By W. O. Perry
(Please Note: This transcribed story was written in 1927 and contains language which is not appropriate to use today)
In 1819 several families from near Columbus, Georgia, moved to the eastern part of Perry County. Coming by way of Montgomery, through Autauga County, by old Pearidge and Summerfield; they crossed the Ocmulgee Creek at Greer’s Mill, now known as Melton’s Bridge, and settled in that part of the county lying between Ocmulgee Creek and the Cahaba River.
Those families that I remember were the Dennis, Crawford and Perry families. There were, perhaps others. Until their homes were erected, they camped near where Ocmulgee Church now stands. This church was organized in 1822 at the home of Jothan Beason. A log building was soon built. Their near neighbors were Indians. The nearest whites were the Crow, Smith, Hopper and Suttle families at a few miles north and west.
First jail on Perry Ridge
The first jail in Perry County was on Perry Ridge two miles west of Fike’s Ferry on the Cahaba River and was constructed of logs. The nearest source of supplies was Moore’s Bluff where Selma now stands. On the spot now occupied by People’s Trust and Savings Bank and Tissier’s was the camp ground where my father and grandfather camped with their neighbors and others when they came to meet the boats from Mobile.
A Collection of PERRY COUNTY ALABAMA PIONEERS BIOGRAPHIES, GENEALOGY REPORTS VOLUME I
Memories of Selma, Alabama
My first recollection of Selma was in 1860. I went there with my father, Col. Oliver Hazard Perry. All that part of Selma from the Summerfield Road to Bakers Switch was under a rail fence and belonged to the plantation of Mr. Platenberg. Most of it was planted in cotton. The part between the Summerfield Road and Valley Creek was the plantation of a Mrs. Cade. Only two homes were in that part of town then. The one at the intersection of Lapsley Street and Jeff Davis Avenue, then known as the Starkey-Jones house, and having the cannon ball hole in one of the columns. And the house at the corner of Church and Jeff Davis now occupied by Mr. Cooper. They look very much as they did then.
Some time in 1863, work was begun on the breastwork for Selma’s fortification. The labor was all done by slaves. The natural embankment from the river up Valley Creek to the intersection of Pettus and Gary Street was used. The construction work began there and went by the oil mill and eastward to the Range Line Road and from there to Beech Creek.
I spent one night in the camp on Beech Creek, having been sent there with provisions for the members of my family and my father’s slaves. The embankment was ten feet wide at the base and about seven feet tall. The dirt was gotten at the base of the embankment, making a ditch for further protection. It was topped by a picket fence.
Gen. Wilson said that Selma was the best fortified place in the entire South; if it had just had the men to defend the fortification. The powder magazine was a small brick house with one iron door, about where the Methodist orphanage is now located. The arsenal, the best the South had, was in what is now Arsenal Place and the foundry was where the L. and N. station is now. The shipyard was on the river bank under those oak trees just below the railroad bridge. I saw a gun-boat put in the river there in April 1863 and carried to Mobile by a seam-boat called the Reindeer. There it was made an iron clad boat.
A Collection of PERRY COUNTY ALABAMA PIONEERS BIOGRAPHIES & GENEALOGIES VOLUME II Book 2)
The government stables were just outside the arsenal gate where the Gulf filling station is now. Everything was transported about town by mules.
The real work of the country was done by the slaves directed by a few old men and the disabled soldiers. I went with the wagons and carried provisions to the stations provided for that purpose. We had to feed corn and other feedstuffs to the beef cattle used by the army. At one time we fed as many as 1,100 Texas and Missouri steers. The Plantenberg field was the location of the stockade, or prison for the army. It was about half way between the Selma University and the Cosby residence on Broad Street. The walls were made by setting tall stakes deep in the ground and having them extend ten feet tall, pointed at the top. On the inside were tents for protection from the weather and a guard was kept on the outside at all times. No one ever escaped.
Battle of Ebenezer
Near the close of the war in 1865 the battle of Ebenezer was fought on Friday, March 31, at Stanton, 25 miles north of here. The two armies spent Saturday moving southward. Chalmers went across the country to Sprott’s and crossed the Cahaba River. Boddie came down the Range Line road to the Phillips Place, turned west to Summerfield and crossed the river (Cahaba) at Fike’s Ferry. Forrest’s men scattered over the hills of Dallas and east Perry to find food for themselves and their horses. I, with the help of the negroes, fed 35 horses. My mother, with the help of the negro women, fed the men on Sunday morning, April the second.
