Alabama Founders: Fourteen Political and Military Leaders Who Shaped the State

Alabama Founders: Fourteen Political and Military Leaders Who Shaped the State

by Herbert James Lewis


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817359157
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 06/26/2018
Pages: 216
Sales rank: 448,940
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Herbert James Lewis is retired from the US Department of Justice and currently serves on the board of directors of the Alabama Historical Association. He is the author of Clearing the Thickets: A History of Antebellum Alabama and Lost Capitals of Alabama. He has also published articles in the Alabama Review and Alabama Heritage.

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Czar of the Tombigbee District

The Mississippi Territory was created by the US Congress on April 7, 1798. With the territory's creation, scores of settlers came rushing into the areas that are now the states of Mississippi and Alabama. Many of these were veterans of the Revolutionary War who responded to the lure of the newly created territory as economic opportunities began to wane in the Upper South because of a diminishing supply of fertile lands and the decline of their markets for tobacco and rice. One of the lures to the new territory was the ever-expanding cotton culture.

When the Mississippi Territory was established, the Tombigbee District consisted of a few Tory refugees of the American Revolution, a few planters of French descent, numerous fugitives from American justice, debtors escaping enraged creditors, and several backwoodsmen ill suited for interaction with civilized society. Most of the settlers who came after 1798 and before the establishment of the Federal Road in 1811 came by the way of the Ohio, the Tennessee, and the Mississippi Rivers to Natchez and then overland to the Tombigbee District. Others came through the Tennessee and Alabama River basins. When they arrived in this wayward outpost on the southern frontier, they found themselves isolated from the United States. In this regard, Spain controlled the waterways into the Tombigbee District, the district was surrounded by hostile Native Americans, and the nearest neighbors were in Georgia to the east and in Natchez to the west. Each location was more than 150 miles away and the only communication was via horseback through hostile Indian territory.

The isolation of the district only made the Bigbee settlers feel more exposed to the Spanish and local Native Americans, along with the feeling of being ignored by their own government in faraway Natchez. Historian Robert V. Haynes declared that the Bigbee settlers had a "morbid suspicion and hatred of Indians and Spaniards, a jealousy and resentment of their more fortunate Mississippi neighbors, a sense of insecurity, and a bitter feeling of neglect by the United States Government." With new settlers continuing to migrate into the Tombigbee District due to settlers' complaints of being isolated from the government in Natchez, territorial governor Winthrop Sargent created Washington County — located in present-day southwest Alabama — by proclamation on June 4, 1800, when the new county had a total population of 1,250,733 whites and 517 African American slaves. McIntosh Bluff, located about forty miles north of Mobile, was named the county's first seat. The county seat took its name from Captain John McIntosh, a British officer who had served in West Florida and had been awarded a land grant in 1775.

With the creation of Washington County, American government was implemented at the local level for the first time in what was to become the state of Alabama. In June 1800, Governor Sargent appointed six men to serve as justices of the county's first courts. The first county court did not meet until 1803. The superior court of Washington County met in September 1802 when it held its first session at McIntosh Bluff with Seth Lewis, chief justice of the Mississippi Territory presiding. In June 1800, Governor Sargent, realizing that a permanent territorial judge was needed in the eastern section of the territory, consented to allow one of the Natchez judges, Daniel Tilton, to depart for the Tombigbee District in order "to give due tone to judicial proceedings" there. Unfortunately, Judge Tilton never made it past New Orleans, as he was stopped there on a matter of personal business. It would not be until July 1804 that Ephraim Kirby would be appointed as the first federal judge for the eastern portion of the Mississippi Territory by President Thomas Jefferson.

