Third part of a transcribed serial article published in the Southern Star, Ozark, Ala., beginning May 10, 1899.
EARLY HISTORY OF SOUTHEAST ALABAMA
By W. L. Andrewsi
THE SOUTHERN STAR MAY 24, 1899
Moses Matthews, Sr., was a Virginian and probably sprang from the first English settlement of that state. Prior to the Revolutionary war he moved to the Neuse river, Samson county, North Carolina, and when the struggle for Independence broke out, shouldered his musket in defense of the country he loved.
He left a will
He was a man of upright character, steady, firm, courageous, but not quarrelsome. He amassed a large fortune as the will he made before his death and which is at this writing in the hands of Mr. W. E. Martin of Ozark, bears testimony. It is dated March 21, 1794, and was filed with Evandor McIver, for record, clerk of Darlington district court, South Carolina, the 10th of December 1794.
It begins “In the name of God, amen.” ect. Enos Matthews, Marmaduke Williams, his son-in-law; Daniel Windham, his son-in-law; Moses Matthews, Jr., John Matthews, Edmond Matthews, Burrell Hallford, and Owen Hallford, grandsons by first wife, were the beneficiaries.
The will provided that the “household furniture and stocks of all kinds” be equally divided between “John, Moses and Edmond Matthews, and Burrell and Owen Hallford, all five whose names are now mentioned, after my wife’s decease, but not before.” Enos Matthews, John Matthews, Moses Matthews, Marmaduke Williams were the executors. Micah Mixon, Moses Matthews, and John Matthews were witnesses. His children some of them died and others sought new settlements.
Mose Matthews, Jr., was a small boy at the breaking out of the Revolutionary war having been born March 12, 1773. When he grew up to manhood he married Miss Truitt, daughter of Elijah and Mary Truitt, whose maiden name was Polk. By her he reared four children, John Matthews; Millie, who married Benjamin Andrews, Rachel, wife of Benson Hughes, and mother of Capt; N. Hughes; Elizabeth, wife of Elias Salisbury, and mother of Capt. J. N. Sansbury.
At her death Moses Matthews married Mary Truitt, his first wife’s sister, and to them were born ten children-Elisha, Annie, John Merrick’s wife; Mary, wife of Seaborn Gray, Sinai, wife of Alexander Fields; William M. Gordon, J. Calvin, Spencer H,, Sarah, wife of Robert Gates, and Elijah Truitt Matthews. Of these only three are living at this time, (1899) Elijah, Spencer H. and Sarah Oates-the latter two are in Texas.
Family moved to Alabama
The children of his first wife were married off and some of the first children by his second wife were grown, when he decided to move to Alabama. Elisha Matthews was the oldest and in early spring of 1824 brought a sum of money from South Carolina to some gentleman in Butler county. Having acquaintance here he spent the summer with them returning to South Carolina in the fall. He told his father of the goodly land he had discovered, of its excellent range and the abundance of its game It was soon decided to make the move and preparations were begun.
One thing stood in the way of Elisha Matthews. He loved the sprightly little Miss Lucy, daughter of Rev. Dempsey Dowlmg, and he could not leave her. The difficulty was compromised on the 28th day of December when he led the object of his affections to Hymens altar. The latter part of January following the start was made. A long train loaded with household and kitchen furniture and members of the family were lined up in the road by the gate that morning. After adieus to friends and relatives amid tears, the train moved off, followed by the family slaves, cattle, horses and hogs.
Cut the first stick of timber ever cut on Hurricane creek
Behind all came the old gentleman and his companion and Elisha with his bride, riding in chaises, a two wheeled cart looking vehicle, the like of which is unknown at this day and time. The journey was necessarily tedious, but the party landed at the place, now known as the Bryant Daughtey place near the old Block House, late on the afternoon of March 2, 1825, where they met a most hearty reception at the hands of a few old friends who had preceeded them by a few years.
Here the party broke up in a short time afterwards, Moses Matthews pre-empting a claim at what is now known as the Seaborn Gray place on Hurricane Creek, five miles south of town, and Elisha Matthews with his young bride settled further down the forks of Choctawhatchee and Judah rivers. He made one crop and moved back to Hurricane creek to what is now known as the Ezekiel Hallford place. Here in 1825 he cut the first stick of timber ever cut on Hurricane creek. No lands on the market yet he set up a chain.
