The lands in Madison County were the first surveyed and sold in North Alabama. Prior to the sales in 1809 lands in and around St. Stephens had been offered for sale by the Government.
Registry and Land Office in Nashville
The Government Registry and Land Office, through which all purchases of land in the new territory had to be negotiated, was situated at Nashville, Tennessee with Gen. John Braham as Register. All traveling in those days was by horse-back, and in due season there was a well defined highway from the Tennessee river south of the “Hunt Spring” settlement to Nashville on the north, along the same course now traversed by tourists in passing between the two cities. At these sales there were many purchasers who bid in with alacrity these rich lands at an average of $2.00 per acre; very few bids were for more than that. If the amount bid was paid cash, the Government discounted the purchase price eight per cent. Easy terms were also offered; interest at the rate of six per cent per annum being charged on all deferred payments. Only farm lands were offered at the sales in 1809; the laying out and platting of the town site was not completed till 1810.1
Government established in Alabama
The survival of a people as a nation depends wholly upon its ability to establish and maintain a stable government of laws and, in like manner the future stability of the pioneer settlement depended in a large measure upon the regard had for the speedy establishment of such a government.
Painting of Big Spring and water works in Huntsville ca. 1850 by Laura Bassett (Alabama Department of Archives and History
The Legislative Council and House of Representatives of the Mississippi Territory, by section one of an act passed February 27, 1809, provided, that:
“The laws relating to the judiciary and militia of this territory be immediately extended to the county of Madison.” Sections two and six further providing, “There shall be immediately organized in the county of Madison, circuit and county courts, etc. All the laws of a general nature which now exist or may hereafter be passed by the government of this territory shall extend to and be binding on the inhabitants of the county of Madison.”
On December 22, 1809, the Legislature passed an act to meet the changed condition of things, brought about by the extension of laws to the settlement.
This act is as follows:
“Section 1. Be it enacted by the Legislative Council and House of Representatives of the Mississippi Territory, in General Assembly convened, that William Dickson, Edward Ward, Louis Winston, Alexander Gilbreath, and Peter Perkins, residing in the county of Madison, be appointed commissioners for the purpose of fixing on the most convenient place for establishing the public buildings in the said county; and they, or a majority of them, shall have power and authority to procure by purchase or otherwise, not less than thirty or more than one hundred acres of land, at the most convenient and suitable place for the erection of the public buildings aforesaid, which tract of land, when obtained by purchase or otherwise, as aforesaid, shall be laid out into half acre lots by the commissioners aforesaid (reserving three acres, upon which the public buildings shall be erected), and be sold at public auction on twelve months credit; and the money arising therefrom (after paying for the land aforesaid, if the same shall be purchased), shall be applied by said commissioners toward defraying the expenses of erecting the public buildings of the said county.
Section 2. And be it further enacted, that the town so laid out shall be called and known by the name of Twickenham; and as soon as the public buildings are fitted for the reception of the courts of the said county, the said commissioners shall report the same to the county and circuit, or superior courts of said county, as the case may be, who shall thereupon adjourn their courts respectively to the court house so erected as aforesaid.”
First settlers purchased farms
Great numbers of prospective purchasers poured into the settlement of Twickenham in North Alabama during the year 1809. They were eager to bid on the lands offered for sale by the Federal Government. Most of the first settlers simply purchased farms but a small number of men were wealthy and bought large tracts of land.”Ten men purchased nearly half of the land sold at the public auction, and most of them belonged to two distinct groups of Tennessee and Georgia speculators.”2
Col. Leroy Pope Mansion built in 1814 on the highest hill in Madison County, Alabama has been restored and is still standing (photographed 2010 by Carol Highsmith -Library of Congress)
Some of the first of these wealthy speculators were acquainted with each other in Georgia, and eventually moved to their new land in Madison County to establish their plantations. These included William Watkins, Leroy Pope, John Williams Walker, and Thomas Bibb who left the Broad River region of Georgia probably due to the stagnation of tobacco cultivation and growing competition of Augusta as a trade center.
1Betts, Edward Chambers, Early History of Huntsville, Alabama, 1804 to 1870, Brown Printing Company, 1916
2Transforming the Cotton Frontier: Madison County, Alabama, 1800-1840 LSU Press