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Biography: Benjamin Sykes born ca. 1745



( 1745)

Lawrence County, Alabama


In early times there came a colony of them from Greenville County, Va., and settled in North Alabama. They were ten in number, and settled in Morgan and Lawrence counties, but mostly in Morgan, and around Decatur. They were nearly all in affluent circumstances. They were industrious, honest, thrifty; and were endowed with good solid minds; more distinguished by judgment than imagination.

The Sykes family became a power in this section, and Dr. Henry W. Rhodes was connected with them by marriage, as he married Miss Dancy, sister of the wife of Colonel James T. Sykes. He owned the land where the town was laid off, and the ferry, which crossed the Tennessee River there. He was a man of genius, of enterprise and of unflagging industry.

When in 1832 a branch of the State Bank was to be located (though not a politician) he was selected, and sent to the legislature to secure the location for Decatur, which was the youngest of all the neighboring towns by fifteen or twenty years. But then the Tuscumbia, Courtland and Decatur railroad was partly finished, and the canal around the Muscle Shoals under construction; and the Doctor by urging the central position of Decatur, and the convenience of approach, succeeded in securing the bank. There was a great scramble for it, and the defeated towns were so much disgusted that a correspondent of one of the leading papers wrote home, that the bank had been located at “Rhodes’ Ferry Landing.”

“Decatur was indeed very small then, and I am not certain that it had been incorporated, but from this time it grew rapidly, until the great crash in money matters, and the failure of the State Banks. The canal also failed. It was whispered that the U. S. Engineer had made a mistake in the level of the lowest lock, and boats could not ascend. I trust that this may not be the case since the new canal was completed. But another very material cause of the suspension of the growth of Decatur was that the Chickasaw lands in Mississippi, fresh and fertile, were opened for settlement; and the Sykes family, almost in a body, (with many other planters) moved away. These early friends of Decatur, in its first effort for success, left.”

The common ancestor of the Sykes was Benjamin Sykes, an Englishman, who married Alice Wren in the county of Greenville, in the State of Virginia.

One of his sons was Benjamin Sykes of Virginia, who married Mary Rives. His sons were:

  1. Richard Sykes was father of Augustus A. Sykes , who was so long a commission merchant in Mobile. He married Georgia, oldest daughter of Dr. George Augustus Sykes, of Aberdeen. She was a widow (in 1899) with a number of children, amongst them the eldest son, named Clifton, who was a very promising young man and fine farmer.
  2. William Sykes moved from Lawrence to Columbus, Mississippi.
  3. James Sykes married Martha W. Lanier daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Lanier, of Greenville County, Virginia, and related to the Harris-Lanier line on May 8, 1815. James Sykes died August 19, 1881. He moved from Lawrence County to Columbus, Miss. His son, James William, married his cousin, Marcella, daughter of Dr. William A. Sykes, of Aberdeen. The issue of this marriage was two daughters: Wildie; who married James Saunders Billups, son of Colonel Thomas C. Billups by his second marriage with Mrs. Franics A. Swoope, who was a daughter of Reverend Turner Saunders: and another daughter, Ida Sykes, who married T. Caralton Billups, son of Col. Thomsa C. Billups (by his first marriage) with Sallie Moore, daughter of Judge Moore..
  4. John Sykes, youngest son of Benjamin Sykes and Mary Rives, died about the age of twenty-six, unmarried.

Of all these, William and James only, settled in the eastern part of Lawrence County, and the rest in the county of Morgan.


And now we will sketch the sons of Dr. William Sykes, the other son of the common ancestor, who married Birchett L. Turner, and lived in Greenville County, Virginia. Another son of Benjamin Sykes and Alice Wren was Dr. William Sykes of Virginia, who married Birchett L. Turner His sons were:

  1. James Turner Sykes (ca. 1794)
  2. Joseph Sykes
  3. Dr. William A. Sykes (ca. 1798)
  4. Benjamin Sykes
  5. Simon Turner Sykes
  6. Dr. William Augustus Sykes
  7. Mary Ann Sykes

Of all these, William and James only, settled in the eastern part of Lawrence County, and the rest in the county of Morgan.