Dale County, Alabama
Six years later he moved to Claybank settling three fourth of a mile southeast of the present location of his old residence, In 1832 Moses Matthews moved up to and settled the old Matthews homestead one mile southwest from Ozark and now occupied by the widow of Elijah Andrews. He began by building a round log dwelling house and a kitchen of the same material. Then he built houses for the slaves and outhouses for other purposes—cleared lands and laid his plans for a life time for he felt like he had reached the country for which he had long sighed. He prospered as a green bay tree. The lands were fertile, the cattle and horses on the range kept fat winter and summer and increased rapidly. His slaves increased from natural causes and by purchase and it was not many years until Moses Matthews settlement was a distinguished land mark of the country, known beyond the borders of the new State, and a monument of the skill, wisdom and sturdy purpose of his wonderful genius and manhood.
Here he reared the younger members of his family to man and womanhood and as they married off he gave them comfortable settlements around him, where they reared families. Some of these are dead, some have moved to other states and some are still in the country of their forefathers.
He did not pay for meat
By the early fifties the upper range had been eaten down and crowded out by the undergrowth that was springing up and he moved large numbers of his cattle to the range on Choctowhatchee River. Every week or two he had the negroes to drive up and kill beef for use at home, and sell to his neighbors. There was a trifling fellow here by the name of Ready who had bought beef from him several times without paying for it. This fellow came over one morning when the old gentleman was slaughtering and stood round until the last quarter had been carted off to the smoke house and the old gentleman had started away. “Well, uncle Mose”‘, said Ready, “I have come over to see if I can get a little piece of meat this morning”. “Hh”, said the old man stopping and looking straight at Ready. Then he smacked his mouth in that peculiar way still-distinctly remembered by those who knew him, and asked, “What did you say you wanted”? “Beef, just a small piece if you please,” said Ready. Then the old man caught hold of Ready and said, “Turn around and let me see. Yes, you’ve got your mark. The seat of your breeches is patched and what did you say your name was”, “Ready Jack Ready”.
“Yes Ready, Jack”, reiterated the old man, “always ready to eat my beef but never ready to pay me for it”.
This incident was a true index to the sturdy, honest character of Moses Matthews and his life abounded in stories of this sort still remembered here.
Grandpa Moses and watermelon
The writer remembers when a boy that “Grandpa Moses had thousands of fine watermelon among his pinders in the old mountain field north of his residence and wanted some of them. I was in Ozark one day and learning that the old gentleman was at the residence of Mr. E. T. Matthews I went to ask his permission.
‘Well, my son, said he looking down from his position on the porch. “And why didn’t you do like the rest of the boys, go and get ’em without asking”?
I told him my father had taught me not to do that way. “Ah, you’re an honest boy, now go and get just as many as you want and when you want more go and get em”. As I left he blessed me, and that has been one of the strong incentives in right doing by me in all my life”.
The aged couple lived to see their slaves freed but still had an abundance on which to live and to divide among their children. His companion died August 8, 1867, and he followed to their reward on the 9th day of March 1868. Both now sleep in the grave yard at old Union where they held their membership from the time Rev. Reuben E. Brown organized a Baptist Church here.
Elisha Matthews remained at the place first settled on Claybank until about the year 1853, when he moved out to the Daleville and Louisville road where the old residence now stands and where he would have probably died but for one thing. When courting his bride, he promised her a fine house if he lived to make it. While he had made money during a long life of usefulness, bought lands and slaves, he had never kept that promise. He had laid by treasures of gold and silver and when the house of Prof. Scott in Ozark was offered at half its cost, he drew upon this reserve fund for $900 in gold and bought it in January 1882. Thus he kept the promise of his youth when 79 years of age His aged companion died at this home 10 O’clock p. m., October 25, 1884, and he followed two years later, both being buried at old Claybank.
