Clarke County Alabama and Its Surroundings from 1540 to 1877 – Introduction

Clarke County Alabama and Its Surroundings from 1540 to 1877

THE state of Alabama is nearly as large as that part of the island of Great Britain called England. The area of England, according to some authorities, is fifty thousand nine hundred and twenty-two square miles. The area of Alabama is fifty thousand seven hundred and twenty-two square miles. The homes of “Merry England ” are known throughout the English- speaking world. The homes of Alabama, smooth and harmonious as is the name, have not perhaps attained the same wide-spread celebrity.

Among the sixty-six counties into which at present this state of Alabama is divided, the county of Clarke is by no means the most fertile, nor the one most abounding in mineral resources ; nor is it needful to claim for it the most wealth and culture. But it is, as to its area, one of the largest in the state, it has a peculiar locality, and its history is very attractive. Indeed, Clarke county, with its surroundings, the region which, on the following pages, will be not only introduced to the reader, but spread out in some of its details, if not the most beautiful in the state is certainly in some parts grand and in others picturesque ; and if not the most productive in respect to material resources, it contains the localities of the oldest known American settlements in the state, the localities of some of our most noted historic events, and of other events of a tragic and of a romantic interest.

The reader who goes along with the writer through all the chapters of this volume can judge for himself whether the central locality for an interesting research has been wisely chosen ; even should he not be able fully to appreciate the feelings of that citizen in the earlier times, who, when asked in the city of Mobile where he was from, replied, “From the independent state of old Clarke.”

The view of this region which this volume presents is called a Glance into the Great South-East, because the reader will thus be enabled to form quite a full and correct idea of the early settlement, the productions, and the present condition of that larger region characterized by the growth of the long leaf pine, and of that still larger region known as the cotton-growing belt ol the United States, at least of that portion of it lying east of the Mississippi river. Judge Meek, of Mobile, called a work which presents the leading historic events of this same part of Alabama, which was published in 1857, “Romantic Passages in Southwestern History,” a title, he says, suggested by his publishers; and in an oration found in that work, an oration delivered in 1839, entitled “The Southwest,” he assigns this name to the states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. But what might have been appropriate in 1839, when we had no Texas, ‘New Mexico, nor California within our borders, has ceased to be appropriate in the present extent of the territory of the United States.

Texas was annexed in 1845 ; by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, at the close of the Mexican war, other territory was ceded to the United States in 1848  and in 1853 still further territory was secured by the Gadsden purchase. And so in reference to the whole of this broad land, our country in 1877, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, are here called, what they truly are, the Great South-East. Steinwehr, the author of a leading modern geography, calls the three states above named, with the two Carolinas, the South-Eastern States, of which agriculture, he says, is the leading occupation ; cotton and corn, sweet potatoes and rice, being “the principal products.” As New England constitutes our North-East ; as Washington, Oregon, and Idaho constitute our North-West ; so California, Nevada, and Arizona are now the South-West ; and Florida, Georgia, and Alabama are now the South- East.


While visiting in the county for the purpose of recruiting his health in the summer of 1874, the author ascertained that interesting material existed, and could probably be collected, for a local history of this region, and he suggested the same in a printed circular addressed “To the Citizens of Clarke County.” Receiving encouragement from several prominent citizens, he undertook to collect the material; and leaving Chicago October the 17th, 1877, revisited the county, issued a second circular, and spent many delightful weeks in making the needful researches. As the year 1878 opened, at midnight of Monday, he left Mobile for his Western home, to place the accumulated material in its present form.

In September of 1836 the editor of the Clarke County Post, B. M’Cary, urged the desirableness of collecting from the early settlers the materials for Alabama history. Speaking of ” very many matters now resting only in the memory of man,” he well said: “If these matters are permitted to pass from our reach, they cannot be recalled. Now the materials for our history might, in the different sections * * * be collected * * * thereby contributing * * * to a work essentially valuable and indispensably necessary.” He further urged that if not thus collected, when searched for in the future, “the facts and circumstances of the early settlement” would not be within reach, and that thus “a mass of useful information ” would be “shamefully lost.”

