Days Gone By - stories from the past

Conecuh County in the early days, no grocery stores to buy food – only grist mills [film]

Our Alabama pioneers had to struggle to put a meal on the table in the early days.

(The following transcription is from History of Conecuh County, published in 1881, Rev. B. F. Riley)

Difficulty procuring corn

“The year 1816 was noted as being one of sore privation to the heroic families who had confronted the perils of these forest wilds, nerved alone by the hope of future reward, which itself was dependent upon their tedious exertion. To appreciate their struggles, with formidable difficulties, one has only to be told that during the year 1816 the settlers of Conecuh had to procure their corn from Claiborne”Alconecuh

No Grist Mills

The sacks were transported across the county and deep forests on horseback with the always present danger of being attacked by roving Indians. When they reached home with the corn, they still had difficulties since there were no grist mills to grind the corn so the planters had to use contrivances of their own manufacture called a ‘ sweep’ The sweep consisted of a pestle, fixed into a horizontal pole, that rested upon an upright forked beam. The beam was securely connected to the ground. Under this was placed a mortar that contained the corn. The perpendicular operation of the pestle gradually ground the corn into a mealy state. It was a slow process but it worked until a grist meal could be built.”

The first grist meal in Conecuh County, Alabama was built by Captain Cumming. Shortly after this, a similar enterprise sprang up on Mill creek, near Belleville. This was erected by Bartley Walker. The mill rocks were dug from the earth near Joseph Burt’s where an abundance of similar stones may still be found. These were the only mills that existed in Conecuh County for many years.

Old shack in Conecuh County, Alabama by photographer Carol Highsmith 2010 (Library of Congress)Historic church in Burnt Corn, Alabama by Carol Highsmith 2010

Mills became centers of influence

The mills quickly became centers of influence for a long time. They were the gathering point where pioneers would bring their sacks of corn on his horse or mule, always accompanied by his trusty rifle.

While the farmer waited for his corn to meal they would discuss adventures and news of other farmers.

The film below is of the grist mill at Mount Vernon, the home of President George Washington in action

Consumed corn molded with age

In Conecuh County, they were compelled to use Georgia currency, which was below par.

Sometimes, during times of stress, the early inhabitants had to consume meal made of corn which had molded through age and exposure so even though the injured corn was conveyed from some distance, it cost from four to seven dollars per bushel.

In spite of all these difficulties, through their toils, and their physical and moral courage, the early settlers laid the foundations of wealth and transmitted it on to succeeding generations in Alabama.

The early settlers of Alabama found themselves surrounded but the dense forest had to be felled and the fields cultivated.”

Few implements to make task easier

From History of Conecuh County, Alabama 1881 by Rev. B. F. Riley, we learn that in Conecuh County, the farmers did not have the implements to make the task easier. They had a few axes, grubbing hoes, few shovels, spades and an occasional scooter plow that were “brought with them from their distant homes to conquer the vast forest land.

To cultivate the land, the only implement used by even the wealthiest farmers for several years was a sharply-flattened hickory pole, made somewhat in the shape of a crowbar to make holes for the seed to be planted. At first there was even an absence of a Blacksmith which greatly hindered the farmers. Finally in upper Conecuh County, Alabama, Joshua Betts was in possession of a few blacksmith tools and when his brother Isaac Betts joined him in Conecuh County with his complete set of blacksmith tools, they opened a Blacksmith shop.


  1. History of Conecuh County, Alabama 1881 by Rev. B. F. Riley

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ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Exploration: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 1) is a collection of lost and forgotten stories about the people who discovered and initially settled in Alabama.

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  • The true story of the first Mardi Gras in America and where it took place
  • The Mississippi Bubble Burst – how it affected the settlers
  • Did you know that many people devoted to the Crown settled in Alabama –
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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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  1. There is only two grocery stores here now

  2. Good sausage from there.

  3. My GGrandfather built mills in and around Randolph, Calhoun counties

  4. Some of my ancestors lived on either side of this county in Monroe and Covington Counties.

  5. That was quite an interesting and insightful article! Bartlett “Bartley” Walker was one of my ancestors, so it’s great to be able to learn just a little bit more about the things he did during his lifetime.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for the comment.

  6. I enjoyed the video of the Mt. Vernon grist mill in operation. Since I know nothing about the construction of this particular mill, does anyone know if all grist mills back in the day were this elaborate?

  7. Your link is corrupted.

  8. Every time I try to open one of your articles it goes to a page advertising a game

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