Ephraim Kirby, a land-speculating Connecticut lawyer, had been appointed by President Jefferson in 1803 as one of three land commissioners in the eastern part of the territory. Kirby and two other land commissioners met at Fort Stoddert to adjust land titles east of the Pearl River to provide claimants with clear titles where possible. On July 6, 1804, President Jefferson persuaded Kirby to accept an appointment as the first federal judge in the Alabama portion of the territory. The president also imposed tasks beyond Kirby's official duties, including the providing of intelligence to the government concerning the area's topography, the traits of American settlers, and the strength of nearby Spanish settlements. In one of his reports back to President Jefferson, Kirby gave a very unflattering account of American settlers, stating that "the present inhabitants (with few exceptions) are illiterate, wild and savage, of depraved morals, unworthy of public confidence or private esteem; litigious, disunited, and knowing each other, universally distrustful of each other." He was not much gentler in describing local officials of whom he said were "without dignity, respect, probity, influence or authority."

Kirby also reported to President Jefferson his concerns about anti-Spanish sentiments in the district that could lead some to take matters into their own hands in freeing Mobile from Spanish control, ridding themselves of exorbitant Spanish duties, and gaining access to the Mobile River that ran through Spanish West Florida. To put a stop to American filibustering against Spanish territory or property, Kirby began an investigation to identify local filibusters, particularly James Caller, who was a colonel in the local militia. A filibusterer is an adventurer who engages in an unauthorized military expedition into a foreign nation to start or support a revolution. Unfortunately, Kirby died in his quarters at Fort Stoddert on October 20, 1804, before he could conclude his investigation. He was buried the next day with full military honors in the fort's cemetery.

To succeed Kirby, President Jefferson chose Harry Toulmin, who at the time was Kentucky's secretary of state and had political ties to Jefferson. Toulmin, born in 1766 in Taunton, England, was the son of Joshua Toulmin and Jane Smith Toulmin. Joshua Toulmin was a noted theologian, a Dissenting minister, and was a friend of Joseph Priestly, a fellow Dissenting clergyman and also a renowned scientist. Harry was educated by reading in his mother's bookstore and by listening to the intellectual and vigorous conversations his father had with such notable theologians as Priestly and Theophilus Lindsey. He also attended Hoxton Academy for a time and prepared for the ministry under Rev. William Hawes of Bolton and Dr. Thomas Barnes in Manchester. In 1786, at the age of twenty, Harry Toulmin began preaching; he served two congregations of Protestant Dissenters in Lancashire, one near Manchester between 1786 and 1788 and one near Chowbent between 1787 and 1793. The young Toulmin drew many followers with his radical Unitarian preaching and writing. Indeed, Theophilus Lindsey described Toulmin's Chowbent congregation as "one of the largest and most enlightened." About the time that Toulmin began preaching at Chowbent in 1787, he married Ann Tremblett, with whom he would have nine children — four of whom died at a young age.

Many of Toulmin's mentors and supporters championed the French Revolution. However, their praise for the revolution and its concepts of liberty and independence were at times suppressed by the British government and the subject of attacks by intolerant mobs. For example, on the second anniversary of Bastille Day, Priestley's laboratory, home, and meetinghouse in Birmingham, England, were attacked and destroyed. Also, an effigy of Thomas Paine was burned at Joshua Toulmin's door. Harry Toulmin also drew the attention of anti-dissenting forces when a mob surrounded his house while he was away. However, when he heard of his family's danger he hurried home, and with the use of his diplomatic skills was able to disperse the crowd. Nevertheless, in 1793 Toulmin's Chowbent church was subjected to a recruiting party, which the night before had "huzzaed" (shouted in triumph) and knocked at the houses of Dissenters and then passed by the chapel with drums and fifes. After the service, members of the mob wanted to put a cockade in Toulmin's hat just as they had forced one on many members of the congregation. Getting wind of their intentions, "Toulmin took off out of another door."

Tiring of anti-dissenter attacks, a high tax burden, an inability to elect lawmakers representing the interests of the Dissenters, a legal system rigged for the privileged, being a subject rather than a citizen, and the corruption of the ruling elite, in 1792 Harry Toulmin began to contemplate a new country in which to live. He chose America because he found it to be a land where "you are not compelled to pay towards the propagation of a faith which you do not believe ... you are not threatened with fines or imprisonment for any articles of your creed ... You may calmly inquire after the truth." He visualized America as "a fine field for the diffusion of religious knowledge. The minds of the people are not shackled by articles and creeds. Their senses are not captivated by the pomp of superstition, nor their judgments fettered by the trammels of authority. In America, to contend for the faith, is not to contend for power; to publish the truth, is not to preach sedition."