Forty-one years have passed since his appeal was made, and soon the last of the men and the women of 1812 will have gone the way of all the earth.

The object of this work is fourfold:

1st. To aid, if even slightly, in rescuing from oblivion and placing in a permanent form some of the incidents, the traditions, the family recollections of the earlier settlers, left unrecorded by Pickett and Meek, historic material which they both prized so highly, and in securing a large amount of which they both accomplished so much.

2d. To place this local history, which otherwise would soon perish, in connection with that collected by others, in one compact volume, for the gratification and instruction of not only the present but of succeeding generations. That to treasure up our local history and secure its transmission to succeeding generations is desirable, is not now, among intelligent Americans in this centennial era, an open question.

3d. To present more fully to the general readers of historic literature in other portions of the Union, and in the present position of this great nation, a view of life in this South-East, both in earlier and in the present time, free from any sectional coloring, or prejudice, or love. 

4th. To set forth the undeveloped resources of the county before the view of capitalists, of home-seekers, and of the intelligent and enterprising, wherever they may be, in this progressive, restless, rapidly changing, migratory age.



It may be asked, Why do I especially undertake this work ? And my first answer is, Because it is a variety of literary work which I peculiarly love. Persons should do, if possible and right, what they like to do. Seeing a fine opportunity for pleasant employment, why, in this land of freedom, should I not improve it ? So far as my knowledge extends, for the object I have in view, no other part of the South-East furnishes such an excellent central position as the county of Clarke.  My second answer is. Because my first recollections of life are among the pines, the dog- wood blossoms, the calycanthus fragrance, the passion flowers, the cotton bales, and the red clay hills of the state of Georgia, twenty-five miles from the city of Augusta, where my father, Colonel Hervey Ball, had for many years his home ; and because during quite a portion of the time between 1850 and 1860 my own home was in the county of Clarke. I claim therefore a personal knowledge of the long-leaf-pine region extending through about fifty years.

My third and final answer is, Because a maiden, in my eyes beautiful, who became more dear to me than any New England or Western girl, the choicest one to me of all the millions in this land, becoming the mother of my one son and one daughter, was born and reared where once lived the singularly beautiful native Mobilian girls, where afterward brown Choctaw maidens dwelt, and where between Muscogees and the Whites such stern conflict once raged. The fact that my own wife was chosen from among the maidens of Clarke, and spent her first nineteen years of life within sound of musket-shot from Fort Sinquefield, I offer as reason sufficient why I should undertake to collect and transmit to others the local history of this beautiful region.


I name as the leading authorities for the statements in this volume,

1. Pickett’s History of Alabama, 1851;

2. Meek’s Romantic Passages in Southwestern History, 1857;

3. Garrett’s Public Men of Alabama, 1867;

4. Brewer’s Alabama, 1872;

5. Various general and special histories, particularly Prescott’s works, and Pamsay’s History of the United States;

6. Benjamin Davies’ Geography, 1815;

7. Holcombe’s Baptists in Alabama, 1840;

8. Mississippi Statutes, Library of Colonel J. W. Portis;

9. Files of Old Papers, Office of Hon. J. S. Dickinson ;

10. Public Documents, Office of Probate Judge ;

11. Life of T. W. Price, 1877;

12. Life and Times of General Samuel Dale ;

13. Personal Researches and Conversations with, various Citizens in 1874 and 1877.

On the first four of the authorities named I offer a few observations.

“Romantic Passages in Southwestern History,” by Alexander B. Meek, who is called by Pickett “Our own accomplished writer, and earliest pioneer in Alabama history,” contains five orations and five sketches. Two of the orations and four of the sketches contain many valuable historic statements. Correcting a few of these which pertain to localities in Clarke county, verifying others, I have made free use of the facts in this very valuable work, so far as they came within my special field. Judge Meek, as a scholar and writer, needs no praise from me. Poet as well as orator, it is sufficient to say that in his day “he was esteemed one of the brightest intellectual ornaments of his state.” Long will the citizens of Alabama preserve his name and his writings. I am glad to acknowledge indebted- ness to so pleasant and amiable a man, to so good a scholar, and so beautiful a writer.

