Bibb County Alabama: The First Hundred Years, 1818-1918

Bibb County Alabama: The First Hundred Years, 1818-1918

by Rhoda C. Ellison

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817309879
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 02/28/1999
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 1,032,378
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Rhoda Coleman Ellison is a native of Centreville in Bibb County, and is Professor Emerita of English at Huntingdon College. 
 

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Bibb County Alabama

The First Hundred Years, 1818â"1918


By Rhoda Coleman Ellison

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 1984 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-0987-9



CHAPTER 1

THE LAND AND ITS INDIANS


BIBB IS ONE OF the oldest counties in Alabama, older even than the state. Along with its twin, Shelby County, it was created from Montgomery County on February 7, 1818, by an act of the Alabama territorial legislature, assembled at Huntsville. Thus it was one of the first thirteen counties to be added to the seven already constituted when Alabama was still a part of the Mississippi Territory. It was originally named Cahaba (for many years spelled Cahawba) for the river that flows throughout its entire length. This name was changed to Bibb by the state legislature on December 4, 1820, following the sudden death of Alabama's first governor, William Wyatt Bibb, a native of Georgia who had earlier represented that state in the United States Senate. He had served less than seven months when he died on July 10, 1820, from injuries received in a fall from his horse.

During the period after the American Revolution, the area that was to become Bibb County had been part of three different territories in succession. First it was claimed by Georgia. When Georgia ceded to the newly established United States government all lands west of the Chattahoochee, east of the Mississippi, south of Tennessee, and north of the Spanish possessions, Congress organized it on April 7, 1798, as the Mississippi Territory. After May 12, 1812, when an act of Congress annexed all the region lying east of the Pearl River and south of the thirty-first degree of latitude, the Mississippi Territory included all lands of the present states of Alabama and Mississippi. Following the admission of Mississippi as a state, Congress on March 21, 1817, established a separate government for the eastern section of the former Mississippi Territory and named it Alabama Territory.

Montgomery County, from which Cahaba (Bibb) was created by the Alabama territorial legislature, was one of six counties carved in 1816 out of the extensive county of Monroe. This large area, approximately three-fourths of the state, had been opened for white settlers by two Indian treaties. In the Treaty of Fort Jackson, August 7, 1814, at the end of the Creek War, the Creeks surrendered all their claims west of the Coosa River, and the whole of their cession was incorporated as Monroe County by Governor David Holmes of Mississippi on June 29, 1815. The remaining Choctaw lands east of the Tombigbee were added to this region after they were ceded to the United States in the Treaty of the Trading House, October 21, 1816. Thus, Monroe stretched like a huge irregular triangle between the remaining Indian lands, marked off from them by the Tombigbee and Coosa rivers. It extended from a point just below the Tennessee River to the Florida line; the Cahaba River flowed southwest and south near its center to join the Alabama. Cahaba was the central county in this triangle, located approximately halfway between the two large river systems in the foothill region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Black Belt, often called the Shortleaf Pine Belt.

When the county was formed, it was much more extensive than it is today, stretching as far east as the Coosa River. The legislative act that established it defined it as bounded "on the north by Shelby County, on the west by Tuscaloosa County, on the south by a line to be drawn from the headwaters of Five Mile Creek to the upper end of the ridge dividing the waters of the Cahawba from those of Mulberry Creek and thence by a direct line to the Coosa River, opposite the mouth of Hatchet Creek; and on the east by the Coosa River." During the first half-century after its creation, it shrank considerably, as did the other early counties, in the process of the establishment of other county units. The twenty-two counties of 1819, the year of statehood, were eventually increased by partition and addition to sixty-seven. Cahaba retained the territory extending to the Coosa for less than a year. When St. Clair was created in November 1818, Cahaba lost this eastern area to Shelby, to compensate to some extent for the northern section Shelby had given to the new county.