They then gathered at Kenan’s Mill and out the Summerfield road. There were about 8,000 men. They went into Selma about 12 o’clock and placed their horses under the bluff from Farrell’s well to the river with the old men and boys of Selma and Dallas County. Forest and his men went behind the fortifications. Then Wilson with 40,000 me appeared on the hilltop from the Summerfield road to the Range Line road. I was near enough to hear the first gun fired by Forrest. Wilson said he was not ready, but had to press forward. The firing only lasted until sundown. Forrest left a few men to fire the cannons until the main body of his men got their horses and crossed Valley Creek. They burned the bridge behind them and went that night back to Fike’s Ferry where they crossed the Cahaba.
A Collection of PERRY COUNTY ALABAMA PIONEERS VOLUME III Biographies & Genealogies (Book 3)
The next day Wilson sent 5,000 men as far as the river, but found the stream so high and swift from a rain that they decided not to cross. They camped there that night and returned to Selma the next day.
My father, who belonged to the State Troops stationed at Mobile, had been sent home because the doctors thought he had lung trouble. They told him he was in such bad shape that the Union solders would not harm him, but they compelled him to go with them and show them the way to the river. He said Forrest’s men were so near on the other side he could hear the horses eating.
The South’s Real Struggle
Then came the real struggle of the South. A Yankee army of 8,000 men was stationed in Weaver’s Grove in that part of West Selma now known as Lauderdale and Church Streets. It reached south as far as what is now Parkman. They camp was a place of safety for any negro who wished to leave the farm where he had been a slave or if he had committed a crime and gotten there before he was captured, then he was in a safe place.
However, we had little trouble with them until the arrival of the Carpetbaggers. The result of this rule is too well known for me to say more. However, I will mention a few of the difficulties. Free Negroes, and only poor or old stock were left; gin-houses burned. Many white families had only bread gotten from the Yankee camps. It was no longer safe for a grown man to go to the mill. Only the women went and were known as corn-women. They usually went in ox carts, for if they had a mule or horse able to make the trip. It would be taken from them. As a small boy, I was sent along to drive the oxen. Often the corn was weevily and hardly fit for bread.
For a long time Eaglehaimer had the only Jew store in Selma and sold most of the goods. Phil Weaver had the largest store of his time. Just behind Weaver’s was Becton’s near where the Episcopal parish house now is. After the war, a camp ground for farmers was on this place. Soon after that, Royston started a cotton yard with a camp yard in connection. The old hotel on the river was known as the Gee House and later the Troupe House. The Hotel Albert was started before the war, but was not finished. It’s doors and windows were boarded up for a number of years. Some years after the war, a stock company finished it.
Hotel Albert, Selma, Alabama
Town Water Supply
The water for the use of the town was furnished by overflowing wells, some of these were in the middle of the streets. The streets were very sandy, in some places four inches deep as at the intersection of Broad and Water, which was the principal corner. The market house was in the middle of Washington Street, with just room to pass on each side of it.
The Vaughan Memorial hospital was the public school building until the Dallas Academy was built, then it was the county courthouse.
The principal lawyers of my boyhood were Jonathan and Hugh Harrison and a Mr. Satterfield and a Mr. Young. A blind man named Clash had the first bookstore that I recall. The bridge was built in the years 1884-85. It was about this time that the first gravel road was built by public subscriptions, using private teams. Caution and Coleman’s drug store was in operation before that time and served as headquarters for the road building. It was a wonderful service to the country for we certainly had some bad roads.
In my youth, Summerfield was fine a small town as you would find any where in the state. Most of the families were wealthy farmers whose families lived there to take advantage of the educational opportunities. No more cultured or refined people were to be found anywhere.
Among the preachers were old Dr. H. H. Mitchell and Bishop Andrews. Professor Dr. McVoy was in charge of the female college. The medical doctors were: Dr. C. B. Moore and Dr. Watkins Vaughan. The village blacksmith was John Johnson. During the war, Mark Canning ran a shop for the Confederate government and afterwards had a shop in Selma.
Old Mr. Garrett was the postmaster and Mr. Manerson was a shoemaker. The merchants of Summerfield were: Gregory and Hawley and George Pettebone. Among the land and slave owners who lived in Summerfield were Col. Bob Barner, Ben Harrison, L. C. Harrison, George Swift, Net Tate, Bob Moore, Tom Barker, Boykin Goldsby, and Lewis Davis.