Toulmin's praise of America prompted his congregation to collect enough money to send Toulmin and his family to America in 1793 in hopes that they might find land where members of the congregation might settle. Sailing with his wife and children, and armed with letters of introduction from Priestley to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Toulmin sailed to Norfolk, Virginia. In route to America his ship was stopped by a French privateer who allowed him to proceed when shown Toulmin's letters of introduction. He presented one of the letters to James Madison at Montpelier and visited Jefferson and Monroe at their homes in early August 1793. Jefferson and Madison were delighted with Toulmin's political interests. In this regard, Jefferson described him as a "person of understanding, of science, and of great worth," as well as "a pure and zealous republican." With the encouragement and recommendation of these influential Virginians who were both future presidents of the United States, Toulmin and his family set out for Kentucky.

Upon settling in Kentucky, Toulmin decided to relinquish his position as a clergyman and to become a scholar and teacher instead. What prompted that decision is not known for certain, but in February 1794 Toulmin was elected to the prestigious position of president of Transylvania Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky. Established in 1780 by an act of the Virginia Assembly and supported by Governor Thomas Jefferson, Transylvania Seminary was the first institution of higher learning west of the Alleghenies. There is little doubt that Jefferson pushed for the selection of Toulmin as president of Transylvania based upon his letters of recommendation and his personal observation.

During his tenure at Transylvania, Toulmin launched a demanding curriculum of languages, science, mathematics, philosophy, and political science, all of which were taught to an ever-increasing student body. In these years, Lexington presented a scene of intellectual and political turmoil, with ongoing discussions of a republican form of government and deism. About this time, Thomas Paine's Age of Reason was making the rounds in America and was the subject of much debate, both for and against. Toulmin's short tenure was fraught with conflict between the Presbyterians who had begun the seminary and the more liberal board members who had elected Toulmin. A legislative amendment required a unanimous vote of the board to reelect the president. From his first days at Transylvania, he was closely watched by a Presbyterian faction on the school's board of trustees who viewed him as a Dissenter and had opposed his election. Continuing interventions in university undertakings propelled Toulmin to resign in April 1796.

Toulmin's two-year tenure at Transylvania was contentious because his liberal Unitarian views conflicted with those of the Presbyterians who had founded the seminary. Toulmin's resignation in April 1796 was sealed when James Garrard, a liberal former member of the Transylvania board, was elected governor in 1796 and appointed Toulmin secretary of state of Kentucky. He would hold this position for eight years during the administration of Governor Garrard, a Jeffersonian Republican. As secretary of state he was required to certify acts of the legislature, which he did in signing Kentucky's Resolutions of November 1798, by which Kentucky nullified the Federalist-sponsored Alien and Sedition Acts. Thomas Jefferson had drafted the Kentucky Resolutions nullifying these acts. Toulmin also believed that these acts represented unwarranted government intrusion into freedom of thought, association, and free speech, thus outing himself as an advocate of "states' rights" and positioning himself for a future presidential appointment during the Jefferson administration.

In between his official duties as secretary of state, Toulmin read law and sold sets of Blackstone's Commentaries, which put him in good stead when he was appointed by the legislature as one of two revisors of Kentucky's criminal law. Toulmin and the other revisor, James Blair, were appointed to make the revision and to "collect from the English reporters and from all such other writers on the criminal law as they think proper." Their finished product, A Review of the Criminal Law of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, was published in 1804. In another effort at bringing the law closer to the people, in 1802 Toulmin had published a work titled Magistrate's Assistant: Collection of the Acts of Kentucky. Toulmin's published legal digests put him on the road to becoming what Toulmin biographer Paul M. Pruitt Jr. referred to as a "scholarly lawgiver" or as "frontier Justinian" as he would later be known.

