoth" batteau, and of sufficient capacity to hold three hundred pumpkins. With a cargo like this these heroic farmers would speed away down the river, and Pensacola reached, their golden fruit was readily sold - realizing for each pumpkin twenty -five or fifty cents - and rejoicing, they would return.
Game abounded here, as elsewhere in Conecuh. But, strange enough, the community about Fort Crawford was destitute of dogs. To obviate this disadvantage, the officers of the fort, having become very intimate with Willie Jernigan, then a boy of sixteen, engaged him to "play dog" for them in routing the deer from their hiding places at the bushy heads of the streams. With many a bark and yelp, he would plunge into the thick coverts, and the affrighted deer would scamper out in all directions, only to be greeted by the leaden bullets of the officers from their stands.
When, in 1819, it was determined to erect a court house on the east side of Murder creek, Benjamin Jernigan, E. J. Cook, Allen and Alexander McCaskill, Mabry Thomas, and several others, were chosen by this community to select a site for its erection. As has already been stated, the point fixed upon was Sparta.
Centres of Population (Continued) -Old Town - Fork Sepnlga - Burnt Corn - Evergreen.
The settlement of this point by the whites was made about 1820 or 1822. Within this period there were residing here Richard Curry, who had settled first near Brooklyn ; Joel Brown, Matthew Ray, William Rabb, Sr., Levi T. Mobley, Capt. Wilson Ashley, Adam McCreary, John Scoggin, and ----- Cravey.
This point seems to have been a favorite one with the original resident tribes. It appears to have been a chosen halting place on the great trail that ran from some prominent point on the Chattahoochee to Pensacola. It is supposed, from its original size and apparent importance, to have been the headquarters of some of the tribes. Here was an extensive community, with all the evidences of having been for a long period occupied. The huts, the patches of ground, the extensive play-grounds and the order in which they were kept, the marks on the trees, the neighboring streams, and the cool, perennial spring, which bursts from amid the hills near the old camp-ground - all these would indicate that it was a point of unusual importance with the native inhabitants. But the chief object of attraction, to the early white settlers, was a memorable tree, which still stands as a source of wonder to the passer-by, and is known by the familiar name of the " Old Flag Tree." Its name is derived from the banner-like shape of its branches at the top. For six or eight feet the trunk is utterly bare of branches, when they assume the shape of a flag by growing in a single direction. There was a tradition among the early white settlers to the effect that this towering tree was a signal to the Indian traders passing from the Chattahoochee to Pensacola, as it was to all the bands prowling through the country. The first white settlers who occupied this point were an enterprising colony. Improvements were begun at once. With characteristic energy, William Rabb, Sr., erected a grist and saw mill on Old Town creek. Joel Brown soon followed with the construction of a water-gin, the first built in this portion of the county; while Thomas Lord proceeded to open a small stock of goods - the chief commodity of which was cheap whiskey ! But four or five miles beyond Mr. Lord's store, William Rabb, Sr., began merchandising upon a more respectable scale, having ample supplies of groceries and dry goods to meet the demands of the growing community. Scoggins' Meeting House was the first place of public worship in this section. And the devotion of the people was manifested by a ready disposition to walk to church, on occasions of worship, the distance of seven or eight miles. Others, more favored, would come on horse-back, or in carts and wagons. The families of William Rabb, Sr., and Adam McCreary were classed elite^ because the former owned an old time gig, and the latter an ordinary Jersey wagon. At this period, postal facilities in the county were exceedingly meagre. The nearest post-office to this community was at Sparta - thirteen miles away. An occasional newspaper would stray into the community of Old Town, and it was sacredly preserved, by the fortunate possessor, until the first general gathering of the people, when, by common consent, some one was appointed to read the marvelous harbinger aloud - and this was done to the infinite delight of the eager crowd circling round.
