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Biography: Sumter Bethea born June 17, 1861 – photograph

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(1861- 1931)

Jefferson County, Alabama

Sumter Bethea, of Birmingham, Alabama, was a descendant of a prominent South Carolina family. He was the son of John Brown and Elizabeth Ann Bethea. This large and extensive family are still in possession of a large part of the land ceded them by the crown of England.

They came from a common stock, John Bethea, who emigrated from England to Virginia in 1675. There are few families who are as familiar as the Betheas with their family history for nearly three hundred years. Mr. Bethea had in his possession a family tree so constructed as to be extended with clearness to the remotest generations.

The tree dated from the landing of “Old English John,” as he is termed in the ”Annals of the Bethea Family,” on the shores of Virginia. He had two sons, John the second and Tristam. John, who was the progenitor of the Bethea family of which our subject is a descendant, was an officer in General Sumter’s army, and his son, John the third, was a lieutenant in the War of 1812. Going down the line of Johns we come to the father of our subject (the fifth from Old English John), who was a lieutenant in the Confederate army and died in 1863. His mother, Elizabeth Ann Bethea, was in her earlier life a gifted writer of fiction, having written several books that attained considerable local note.

Sumter Bethea was born in Marion county, S. C., June 17, 1861. He was educated in the district schools of Marion, S. C., and later in Bingham school, North Carolina. He located in Birmingham in 1888, where he engaged in the business of real estate broker and won success by his fine business judgment and upright methods.

He perhaps owned more city lots than any other individual in Birmingham. He was a Democrat and a Presbyterian, and a trustee of the South Highlands Presbyterian church. He was past Chancellor of the Knights of Pythias and a member of the grand lodge of that order.

On March 7, 1887, he married Miriam Woodward, daughter of Col. Joseph Addison Woodward and Minerva (Rice) Woodward of Talladega, Alabama, both were descendants of old English settlers of Virginia. Col. Woodward was born in Fairfield, S. C., in 1806 and was a graduate of the State University of South Carolina. He spent several years in the legislature of his State and in 1843 was elected to Congress from the Winnsboro district and returned for ten consecutive years, retiring at the wish of his family to remove to Alabama.

During his life he was the personal friend of John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. He was a scientist as well as a politician and was held as a valued friend by Professor Henry of the Smithsonian Institution. He was with Morse when he sent the first telegraphic message. He was a scholar of great scope and was familiar with the teachings of all the great philosophers of the Hebrew, Latin and Greek ages. His daughter, Mrs. Sumter Bethea, inherited the great mind of her father and follows with avidity the same lines of research into the philosophy and religious thought of the past. Sumter Bethea and Miriam (Woodward) Bethea had seven children:

  1. Agnes Bethea
  2. Ellen Bethea
  3. Elizabeth Bethea
  4. Estelle Bethea
  5. Malcolm Bethea
  6. Mary Bethea
  7. Roderick Bethea
  8. Ellen Bethea died an infant

Sumter Bethea died November 27, 1931 and is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery, Birmingham, Jefferson County, Alabama along with his wife Miriam Woodward Bethea who died in 1953.



  1. Notable men of Alabama edited by Joel Campbell DuBose
  2. Find A Grave Memorial# 15297702 # 97818270 # 97818656 # 110863236  97818069 # 7365975 # 7055396

This biography can be found in Biographies of Notable and Not-so-Notable Alabama Pioneers Volume VI 

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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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