Perry took the next large bite when it was formed between Dallas and Cahaba on December 13, 1819. The presence of more settlers made it possible by this time to define the boundary in terms of early homesteads. It was described as running from "the source of the main stream of Mulberry Creek, and from thence down said creek to the ford, on the wagon road leading from Hazlett's to the pleasant valley; thence a direct course to where the road leading from Thomas Lindsey's to William Lovelace's crosses the Cahawba valley road; thence along said road to Major John Mahom's, and leaving him in the county of Cahawba, thence a direct course to where the boundary line of the county of Tuskaloosa crosses Roup's valley creek."

Through the years, the exact position of the line between this county and Tuscaloosa has often been debated. An act approved by the state legislature on January 15, 1828, ordered the boundary to be established so as to leave Captain James Hill in Tuscaloosa County, but three years later a new law reversed this decision: "Edward Calvert, Grief Ragsdale, Benjamin Hubbert, John A. Bagby, Robert Hill, Hamilton Kile, and James Hill, at their present residences, or as many of them as can be so included, without taking any others, shall, by this act, be taken from the county of Tuscaloosa and be added to the county of Bibb."

Although further adjustments were made, Bibb's borders remained fairly stable afterward until Reconstruction days, when in the 1867–68 session the legislature appropriated the southeastern segment next to Autauga to help form Baker, now Chilton County. As a result of all these changes, Bibb's shape became that of a pyramid squared off at several places. Its position on the state map was shifted slightly west of center and its area reduced to the present 635 square miles.

The chief natural feature is the scenic Cahaba River. More than a century ago, it was described in the following manner by a U.S. government engineer:

The Cahaba River is formed at the northern boundary of Shelby County, by the East and West Cahaba, which take their rise in the southwestern part of St. Clair County, and flows in a southwesterly direction to Centreville.... From Centreville its direction is a little west of south for a distance, when it takes a southerly course to the Alabama. Above Centreville the river is a series of ponds and falls, the first fall occurring 400 feet above the ferry at Centreville, and amounting to 2.6 feet. Below that place it consists of pools and rapids, the fall in any one of the ponds not exceeding four inches.

For about six miles above Centreville, according to Professor Tuomey's Survey of Alabama, the bed of the river is Silurian rock, and in this formation occur the principal iron-ore deposits, marble and hydraulic limestone. Above this is a narrow strip of sandstone; when this is passed the coalfields are reached and extend to the source of the river.

Below Centreville the bed of the stream for about 45 miles is principally gravel and sand.


The Cahaba has long been considered a fisherman's paradise. A hundred years ago, before the practice became illegal, it was not uncommon for residents to catch numerous sturgeons in fish traps. The river and its edge are also the home of some unusual plants and wildflowers. One of these is the Alabama croton, one of the rarest shrubs in the United States. Except for a single location in southern Tennessee, it grows only along the banks of the Cahaba in Bibb County, where it seems especially adapted to the harsh environment of shale and limestone bluffs. Its buds open in late February or early March near the River Bend bridge. Before the damming of the Black Warrior raised the waters of that river near Tuscaloosa, the plant could be found there also, in rock formations quite similar to those on the Cahaba; the two rivers are thought to have once been one river system. Another rare specimen is a spider lily, Hymenocallis coronaria, locally called Cahaba lily, which grows from the bulbs lodged between the rocks in the shallow water and blooms in the month of May. This wildflower, now listed as an endangered species, is found infrequently from Florida to North Carolina, but chiefly in Alabama in the Cahaba and Little Cahaba Rivers. Its Cahaba habitat extends for several miles above the bridge at Centreville, a point from which the southernmost vestiges of Appalachian rock gradually recede underground. In late May or early June, the blossoms stand tall above the water in a spectacular display of gleaming white. In some years, a few miles below the Piper bridge, where the Cahaba is comparatively wide, they cover almost the entire breadth of the river.

