Days Gone By - stories from the past

Anne Newport Royall – Muscle Shoals in 1818 through the eyes of one of the first newspaperwomen

Anne Royall (June 11, 1769 – October 1, 1854) was a traveler and writer and was one of the first newspaperwomen. The caustic observations in her books and public stances on issues caused a stir and earned her some powerful enemies. She was derided as an eccentric scold, a virago, and (in the words of one newspaper editor) “a literary wild-cat from the backwood” Anne traveled Alabama for the next four years. She wrote letters to her friends about the evolution of the young state. The letters were published as a book entitled Letters from Alabama in 1830. The following letter written in 1818 has been transcribed exactly as published (including misspellings).


Melton’s Bluff, January 8th, 1818

Dear Matt,

I Was three days on the road to this place. Melton’s Bluff is at the head of Mussel Shoals. But to see more of the lands shortly to be sold, I went direct to the foot of the Shoals, 70 miles from Huntsville, crossed the river, and came up on the south side of Tennessee river. We had a soaking rain the first day, but the road was fine, the country being a level plain, and the land as rich as any in the world, doubtless, and well watered. Many houses are already built on the road side, and good entertainment. The lady, however, where we staid the first night, said it was very sickly.

Muscle-Shoals map

Portion of Alabama map showing Muscle Shoals (weatherforecast.com)

The second day, towards evening, as Mr. Beech (my fellow traveller) and I were at our ease, chatting on different subjects, my servant, behind us, cried out,”Looky! looky! what a great river!” We had heard a roaring sometime, and Mr. B. who was acquainted with the country, observed we could not be far from the foot of the Shoals. Upon turning our horses out of the road a few steps, we saw the river—a most sublime picture it was! That part which first burst on our view, was three miles in width! the largest body of water I ever saw. It was at this time very high and muddy; and the noise produced by the water washing over the rocks was tremendous.

TVAreservation - fallsTennessee Valley Falls (http://msnha.una.edu/)

We saw a boat hung on a rock, about the middle of the stream, and many persons around it on the rocks, endeavoring to get it off; the waves and white caps were dashing furiously around them; and unable even to hail them, we proceeded, being near our destination.

The sun was verging upon the horizon, while I was musing upon the fall in the river (which was evident.) Having travelled over level ground from Huntsville, we began to descend rapidly, almost a precipice, the road making a sudden bend to the left; and shortly the house, at which we were to spend the night, stood before us, on the bank of the river. But it here flowed in a smoothe current; yet, upon looking up the river, the wide spreading Shoals were seen. The grandeur of the scene engrossed my attention, until night-fall compelled me to retire into the house.

elk riverElk River – Muscle Shoals

Upon entering the tavern, I had the pleasure of meeting with the Reverend Gideon Blackburn, the same who civilized the Cherokee Indians. I had heard of Mr. Blackburn often. He is represented as a man of superior talents, both as a divine and a politician, and rendered his country many signal benefits in co-operating with General Jackson last war, in raising the necessary requisites for the army. He is a stout coarse-featured man, of middle age, and very distant in his manners; but has great expression of countenance, and every mark of a sensible man. He did not seem pleased with the house, and crossed the river, late as it was, to seek a lodging elsewhere. It was a great disappointment to me, as I promised myself much pleasure in his society. The landlord, and a number of boatmen had been drinking freely, which, I suspect, displeased the Parson.—The lady of the house, a very beautiful and accomplished woman, was no less sorry, adding, she had known him from her infancy.

Mr. Beech going no farther, I took a guide, one of the pilots, and crossed the river next morning, in a ferry boat.

ShoalsCreekPreserveShoals Creek Preserve (http://msnha.una.edu/)

I should have found it difficult, on account of several creeks which were backed up by the river, without a guide. The Tennessee river is wider at the foot of the Shoals than the Ohio, at any part I have seen, and equally beautiful, perhaps superior. It has not those high banks which confine the Ohio, if we except what the people, in this country call Bluffs. These are steep ledges of rocks which appear at very considerable intervals, sometimes on one side of the river, and sometimes on the other—and from appearances I would suppose it often inundates the bottom lands. These are covered with cane, as thick as the hairs on your head, and look like so many fields of green wheat. These, contrasted with the leafless forest, are singularly beautiful. Not only the islands, but the bottoms are so thickly covered with cane, that you could not see a man on horseback five steps from you.

Yours, &c.

Read more of Anne Newport Royall’s letters on Alabama Pioneers

ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS: Settlement: Lost & Forgotten Stories  is a collection of lost and forgotten stories of the first surveyors, traders, and early settlements of what would become the future state of Alabama.

Read about:

  • A Russian princess settling in early Alabama
  • How the early setters traveled to Alabama and the risks they took
  • A ruse that saved immigrants lives while traveling through Native American Territory
  • Alliances formed with the Native Americans
  • How an independent republic, separate from the United States was almost formed 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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2 comments

  1. They say the river still sings!! ~ from the Muscle Shoals documentary about Rick Hall’s studio

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