Days Gone By - stories from the past

Clarke County, Alabama citizens are like their early pioneers, they do not let obstacles stop them

Clarke County is a very early county in Alabama, existing since 1812. The Mathews Cabin was built in the 1830s by pioneers Josiah and Lucy Martin Mathews, who came to Clarke County from South Carolina.


The cabin has now been restored and is at the Clarke County Historical Museum. It is a wonderful educational experience to understand pioneer life in Alabama. Be sure to watch the film below that reveals the obstacles the citizens of Clarke County faced when attempting to restore the beautiful cabin.

Alabama-map-showing-Clarke-CountyClarke County, Alabama

(Excerpts from: The Great Southeast or Clarke County and its Surroundings, pub. 1882

by Rev. T. H. Ball and History of Alabama and dictionary of Alabama biography, Volume 1

By Thomas McAdory Owen, Marie Bankhead Owen )

Clarke County came into existence December 10, 1812, and comprised that part of Washington lying east of the Tombeckbee. It extended eastward only to the “watershed,” that dividing line between the Choctaws and the Creeks.

Marker near Bashi, AL (describes boundary established between the Choctaw and Creek Indians in Clarke County, AL)

Choctaw Corner (posted on Wikipedia by Jeff Reed -Altairisfar)

Along part of this line, there is now a carriage road known as the Line Road. Within this formerly disputed territory, and up to the very line then acknowledged to be the boundary of the Creek Nation, many enterprising settlers had reared their cabins and commenced their homes.

About the year 1800, a brisk migration had begun from Georgia and the Carolinas, through the Creek country, to the Mississippi Territory.

Mural by Roderick D. MacKenzie depicting Sam Dale and settlers coming into Alabama in dome of the State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama

Mural of Samuel Dale coming to Alabama in State Capital dome

He transported families westward

Samuel Dale, then a Georgian, places three wagons and teams on this route of migration, transporting families westward and taking back to Savannah loads of Indian produce. In 1803 a road was marked out through the Cherokee nation.

In 1809 Caleb Moncrief with a number of families settled on the west side of Bassett’s Creek. Many others came during these few years and settled near Old Clarksville, Grove Hill, at Suggsville, and in other parts of the county.GroveHillmarker

The Mathews Cabin was built in the 1830s by pioneers Josiah and Lucy Martin Mathews, who came to Clarke County from South Carolina. The cabin is now at the Clarke County Historical Museum (Photograph ruralswalabama.org)Mathews cabin

River settlements surrounded

In 1812 Dale removed Col. J. Phillips and family to Point Jackson, on the Tombigbee, started his teams back to Georgia, and went himself to Pensacola. West Florida proper, it is to be remembered, was still a Spanish possession, and Spain continued to hold, as a part of West Florida, all south of latitude 31°, between the Perdido and the Mississippi, until 1813.

By the act of Congress May 14, 1812, the territory lying east of Pearl river, west of the Perdido, and south of the thirty-first degree of latitude, was annexed to the Mississippi territory.

The Spaniards, however, did not give this territory up till forced to do so in 1813. These river settlements were therefore, up to this time, “completely insulated.” On the south were the Spaniards, on the east were the Creeks, on the west, between them and the Natchez and Yazoo settlements, were the Choctaws, and on the north the nearest settlement was in the bend of the Tennessee.

Judge Saffold moved to the Tombigbee in 1813

 

In June of 1813, Dale removed Judge Saffold and family to the Tombigbee.

  • Saffold was born on September 4, 1788, in Wilkes County, Georgia. He was educated there and began a law practice in Watkinsville, Georgia. He married Mary Evelyn Phillips, of Morgan County, in 1811. The couple would eventually have 12 children together. They relocated to Clarke County, Mississippi Territory in 1813, where he participated in the Creek War in 1813-14. Saffold served in the legislature of theAlabama Territory in 1818. He participated in the Constitutional Convention and became an Alabama circuit judge in 1819. He established his plantation, which he named Belvoir, in rural Dallas County, Alabama in 1825. Belvoir translates roughly from French to English as “beautiful to see.” He remained a circuit judge until 1832 when he was appointed to the Alabama Supreme Court. He served as Chief Justice from 1834 until 1836. Although the plantation at Belvoir was established in 1825, the construction date for the current main house is unclear. It is known that the Saffolds were still living in a large hewn log house in 1838, when English naturalist, Philip Henry Gosse, was serving as a teacher for the Saffolds and other area children. (Note –Click to read more Information and a beautiful love story about Belvoir Plantation)