The stream, between which and Duck creek this settlement was formed, derived its name from a compound Indian term, Sucka Pulga - which means Hog's Creek. A tradition, derived from the Indians, is to the following effect: The Indians lost a large herd of swine from drowning in the stream where Sowells Bridge now spans the creek. The native tribes were accustomed to drive hogs, fattened on the luxuriant mast in the oak and hickory swamps of Lowndes and Montgomery counties, to Pensacola. A drove of these hogs having been drowned at the above mentioned point, the name Sucka (hog) and Pulga (creek) was given it ; and for convenience, the Anglo-Saxons have corrupted the name into Sepulga,
The inhabitant who first settled in this region is said to have been Richard Sermons, who came here in 1818. He was soon followed by Ely Stroud, John Houston, Harrison Harris and Billy Thompson. Later still, we find the homes of Drury Dean, Jesse Cone, Thomas Pigot, Joshua Calloway (a Methodist minister), and Jacob Page - the father of Allen Page (who was murdered near this region), and grandfather to the late P. D. Page, Esq., of Texas, and Haskew Page, now of Sparta. Among the earliest residents here, too, were Abraham Baggett, the grandfather of Rev. Dr. Hawthorne, and William Wetherington. As in all other new settlements, the first improvements here were those born of the absolute necessities of the inhabitants. And almost invariably, if not strictly so, a grist mill was the first public enterprise. Thomas Pigot was the first to meet the public demand in this particular. He constructed a mill upon one of the branches of Duck creek. He subsequently added to his original enterprise a cotton gin. A mercantile establishment had its existence under the auspices of Messrs. Gallagher & Farley. They commenced business, with a substantial stock of staple goods, about 1823. They were succeeded by T. M. Riley, Sr., now of Pineville, Monroe county, who purchased their entire stock in 1826. This point of trade was the same as that which has been long known, by the later inhabitants of the county, as Jackson's Store - the name having been derived from that of two brothers, Wiley and Andrew Jackson, who succeeded Mr. Riley as merchants at this point.
At an early day a church, each, of the Methodist and Baptist denominations, was built within the circuit of this community. The first Methodist minister who served in this region was Rev. Joshua Calloway; the first Baptist pastor's name was Rev. Keidar Hawthorne - the father of Rev. J. Boardman Hawthorne, D. D. The settlers in this part of the county were the subjects of much annoyance from the Seminoles for some time after they located in this inviting region. These depredations were summarily checked, however, in 1818, by General Pushmattahoy - familiarly known as "General Push" - coming to the relief of the settlers with a band of ninety warriors. General Pushmattahoy was a native Choctaw, and friendly to the whites. Placing himself at the head of his chosen warriors, and a few white men, he attacked the Seminoles, who retreated toward the Conecuh river, but were overtaken and captured somewhere in eastern Conecuh, and brought back, via Midway, to Fork Sepulga. These Seminoles were sent forward to the Indian Reservation, west of the Mississippi.
At quite an early period in the history of Conecuh, James Grace removed from Jackson county, Georgia, and commenced the improvement of a home very near the present village of Burnt Corn. He was the first settler in Conecuh, upon its northern border. Two years later he was followed by the families of Joshua Betts, Thomas P. Jones, George Kyser, John Greene, Sr., Samuel Salter, Richard Warren, Joel Lee, Garrett Longmire and Harry Waldrom. These settled, within a circuit of a few miles, during the years 1816 and 1818. There was an unsteadiness in the population for several years together - a constant shifting of location on the part of the settlers. This was due to a disposition to test the lands in all directions before a permanent settlement was made. Nor did this restless spirit cease until the lands were permanently bought at Cahaba, in 1819. With advancing time the population of Burnt Corn continued steadily to increase. Among the most enterprising and public spirited of the emigrants was Captain Hayes. He was a man of wealth and influence. He built the first frame house erected in Conecuh, which still stands, a monument to his taste and enterprise, and is now occupied by William Betts. Near the residence of Captain Hayes a store-house was erected by Mr. Walker in 1822. He is said to have had a substantial stock of dry goods and groceries.
