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Historic letter from Brother of Alabama’s 1st Governor reveals anecdotes about organization of the state

The following excerpt is the 2nd part of a historic letter which has been transcribed from The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 19, Nos. 03 & 04, Fall and Winter Issue 1957. It was originally written in 1847 by John Dandridge Bibb, brother of Alabama’s first two governors, William Wyatt Bibb and Thomas Bibb. He wrote the letter to Col Albert J. Pickett, Esq., Alabama’s first historian to provide details about the people and events that took place when Alabama was first organized as a Territory, and as a State in 1819. John Dandridge Bibb died only a few months later after writing this letter on May 9, 1848, at his home on the Yazoo River in Carroll County, Mississippi. Click on their names to read more about John Dandridge Bibb and Col. Albert J. Pickett.


After the death of Governor W. W. Bibb

At the death of Governor Bibb, the constitution of the State devolved the office on the President of the Senate for the time being. Thomas Bibb being President of the Senate became acting Governor for the unexpired term.

In the early settlement of Alabama, the immigrant had many difficulties and privations to endure. Those that now occupy spendid (sic) mansions erected on spot of ground, where within the memmory (sic) of living man, and even within the compass of the last thirty years, the forest grass grew in its native luxuriance and the wild deer basked in interrupted repose, can have any correct knowledge of the suffering of those who first planted their stakes and stretched over them their cloth covering to shield their wives and little ones from the “Peltings of the pitiful storms,” and whose only dependance (sic) for sustenance was on the uncertain success (sic) of capturing the game they had frightened from their resting places.

Gov. Thomas Bibb

Madison County was surrounded by Indian Territory

The County of Madison north of the Tennessee River as its boundaries are now defined but with little variation was insulated having no civilized neighbors except on the North, being surrounded in every other direction by Indian Territory, was settled in the year 1808. The land office at which those lands were sold was located at Nashville, Tennessee until the County became sufficiently populated to protect the public funds from, rogues and robbers that infested the neighboring mountains.

In 1812 the office was moved to Huntsville a large portion of the rich lands of that County having been purchased for settlement by wealthy planters from Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia N & S Carolina and they were speedily settled by the purchasers. In a few years the thick foliage was made to give place to fine plantations and “the wilderness to blossom as the rose.” At the time Alabama became a State this county had attained a high state of improvement. Even at that period Huntsville had become a Town of considerable extent and was a place of gaiety, fashion and refinement Many inteligent (sic) citizens had located there. (I refer you to the history of the Creek War)

Map showing portions of old Federal road

Alabama was a Territory for about two years

Alabama continued to be a Territory about two years when at the end of that time the population was found to have increased to the requisite number to authorise (sic) the organization of a state Government. An act of Congress was accordingly passed ordering elections to be held for members of a convention to form a constitution.

At this period the Counties of South Alabama were thinly populated owing to the more recent extinguishment of the Indian Title to the land covering those Counties. That population was like Josephs Coat, composed of many colours. In and about the embrio Towns that had started into existence were found Black Legs of every description, Rowdies, sharpers, Land pirates, the honest Forester or planter, the sober and astute merchant, with now and then a Parson whose time was too much occupied in providing for the wants of his household to be able, however, willing, to do justice to his sacred calling.

1819 map showing territory of Alabama

1819 map showing territory of Alabama

Many settlers were attracted to Montgomery

The County of Montgomery seemed to possess attractions more enticing to foreigners than those of the surrounding Counties. The cause of this was, that the lands were first sold, they were considered to be of a better quality and imigration had been more rapid to it. Bordering on the noble Alabama River another inducement was offered of future weath and grandure. The Town of Montgomery had taken an earlier tart than other neighboring villages.

At first two Towns had been laid out on the River and on different fractions of land. A company of gentlemen formed their Town on the lower Bluff and called it Alabama. Andrew Dexter, a gentleman of great enterprise, laid out his Town begming at a line where the Court house now stands runing east imbracmg the ground where the State Capitol is built and called it Philadelphia. The company owning the lower Town in order to prevent competition, had, purchased the Fraction of land imbracing the present steam Boat Landing and extending to the Court house, thereby cuting (sic) Philadelphia off from the River. This was done at the price of $70 per acre. After paying to the Government the first installment under the former system of selling the public lands, forfeited its to the Government.

This policy was intended to prevent the land from being entered by any other person or persons, as it could not be done without paying the full amount for which it originally sold. Finding however that the dexterous Dexter had outstriped (sic) them in Town making, the company repurchased the fraction and entered into an arrangement with the owners of Philadelphia by which the two Towns were amalgamated and assumed the new name of Montgomery in honor to the memory of Major Montgomery who was killed in the Creek war at the battle of the Horseshoe.