Numerous small streams help to drain the county, flowing directly or indirectly into the Cahaba. Among the creeks are Schultz, Haysop, Hill's, Cane, Six Mile, Blue Guttee (or Blue Girth), Affonee, Beaver Dam, Shades ("Shades of Death" on old maps), Sandy, Gully, Caffee, Big Ugly, Little Ugly, Mud, Mulberry, Copperas, Oakmulgee, Millpond, Four Mile, Haggard, Alligator, Hurricane, Johnson, and Elam. The General Highway Map of Bibb County (1976) also shows such "branches" as Bear, Clear, Miller, Furnace, and two Licklogs, one flowing into Haysop and the other into Affonee. One of the most interesting streams is Six Mile Creek, whose main current suddenly drops underground for a short space at a large hole, known as "the sinks." Another tributary of the Cahaba is the Little Cahaba River, formed by the confluence of Mahan and Shoal creeks. Its upper run, above Bulldog Bend, includes an exciting challenge for canoeists, an abrupt four-foot fall.

Some of these streams, cutting deep into the earth, have left the general surface rugged, especially in the northern part of the county. That section possesses large coalfields, besides deposits of iron ore, dolomite, limestone, barites, and other minerals, and several areas of Bibb are currently being explored for oil. About three and a half miles northeast of Centreville, to the east of Alabama 25, is a distinctive natural feature, the mineral springs known as Gary (formerly Brown) Springs, whose water is valued for its medicinal properties. They are said to have been discovered in 1844 by William Jones on land then owned by settler Jesse Brown and were later developed by a Selma physician, Dr. Thomas P. Gary. Near Six Mile are some caves from which saltpeter was once extracted. Almost a century ago, the following division of the county's lands was reported: "It has been estimated that the hilly pine lands total 325 square miles; the Cahaba coalfield, 125 square miles; Roup's valley, 100 square miles; woodland, all." Eighty-five percent of the county is still heavily forested with pine, especially loblolly, and several species of oak as well as hickory, walnut, mulberry hackberry, tulip poplar, gum, cedar, and dogwood. As a result, lumbering is the largest industry.

When the first white settlers made their way into the region more than a century and a half ago, attracted by the unusual water resources and the pleasant valleys of the Cahaba, they found a virgin forest far more magnificent than the present woodlands. Even at the beginning of the twentieth century, virgin pine still stood near Blocton that measured ninety-nine inches in circumference. Government agents who made the first survey noted enthusiastically in 1820 both the luxuriance of the trees and the beauty of the Cahaba. One surveyor reported in his field notes at a point on the river opposite the present Gary Springs road intersection with Alabama 25: "River here looks beautiful, is about 10 chains (660 feet) directly across the stream, is about 7 or 8 feet deep and has a beautiful bottom of solid rock and on the north side a considerable bluff of rock. Neither side of the river is ever inundated. Growth is most luxuriant, is interspersed with a rocky surface, growth mulberry, sugar tree, maple, white and red oak, post oak,——Ash, lind, and maiden [hair fern?]."

The early settlers were indebted for the conservation of these seemingly boundless natural resources to their Indian predecessors, the Creeks, so called for the many waterways on which they lived. The Indian tribe or confederacy of kindred tribes, of which the Muskogees, or Creeks, were perhaps the most numerous, is thought by some scholars to have migrated to Alabama from the north and west not long before the Spaniards came in the early sixteenth century. Although the Indians settled principally on the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, they fanned out also to the west along the Cahaba. Here, remote from the center of Creek culture, the Upper Creeks established a few villages on the eastern banks of the Cahaba or nearby at the forks of its eastern tributaries. Although they probably hunted west of the river, they did not build there because of the proximity to the Choctaw lands. In the Treaty of Mount Dexter, concluded on November 16, 1805, the boundary between Creek and Choctaw ground was described as the watershed between the Tombigbee River and the Coosa and Alabama rivers. This ridge has been identified as one running north and south almost parallel to the Black Warrior and Tombigbee rivers and standing about a mile and a half from the Tuscaloosa County line. Mulberry Baptist Church, located in Beat 3 about sixteen miles southwest of Centreville on Alabama 25, is said to be "situated immediately on the dividing ridge between the waters of the Cahaba and Warrior Rivers.... The waters from the east side of the original building flowed into the Blue Girth and thence into the Cahaba, while the west side flowed into Five Mile Creek and into the Warrior." The Creeks apparently obtained permission for one exception to the restrictions of this treaty. They set up a trading post near the present town of Tuscaloosa, called Black Warrior Town, later burned by General John Coffee during the Creek War.

