The Early Years
©Joe M. Newton
The following article was printed in the Greenville Advocate Newspaper on 18 June 1874. It contains reflections about the county in the very early part of the 1800s and should be of interest to anyone with connections to Butler County, Alabama.
BUTLER COUNTY REMINISCENCES
J. C. Wade
Greenville Advocate, June 18, 1874
Thinking that a sketch of the incidents connected with the early settlement of Butler County might not be uninteresting to the many readers of your valuable paper; and believing that there is now no one living who has a more distinct recollection of them than I - I will, by your indulgence, proceed to sketch a few of them.
To begin. On the 25th of December, 1818, my father with his family, left his old home near Macon, Ga., and on the evening of the 13th of January, 1819, reached his place of destination, two and a half miles south of Fort Dale, four northwest of Greenville, on a bold running little stream which flows south and empties into Persimmon Creek. At the time of our arrival; the country looked fresh as if just from the hands of its Creator; there were few bushes to obstruct the view, the grass when it came forth in the spring about two feet high, whilst the creeks, branches, marshes, etc., were covered with reed from four to fifteen feet high. The Indians had vacated the country, leaving no trace behind, save here and there a few camps constructed of pine bark. The forests were alive with wild beasts, consisting of bears, panthers, wolves, wild cats, catamounts and deer, the latter in point of numbers greatly preponderating; indeed it was not an unusual sight to see as high as sixty in a drove. Fine sport was given to the lovers of the chase. The enlivering sound of the huntsman's horn, the commingled notes of Fido and Blucher, and Ringwood and Trackwell, and the oft repeated peals from old Betsy, Long Tom, and Never Fail, rang loud and long over the hills and valleys, to the great delight and excitement of those engaged in hot pursuit. Conspicuous among the Nimrods of the day were John Tinsley, John Williams, Phil Cook, Tom Herbert, Jim Wade, and old Bill Dulany; at the crack of whose rifles, the music of the pack would generally cease, they being regarded as dead shots.
The old Fort was still standing, William Martin had a store there, the first and only one in the limits of the county. In the village lived William McDaniel, a Mr. Livingston, Richard Ringold, Matthew Wood and Andrew T. Perry. The latter afterwards rose to the rank of colonel of the Militia, Sheriff, Representative, and Receiver in the Land Office at Sparta. In 1828 he emigrated to Mississippi, settled near Jackson, where after a residence of a few years he died. One half mile above Fort Dale lived old Mr. McDaniel, and his son, Ennis; south of Fort Dale and on the west side of the stream first mentioned, lived a Mr. Hill, Micajah Wade, John Herbert, Parr Hutchinson and John Arnold. On the east side lived John Cook, Frederick Jolly, Ward Taylor, John Tinsley, Ben and William Dulaney, Isaac Cook, Webster Gilbert and Casswell Vines.
On Persimmon Creek, commencing at its source and going south, lived the Talley's, Harrisons, Paynes, William Collins, William Lee, the Rowdons, Gaffords, Dr. H. Herbert, Henry Vincent, Ephraim Parmer, Calvin Leonard, William and John Williams, John Bolling, James and William Dunklin. Commencing at Fort Dale and going west lived Charles Davenport, the Garys, Mrs. Gordon, Mr. Dickson, whose family was murdered by the Indians in 1817, and Simon Easterwood. On the Ridge lived the Womacks, the Lewis', Carters, Elijah Manning, Judge Crenshaw and the Earnests. I have been thus particular, so that the present inhabitants may know who were the first settlers in the localities mentioned.
The first work was to build camps, in which the settlers lived the first year. Then clearing lands, all of which was planted in corn. The spring opening, the cattle got very fat and gave for the settlers vast quantities of the richest milk. There being no mills, the meal, such as it was, was ground on steel and hand mills. Every man had his fire pan. The toil of the day over and supper eaten, the gun was loaded, the pan lighted up, the wallet filled with lightwood for the occasion, the hunters would set out, following blazes which had been made for the purpose, and often at a late hour would return with a deer swung on a pole. The skins, the only chance for shoes, were carefully stretched and nailed to the walls of the camps, whilst the horns were placed in some conspicuous place as an exhibition of the hunter's exploits. Fort Claiborne being the only market, and pork being thirty-five dollars per barrel, and corn from three to five dollars per bushel, little was purchased, and some of the inhabitants were hard pressed.