The History of Alabama by Albert J. Pickett, is a work of great value in several respects. As a history of the state it is not complete, since it only reaches the commencement of state life, closing its records in 1820, although referring to the growth of the state up to 1830. It is rather an account of Indian tribes, of Spanish invaders, of French, Spanish, British, and American settlers upon Alabama soil ; of the conflicts between these settlers and the Indians ; and then of a state organization. On the subjects of which it treats it seems to present carefully ascertained facts ; and on these subjects, especially concerning the Indians, the Spanish, the French, and the British, its diligently accumulated facts are of great value. A gentleman of leisure, having time and means at his disposal, and with a strong desire, these are his words, “to be useful to his race,” Albert J. Pickett performed for all succeeding historical writers in the South-East a noble work, in collecting such a mass of facts supported by such abundant authority. The preface has for me a peculiar charm, one sentence of which I venture to re- peat : “”Believing that the historian ought to be the most conscientious of men, writing, as he does, not only for the present age, but for posterity, I have endeavored to divest myself of all prejudices, and to speak the truth in all cases.” That he so endeavored I doubt not; and the many authorities obtained, named in the preface and in the body of his work, are abun- dant evidence of painstaking research.

I have not failed to note that the two writers named both died at about the age which I have now reached. Albert J. Pickett, son of Colonel William P. Pickett, who was a representative and state senator, was born in Kortli Carolina in 1810, and died in 1858. The publication of his history in 1851 is called by Brewer “the crowning event of his life.”

Alexander B. Meek was born in South Carolina in 1814, and died at Columbus, Mississippi, in 1865. The former was therefore forty-eight, and the latter fifty-one years of age. And fifty-one is the number of years which I also count in this year of 1877.

Garrett’s “Public Men of Alabama,”” is quite a large volume, filled with records, reminiscences, and sketches of the various governors and members of the Alabama Legislature during those eventful thirty years from 1837 to 1867. Himself a man in public and official life, Secretary of State for twelve years, William Garrett was well qualified for the work which he accomplished. Born in Tennessee in 1809, and, like Judge Meek, the son of a Methodist minister, he had reached at the time of the publication of his work the full maturity of his mental powers. I have valued especially his sketches of the various writers in Ala- bama and their different works. I have examined with care his statements concerning some of the public men of Clarke.

Brewer’s “Alabama”” presents, according to the author’s preface, “a collection of such facts in relation to the present and past of Alabama as best deserve preservation.” It contains a brief  ” Outline History” of seventy-four pages, a condensed view of the “material aspects” of the state, lists of officers and of counties, and short sketches of the different counties ; also the “Alabama War Records.” Like Garrett’s work it devotes considerable space to a record of public men, that is, men in official and political life. I have consulted it with interest and profit.

The author, W. Brewer, was born near the hamlet of Belmont, in Sumter county, Alabama, not quite forty years ago. His father, like the father of Pickett, was a planter and a country merchant. The family came originally from Georgia, one branch being among the earliest settlers of Washington county. W. Brewer is now Auditor of the state of Alabama. His mother was a sister of Rev. Isaac Hodden, a pioneer Presbyterian minister, the founder of the first Presbyterian church in Montgomery.

Other historic writings pertaining to this same part of the Union, this South-East, are thtse: Bench and Bar of Georgia, Hawkin’s Sketch of the Creek Country. Stevens’ History of Georgia. Historical Collections of Georgia, Irving” s Conquest of Florida, and a num- ber of other works which may be found named among Pickett’s numerous authorities; but no local history, such as this work purports to be, has yet appeared, so far as I can learn, concerning any portion of the state of Alabama.

Other works, connected especially with Florida proper and with the Indians there, are Sprague’s Florida War, Giddings’ Exiles of Florida, 0sceola by Mayne Reid, Osceola by A. B. Street, and a poem. The Seminole’s Defiance.

Fronde, a noted English historian of our day, says that history is “a voice forever sounding across the centuries the laws of right and wrong. Opinions alter, manners change, creeds rise and fall, but the moral law is written on the tablets of eternity.” Perhaps echoes at least of that voice the listening reader here will hear.