Near Burnt Corn, Captain Hayes purchased an extensive tract of land, of eleven hundred acres - all of which he enclosed in a single fence, and would continue to clear and improve as it was needed. In 1822 he is said to have erected the first gin-house built in Conecuh. He also established a good mill near Burnt Corn.
As much, perhaps, as any other this community was harassed by the Indians. The inhabitants shared in the consternation produced in all parts of the county; and in Monroe, in 1818. So intense did the excitement become, that some of the residents of this portion of the county joined others leaving Monroe, and fled into Clarke county, where they remained until the restoration of peace. In order to provide against the attacks of the Indians, Major Richard Warren, an old chivalric South Carolinian, erected a rude stockade, into which he invited the terror stricken inhabitants to take refuge every night. This kind offer many accepted, and during the intervening day they would resume their accustomed pursuits. But this state of feverish excitement and alarm so paralyzed the energies of the inhabitants that they were unable to cultivate their little fields. Every distant sound was construed into a danger signal, and so much time was thereby lost, that the result was an almost total failure of the crop. John Greene, Sr., bravely refused to enter the stockade, but remained at his home and continued to cultivate his crop, and the consequence was -he reaped a full harvest in autumn. With the restoration of tranquility, the fugitive emigrants returned from beyond the Alabama river, and resumed the improvement of their homes. There came together with them into Conecuh, many who had fled from other portions of the country. Among these I may mention David Jay, the father of Rev. Andrew Jay, who, sharing in the stampede, had gone from the region of Pine Orchard, in Monroe county, to Bassett's creek, in Clarke. Together with Nicholas Stallworth, whose overseer he subsequently became, he returned from Clarke county in 1820, and located about four miles southeast of Evergreen, on what is still called the Stall worth Plantation. After spending about three years here, Mr. Jay removed to the community of Old Town.
DERIVATION OF BURNT CORN.
Many inquiries have been raised, and conjectures made, relative to the origin of the peculiar name - Burnt Corn, Rev. David Lee, whose father was a prominent citizen in this section during its earliest settlement, states that near the large spring, which bursts from beneath the hill below the village, there was the residence of a friendly Indian, whose name was Jim Curnells, and that this Indian gave the following as the real origin of Burnt Corn: Two Indians were returning from Pensacola and stopped at this famous spring to camp. During their stay here, one became sick and was unable to prosecute his journey. His companion grew impatient and resolved to leave him to his fate, not, however, without first having supplied him with a quantity of corn, which he poured in a heap on the dry leaves near the suffering man. Recovering from his sickness, the Indian found himself without a sack into which he could put his corn, and left it heaped upon the dry leaves, which caught from the camp fire, and the corn was partially burned. Travelers, stopping here to camp, found the pile of charred corn, and called the spring Burnt Corn Spring, As trivial as the occurrence was, the fore-going statement deserves great credence as coming from Jim Curnells. During the war of 1812, this friendly Indian was quite serviceable to the American army, and frequently served as courier, carrying important messages from one point to another. In consideration of his invaluable services, the Federal Government donated him 640 acres of land, including Burnt Corn Spring.
