LAUDERDALE COUNTY, ALABAMA
HISTORICAL ADDRESS OF
HON. WM. B. WOOD,
JULY 4, 1876
As published in the Florence Gazette
July to September 1876.
From 1818 to 1830 the tide of immigration was continuous; and increasing with each succeeding year filled the country with an intelligent, enterprising wealthy community. Capital was brought in and the building of houses went on rapidly. The large brick Hotel which stood on the brow of the hill on Main Street was built about 1820. The Court House was completed about the year 1820. Nearly the entire block of storehouses on both sides of the Court House were built. Family residences were being rapidly erected. Brick masons, carpenters, and plasterers had their hand full of work and were growing rich. Large warehouses were put up near the river for receiving and forwarding goods. Huntsville, Athens, Pulaski, Fayetteville, and all the counties of Tennessee bordering on Alabama received their groceries and goods here. Every day trains of wagons would come in, receive their loads and depart. it was quite a lively picture to see the streets filled with six-horse teams, to hear the “get up” of the teamster, and the sharp crack of their whips as they rolled out of town to their camp on Sweet water. A large wholesaler as well as retail business was rapidly growing up, and everything indicated that the expectations of the most sanguine, as to the future of Florence, would be fully realized. The culture of cotton in Madison, Limestone and East Lauderdale had progressed with wonderful rapidity and the trade in that direction had become so large, that it was found that the facilities of transportation must be increased. Thus the project of digging a canal around the Muscle Shoals was initiated, Congress made an appropriation of lands for the purpose, Commissioners were appointed to dispose of the lands and build the canal. I do not know how the lands were disposed of, nor the amount realized, but I remember there was considerable dissatisfaction created when they sold; what gave rise to it, or whether it was just or not, I do not know, nor is it material now to consider; the effect of the disaffection was, to greatly embarrass the Commissioners in their work, prevent further appropriations, and ultimately, just as the great work was being finished, to put a stop to it, and allow it to fall into ruin and decay. Every effort was made to get a small appropriation from the General government, and also from the State, but resulted in failure. During this period the political question arose whether the Federal Government ought to make appropriations for Internal Improvements, when the work was of rational [sic – national?] importance, or affected the interests of several states? The Whig party with Henry Clay, as their leader, were in favor of the exercise of the power: and the democratic party, with General Jackson in the lead, opposed it, Alabama was Jackson to the backbone. He had killed the Indians and Packenham, and his popularity was immense. So it was put in the Democratic platform that there should be “No Internal Improvements by the Federal government.” Northern Democrats accepted the platform; but notwithstanding the doctrine was so explicitly laid down, the Congress did make appropriations every year for various works in the North and the Northern Democrats would vote for them. The result was that for thirty years the South got the platform and the North got the money. What did they care for the paper platform when millions of dollars were at stake? They would knock it down every session of Congress and build it up again just before every election. Southern politicians were too conservative, or they had not learned “the ways that are dark” of the shrewd yankee, even so much as to ask for an appropriation. Only to think of the millions of money that was appropriated for northern rivers, lakes, roads, creeks, canals, etc., for thirty years, and scarcely a dollar for the South. But we saved the platform. Principles not men, nor money, was our motto; and like the passenger who got off the railroad car to buy a pie and was left, in his chase to overtake the train, lost his hat and ticket, but comforted himself by saying, “By golly, I saved my pie.”
The canal, however, was so far completed that in 1839-40, a large number of faltboats passed down, and one steamboat passed up through it. The steamboat Melton, was built for the trade above the shoals. On her trial trip a large party were invited to a pleasure excursion through the canal. But alas, for our pleasure, as well as for the enterprise, when the boat entered the first lock it would not close. A lively discussion arose as to whether the lock was too short or the boat too long, which was decided in the affirmative by a fisti-cuff between two of the passengers. During the following winter a break occurred in the dam across shoal creek, and all assistance being refused by both the Federal and State governments, this great work was suffered to go to ruin. but now, after thirty-six years, the government has taken hold of it again, and in a few years we hope to see the boats passing through every day, thus opening up to easy and cheap transportation the vast trade of one of the richest countries in the South, both in mineral and agricultural products.
During the work on the canal two enterprising contractors, John R. and S. S. Henry, concluded to build up a town near the mouth of Blue Water, which from the beautiful situation they called Belle View. They also conceived the idea of building a bridge across the Tennessee river at that point. The river being nearly two miles wide and very shoaly, they thought a trestle bridge could be made to stand. It was, at considerable expense, built and completed; but scarcely had the last span been laid, before the rapids, as if in contempt and derision of the frail structure by which they sought to cross its roaring tide, swept it away, and scattered its timbers from here to the mouth of the river. This bridge gone, the canal at a stand still, Belleview soon subsided and went out of view. John R. Henry afterwards went to East Tennessee where he was living during the war, I have not heard where he was living during the war, I have not heard from him since; S. S. Henry went to Mississippi, I do not know whether he is living or dead.