Andrew Dexter

Andrew Dexter predicted Montgomery would be the state capital

It may not be uninteresting to state that thirty years ago Andrew Dexter, pointed to the square on which the new state house now stands and emphatically remarked to the writer, “Here Sir is Capitol Square, and tho, it may not be used as such, during my life, yet the time will come when the Indians Title now within the chartered territory of Alabama shall have been extinguished, that a noble edifice will arise here to be known as the Capital of the State of Alabama.” Prophetic words.

The Territorial Legislature at their last session, designated Huntsville as the place for holding the Convention, as there was a good prospect of the members and such strangers as might attend, finding better accommodations than at any other place in the Territory.

They felt a heavy responsibility

The Convention was composed of a body of men highly respectable in their character and intelligence. Indeed many of them would have graced any deliberative assembly.

When they met on the important subject of creating a sovereign state, and forming for its government a constitution intended to exist through all future ages, each one, seemed to feel, the heavy and responsible duty incumbent upon them. In the outset, there were many formidable difficulties to overcome. The members were for the most part, strangers to each other.

Their respective capacities for the various and complicated business of legislation, was not known. Some of the members manifested an itching to lead off and sought occasion to become conspicuous and establish a name for themselves. When it is recollected that the various offices of state, from Senators in Congress down to the lowest grade, Judges of the different circuits &c. were to be filled at the session of the Legislature succeeding the Convention, no surprise should be excited for the manifestation of this spirit. (I regret the want of the Journals).

John W. Walker was elected President

John W. Walker of Madison County was elected President. He was in every respect qualified for and worthy of the important station to which he was elevated. In their incipient deliberations, it was soon manifest that it would not be an easy matter to agree on the principles and details of a Constitution, composed, as it was, of members from different states, and each one bringing with him all the partialities (sic) and prejudices of state preferences, together with various and contrary views relations to the policy of the new state, seemed to render, an agreement, almost hopeless.

Finally the plan of lessening the number of actors until a foundation could be lined on which to build, was adopted. For the purpose it was resolved by the convention that a committee of fifteen should be appointed by the President, whose duties were to draft a skelliton (sic) or “Projet” and report the same for the action of the whole body.

To allow the committee time for the performance of this work the convention adjourned for several days (I could tell many amusing anecdote of some of those members not of the committee, during the recess of several days.

Interesting anecdote about Littlepage Sims

Among others, Littlepage Sims one of the members whose weight was about 300 lbs. took it into his head to attend a Puppet show at night. While there, it being very warm and the house crowded, he pulled off his Convention Coat and waistcoat and laid them in a window, and while he was amusing himself, some thief stole his garments with all his money,

The worst of it was, that he was so big that he could not find a coat in the whole City that he could put on. The consequence was, a member of the convention was seen walking about the streets in his shirt and pants for several days, before a taylor (sic) could make other garments)—After a most boisterous session of 4 or 5 days, the committee agreed on their report and the convention again met to receive it.

First draft was full of absurd provisions

When this committee first convened, there seemed to be as little hope of successful operations as there had been in the Convention. When however, some of the would be great men had shot their arrows in loud and windy speaches (sic) a spirrit (sic) of concession and compromise sprang up among them and the document was agreed to, not however, without some of them swearing to undo it all before the convention.

This document contained many absurd provisions (as you will discover by reference to the journal) and although many members of the committee were opposed to portions of the projet, yet to carry die affair before the convention where it would be altered and revised, it was agreed to by them.

Among other strage (sic) things was that of allowing Madison County Two Senators, The Madison County delegation went upon the principle, that inasmuch as the ratio of representation would be limited, to a certain number (Maximum) and a large residuum would be left in that populous county, it was proper that that residuum should be represented in the Senatorial department inasmuch as they would not be represented in the other Branch. In the progress of the Convention, this document was taken up in Committee of the whole, section by section and altered and amended as they might agree. It was at last reported to the Convention when any member would call attention to any section he chose and offer his amendment or alteration. (The journals will inform you the balance)

The President was not well

John W. Walker, (President) was considered to be decidedly the most talented member of the convention. At this time he was much emaciated and his phisical (sic) powers greatly weakened by consuption, (sic) yet on several occasions he displayed great wisdom and talent in the speaches (sic) he made.

He was of ordinary height, refined manners considerable powers of elocution, a profound statesman suavity of manners and commanded the entire attention of the members of the Convention whenever he attempted to address the body of them, He presided with dignity and impartiality and gave entire satisfaction to all parties. His death was a calamity to the state which was in need of his wisdom and intelligence.

Judge Toulman, another member, was a man of much learning and was a considerable speaker, but being a Foreigner he failed to obtain that influence among the members which many a man of his talent would have acquired under more favorable circumstances.

