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Biography: Colonel John Acton born August 21, 1803

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Shelby County, Alabama

John Acton was a planter, lieutenant-colonel of militia, justice of the peace, and commissioner. He was born August 21, 1803, on his father’s plantation on Flat Creek, Buncombe County, N. C., and died on his plantation on the Cahaba River, in Shelby County. He is buried in the Acton cemetery.

John was the son, and fifth child, of Capt. John Acton and Jane “Jennie” (Roberts) Acton, the former a native of Virginia, who later removed to Wayne County, Ky., and in 1816 to Alabama territory, locating in Shelby, his sons having preceded him and where he and his wife, who was born on a vessel crossing the Atlantic, are both buried.

He was the grandson of Captain James Acton and Elizabeth (Mr Craft) Acton, the former a representative of one of the first families of England, the latter a beautiful and gifted young woman of Scotch descent, who was kidnapped in the old country and brought to America to be sold, and was set free by Captain Acton, whom she later married; brother of Rev. William Acton.

Capt. John Acton received the rudimentary education of the pioneer country, and was a man of powerful physical and mental attainments. He taught school, having to prepare his own text books in manuscript form, as it was impossible to obtain them otherwise. His books, carefully written, were bound in sheep skin that had b«en tanned by his brother. Although the country was full of Indians, and he a mere youth he would ride on horseback a hundred miles, to a grist mill or to Tennessee, with his brother, Samuel Acton, for corn when that staple food of the pioneer was exhausted. He was a planter, his father, brothers and himself owning adjacent lands of several thousand acres, on the Cahaba River. He built one of the first cotton gins ever erected in Shelby County; was a justice of the peace for more than forty years, and for many years a member of the commissioners court. From his eighteenth year, to his death, he held office, and such was the quality of his judgment that the people of the whole section sought his opinions on legal, political and agricultural matters.

Owing to the state of society and the restlessness of the Indians under the advances of civilization, every man was a militiaman, and Captain Acton was lieutenant-colonel of his regiment, and served in the Seminole War. He was a Democrat; Presbyterian, and a Mason. He was a total abstainer from intoxicants, took a strong stand against intemperance, and helped to organize the Sons of Temperance in his county. He was also one of the organizers of the Farmer’s Grange in Shelby County. He married: December 31, 1834, in Shelby County, to Martha Turner Boothe. daughter of Mrs. Louvina Boothe, who lived near the Capt. Jack Cross place, Cahaba Valley, a native of Buncombe County, N. C. His wife died in 1859, and he remained unmarried until his death at the age of eighty-six.

Their known children were

  1. Calvin Hamilton Acton (May 31, 1836 – June 29, 1857)
  2. Capt. Refus (or Rufus) McCraft Acton married Marilla Oldham
  3. Leonard M. Acton (May 5, 1840 – Nov. 11, 1861)
  4. John Henry Acton (Oct 17, 1842 – September 24, 1846)
  5. Virginia Ann Acton;
  6. Martha H. Acton (September 17, 1848 – 1861)
  7. Lucy Louisa Acton.

Colonel John James Acton’s last residence was Shelby County, Alabama. He is buried in the Old Acton Cemetery in Shelby County, Alabama along with his wife and several children.


  1. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, Volume III
  2. 1850, 1870, 1880 US census of Shelby County, Alabama
  3. Find A Grave # 38509146 # 38508508 # 38508835 # 38508773 # 50445176 # 38508420 # 38508345 # 38508465

More on Col. John Acton and his family can be found in the books: Shelby County Alabama Pioneers Volume I 


 Some Alabama Descendants of JAMES ACTON (1746-1819)



  1. […] William Acton was a Presbyterian minister, and planter, was born April 14, I805, on a large farm near Monticello, Wayne County, Kentucky, and died in Shelby County, Alabama. He was sixth son of Capt. John Acton and Jane “Jennie” (Roberts) Acton and the brother of Col.  John Acton. […]

  2. Old Acton Cemetery is a very small but significant cemetery in the history of northern Shelby County. It is in some woods basically surrounded by homes and with many Acton descendants living in the area yet Unfortunately it is mostly abandoned and unkept. Occasionally with some prodding a Boy Scout group will take it as a project and it looks good for a year or so but then grows over again. I am past the age and condition that I can do the work and just wish that some family members or caring group would provide it the care that it deserves. There is a census of it’s burials that I did some years ago that can be found on the Shelby County Historical web site. A most interesting cemetery to visit. A description of it’s location is included with the census

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