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An Act established by the Legislature in 1819 made it unlawful to cut down or kill trees without written permission of the commissioners in Old Cahawba, Alabama.
OLD CAHAWBA, ALABAMA
Cahaba was the first State Capital of Alabama. By an act of the legislature, passed February 13, 1818, Clement C. Clay, Samuel Taylor, Samuel Dale, James Titus, and William. L. Adams were appointed commissioners to select the most central and eligible location for the seat of government of the newly established Alabama Territory.
The commissioners, after investigation, reported a site at the mouth of the Cahaba River, in the recently formed county of Dallas, as the most suitable location. Their report was concurred in, and an act was passed November 21, 1818, fixing this locality the permanent capital.
Old Cahaba State Marker
Cahaba fixed as the seat of Justice
The governor was named as the commissioner to lay off the town into lots, and to sell them at public sale. By an act of December 13, 1819, Cahaba was fixed on as the seat of justice of Dallas County. The place was, therefore, at the same time the capital of the State and the seat of justice of Dallas County. It became at once a thriving business and an attractive social center.
Cahaba became a thriving place
Governor William W. Bibb, at the session of the legislature, 1819, in his message of October 26, reported that the town had been laid off and that he had sold to the highest bidder 182 lots during the fourth week of May, 1819, for the sum of $123,856, of which one-fourth or $30,964, was received at the time of sale. The legislature December 3, 1819, incorporated the town, to contain “all that tract of land granted by Congress to this State for the seat of government thereof.” It was to be governed by seven councilors elected annually, who in turn were to select an intendant. Willis Roberts, Luther Blake, and Carlisle Humphreys were the managers of the first election. The charter, among other provisions, conferred upon the town council “the privileges of granting license for retailing of spirituous and other liquors, and for keeping billiard tables”
Cocheron Mansion in Cahaba, Alabama ca. 1900
Additional lots in the town
The next day, December 4, 1819, the legislature authorized the governor to lay off an additional number of lots in the town, not exceeding 200, to be sold under the same regulations as required by the act of November 21, 1818. John Taylor, Sr., Alexander Popo, Waller O. Bickley, John Howard, John W. Rinaldi, and Thomas Casey were named as commissioners to have charge, under the direction of the governor, of the state lands and property within the limits of the town, with the power to rent the lands and the ferries so as best to; promote the public interest.
Unlawful to cut down or kill trees
The act contained a provision making it unlawful to “cut down, or kill any tree or trees” on the state lands, without written permission of the commissioners. Two sections of the act are of sufficient interest to be set forth in full:
“Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That the governor as aforesaid shall select and reserve one square for the use of an academy, one square for a court-house and other public buildings for the county of Dallas, and four lots for churches, and the said squares and lots, when so selected and reserved, shall be, and are hereby declared, granted, and set apart for those purposes respectively.
“Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That the lot or parcel of land, numbered one hundred and fifty-one in the plan of the town, as now laid off, be, and the same is hereby appropriated and set apart for the erection of such buildings for the accommodation of the executive, as the general assembly may hereafter deem necessary and proper.”
Interested in a bridge across the Cahaba River
During the first few years of its history, the town was much interested in the construction of a bridge across the Cahaba River. The commissioners under the preceding act were empowered to build such a bridge, “within the limits of the town … as they may deem best calculated to enhance the value of the lots, lying between the Alabama and Cahawba rivers: Provided said bridge can be built without obstructing the navigation of said river.” An appropriation of $4,000 was appropriated for the building of the bridge, and the contractor was to give bond “to keep said bridge up and in good order for the term of seven years.” Work seems to have progressed slowly, since the State made a loan to the town December 15, 1820. The special session of the legislature June 16, 1821, passed two acts in reference to the bridge, one placing it wholly under the town council and providing penalties for injury to it, and the other authorizing the collection of tolls until November 1, 1822.
Bridge built within the town limits
A bridge was also built across Clear Creek, “within the limits of the town.” This, however, was not to be paid for out of the State or town treasury, but through a lottery, a means much employed during that period to raise funds for public purposes. Henry Hitchcock, Alexander Pope, Thomas Casey, Uriah G. Mitchell, and Edmund Lane were named as managers.
Public buildings were enclosed to protect them
In order to protect the public buildings, the Secretary of State was required to have them “enclosed in a cheap and substantial manner, and to have shutters for the windows made and hung,” the expenses to be paid from the fund arising from the sale of lots in the town. Another law, approved on the same day, enacted “That the square of lots in the town of Cahawba, bounded west and east by Beech and Ash Streets, and north and south by fifth and sixth South streets, and reserved by the governor for a graveyard,” was vested in the town council for that use. The same act stipulated that the cross streets should be continued in an easterly direction to the margin or the water’s edge of the Alabama River, and as such they were declared to be public streets, and the land commissioners were required to open and make a good and sufficient ferry landing, and to keep it in repair, on the Alabama River at the foot of Arch Street.