now the thriftiest village, perhaps, in South Alabama, received its first installment of emigrants in 1819 and 1820, though the village itself did not find a name until years afterward. When James Cosey, George Andrews and the Messrs. Cluff, first reached this section, the present site of Evergreen was a tangled wild-wood, revelling in dense thickets of briar and cane, with the jungles infested by the native deer, wolf, bear and wildcat. The tiny streams, that still wind their way through different portions of the village, were then strongly barricaded on either side, with impenetrable brakes of cane. And such was the nature of the soil, which skirted the streams, that it was peril to man or beast to tread upon it. Upon the arrival of the emigrants already mentioned, Mr. Cosey and the Messrs. Cluff located within the limits of the present village, while Mr. Andrews pitched his tent upon the hill beyond the small branch, west of Evergreen. Mr. Cosey was an old Revolutionary soldier, and bore the mark of a severe wound in his bosom. Additions were soon made to this diminutive population, for during the years already named there came several other families, among which were those of William Jones, Sr., and George Foote. Of the entire population, Messrs. Andrews and Foote had removed from South Carolina, the others from Georgia. Living contiguous to the vast swamps which border Murder creek, this settlement was peculiarly exposed to the inroads of the bear, the wildcat, the deer, and turkey. The bear and wildcat preying upon the pigs, and the less offensive deer and turkey riotously assailing the ripening grain of autumn. Benjamin Hart erected, at an early day, a good mill, which is now known as the E. C. Smith mill. While subjecting the natural barriers, and wrestling with the grave disadvantages, whose name was legion, these early fathers were not forgetful of the intellectual improvement of their children. About 1820 or 1821, George Andrews opened a small school, about three-quarters of a mile east of the present location of the court house. This gentleman was the father of H. M. Andrews, of Bellville, James W. Andrews, of Allenton, Wilcox county, and of the late George R. Andrews, of Monroeville. In its early history Evergreen gave but little promise of becoming the important point which it is to-day. Located considerably in the interior, it was regarded as being remote from most of the points first settled. For more than an entire decade it was the most insignificant of all the centres of population in the county. But the gradual settlement of the adjoining regions, the rapid improvement of the fertile lands, in the midst of which it is fortunately located, the early educational advantages which it afforded, the importance given it by the Mobile & Montgomery Railway, and the location of the court house at this point, have helped to render Evergreen conspicuous alike as a mart of trade, an educational centre, and a village unequalled in the State for the moral tone of its population.
An Early Home and Its Surroundings- Now and Then - Mode of Transportation Adopted by the Early Fathers - The Home of the First Year - The Improvement of the Second- House Furniture - The Happiness of Former Times
The marvelous changes which have been wrought in our habits and customs, in private and public life, within little more than half a century, deserve some notice at our hands. The prosperity which has been enjoyed almost uninterruptedly by the people of Conecuh is, in large measure, due to the assiduity of the early founders of the society of the county. The fatigue endured, the self-abnegation, the perils braved, and the obstructions overcome, deserve favorable notice in this work. Never did an ancestry deserve more that their heroism be sacredly enshrined in the memory of a posterity. The homes of comfort, nestled amid natural delights ; the extensive and fertile districts of land; the numberless facilities of an advanced civilization ; the wealth gathered through years of toil - all this has been secured to the posterity of a heroic ancestry. Starting from their remote homes in the Carolinas or Georgia, and even from Virginia, these early heroes and heroines were aware of the vast distance that lay between them and their future places of residence in the far South. A wagon or two, drawn by horses, or mules, or oxen, were the sole means of transportation enjoyed by an early emigrant for the removal of his family and chattels.