About this time was also started the project of building a railroad from Florence to Pulaski. At first every one entered heartily into the scheme and it appeared, from the enthusiasm with which it was received. a charter was obtained, commissioners to receive subscriptions of stock appointed, the books opened, a large crowd had assembled in Florence on the day for taking stock, and considerable excitement was created. Unfortunately for this as well as for other enterprises, our ablest and wealthiest men had grown jealous of each other, the people took sides with their favorites, and the community became almost equally divided. By some indiscretion this division got mixed up in the railroad project, and each party attempted to secure a controlling amount of the stock so as to elect the board of directors and president. __ When all the stock had been taken but about fifty thousand dollars, Littleberry Leftwich, a merchant, and a bold fearless man, finding that the party to which he belonged was likely to be in the minority, stepped up and enquired how much was lacking to build the road, and when told, he subscribed it all and closed the books. The other party then withdrew their subscriptions, and the railroad was dead. – Twice since there has an effort been made to revive this enterprise but hitherto it has proved a failure. We hope that it will yet be accomplished, and that future generations will reap a great benefit from it.
The next enterprise was the erection of a bridge across the Tennessee river at Florence. This succeeded, and about the year 1840 the great work was finished at a cost of about $150,000. Thomas Pearsall was the contractor – He is now living Montgomery. This bridge was partially carried away by a tornado in 1854, and one year afterwards the remainder was taken away by another wind. In 1858 the Railroad bridge was erected on the old piers, and in 1862 was burned by confederate troops. This folly of burning our own bridges and destroying cotton was, perhaps, the least excusable of all the follies committed during the war.
A considerable impetus was given to trade by the enterprising spirit of some who had turned their attention to manufacturing. Sam Vanlier erected his iron furnace, on Butlers Creek, about 15 miles from Florence, and his wagons were daily laying down at the wharf tons of blooms and pig metal. Martin & Cassity who had hitherto carried on extensively the carpenters business in Florence, and made a good deal of money, built their lumber and grist mills, and then their cotton mills, on cypress. Then followed the Lauderdale Mills, by Wilson & Key; then the Cowpen Woolen Factories of Foster, Fant & Berter, and Darby, Benham & Co., and James Martin & Sons, and the new Cotton Factory of Martin, Weakley & Co., and the Foundry of Wright & Rice; every year new factories were being built, opening up a large trade, and promising great prosperity to the county. During the war one Dodge, a general in the Federal army, applied the torch to them and reduced them to ashes, for which gallant deed his name will ever be held in hateful rememberance [sic] as it deserves to be. Since the war Martin & Sons have rebuilt one of the cotton mills on Cypress, and Irvine, Brandon & Co, have built a cotton mill on Little Cypress about 7 miles from Florence.
In 1819 the Florence Gazette was established, by W. S. Fulton, and ever since then it has been an institution of this county with but a short intermission. After Fulton removed to Arkansas, about the year 1828, W. R. Wallace became the editor; he was succeeded by Judge S. C. Posey, and he by Joshua D. Coffee, and he by M. C. Gallaway, then it was edited successively by Dalton, Kennedy & Taylor, Kennedy and Peebles, Kennedy & Bynum, then Dr. M. Deavenport took charge of it, who sold it to the Barr Brothers in 1858, who were editors and publishers until the war, when every body turned soldier its publication was suspended. It was revived again by James B. Irvine, Esq., in 1875, and is now still vigorous and healthy, the same old advocate of Democracy, in the 58th year of its age.
A number of other newspapers have at various periods been established; flourished a while and then subsided. The Florence Enquirer, a Whig newspaper was commenced about the year 1840 under the editorial management of R. A. Madra, who afterwards disposed of it to Judge J. T. Harraway, who conduced it to the time of his death in 1844, when it fell into the hands of Wm. L. Todd,. and on the death of Mr. Todd, the paper died also.
During the Know-Nothing excitement, a newspaper was established by that party, called the American Democrat. The motto was “Put none but Americans on Guard.” A fellow from New Hampshire named Wheeler was employed as editor It was not long until he was exposed as a rank abolitionist, and as the South was then too hot a place for such characters, he left between two suns, in order to avoid a coat of tar and feathers which some of the enemy intended to bestow on him whilst the guard slept. John Hatcher afterwards took charge of the paper and conducted it with ability until the Know Nothing party played out and then the paper played out too.
Since the war the newspaper business has been pretty lively. New papers, editors and parties, have sprung up, flourished for a while, and then slept with the generations before the flood.