All the Creek lands became Monroe County

On this trip Dale learned from a half-breed Creek, called Sam Manac, that the Creeks were getting arms from the Spaniards at Pensacola-then the great place of trade for Indians and for the white settlers and that when sufficiently furnished with guns, powder and lead, “the Indians on the Coosa, Tallapoosa and Black Warrior would attach the settlement in the forks of Tombigbee and Alabama.” Dale, who had himself become a resident in Clarke, made good use of this information.

After the Creek Indian cession of August 9, 1814, by proclamation of Gov. David Holmes of the Mississippi Territory, dated June 29, 1815, all of the Creek lands were erected into Monroe County. On November 28, 1821, “the whole of the fraction of sec. 8, T. 7, R. 4 E., was taken from Monroe and added to Clarke County.

Marengo County was established directly North February 7, 1818, its southern boundary being the ridge dividing the waters of Chickasabogue and Beaver Creek.

Chickasabogue Creek

Five days later, February 12th, the intervening country between that boundary and the northern boundary of Clarke was added to Marengo. By act of January 26, 1829, “all that part of the county of Monroe which is west of the River Alabama, and the west half of the center line of townships seven, eight, nine and ten, in range five, be added to and compose a part of the county of Clarke.”

By an act of January 15, 1831, it was further provided that “all that part of Wilcox County, lying west of the middle of range four, including the Choctaw Corner Settlement in said county, be and the same is hereby added to the county of Clarke.” The county contained 1,216 square miles or 778.240 acres.

The county was named in honor of Gen. John Clarke, a popular hero at that date in Georgia. He was a major general of State troops on the coast in the War of 1812. Numbers of settlers in Clarke County at that date had come into the Tombigbee and Tensaw country from Georgia.

Gen. John Clarke of Georgia

Gen. John Clarke of Georgia

The territorial legislature, November 21, 1818, appointed Lemuel J. Aston, Alexander Kilpatrick, Joseph Hearn, Solomon Boykin, William Coleman, William Anderson and William Goode, Sr., as commissioners to fix the seat of justice for Clarke County and to receive title to “not less than two, nor more than one hundred and sixty acres of land” for the use of the county for the purpose of erecting thereon “a court-house, jail, and pillory.”

Presumably the commissioners just referred to did not act, since the first state legislature December 13, 1819, appointed William A. Robertson, Joseph B. Earle, John Loftin, Samuel B. Shields, William F. Ezell, Robertus Love and Edmund Butler as other commissioners “to select and fix on the most suitable site for the seat of justice, in and for the county of Clarke; having due regard to health, water, and accommodations; provided such seat shall not exceed 3 miles from its center.”

The Turner Corn Crib is believed to have been built with logs taken from the old Turner Fort which was a fortification used to protect settlers during the Creek Indian War of 1813-14(ClarkeMuseum.com)

Turner corn crib clarke county

Court held at William Coats house

The selection was required to be made by the first Monday in March 1820. The same act required that “until the public buildings shall have been completed, the circuit and inferior courts shall be held at the house of William Coats.” The site having been selected, the legislature on December 7, 1820, declared that it should be known by the name of Clarkesville.Clarkesville1 marker

Election called for a change

There was dissatisfaction apparently with the location of the county seat at Clarkesville, for January 15, 1831, the legislature made provisions for a new selection. (Legend states that the town wells ran dry, forcing the county seat to be moved from Clarkesville to Macon (now Grove Hill)

Under this act, the sheriff held an election on the first Monday in April 1831, “for the purpose of ascertaining the sense of the qualified electors of said county, in relation to removing the seat of justice from Clarkesville to the geographical center of said county.” Tickets used in the election carried the words “Clarkesville,” or “Center,” according to choice.

The election called for a change and William Murrell, John Loftin, Robert Herrin, Joshua Wilson and James Magoffin named in the act as commissioners, selected a point near the center of the county, first known as Magoffin’s Store, then as Smithville, and then as Macon. It was later given the name Grove Hill, which it has since retained. On December 28, 1832, the first courts were held in the new county seat.