Toulmin's recent experience with legal publications led him to write Secretary of State James Madison on May 1, 1804, to request that he be appointed to the newly created Tombigbee judgeship in Washington County of the Mississippi Territory. In his letter, Toulmin enclosed recommendations from Senator John Breckinridge of Kentucky and another Kentucky Republican, Caleb Wallace. Wallace, a longtime friend of Madison, had graduated from the College of New Jersey in Princeton in 1770. After being admitted to the bar, he moved to Kentucky in 1783, where he served as judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals from 1792 to 1813. Wallace's letter of recommendation, dated April 20, 1804, indicates that Toulmin had advised him "that a Judge is to be appointed for a District on the Tombigby [sic] river in the Mississippi Territory, and that he is anxious to obtain the appointment." Wallace then urged Madison to recommend Toulmin to the president "as a person who I think qualified for that office." Wallace did, however, stress that since "he never has acted as a Judge or Lawyer and is a native of England, it may be proper to suggest that about eleven years ago he came to this State with letters of recommendation from Mr. Jefferson, yourself, and several other respectable characters; of which he was for some time employed as theprincipal teacher in the Transylvania Seminary." Other emphasis was recommended for his service as Kentucky's secretary of state and his appointment to make a compilation of the criminal common law. Summing up, Wallace stated, "And with pleasure I subjoin that he is a Gentleman of liberal Education, good Genius, agreeable manners, and remarkeable [sic] attention to any business he engages in. He is also a very inteligent [sic] Republican, and I believe his political principles induced him to adventure to America, where, in every sense of the word, he has become naturalized." Of course, President Jefferson followed these recommendations and in November 1804 appointed Toulmin as superior court judge for the Tombigbee District of the Mississippi Territory.

While Toulmin waited for President Jefferson's official appointment to the Mississippi territorial bench, he delivered a memorable Fourth of July address in Frankfort, Kentucky, in which he defended Jefferson's purchase of Louisiana and described in no uncertain terms the destruction that would have undoubtedly ensued had the French or English assertively inhabited the new territory. He further emphasized that it was fortunate that a Republican administration had diplomatically negotiated the acquisition rather than devotees of federalism utilizing force or duplicity. While Toulmin was optimistic about the viability of republican institutions, he was aware of the turmoil of borderline politics. He was surely not a proponent of an absolute democracy as evidenced in his Fourth of July address, wherein he noted, "Some opposition to the will of the majority may be necessary for the purpose of keeping them within the bounds of reason, of justice, and constituency."


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Table of Contents

List of Figures vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 Czar of the Tombigbee District Judge Harry Toulmin 5

2 Frontiersman and Hero of the Canoe Fight Samuel Dale 21

3 Military Hero, Land Surveyor, and Founder of Florence, Alabama General John Coffee 31

4 Broad River Pioneer and "Father of Huntsville" LeRoy Pope 42

5 Alabama's First Two Governors William Wyatt Bibb Thomas Bibb 49

6 President of the Constitutional Convention of 1819 and First US Senator from Alabama John Williams Walker 63

7 "Patron of Alabama" and Alabama's First Federal Judge Judge Charles Tait 80

8 Delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1819, Key Drafter of the Alabama Constitution, First Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, US Senator, and the Seventh Alabama Governor Clement Comet Clay 92

9 Secretary of the Alabama Territory, Delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1819, Alabama's First Attorney General, and Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Henry Hitchcock 101

10 Delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1819 and Alabama's Third Governor Israel Pickens 111

11 Soldier in the Creek Indian War, Member of the Territorial Legislature, Delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1819, and Associate Justice and Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Reuben Saffold II 118

12 First Speaker of the House of Alabama's Territorial Legislature, Delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1819, US Senator, US Congressman, and Alabama's Fifth Governor Gabriel Moore 124

13 William Rufus King: US Senator and Thirteenth Vice President of the United States 133

Conclusion 147

Appendix: Delegates to the Alabama Constitutional Convention of 1819 151

Notes 157

Selected Bibliography 181

Index 193

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