James Turner Sykes ( son of Dr. William Sykes and Birchett L. Turner) lived about six miles west of Decatur – was a tall, handsome man; commanded a regiment in the war of 1812 , and was stationed at Norfolk, He married Sallie Dancy. He was a member of the Legislature in 1828 , was president of the Branch Bank at Decatur for many years, and was, generally, a leading citizen. He had three sons –

  1. Dr. Frank W. Sykes (b. April 19, 1819) married Elizabeth Garth
  2. Dr. Andrew Jackson
  3. James Turner

Dr. Frank W. Sykes was born April 19, 1819 . He graduated at the Nashville University and took his diploma as a physician in the Transylvania University. He located in Courtland, in this county, in 184 , and such was his skill, confidence, and perseverance that he soon enjoyed a full practice. After a few years, he married Elizabeth, a daughter of Gen. Jesse W. Garth, who lived near Decatur. The General was senator from Morgan county for many years and a man of note and influence. He was a practicing lawyer when a young man and used to attend the Morgan county court, but he soon retired from the bar and became a very successful planter. Dr. Frank Sykes purchased the plantation owned by Mr. George W. Foster  and retired from the practice. He was several times elected to the House of Representatives of the State, and in 1865 as State senator. During the reconstruction period he was fairly elected United States senator, but he was unjustly excluded from his seat. In public life, Dr. Sykes was an honest and efficient representative of the people. His mind was of a robust order, and he was an earnest and forcible debater, always respected and feared by his adversaries

Afterward, he directed his attention to the cultivation of the soil and carried it to more perfection than had before been reached in this country. Labor saving machines Hughes plow on wheels for breaking up his ground, heavy harrows for leveling it, the best planters for seeding it, and buggy cultivators for its subsequent cultivation. In a field which had been fallowed during the winter, I have seen cotton ground laid off and the ridges made, and the cotton planted with three furrows, viz.: one furrow of a bull-tongue to lay off the rows, a second with a cultivator on which was hung four little turning plows to make the ridge complete, and then the third furrow with the Harrison cotton planter to finish the planting. But here I must say, that though Dr. Sykes , with his labor-saving machines, was the most economical and efficient cultivator we had, he ignored virtually the improvement of the soil. Fertilization and cultivation should proceed by equal step, on any upland soil, to insure success. Our soil should have a regular rotation of manurial crops, such as clover and peas, and all the domestic manure which can be made, and in addition such a proportion of commercial fertilizers as has been sanctioned by experiment, before you can evoke full crops. In former times the difficulty was in disposing of the surplus of sundry crops constituting a rotation; but now towns are springing up all around us, and this difficulty will disappear. Towns and farms will act and react favorably on each other. I was a neighbor to Dr. Sykes about forty years, and never had a better one. He was a very interesting man socially, but not because he would always agree with you in your opinions. He was positive in his opinions, and very combative, and always fresh and full of vitality. He had a great sorrow many years ago in the death of his only son, John , who gave promise of being an influential and useful citizen. The doctor and his very bright and intelligent wife have both gone from earth. They left two daughters, Eunice , who married Captain Michie , of Charlottesville, Va. , and Molly , who married Mr. Groesbeck , and is now a widow.

Dr. Andrew Jackson Sykes , the second son of Col. James T. Sykes , has already been spoken of in connection with his father-in-law, Mr. John M. Swoope. He, like his brother Frank , had an intellect of a high order. Dr. Frank was more rapid in coming to his conclusions and stubborn in maintaining them; Dr. Jack more deliberate and philosophical in forming his, but always ready to open the opinion for re-examination at any time. There was a marked difference in their theories on agriculture. Dr. Jack was a strong believer in the “intensive system,” and before his health failed he achieved a great success in market gardening. But for the failure in health, I think he would have carried this plan of high manuring to the field as well as to the market garden.

James T.  Sykes was the third son of Col. James Turner Sykes. He moved to Mississippi and married Sallie Lundy . Their daughter, Sallie Lundy, married Robert, son of the late Bishop Paine, of Aberdeen . The issue of this marriage is Sallie Lundy Paine.

Joseph Sykes, (son of Dr. William Sykes, of Virginia, and his wife, Birchett L. Turner) moved from Alabama to Columbus, Miss. He is the father of Major William Joseph Sykes, of Nashville the journalist, who writes and speaks with great fluency. His daughters live in Columbus. He died in 1878.