Stopping at night, the family would rest beneath the sheltering folds of a huge tent. This served as a residence, even after the arrival of the family at their final abiding place, until a more substantial home could be established. With very many families, the method of transportation was inferior, even, to that above referred to. Some regarded themselves peculiarly fortunate in being able to secure a huge waterproof hogshead, into which were tightly packed the effects of the family, after that a long rod had been inserted lengthwise. There was sufficient projection of the rod at either end to enable it to serve as a sort of axle. To these points was fitted a pair of rude shafts, to which was hitched an ox. The movement of the animal gave revolution to the great receptacle, and over long leagues, reaching across the broad areas of States, the faithful ox would draw the unique car, even to the final destination of his master. This reached, the first care was to clear off as large a plot of ground as possible, preparatory to the erection of a temporary dwelling. This was constructed after the following model: Four corner posts were fixed upright in the ground, near the tops of which were fastened two small poles, facing each other, and extending around the four sides of the square. Between these opposite pieces was left sufficient space to insert small saplings, which were driven securely into the ground. Over the top of this clumsy abode were thrown the curtains of the tent, which had served the family in its migration, besides the skins of animals. No care was given, the first year, to a floor for the- temporary home. The heroic settler had to content himself with pounding into firmness the surface of the ground within this rude enclosure. Even the erection of such a rude domicile as this made a heavy draught upon his time. That which most concerned every one was the production of the first crop. But the second year gave the earnest settler more .leisure for the erection of a comfortable house. This was built of hewn logs, which rested upon sills, which in turn were supported by four corner blocks of wood. The roofing was of boards, or rather slabs, riven from split timber. To hold them in position, weight poles were used, which were held at equal distances apart by means of knee pieces. The flooring was constructed of logs cloven into two parts, with the flat surface turned upward. Within this enclosure might have been seen, at the end opposite the family fire-place, a rude bedstead, which was erected in a corner of the room. A single fork, driven through the flooring, served as the support of two beams, which formed the side and foot pieces of this uncomely couch. Meeting in the fork, these pieces of timber were inserted, respectively, into the end and side of the dwelling, - and thus the frame of the bed was erected. Upon this rough contrivance were placed the pieces of timber having the flattest surface. Oftentimes another frame of similar make would be seen in the opposite corner. Some of the family would occupy these beds, while others would lie upon pallets spread on the hard floor.
If emergency demanded the existence of more apartments than one, this was speedily effected by means of curtains and counterpanes, so swung in conjunction with the walls of the corner, as to form a separate room. Cooking was usually done without doors, over a blazing fire, unless the harshness of the weather forbade it. From the centre of the chimney within the dwelling there were suspended the antique "pot-hooks and hangers." One could rarely enter a home of the olden time without finding a huge gobbler, or a leg of venison, swung on either side of the fire-place. During the day the father and sons would till the soil, while the good mother and sisters would serve the cooking, and wake the forest echoes with the live hum of the spinning-wheel, which was usually blended with the spirited songs of these industrious women. The early night was spent around the hearth, made bright and cheerful by blazing pine-knots; and if any member of the circle could read with satisfaction, he was usually assigned this work, while the others joined in the customary labor of carding, spinning, or sewing. And seated thus upon their rough blocks of wood or rude stools, there was enjoyed much of that domestic happiness which has been lost to generations later, even amid the glitter of an advanced civilization.
Customs and Habits of the Early Pioneer Families - Rude State of Society - Early Amusements - Styles of the Former Times - Horseback Riding - Scenes at Public Gatherings
Much in regard to the simplicity of the manners of the early pioneer families will be gathered from what has already been said. The constraints and conventionalities which increase with a developing state of society, found no exception here. Society was composed of men who were bound together by strong ties. A feeling of mutual dependence produced a feeling of mutual esteem. This they sought occasion to evince as they would ofttimes come together in the chase, at the "log-rolling," or at church. Here they freely mingled together, and were controlled as gentlemen by the dictates of natural judgment and good sense. The wives, sisters and daughters would meet most frequently at quiltings, - occasions which served the double purpose of profit and pastime. The occasion of preaching was hailed with delight. Everybody attended, and every one joined with a genuine heartiness in the sacred worship. No laws of dame Fashion were then transgressed by attending church bare- footed, so long as this was regarded a necessity. So highly prized was a pair of shoes during these early times, that the fortunate possessor would guard against tramping in them the entire distance to church, by carefully wrapping them up, and carrying them under his arm until near the place of worship, when he would proceed to wipe the dust from his feet, insert them into his shoes, and stroll onward to church. Or else, men and women, who had each a pair of old and new shoes, would wear the older within a short distance of the place of worship, and then proceed to displace them with the newer ones, while the others were concealed until their return.