He held political offices
When the militia was organized in 1826 Elisha Matthews was made pay master for this district, an office he held for many years. In 1827 he was elected Tax Assessor and Collector for Henry county—no division of this territory having been made at that time. He held this office for two years. In 1839 he was appointed county treasurer after the territory which constituted Dale and Coffee was divided and the county seat put at Daleville. This office he held until 1848 by re-election. That year he resigned to become a candidate for the Senate against George W. Williams of Henry, the senatorial district then comprising the same territory it does at this day. (1899)
He defeated Williams by 800 votes, a large majority for a sparsely settled county. He was a true disciple of Jefferson and firmly believed in “State’s rights” while Williams was a Whig, Having drawn a long term he served four years and then retired from public life to look after his increasing private interests.
In 1824, on his first visit, Elisha Matthews taught a three months school at Mill’s Branch on the Three Notch road, this side of the Block House. Mr. Mills paid him $10 per month and board for the service. During the time he was there Bill Stevens brought a poll boat up the river twice to the Block House ferry, the first ever floated on the Choctawhatchee river. It was the custom of the crew to bring a little red whiskey along and at night have a dance at some settlers house. Stevens owned a large dog which always accompanied the boat and was tied to the same stake to guard it while the crew was off having a good time. On one of these occasions the dog attempted to gnaw loose but cut the wrong rope and next morning his master was surprised to find the dog standing on shore with the rope pulled around the stake and holding it with all his might. The water was an eddy at the landing.
In 1829 Zeke Bartlett, his brother, Tom Bartlette, and a few others built a Primitive Church the first in the county at what is known as County Line. In the early days cattle stealing was common and many law suits resulted from this sort of thing. At Bartlett’s meeting house a cow hide was hung up to test every new settler. When a new comer entered the community he was asked if he had submitted to the requirements of the law. The tender foot was usually ready to do anything the community demanded and would ask what they were. He was informed that at Bartlett’s church a cow hide was hung up and two men set to watch it, and if he couldn’t steal it while they were looking he wouldn’t do for a citizen of Dale County. One day Elisha Matthews was riding along the road down near the Block House and met a man coming from towards Bartlett’s. “Well,” said Col. Matthews. “I suppose you have passed the cow hide at Bartlett’s church and proven yourself unfit for citizenship in Dale county”. The new comer was astonished and asked what he meant. He was told the cow hide story which greatly incensed him and he let into cursing his new acquaintance at a lively rate. Col. Matthews was good natured and laughed at the fellow until he became ashamed and apoligized.
iLacking biographical material concerning Mr. W. L. Andrews, author of a series of articles published in the Southern Star, Ozark, Alabama, in May and June, 1899, the Editor of this publication is reproducing a clipping from the Alabama Historical Society Collections, Volume 1. The Collections were edited by the late Thomas M. Owens, to whom Mr. Andrews had written as follows: “In 1885 I set out to write a history of this county (Dale), and since then have gathered complete information of its history from DeSoto’s landing at Tampa Bay, 1539. Of course, nothing much of importance attaches to this section prior to the territorial period of the State, except the settlement between foreign powers of the questions of jurisdiction, and finally the settlement of disputes which placed this section under the jurisdiction of Georgia. Up to this time, however, the facts are all of public record. Since that time none of its history has been published in book form. While my work has been directed more especially towards getting out a history of Dale County, that could not be done without involving the history of Henry, Geneva, Coffee, Pike and Barbour, because the first three, together with Dale, were organized in 1824 as “Henry County.” “Last summer (1899) I traveled all over these counties by private conveyance to gather such authentic information as I might find in the hands of the people. Of this I found much in the form of letters, documents, various records, and statements of persons who either took part in the events, or whose parents had. In this way I secured a complete list of all the county officers from 1824, the organization of the militia and its history, the first settlements, customs of the people, material development, Church and temperance history^ Indian war, Indian Massacres, with names of persons and particulars of their barbarities, capture of Indians, their disposal, Jackson’s march through the county, where he crossed the streams, first settler, and settlers, first house and houses, first mill, who raised first cotton: War period, — Invasion by the enemy, battles with them, people murdered by deserters, killing of Lieut. Spears, and the whole detail — Days of reconstruction and their horrors. Rise of the Populites, especially with reference to the fight of 1892 — subsequent history to date. Burning of court house, fights over county seats, questions affecting the early settlers on the subject. And much more.”