Creagh Law Office (photograph from ClarkeMuseum.com)Creagh law office

Elections and early voting

The place of voting in the early elections was at the courthouse, or place of holding courts. The Legislature, November 21, 1818, fixed four separate election precincts for the county—Jackson, Suggsville, Magoffin’s Store, and Coffeeville—at which elections were permitted to be held but one day only. An act of December 13, 1819, added two additional precincts, one at the house of Duncan Campbell, and another at the house of William Coats on Satilpa. The act of December 7, 1820, fixing Clarkesville as the seat of justice, also required that elections heretofore authorized at the house of William Coats should be held at the court house.

The county is rich in Indian mounds, found on both the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers. Some of these are associated with burial and habitation sites, and in most instances contain burials, pottery, ornaments, and artifacts.

Photo from ruralswalabama.org

Gainestown-Ft-Madison-marker_2-19-f-737

Relics and earthenware found

Considerable exploration work has been done, and many earthenware vessels and relics from the county have been secured by the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. There is a mound and burial ground on the site of an old unidentified fortification, 4 % miles east of Gainestown, on the Alabama River, in sec. 2, T. 5 N., R. 4 E. A group of mounds, with Indian ball-ground and burial-ground, is to be found five miles north of Wood’s Bluff and a half mile from Alabama River.

A one-room schoolhouse in Clarke County, Alabama. ca. 1910 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Other remains Morrisette mound near Marshall’s Bluff landing; mound on the property of C. G. Foote of Calvert at the Cut-off, 8 miles above the junction of Alabama and Tombigbee rivers; burial mound on the plantation of A. F. Hooks, two miles above McIntosh Landing, on eastern side of Tombigbee River, in which urn-burials are met with; small burial mound on property of Jefferson Bush, 200 yards from Payne’s Woodyard Landing, Tombigbee River; two small burial mounds (now leveled) one-half mile above Carney;s landing, Tombigbee River, on property of P. A. Bryant; two mounds, one containing burials, one-fourth mile east of the railroad station at Jackson; two domiciliary mounds at the saw-mill of C. W. Zimmerman Manufacturing Co. at Jackson Landing, Tombigbee River; large burial mound 300 yards northwest of Zimmerman say-mill, on property controlled by T. I. Kimbell; large domiciliary mound opposite Peavey’s Landing, Tombigbee River; mound and village site near Malone’s Gin on property of J. M. Dere of Coffeeville; small mound on property of J. W. Nicholls of Manistee, situated on bluff, immediately above Cox’s Landing, containing burials; village sites at Thorton’s upper landing on property of E. L. Lang of Mobile, and J. P. Armistead of Coffeeville; large mound one mile below mouth of Bashi Creek on property of Mobile Lumber Co.; small burial mound, one-fourth mile southeast of the mouth of Bashi Creek on property of Mobile Lumber Co. Dr. Clarence B. Moore of Philadelphia has visited all of the above-named points. The county is in the old Choctaw territory, and some of the foregoing can be identified with later towns of this tribe. Many of the place names in the county suggest Choctaw occupancy.RevWar1

John McGrew first man to make a home in Clarke County

Perhaps the first white man that made a home in Clarke County was John McGrew, a royalist refugee, who in 1782 obtained from the Choctaw Indians a grant of land on Jackson’s Creek. Others doubtless joined him, but records are meager.

William Coate came from Newberry District, S. C., in 1800, bringing his effects in a rolling hogshead. In 1809 Caleb Moncrief with a number of families entered the county and settled on the west side of Bassett’s Creek. During the next few years, many other families moved in, and settled near old Clarkesville, at Grove Hill, Suggsville, and other points. By the opening of the Creek war of 1813, the county had such a large population that it furnished many soldiers to Gen. F. L. Claiborne’s army.The names of a few of the early settlers living in the county prior to 1812 are: Drury Allen, Elijah Pugh, Thomas Figures, John Carney, Joseph Phillips, Mrs. Cathell, Isaac Painter, Elijah Presnall, Abner Presnall, John Smith, John Kelley, Moses Savill, John Brown, John Walker, John McCasky, Peter Parker, Jonathan Embree, David Taylor, John Chapman and William Walker. After the Creek War, the settlers came rapidly. In 1820, a company of ninety persons from South Carolina settled in the county. Thence to 1830, there was a steady flow of immigrants.