Means of conveyance were exceedingly scant. The father and husband would sometimes be seen approaching, on a public occasion, with his wife behind him, and his children disposed upon the back of a faithful horse, as they could find sufficient space. No violence was done the rules of social etiquette when a gallant youth would offer a blushing damsel a seat behind him on his horse. Where social gatherings were less frequent than now, these people of artless customs were loth to separate. Drawn together from distances far apart, and meeting but seldom, they would quietly listen to quite a long discourse on occasions of sacred service ; and when the exercises were over, they would mingle informally together, and render the occasions doubly profitable and attractive to themselves by a free interchange of thought on spiritual experience. After an hour spent thus pleasantly together, a cordial invitation was extended by those living nearest the place of worship, to go with them to their homes and dine. Here was dispensed the freest hospitality, and in the simplest manner, much to the enjoyment both of the entertainer and the entertained.
The favorite amusements of the least spiritual of the male population were shooting matches, foot races, and boxing and wrestling contests. The rude athletic sports, though always begun good-humoredly, were not unfrequently converted into occasions of "rough and tumble" fights. But the primitive '*code of honor" forbade the use of sticks, pistols, or knives. Every contestant would have to depend solely upon his natural resources, should he so far forget himself as to be betrayed into a spirit of belligerency.
Continued Development - Rapid Advancement - Tides of Population - Gathered Fruits of Toil - Improved Homes - Social Changes - Reverses, &c
Never was any section more rapidly populated, perhaps, than was Alabama, during the decade following 1819. The flood-gates of immigration seemed hoisted, and great swollen currents of human masses poured in from Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Georgia. During the most favorable seasons for journeying, the ferries along the Chattahoochee were crowded with immigrant trains. Not unfrequently a family would be checked in its progress, for several days, because of the jam and pressure upon the ferries. Their destinations reached, these heroes and heroines would begin at once to lay the rude basis of a house in the way already described. All the while, the older settlements were making rapid strides in advancement. The sound of progress was heard on every hand. Such was the yield of every returning harvest, that the zeal of the immigrant was constantly stimulated. For as soon as the axe levelled "the giant progeny of the crowded trees," and the warmth of the sun reached the soil, upon which had been accumulating, for ages, stratum on stratum of vegetable mould, the productiveness was immense. Homes, too, were improved. The rude hut of the pioneer settler was displaced by cozy and attractive residences. Skilled educators were sought, and schools, of as high grade as possible, were established. The toils of the spiritual laborer were at length rewarded by the erection of neat houses of worship, filled with devout audiences. The increase of population, the advancement in prosperity, and the growing ambition everywhere evinced by the inhabitants of the county to surround themselves with the comforts and conveniences of life, gave new spirit to merchants of enterprise, and hence centres of business were being rapidly formed. Indeed, all branches of industry were being constantly improved. Each revolving year set the stamp of advancement upon the face of the country. This had the double effect of stimulating the energies of the inhabitants and of holding forth a tempting inducement to the residents of the older States to cast their fortunes, too, amid the primitive settlements of Alabama. But the luxuriant prosperity of Conecuh county was destined to sustain a severe check. Either heedless or ignorant of the fact, that behind the screen of the dense everglades that lined the streams and swamps, there lurked a poisonous malaria, the energetic farmer swept down all alike. The fearful consequence was that this invisible foe to health and happiness, crept forth from its impure retreat, and smote with sickness all that came within the reach of its infectious power. Nature surrounds our stagnant swamps with a luxuriant growth of vines and hanging moss, to protect the inhabitants from the pestiferous exhalations; and when this barrier is swept away, there comes forth disease, shaking us with chills and filling our bodies with the venomous seeds of sickness. This calamitous mistake the early inhabitants of Conecuh made. Finding the lands to increase in fertility as they gradually approached the swamps, they at length invaded the marshes themselves, and even increased the intensity of the malarial power by ditching, thus exposing to the sun the unearthed vegetable matter. As a consequence, there was a wide-spread prevalence of bilious and malarial fevers, and many fell victims to their fatal ravages. A perfect panic was produced, especially in lower Conecuh. Several young physicians died. And such was the consternation among the settlements that many left and returned to their homes in the older States, or else removed to counties more northward. The oldest inhabitants of the county to-day refer to 1824 as a year of fatal sickness.