The crop pretty well off hand, the 4th of July approaching, and every man surcharged with patriotism; a meeting was held at Fort Dale preparatory to a celebration. The place selected was on the road leading from Fort Dale to Greenville, one and a half miles from the former place, and near the residence of Ward Taylor, who was elected orator of the day. The day being propitious, the citizens turned out in mass. The affair went off joyously, and the effort of Taylor, though by no means a literary man, was considered very fine. Mr. Taylor afterwards rose to the rank of Major, was elected to the Legislature in 1822, was a merchant in Greenville , figured extensively in the stage business between Montgomery and Blakely, was a member to the anti-tariff convention in Philadelphia, In 1831, moved to Texas many years ago, where not long since he died an octogenarian. Early in 1822, his brother, Elias Taylor, moved out from Georgia, lived there a number of years, moved to Holmes County, Mississippi, where a few years ago he died. He was a man of sterling integrity, always commanded the respect of his fellow citizens; and on the Mississippi Central Railroad runs a magnificent engine bearing his honored name.
In July, 1819, the first school ever taught in the county, commenced, Samuel Farrar, teacher; the school house was on the old Federal road, one and a half miles west of Fort Dale, and near a celebrated limestone spring. The second school was in 1820, one mile south of Fort Dale, James Lane teacher. Mr. Lane was a teacher by profession, and as an educator of the rising generation for several years, came to Mississippi some thirty years ago, where, after a short residence, he died. He was a man of generous and noble impulses, and, although in some things a little eccentric, was emphatically a good man. The first, a Methodist church, was built in 1820, half a mile west of Fort Dale on the old Federal road, and the first camp meeting was in the fall of that year, half mile west of Fort Dale, and half a mile north of the main road. The meeting was conducted by Thomas Nixon, Thomas Clinton, and Benjamin Dulany. Mr. Clinton is still living. The first Baptist church was three miles east of Fort Dale, near the residence of Col. William Lee.
In 1819 the Convention met in Huntsville to frame a constitution for the State Government. John Herbert and William Lee were our accredited delegates. In a few weeks it was announced that the work was completed. The constitution ratified, organization commenced. John Herbert the first Representative; James Lane first Judge of the County Court; Jesse Womack first Sheriff; Edward Herbert first Circuit Clerk, and James Dickson first clerk of the County Court. As I shall not have occasion to again mention the names of John Herbert and William Lee, I will make a slight digression for the purpose of giving a sketch of each of them. Mr. Herbert was once a citizen of Georgia, in the legislature of which State he served with great distinction for many years, and at one time came within one vote of being elected her Governor. He came to Butler in 1818; was, as above stated, a member of the convention, first representative, and at the time of his death, Receiver in the Land Office at Sparta. In person he was tall, very straight and slender, well educated, clear intellect, immaculate character, unbending integrity, and was considered, and I doubt not justly, the ablest man in the county. He died in 1826, and sleeps four miles northwest of Greenville.
Col. Lee was a Georgian, commanded a company in the war between the United States and the Creek Indians; came to Butler in 1818; was 1st Captain, 1st Major and 1st Colonel of the militia, and,. as stated a member of the convention that framed the State Constitution. He was a magnificent looking man, and in principle and deportment the beau ideal of a gentleman. He died in 1824; was buried near his residence, three and a half miles east of Fort Dale, and over his grave was the first Masonic demonstration ever made in Butler County.
County Commissioners were also elected, on whom devolved the duty of looking out and purchasing a location for the county town. My father, Micajah Wade, being one of the Commissioners, I well remember the night he came home and told the family of the place selected. Soon arrangements were made for a survey of the town. My brother, Capt. James W. Wade, was employed to do the work. The day was set, the Commissioners with my brother, met, and as his apparatus was minus a "Jacob Staff" he cut a small sassafras out of which he made one that answered the purpose. He was consequently the first man that ever struck a lick toward the erection of the town of Greenville. He was at the time only 18 years of age. He afterwards held several important positions in the militia; was elected to the legislature from Butler; was a merchant in Greenville; director of one of the banks in Montgomery; came to Mississippi in 1841; was elected to the legislature in 1843; held the position for many years; was during the time Speaker of the House, and afterwards superintendent of the penitentiary.
