LAUDERDALE COUNTY, ALABAMA
HISTORICAL ADDRESS OF
HON. WM. B. WOOD,
JULY 4, 1876
As published in the Florence Gazette
July to September 1876.
Dr. Gabriel Bumpass was one of the physicians of the county in ability as well as in point of time. Of very large stature, weighing about three hundred pounds; very eccentric in manners and laconic in expression, an excellent physician and ruling spirit, he acquired considerable celebrity. He possessed an endless variety of proverbs and never wasted any breath in giving expression to his thoughts. His rule seemed to be multum in parvo. He lived to the great age of an hundred years, having died a few years ago at the residence of his daughter, Mrs. Till, in this county. His sayings, are often quoted to this day by the people who knew him as the words of a wise man, which he was.
Dr. John H. Woodcock was a decided character both as a citizen and physician; a tall, fine looking man; bold and reckless in the expression of his views a well-read physician, and decidedly partisan. He was an accomplished physician, and had an extensive practice. – He moved to Mobile about forty years ago and died a few years since.
Dr. Levi Todd, a good and faithful doctor whom so many loved, and had great reason to love. A Kentuckian, with all the noble qualities of the Old Kentucky gentleman. If there ever was a true and honest, a faithful and upright man it was Doctor Todd. Nearly twenty years have passed since he quit the state of action, but his memory is fresh and green in the hearts of many still living, who were the recipients of his kind attentions and skillful ministrations.
Dr. Bruce was an excellent man and physician. He died in the meridian of [It appears that there should be another line of type here, before the word ‘life.’]life. Had he lived he would have attained to eminence in his profession.
Dr. Rucker, was without a superior. An accomplished physician, a man of great mind and well cultivated; a Christian and prominent member of the church. He died in the prime of life as deeply regretted as any man who ever lived in our community.
Dr’s. Powell, Cowels and Dickey, were all excellent physicians and enjoyed the highest respect and consideration of this community. Dr. H. J. Posey and Dr. Mattingly were highly esteemed as physicians; both moved away, and I think, both are now dead. But of all the physicians that ever lived in our town, none were the superiors of our lamented James T. Hargraves. No man ever had such a hold on the confidence and affections of the people, and retained it with such unvarying success, to the end. For more than forty years, he enjoyed a position that few ever attain. His social qualities made him the life of every company and the welcome guest of every household. He was noble and generous, and left behind him living testimony of his benevolent acts in many who were the recipients of his generosity. He was of the first order of physicians, and, what is most remarkable, had the sincere, respect and confidence of the profession without any of the jealousies which, unfortunately, prevail too much in that noble profession.
Dr. Ross and Pugh Houston, were intelligent and skillful physicians. Brothers of Governor Houston, and like him, men of note in their profession. Dr. Calicott and Dr. Reeder were justly esteemed in that portion of the county where they resided, and their memory will be held in sacred remembrance by the thousands to whom they ministered in their afflictions.
Dr. B. F. Crittenden was one of the best and purest of men, as well as skillful and intelligent as a physician. Of fine personal appearance; open, frank, and cordial in his character; generous and noble, he was a man to be loved as well as esteemed. His impulses were always of the highest and his big heart made him the friend of every one, and every body his friend. He died in the prime of life, deeply lamented.
Dr. John Beckwith was one of the earliest physicians of the country. He was esteemed a good physician; a devoted friend to this friends, a bitter enemy of his enemies. He was quite a politician as long as Henry Clay lived; when Mr. Clay died he believed the country lost, and gone to a distant place, not worth striving for, so he took little or not interest in politics afterwards.
Dr. N. Rowell is still living, though long since retired from the practice of medicine. He came to this country about forty years ago from Ohio. For many years he practiced his profession in Florence very successfully. He then removed to the country and turned his attention to planting, in which pursuit he met with success. Dr. Rowell resides at present on his plantation, and though of advanced age, is still the same tall, straight, dignified, intelligent, affable, and Christian gentleman, that he always was. In his mature years he enjoys the highest regard of the entire community.