Sturdivant-Moore-Hartley House, Centenary & Main Streets, Summerfield, Dallas County, AL March 1934 (Library of Congress)
Of the many well to do farmers who lived between Summerfield and Selma were: Henry Martin, Jack Callen, Louis Moore, George Tate, Morgan Cleveland, William Russell, John and Pink McIllwaine, Virgil and Alonzo Irvin, Bill Wilson, Melvin Harris, Jim Ford, Dr. Jackson, Bill Roundtree, John Green, Dan, Tom and Jim Kenan, Robert Morrison and Prof. Marvin Callen. There was a farmer named Boggs who lived north of Summerfield and was considered very homely. One day, a Tennessee horse-drover met him in the road. After looking at him pretty hard, he said, “My friend, you are the very man I have been looking for. You are the ugliest man I ever saw and I am going to give you a mule. Just look this drove over and take your pick.” The farmer did so, taking a dark gray one. He kept it until it was snow white.
The Selma doctors of the day were: Drs. Henry, Hendrey and Furniss. Dr. Paisley was the dentist. The pastor of The First Baptist of the town was Dr. A. G. McCraw. I heard him preach not long fore the death and have heard every pastor that the church has had since him. The earliest furniture man and undertaker was W. B. Gill, who also sold buggies and wagons. Mr. Mullen ran the brickyard and Mr. Peacock ad the iron works. A. Mr. Welch had a lumber yard.
There were two cotton merchants: W. P. Welch & Co., and Graham and Turner Vaughan. N. Waller and William Wailes had a dry good store. Hobbs was the first jeweler that I remember, and by the way, I have a clock bought from him in 1881. It keeps perfect time yet. It is the regulator of our neighborhood. It will hardly vary five minutes in a year. I have a copy of the Selma Reporter published September 10, 1852.
Among Selma’s older grocers were: Bowen and Lyman; Boyd and Vanderslice; Morton and Hanner; Moot and Stell. Beard and Hunt had a livery stable and a Mr. March and a man known as Uncle John Ramsey were early traders in Tennessee mules. John Lockridge and Mr. Scott were merchant tailors. Bob Davidson and Menzo Watson had the first fancy groceries; Gillman had the first cake shop and Henry Noble the first tin shop. He made the first cook-stove that I ever saw. Tissier was the gunsmith and Schields the harness-makers. Fred Young sold the first sewing machine, a Grove and Baker. The first lamp we ever had was bought from Mullen after the war.
Only had two bales left
Whatever cotton that was not burned by the Yankees, sold for 50 cents per pound. We had only two bales left because it was in a pen in the field. Two Yankee officers burned our gin and 60 bales of cotton. They carried off my very own black pony. I can’t love them yet.
I had two brothers in the army, Gates, who was killed at the siege of Vicksburg, and L. J. Perry. L. J. Perry was in Arkansas when the war started and was the first man to enlist in Col. A. First Regiment. He served nearly the entire four years. He was wounded in Virginia in January, 1865 and came home. Drs. Moore and Vaughan got him a place in the government stables in Selma. He was not able to do field service as he was still on crutches. When the battle line reached Selma, L. J. put the government mules and horses across the river near Cahaba and saved them. He took a fine saddle horse belonging to Capt. Burke who had organized a regiment of Summerfield men. On it, L. J. ran the Northern lines and joined Forrest’s men across the Cahaba river from Fike’s Ferry. He kept the horse until after the surrender when he returned it to Capt. Burke.
Addendum to Original
W. O. (William Oliver) Perry was the son of Oliver Hazard Perry and Lucy Allen Glenn, and grandson of Britton Perry and Mary Dennis. W. O. Perry was born in 1854 and died in 1949. He was the father of Lottie Perry (Mrs. Green Berry Suttles) of Selma.
- The story above appeared on page four of the Centennial Edition of The Selma Times-Journal, Selma, Ala., on November 2, 1927 (submitted by jbmatap and Art Green of Selma)
Family Notes Added:
W. O. (William Oliver) Perry, was the son of Oliver Hazard Perry and Lucy Allen Glenn, and the grandson of Britton Perry and Mary Dennis. W. O. Perry was born 1854, and died 1949. He was the father of Lottie Perry (Mrs. Green Berry Suttles) of Selma.