When the war broke out, he, although fifty years of age, raised a company, led them to the arena of battle, and fought gallantly in defense of his native land. He was six feet high, of symmetrical proportions, ponderous intellect, great dignity and urbanity of manner, and always commanded the respect, admiration and confidence of his fellow citizens. He died December 30, 1869. The town laid out and lots sold, building begun. First, and at the same time, the Parmer House on the left, and the I.C. Caldwell House on the right, going east from the Court House, were built - the former by Mr. Ephraim Parmer, and the latter by Messrs. Caulfield and Bell of Claiborne, who furnished it with a small stock of goods, and placed Henry Yancy there as clerk.
In 1822 William Blackshire came over from Pike, and improved the lot on the northwest corner of the square; building both a hotel and a store house, in which he sold goods for several years. About this time the first court was held, Judge Crenshaw on the bench. Lawyers: Jack Herbert and Nathan Cook from Butler; Gen. Greening, Samuel W. Oliver and Judge Hunter from Conecuh; Henry Goldthwaite and Ben Fitzpatrick, from Montgomery; Horatio G. Perry and Walker from Dallas, and Gen. Parsons from Monroe.
In the spring of 1821, whilst the town was being built, a Mr. Vincent, who lived half a mile north of the place, was at work in the forest opening a little field; breakfast ready, his good wife blew the horn, when his two little sons, aged four and two, ran to meet him, but missing their way, they were soon lost in the wilderness. The parents immediately commenced a search, which proving ineffectual, the mother in great distress ran over to town and implored the citizens to go and aid in the search. All, with one exception, responded to the call. He, a carpenter from Claiborne, seized the occasion to insult her. This coming to the ears of the citizens, he was tied to a tree, his shirt taken off, and he received at their hands a sound, constitutional drubbing. The news of the lost children spread over the county in a few hours; every man and boy able to aid in the search, rallied to the spot. Two days and nights passed, and no tidings. On the morning of the third day some signs were discovered; the party was collected and placed in a line some fifty yards apart; it was agreed that the finder should fire a signal gun. The search again commenced, and in a short time the signal announced that ''the lost was found". At the same instant, and as if all were guided by the same brain, they turned to the spot. The sound of horses' feet was heard in every direction. They reached the place, and there sat the poor little fellows, both unable to walk. Then it was that strong men, for the moment, became as little children, and tears fell like rain from every eye. They were placed in charge of a committee, who bore them in triumph to their parents at the Hotel in Greenville. They were then placed in charge of Dr. Hillary Herbert, who kindly watched over them till the danger was over.
On the 1st day of January, 1826, an academy was opened in the southwestern part of Greenville, James G. Tigner, of Autauga, as teacher; under whose management it flourished for several years, and much good was accomplished. His health failing he was forced to discontinue, and the institution went down. Afterwards he was elected Clerk of the Circuit Court, which position he held for several years. About the year 1840, he died of consumption, and sleeps in the lonely cemetery near the Methodist church. He was one of nature's noblemen!
Butler county was called after Capt. William Butler, a citizen of distinction, (State Senator) whose residence was in Clinton, Georgia. In 1817 he, with a Mr. Gardner, from the same place, visited Alabama in the purpose of looking at the country, and in that portion of Butler called "The Ridge" were killed by the Indians. Hence the title. After his death his family moved to Alabama, settled in Autauga, and remained there a short time, when they removed to this (Coplah) county, Mississippi. When the war broke out between the United States and Mexico, Col. James Butler, eldest son of Capt. B., volunteered, and whilst en route for the scene of conflict, died on board the ship, and found a watery grave in the Gulf of Mexico. Mrs. B. and the other children died in this county. Some of their descendants remain.
Greenville was at first called Buttsville, after Samuel Butts, who fell at the head of his company, in the war with the Creek Indians. The name was changed by the legislature in 1822. The writer of the foregoing sketches went to Butler at eight and left at twenty-one years of age. Although the country to which he came is a good one; and although all reasonable expectations have been met, he, after an absence of forty-two years, is free to say; that he regrets ever having left. May the star of Butler ever be in the ascendant!
One thought more and I will close. The scenes about which I have been writing, with those who participated in them, have passed away. One by one they have retired from the world's great stage. Some sleep in Alabama, some in Mississippi, some in Louisiana, and some in Texas. Their voices are now forever hushed; their manly forms and cheerful faces will never again be seen in the streets of Greenville; and in a few years more it will not be known that such men had an existence".
Hazlehurst, Miss., June 1874
Joe M. Newton