There were many other physicians who adorned their profession who have moved away to other States, and some still living in the county well worthy to be noticed in these sketches; but my object is not to speak of the living, as they are still making history; unless it be of some who have retired from public walks, and in the calm sunset of life are sending back the mellow rays which shine from a spotless character and an unspotted record. May their examples be as “lights along the shore that never grow dim”, to guide the youth of our land to honor and prosperity.
I desire to say to the readers of these reminiscences, that when I first consented to the publication of the address which I delivered on the 4th of July, I expected to furnish the manuscript as delivered, with a few corrections; but at the request of many of the older citizens, some of whom have kindly furnished me scraps of history, I have greatly enlarged its scope, and have been trying to record those events which were of interest to the people of the county, for the double reason, of affording the aged the pleasure, peculiar to old age, of living over the scenes and associations of their youth, and at the same time giving the present and future generations an insight into the labors and struggles of their ancestry to build up for themselves and their posterity a good name, a competency of this worlds goods, and an enlightened public sentiment. Let no man be ashamed of his ancestors’ employment if it were honest and respectable. Many of our best and most worthy men have sprung from humble parentage; many of the poorest have, in the changes that are constantly going on in the world, become wealthy, whilst many who were wealthy have become poor in respect to property; thus the truth and justice of the couplet,
“Honor and fame from no condition, rise,
Act well your part - there all the honor lies.”
Having concluded to speak of our fathers by classes, or professions, I come now to those who, as a class, do more to build up the prosperity of a country than any other class or profession. The business of merchandizing has always been hazardous, and very few, comparatively, become permanently rich. Of course the commerce of the world is built up and promoted by them. To them every other profession, trade and occupation is indebted for the necessaries and luxuries of life. However much we may cry out against them we cannot dispense with them. They are a necessity for the good and welfare of any community, and it is a great mistake to call them a ‘necessary evil.” Such expressions are the offspring of prejudice and envy, unworthy of enlightened minds. The truth is, there is no honest occupation a “necessary evil.” Every trade, and profession, and business, followed with an honest and earnest desire to benefit the human family in any way, is a necessary good, and should be encouraged.
James Sample was the first merchant in Florence. He brought the first stock of goods in 1817, and built a log store house on the lot at the intersection of the Military road with Main Street. Mr. Sample was also a brick mason, and soon after the sale of the town lots there was such a demand for work in this line, that he sold out his goods and devoted himself entirely to building brick houses as Master Mechanic. He followed this vocation about thirty years. Nearly every brick house and chimney built in Florence, and many in Tuscumbia, as well as numbers in the country, were built by Mr. Sample. And the business is still carried on by his son, our worthy townsman, Mr. Henry W. Sample. In the year 1852, Mr. Sample who had acquired a fair fortune and become the owner of a good many negroes, purchased a plantation near Tupelo, Miss., and removed there, where he spent the remainder of his days.
Richard Rapier was the next person who opened a store in Florence. He built the house where the Drug Store is now kept, opposite the Court House. He was the first who brought a barge loaded with goods up the Tennessee River, about which I gave some account in the beginning. He was an old bachelor, and lived on the lot where Mr. Blair now lives. The colored man, John Rapier, who for forty years was the barber of our town, belonged to him, and was reputed to be his son. Mr. Rapier died about the year 1829 or 30, and was buried, at his own request, on the lot, somewhere near where Mr. Blair’s stable now stands. Of John Rapier, though a colored man and laboring under disadvantages on that account, let it be said, that he always enjoyed the reputation of being honest, peaceable, industrious and intelligent. He became free and raised his family to the best advantage possible. Educated his children and taught them their duties and obligations to society. Since emancipation one of his sons, Jim Rapier, was elected to congress from the Montgomery District where there is a large majority of colored voters. He stands high in the Republican party, and proportionable low with the white people of the State.