In the fall of 1863 Dr. D. R. Lindsay started the Florence Journal, and continued it until the first of 1868. during this time Alabama and Georgia were under military rule, Gen. Pope being in command of the department, his headquarters being at Atlanta, Georgia, from where he issued all orders, edicts, &c. Dr. Lindsay being an uncompromising Democrat, handled the Radical party, and General Pope, too, without gloves, which called down the wrath of this petty tyrant upon the heads of all Democratic editors in the State, and caused him to issue his infamous Order known as No. 40, which closed out nearly every Democratic paper in the State by taking from them all legal printing and giving it only to such as would support him in the administration of the political affairs of the department. In order to retain the legal printing at home, the Messrs. Barr took charge of the paper, changed the name to that of Literary Index, and continued the publication of that paper during the year 1868. But it was found that the people were not “Literary” inclined, and so the name was changed back to Florence Journal, and Dr. Lindsay again becoming editor. Democratic in politics it was more to the taste of the people, and flourished. The editor, however, longed for the flesh pots of Washington city, where he had dwelt before the fuss between the North and South, and sold out to Messrs McFarland & Jones Esqrs., who remained in partnership but a short time, Mr. Jones disposing of his interest to Capt. Robt. McFarland who conducted it with ability up to 1872, when he sold it to W. J. Wood, Esq; who had established the Lauderdale Times, and the two papers united, were called Times-Journal, W. J. Wood, editor, Isaac S. Barr, publisher. In 1874 Geo. P. Jones and Jas. K. Powers become editors of the Times-Journal; but in 1875 they disposed of it to J. B. Irvine, Esq., who re-established the Florence Gazette out of the materials and the Gazette is now the only papers of the county. About the beginning of the year 1874 the party established the Florence Republican, with D. J. Haynes as editor At the general election in November, 1874, the Republicans were defeated in almost all the States, and badly so in this State; the paper did not long survive the defeat of the party. The Grangers purchased the press and W. B. Taylor, Esq, became the editor. It only lived about a year in this new character when it delivered a valedictory, and has not since been revived.
An examination of the old records develops that in 1817, when this part of the Mississippi territory, this county was called “Elk county.” In 1818, when it became Alabama territory the name was changed to Lauderdale. W. W. Bibb was Governor, Wm. S. Fulton, Judge of the County Court, George Coalter was clerk of County and Orphans court, Hugh McVay, clerk of the supreme court, Joel Rice, sheriff, Zedekiah Tate, Assessor and Tax collector. The first suit recorded was between Charles Conaway and Wm. Adams, by attachment, issued by Z. Tate, justice of the peace, for Elk county, 11th day of August, 1817. On 1st August, 1818, Isaac Lindsay sued David Mayberry, Joseph Huddleston, Stephen German, Wm. Hannon and others for an assault and battery. The deposition shows that Lindsay and others robbed a barge; that they were arrested and the choice was given them to be carried to Matteson [sic – Madison] county to jail, or take a whipping and be turned loose; they decided to take the whipping, and were tied up and given thirty-nine lashes – they afterwards sued for damages, and recovered.
The civil administration of the county has always been in the hands of faithful and competent men. No case of default, or corruption in office, has ever existed. Many officers, after once being elected, were so well qualified, and proved so faithful and honest, that they were continued in their offices until they died.
The Circuit Judges who presided over the Courts of this county were, Richard Ellis, John White, Wm. Adair, Daniel Coleman, Sidney C. Posey, Leroy P. Walker, John E. Moore, David P. Lewis, John D. Rather, James S. Clark and Wm B. Wood.
The county judges under the old County Court system which existed from 1830 to 1850 were: George Coalter, W. S. Fulton, S. C. Posey, Jno. T. Harraway, Luther T. Thustin and Wm. B. Wood.
The Probate Judges under the new system which commenced in 1850, were Wiley T. Hawkins, B. F. Foster, V. M. Benham, John Walston, Thos. T. Allington and James Jackson.
The Clerks of the County Court under the old system were George Coalter from 1818 to 1820, William W. Garrard from 1820 to 1840, and Wiley T. Hawkins from 1840 to 1850. W. W. Garrard was in office, as clerk, twenty years, and W. T. Hawkins was clerk ten years, and then elected probate Judge, which office he filled twelve years, until his death in 1862.
The Clerks of the Circuit Court were: Hugh McVay, Samuel Craig, Presley Ward, S. P. Waddell, George W. Sneed, Wm. Arnett, R. B. Baugh, V.M. Benham, W. P. Pettus, Jno A. Thompson, James Jackson and A. W. Porter.
The sheriffs were, Joel C. Reid, C. B. Roundtree, Martin Harkins, Saml. Harkins, Michael Young, Jas Benham, Jno Arnett, W. P. Pettus, V. M. Benham, Robert McClanahan, Wm. F. Karsner, Jno. Gracy, S. J. W. Ives, S. B. Hudson, C. W. Wesson, A. D. Lewis and W. T. White.
The country treasurers were Seaborne Roundtree, John Asher, Joseph Bigger, Benjamin F. Karsner, Geo. W. Karsner, T. R. Powers and Jno T. Westmoreland.
The Postmasters, in Florence, were W. S. Fulton, John Craig, James H. Weakley, John D. Coffee, Joshua D. Coffee, George W. Sneed, John A. Smith, Josiah Pollock, and Henry W. McVay.
The Justice of the Peace in Florence beat were, Alexander H. Wood, John Asher, Daniel McNeil, Joseph Bigger, Thomas I. Crow, B. F. Karsner, S. A. M. Wood, O. H. Oates, Josiah Pollock, George W. Sneed, N. H. Rice, W. D. Taylor and P. R. Garner.
The Registers in Chancery Court were, Luther T. Thurstin, J. Coffee Simpson and Toliver L. Chisholm.
Return to W. B. Wood's 4th of July Address, page 1
Go to W. B. Wood's 4th of July Address, page 3
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