These Creeks who made the banks of the Cahaba and its tributaries their home for around three centuries before the white settlers intruded on them were instinctive conservationists. They made judicious cuttings of some trees while retaining those on the banks of streams to prevent erosion. A study of artifacts has revealed that each wood had its special use. When it was available, cypress was the favorite material for canoes, but larger craft were hewed from poplar. The Creeks constructed their bows and their house frames of cedar, once abundant in this section. They found gum useful for making drums; dogberry and hackberry for baskets; elm, sycamore, and tulip poplar for spoons; but oak chiefly for firewood. Besides felling certain trees in carefully chosen locations for these purposes, the Creeks in the Cahaba valley, as elsewhere, necessarily cleared patches of woodland near their villages for the cultivation of crops. The first settlers found such clearings and planted their own crops in them. Yet to those land-hungry immigrants the forest seemed to have been barely touched by the red men.

The Indians also kept a balance in wildlife by hunting only for what they needed, never merely for sport. The Creeks considered the deer and bear most important for clothing, but valued the bear also especially for its fat. In addition, they ate raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, and wildcats and sewed skins together for clothing; raccoons were also used to make pouches. Their favorite food was the wild turkey, and one Creek village traditionally located in the county indicated the popularity of this fowl by taking the name "Pinhoti" (also spelled "Penootaw" and "Pensatau"), meaning "turkey home." All these animals as well as panthers and wolves were still to be found in northern Bibb in 1871, when the Blocton area was settled.

The Creek Indians lived by both hunting and farming, but when white settlers encroached on their traditional hunting grounds, they turned more and more to farming. Although they owned their individual houses, the land always belonged to the tribe. The community planted and harvested together, each family raising enough for its own members and storing the excess in common storehouses. David Crockett, who assisted General John Coffee in burning Black Warrior Town, recorded that "there was a large field of corn standing out and a pretty good supply in some cribs. There was also a quantity of dried beans which were very acceptable to us." Corn was the Creeks' principal crop, though they also raised kidney beans, squash, pumpkin, melons, and cane. Besides using corn for food, they beat it to a pulp and substituted it for deer brains when dressing skins. They taught the white men their method of pounding corn into meal. In 1977 a Bibb collector of Indian artifacts uncovered on a hill between Haysop and Affonee creeks a hollowed-out heart pine log apparently used to contain the corn, and nearby he located the tools that must have been used.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Bibb County Alabama by Rhoda Coleman Ellison. Copyright © 1984 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Contents

List of Illustrations,
Preface,
1. The Land and Its Indians,
2. Arrival of the Squatters,
3. Early County Government,
4. Mrs. Chotard's River Town,
5. Search for a Permanent County Seat,
6. Pioneer Life and Occupations,
7. Early Churches,
8. Antebellum Schools,
9. Slavery,
10. Economic Growth, 1835–1860,
11. Culture, Changing and Unchanged, 1835–1860,
12. In the Confederate Army,
13. On the Confederate Home Front,
14. Conflicts during Reconstruction,
15. Revival of Agriculture and Industry,
16. The Coal-Mining Towns,
17. The Turbulent 1890s,
18. The County Seat in the Early 1900s,
19. At War with the Kaiser,
Conclusion,
Appendixes,
I. Revolutionary Soldiers Who Settled in Bibb County,
II. County Jury Venire: 1819, 1820, 1821,
III. Charge Customers of James C. C. Wiley before 1829,
IV. Patients of Dr. David R. Boyd, 1829, and His Successor, 1836,
V. Owners of Slaves (20 or More) in 1850,
VI. Citizens in Certain Vocations in 1860,
VII. Muster Rolls of Certain Confederate Companies,
VIII. Bibb's State Militia Roll, November 25, 1865,
IX. Business and Professional Directory of Blocton, 1905–1906,
X. Mayors of West Blocton, 1901–1982,
XI. County Judges, 1818–1982,
XII. County Sheriffs, 1818–1982,
XIII. Senators and Representatives in Legislature, 1818–1982,
Notes,
Bibliography,
Index,

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