John and Thomas Simpson were amongst the first merchants of this county. Mr. John Simpson acquired a large fortune and enjoyed the confidence of the entire county. For a long period he did the largest business of any merchant in the town; his popularity and credit were almost without bounds. a public spirited and enterprising man, he entered heartily into every proposition that had for its object the advancement of the material or social interests of the town or county; and always contributed liberally of his means to its promotion. I have heard him say, that he made frequent trips from here to Philadelphia, on horse-back, leading pack-horses to carry his money, for the purpose of buying goods. The goods were sometimes transported to Pittsburg by wagons, and thence down the Ohio river in flat-boats, and up the Tennessee in barges. Mr. Simpson lived to raise a large family of sons and daughters, some of whom still reside in this town and county, and may justly feel proud of the inheritance of a name which was so honored by his fellow citizens He died in 1866.
Hugh Thomson came to this county in its flush times. He was first a clerk with Simpson, McAlester and Co., then, I believe a partner. He married Miss Boggs and having received a handsome estate from Ireland bought the tract of land now known as the “Peters home place” and went to planting cotton. This not proving profitable he sold out, come [sic] to Florence and went to merchandising in which he continued up to the year 1848. He then went to New Orleans, and early in1849 when the cholera broke out he fell a victim to the pestilence. Mr. Thomson in his early life was a high-liver, fond of fine horses, fine wines, gay company and entertained like a nobleman; and thus he spent most of his money. In a few years, however, he changed his entire life; joined the Presbyterian Church, became devotedly pious and so lived and died. He was a noble-hearted, generous and good man.
Bayles E. Bourland was a merchant, first in Florence, then in Rodgersville. No man ever lived in this county who enjoyed more of the public esteem, and who was more worthy of it, than he. He filled various offices and always with honor. Justice of the Peace all his life; Superintendant [sic] of public schools; County Surveyor; member of the Legislature; in public and private life he was the same quiet, intelligent, honest and conscientious citizen. He was killed by lightning whilst stopping under a small tree by the road side, for shelter from the rain, in the year 1868.
Edwin B. Westmoreland carried on the mercantile business at Lexington in this county. He was a very industrious and popular merchant, but like many others too indulgent with his customers. He raised a large family of daughters and one son, our present County Treasurer, John T. Westmoreland, who has followed merchandising all his life, and always with success until the late financial troubles which have involved and ruined so many of our best merchants.
Thomas Simpson, after merchandizing some years in Florence, was appointed by Gen. Jackson to a land office, in Demopolis where he remained. After a number of years he returned to Florence, having met with the sad misfortune of losing his eye-sight. He was an elegant and intelligent gentleman, and spent the latter years of his life in visiting the merchants stores and lawyers offices, to hear the read the current news of the day in which he always took a lively interest. He was always welcome to every fireside, for he was a social and pleasant companion and good man. He died in the year 18__.
Thomas and James Kirkman were of the early merchants of Florence. Thomas Kirkman lived and died here. James Kirkman went to New Orleans, and engaged in the cotton and commission business for a long series of years, and died there just before the war. These gentlemen became wealthy. They had an extensive trade in Florence, and another store in South Florence. Mr. Thos. Kirkman engaged extensively in planting in Mississippi, and in later years went into the iron business down in West Tennessee near the Cumberland river He was also, at one time, largely interested in steamboats. He was the owner of a number of the best race horses in the country. The renowned Peytona belonged to him. He died in 1863.
Martin & Saml. Harkins were large merchants and amongst the first. They commenced business with a grocery and gradually enlarged until they became extensive dealers in every thing. Both of them were at different periods elected sheriff of the county during the flush times. Neither of them ever married. Mr. Martin Harkins is still living, an octogenarian, on his plantation in this county.