Dr. William A. Sykes, (son of Dr. William Sykes of Virginia, and his wife, Birchett L. Turner) married Rebecca Barrett. He moved from Alabama to Aberdeen, Miss. His eldest daughter, Susan Turner, married Judge John B. Sale. The issue of this marriage was Dr. Paul Sale, of Aberdeen, who is distinguished in his profession, and married Molly, the daughter of Dr. George Augustus Sykes. Another daughter, Marcella (as we have stated) married James Sykes. Josephine another daughter of Dr. William A., married Dr. Evans, and is now a widow.*

Captain Thomas, a son of Dr. William A., married a Georgia lady and has several children. Another son, Dr. Granville Sykes, married a Miss Clopton, and another (a physician) married a daughter of my old friend John A. Walker, and was killed by lightning. And the youngest son (I think) Captain Eugene Sykes, one of the leaders of the Bar in Aberdeen, Miss., married Miss Rogers, daughter of Judge Rogers.

Benjamin Sykes moved from Alabama to Columbus, Miss., where his descendants are to be found.

Rev. Simon Turner Sykes, when his brothers came to North Alabama, was stationed in the city of Richmond ; the best station in the Virginia Conference; which proved the high estimate which was formed of his abilities as a preacher.  He came a little later.  His daughter, Indiana, married Judge Rogers and his only son, Capt. Turner Sykes, married Mary Bynum, of Courtland, Ala. They had one son, Lawson (married to the daughter of Harvey Gilchrist)

Dr. George Augustus Sykes (son of Dr. William Sykes, and his wife, Birchett L. Turner) , removed from Alabama to Aberdeen, Miss. His daughter, Georgia, married Major Augustus A. Sykes, long a commission merchant in Mobile; and his daughter, Mollie, (as we have said above) married Dr. Sale .

During the reconstruction period he was fairly elected United States senator, but he was unjustly excluded from his seat. In public life, Dr. Sykes was an honest and efficient representative of the people. His mind was of a robust order, and he was an earnest and forcible debater,  always respected and feared by his adversaries.

Dr. Henry W. Rhodes, of whom we have spoken above, married Miss Dancy, sister of the wife of Col. James T. Sykes, was quite wealthy and full of enterprise. He conceived the idea that the cotton planters should make their own bagging and rope, and actually commenced the business, raising the hemp on the river bottom just below Decatur, and erecting his factory and rope walk on the hill opposite. But he soon abandoned the business, as cotton bore a full price, and Kentucky could undersell him in bagging and rope. He moved to Mississippi about the same time with the Sykes ‘. They had been cautious and left with estates unimpaired by the crash of 1837 . But the doctor was embarrassed, although he had a large estate. He obtained large acceptances from E. L. Andrews, a Jew merchant of Mobile, and in return lent the merchant his name for a large amount, on accommodation paper. In consequence of the failure of a branch house in New Orleans, the house of E. L. Andrews went down also. Poor Andrews! when he heard of the failure he was so mortified at the loss of commercial honor, that he filled his pockets with the paper weights which lay on his office table, and went out on the wharf, and drowned himself. I deeply lamented his tragic end. I knew him well, having been a member of the Directory of the Bank of Mobile with him for some years, and learned to respect him as a gentleman and an accomplished merchant.  I never learned how Dr. Rhodes’ estate wound up.



  1. “Early Settlers of Alabama” written 1899 by Col. James Edmonds Saunders and published in New Orleans.
  3. Francis W. Sykes has been a resident of Lawrence for over thirty years. He was born in Northampton county, N. C., April 19, 1819, but his parents, James T. and Sarah Dancy Sykes, were natives of Virginia. They came to Morgan county in 1824, and Mr. Sykes was president of the branch bank at Decatur for several years. The son passed his early years in Morgan, and after furnishing his education at Nashville University, he was graduated in medicine at Transylvania University, in 1840. After a brief residence in Somerville, he located at Courtland, this county, and successfully pursued his professional career. Since 1849 he has given his attention to planting. He represented the county in the legislature in 1855, but was defeated two years later. During the war, he again served Lawrence in the representative chamber, and in 1865 he was elected to the senate from Walker, Winston, and Lawrence. In 1868 he was on the Seymour electoral ticket, and in 1870 was voted for in the general assembly for senator to congress. The talents of Dr. Sykes are of the quiet but useful kind, which are always available in legislative assemblies. In the private walks of life, he is esteemed for various admirable qualities. (Brewer’s Alabama History 1540-1872)

This biography is included in the E-Book First Families of Lawrence County, Alabama Volume I

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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