The names of a few of the early settlers living in the county prior to 1812 are: Drury Allen, Elijah Pugh, Thomas Figures, John Carney, Joseph Phillips, Mrs. Cathell, Isaac Painter, Elijah Presnall, Abner Presnall, John Smith, John Kelley, Moses Savill, John Brown, John Walker, John McCasky, Peter Parker, Jonathan Embree, David Taylor, John Chapman and William Walker. After the Creek War, the settlers came rapidly. In 1820, a company of ninety persons from South Carolina settled in the county. Thence to 1830, there was a steady flow of immigrants.

One of the first grist mills in the county was erected by John Slater, put up in 1812. About the same time, Moses Savill built one on Savill’s branch, a tributary of Bassett’s Creek. This mill ground the corn for the people of Fort Madison during the Creek War.

Home of  Albert Wilson House W. N. Manning, Photographer, March 13, 1934. Front Elevation –  County Road 35, Suggsville, Clarke County, AL ca. March 14, 1934W. N. Manning, Photographer, March 13, 1934. FRONT ELEVATION. - Albert Wilson House, County Road 35, Suggsville, Clarke County, AL

Vickers-Chapman-Gordon House, W. N. Manning, Photographer, March 13, 1934. Front Elevation – State Highway 69, Grove Hill, Clarke County, AL (Library of Congress)W. N. Manning, Photographer, March 13, 1934. FRONT ELEVATION. - Vickers-Chapman-Gordon House, State Highway 69, Grove Hill, Clarke County, AL

W. N. Manning, Photographer, March 13, 1934. Rear Elevation – Vickers-Chapman-Gordon House, State Highway 69, Grove Hill, Clarke County, AL (Library of Congress)W. N. Manning, Photographer, March 13, 1934. REAR ELEVATION - Vickers-Chapman-Gordon House, State Highway 69, Grove Hill, Clarke County, AL

One of the first grist mills in the county was erected by John Slater, put up in 1812. About the same time Moses Savill built one on Savill’s branch, a tributary of Bassett’s Creek. This mill ground the corn for the people of Fort Madison during the Creek War.

Site of Fort Madison near Gainestown, AL (a stockade used during Creek War 1813-1814 photograph from ruralswalabama.org /

Gainestown-Ft-Madison-marker_2-13-f-736

The first cotton gin was erected by Jonathan Emmons, perhaps soon after the Creek War, on Smith’s Creek, two miles south of Suggsville. Robert Hayden started a tannery and a shoe factory about 1815, three miles south of Suggsville. In 1816, Robert Caller had a mill and water gin, and an iron screw for packing cotton, on what was afterward known as the Barnes’ place. In 1821 there was a saw-mill on Bashi Creek, erected by Nathan Lipscombe.

Confederate Commands from County.—The commands listed below were made up in whole or in part from this county.

Infantry.

Co. D, “Suggsville Greys,” 2d Regt. Co. A, “Grove Hill Guards,” 5th Regt. Co. B, “Frank Lyon Guards,” 22d Regt. Co. E, “Dickinson Guards,” 24th Regt. Co. D, 32d Regt. (in part from Clarke). Co. E, “Bigbee Tigers,” 32d Regt. Co. G, “Dickinson Guards,” 32d Regt. (in part from Clarke). Co. H, 32d Regt.

Co. A, “Eliza Flinn Guards,” 38th Regt. Co. D, “Alabama Invincibles,” 38th Regt. Co. I, “Alabama Greys,” 38th Regt. Farm, Livestock and Crop Statistics, 1917.

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9 comments

  1. Wonderful article on my historic and beautiful county. Thank you from a life-long resident.

    1. Thank you. I enjoyed learning more about Clarke County while I wrote it. I appreciate your comment.
      Donna

  2. Randy Huggins

    I am from Thomasville

  3. Michelle Parker

    I believe I could live in this house. I like that old rustic look.

  4. I am from Marengo county. I would love any thing on Marengo County.

  5. Jackie Leonard

    Wonder if Bill Mathews was kin to them.

  6. Tish Gressang

    Dianne Hornsby Roberts — I lived in Grove Hill before we moved to Ozark – 8th grade ! thx for posting

  7. […] all sat round until night, people coming in continually, for this part of Clarke was thickly settled, I went to Mother and told her I was tired and sleepy, she untied her apron and […]

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