Percifer F. Pearson for twenty years was an extensive and popular merchant. But he acquired two very ruinous habits for any man, more especially for a merchant. He was very fond of gaming, and its associate vice of drinking. In a few years after he gave himself up to these destructive vices, he became involved, lost his business, made assignments, closed his doors, became a drunken beggar, and died dependant on friends for his burial. A sad example of the evil effects of drinking and gaming.
John Edie was an early merchant about whom I have very little recollection. I remember, however, of a great excitement produced by the robbery of his money drawer by one of his clerks. The unfortunate young man hid the money under the steps which lead to the galley in the Presbyterian church. There was at that time a company of Regulators, composed of some of the best citizens of the town, who often took the violaters of the law into their hands without waiting for the “due course of justice,” which was too dilatory; they called themselves “Captain Slick’s company.” This company took the young clerk in hand, and after putting him through what they called an examination, he confessed his guilt, and returned the money They then bestowed on him their benedictions and gave him a coat of tar and feathers, and sent him out into the world to seek his fortune.
Henry A. Bragg & Marshal Clark were for a long time prominent merchants. They confined themselves strictly to dry goods. Mr. Bragg was an elder in the Presbyterian Church, a good man, and an excellent citizen. He went from this place to Memphis where he died. Mr. Clarke continued business in his own name until his death.
Ezra Webb came here from Louisville and for several years was extensively engaged in the wholesale grocery business and largely interested in steamboats, both in the Ohio and Mississippi rivers lines. In those days the prospects of Florence to become a city were bright. A number of wholesale houses were established. Four or five of the largest class New Orleans boats were running regularly in the trade and as many to Louisville, and merchants with capital and enterprise engaged in business. But the “crash” as it was called which followed the “flush times” destroyed all these bright anticipations. Col. Webb went back to Louisville and engaged in business there up to the time of his death.
Peter Saffarrans was an early resident and commenced as a Tinner. He carried on an extensive business, made money, and went to merchandising in 1838. He was just in time to be involved in the general crash which followed. He died in 1840, and his estate was so involved that but little was left to his family. His widow, however, was energetic and brave and opened a Milliners establishment by which she supported and educated her family. The entire family are now dead.
Dr. Waddy Tate came here from Limestone County and engaged in business during flush times, but succumbed when the crash came.
R. M. Patton was largely engaged in the mercantile business, and continued in it for more than twenty years. The writer [William B. Wood] entered his store in 1836, as under clerk. There was constant employment for four or five clerks. Gov. Patton was one of the successful merchants. He was Bank director of the Decatur Bank; went to the Legislature, attended to his planting interests; was interested in steamboats, and many other pursuits engaged his attention. A man of business and financial skill, he has made life a success in every department from the counter to the chair of Governor of the State.
John M. Davis was a merchant in Florence, then in Lexington, then again in Florence, and continued in business until the war closed all the store doors. He then removed to Louisville, Ky., and has been in business there until lately, we met him a few days ago on our streets – age sits lightly on him. He was a safe merchant, fine book-keeper and financier, therefore he succeeded.
Wood & Thompson commenced merchandising about the year 1832 and continued about ten years, when Thompson moved to Mt. Hope, Ala., and Alex. H. Wood continued the business until about the year 1855 when his health failed and he closed his business. I will have something more to say of my father under the head of Mechanics.
Henry Anderson & James Hanna were largely engaged in business of wholesale grocers for many years. Anderson moved to Mississippi and Hanna to New Orleans. They were men of wealth and business qualifications, but not realizing their expectations in the growth of Florence, they sought wider fields of operation.
George A. Pynchon was associated with the Kirkmans for many years, he moved to New Orleans and remained in business there until he died.
John W. McAlester was associated with John Simpson for thirty years. Before the war he was a successful merchant – since then he has, like thousands of others, had to succumb to the losses and depression which has fallen upon the country. He is still living amongst us and we hope to see him under full headway again when commercial and financial affairs right up.
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