Israel Pickens, was modest and unassuming. His speeches were plain and unastutatious, (sic) short and to the point. He was an admirable man and much respected by his colleagues.

Official portrait of Israel Pickens, third governor of Alabama

Wm R. King is known to you personally. Doctor Henry Chambers possessed strong native powers with a highly cultivated mind, much dignity of deportment. He seldom spoke, but when he did so commanded general respect and attention. In after years he was elected to the Senate of the U. S. but died before he took his seat. Henry Hitchcock, A. F. Hopkins, John M Taylor with a number of others were men of considerable intellectual powers.

William Rufus King

Money for a State House at Cahawba

An appropriation was made of $20,000 either by the Territorial Legislature or by the Convention (I have forgotten which) for building a State House at Cahawba which was effected (sic) by an after additional appropriation at which the first session of the Legislature of the state of Alabama and convened in the winter of 1819.

I recollect no particular circumstances of this or any succeeding legislature more than you will find in the journal. At some one of the after sessions a string of revolutionary men introduced into the house, by Colo. Wm R. Picket for the alteration of the constitution, which passed and was lost in the Senate by the casting vote of the President (Nicholas Davis) a majority of 2/3rd being required to pass them. Among other amendments imbraced (sic) was one to alter the tenure of Judicial terms of service from that of “good behavior” to a term of years. This amendment was subsequently made.

The members of the representatives appointed for the first few sessions presented a heterogenious (sic) set of materials, as to appearances capacity and views. A sufficient number of men, however, were always there to perform, correctly the duties of legislation. Among others was your honoured Father, to whom the State of Alabama owes much. As regards the passage of the State Bank Charter, you will find in the charter itself, and the journals all the details. I particularly refer you to the protest of the minority in the Senate and its final passage.

Lots in Cahawba sold at high prices

P.S. The Lots in the new City of Cahawba were sold at high prices, from the belief on the parts of purchasers, that the seat of Government was permanently located. Many fine and expensive buildings were speedily erected and a number of wealthy and highly respectable citizens and families settled there and lived and moved in a style seldom excelled even in cities whose destiny was more fortunate. When afterwards, the seat of Government was removed properly fell and became of no value, and many who had invested their all were ruined. Some houses decayed and rotted, others were floated off to some more fortunate location and again built up for various uses.

So soon as Cahawba was laid out, the Land office was moved from Millegeville Georgia, where the land about Montgomery had been offered for sale, and located at Cahawba. A great deal of the public domain and particularly River Lands were sold at enormous prices. Large amounts Yazoo scrip had been Issued by the General Government redeemable in the purchase of public land, the scrip was held by capatilists (sic) who had obtained it at $40, in the hundred which enabled them to compete, with money holders with tremendous odds.

People who had Yazoo scrip often won the land

The consequence was, that when a collision ensued between those who held scrip and those who had not, the lands were bid up to a high price. The Land sales were usually attended by large crowds. Often 3 or 4,000 persons might be seen scattered over the plain in Booths and tents. Some basking in the sun shine or shade as the season might render most comfortable, waiting the progress of things and discussing the ways and means of obtaining land at the lowest possible price. At one time a company was formed to enfraud (sic) the Government by preventing opposition, so as to buy the land at Government price and resell it public sale among themselves at whatever it might bring After paying the Government its due the overplus (sic) was divided among the stock holders. Thus enormous sums of money were gained by the cuning (sic) and sagacious while the more ignorant were often fleeced.1

1This statement to Colonel Albert J, Pickett is set out as written, not edited—Ed,

 

ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Pioneers: A Collection of Lost & Forgotten Stories 

They felt the lure of the frontier and struck out for unknown territory that would become Alabama, bringing with them only very few implements to survive. From Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and many other states they came to settle in the newly opened Mississippi Territory. Alabama Footprints Pioneers continues the series with lost and forgotten stories of the earliest Alabama pioneers.

ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Pioneers includes the following stories

  • The Yazoo land fraud
  • Daily life as an Alabama pioneer
  • The capture and arrest of Vice-president Aaron Burr
  • The early life of William Barrett Travis, hero of the Alamo
  • Description of Native Americans of early Alabama including the visit by Tecumseh
  • Treaties and building the first roads in Alabama.

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 www.daysgoneby.me All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com 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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4 comments

  1. Jeff Lambert

    Where did you find that old map? I love maps. Never seen that one. There are tons in the Lib of Cong but I haven’t seen this one.

    1. There are two maps. Which one are you referring to in the story? All maps come from either the Alabama Department of Archives and History or the Library of Congress.

  2. Connie Williams

    Nice thanks for shareing!

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