Disadvantages as a town site
The selection of Cahaba as the state capital was not made unreservedly. The constitution required all sessions of the legislature to be held there, beginning in 1820 and continuing “until the end of the first session” of the legislature to be held in 1825, and during that session the legislature was given “power to designate by law, (to which the executive concurrence shall not be required) the permanent seat of government, which shall not thereafter be changed.” The original choice of Cahaba had not long been made before it became apparent that the place had many disadvantages as a town site. Its situation was low, subjecting it to overflow from both rivers so that at times it was almost impossible to reach the statehouse without a conveyance by water.
Largest flood in the history of the state in 1825
In 1825 came the largest flood on record in the history of the state. The almost complete inundation of the town hastened the decision of the legislature to choose a new location. Tuscaloosa was selected, and the public offices, property, and records were removed.
In consequence of the flood and the removal of the capitol, many influential citizens left the town, and for a time it dwindled into an insignificant village. But in a few years it began to revive, and by the early thirties, it was again a populous town, and the most important shipping point on the Alabama River. Large warehouses and stores were built, old residences repaired, new ones of excellent architectural design erected, and with the coming of many wealthy families, and an unusual number of men eminent in statesmanship, law, and medical science, these combined, gave Cahaba an air of prosperity to which no other Alabama town could at that early period furnish a parallel.
People were generally wealthy
“The people being generally wealthy with many slaves and large plantations located nearby in the surrounding country, had an abundance of leisure to extend a generous hospitality, which they did in a royal manner, and there was no limit to the round of visiting and entertainment, which was continuous and practically endless.”—Fry.
The Old State House at Cahawba
The Old State House at Cahawba
State House donated to Dallas County in 1830
The old state house, the lot of land on which it stood, “together with the appurtenances thereto belonging,” on January 13, 1830, were donated by the state to Dallas County.
It would appear that the act of incorporation had been permitted to lapse, as on December 15, 1830, the legislature passed an act reviving and continuing in force the original charter. The act defined the limits of the town as “all that part of the lands owned by the state lying on the west side of the Cahaba and Alabama rivers.” Lorenzo Roberts, Jacob Morgan, Thomas Morong, Bartram Robinson and George G. Brooks were appointed to conduct an election for councilors, to be held at the house of John McElroy.
Many men prominent in Alabama and national History resided in Cahaba. Of these may be mentioned Horatio G. Perry, George W. Gayle, Jesse Beene, George R. Evans, Lawrence E. Dawson, William L. Yancey, Col. C. C. Pegues, John S. Hunter, P. J. Wood, Gen. John T. Morgan, Judge B. F. Saffold, Daniel S. Troy, Gen. E. W. Pettus, Col. H. R. Dawson, Dr. E. G. Ulmer, Dr. Thomas Casey, Dr. Jabez Heutis, Joel E. Matthews, Charles l. Matthews, both millionaire planters, Robert S. Hatcher, Edward M. Perrine and Samuel M. Hill, both merchant princes. Cahaba was in the zenith of its prosperity at the outbreak of the War in 1861.
Remains of Perrine house in Cahawba, Alabama ca. 1900
Back of house
Furnished one full company
The community furnished one full company to the Confederate service, the “Cahaba Rifles,” of Company F. 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment—a command that won imperishable renown during the War. Christopher C. Pegues was captain of the company, and early in 1862, he was elected colonel of the regiment. He was mortally wounded at Gaines Mill, June 27, 1862, and died July 15, 1862.
Video of ghost story about Col. Pegues
Military post at Cahaba
The military post at Cahaba was commanded by Colonel Samuel Jones of the 22nd Louisiana Regiment. A confederate prison, known as Castle Morgan, was established there in the fall of 1863 and was situated on the bank of the Alabama River. An official report of October 16, 1864, shows that it then contained 2,151 Federal prisoners.
Castle Morgan – drawn from memory
Another flood in 1865
In the early part of March 1865, the place was visited by another disastrous flood. After the waters had subsided, the Federal prisoners were all paroled and sent to Vicksburg, and the post at Cahaba was abandoned. The flood, followed soon after by the close of the War, and by the freedom of the slaves, involving the utter demoralization of labor, brought about the rapid decline of Cahaba. The end came in 1866 when the courthouse was removed to Selma, under an act of December 14, 1865. Many of the citizens of Cahaba removed also. Others moved to distant localities, and a few years later Cahaba, once one of the most noted towns of central Alabama, was left empty and desolate.
Town was given the name of the Cahaba River
The town was given the name of the river, at the mouth of which it was located. The Cahaba River rises in the northern section of the state and flows southerly until its junction with the Alabama. The name is doubtless of great antiquity, although the first known reference to it is on Danville’s map of 1732 as Caba. On De Crenay’s map one year later, it is spelled Capo. It later appears, usually in its present form, but in early American times it is spelled Cahawba. The word is undoubtedly a corruption of the Choctaw oka aba, “water above,” that is, oka, “water,” aba, “above.” If this genesis is correct, the name was received from Choctaw speaking people, living on the lower Alabama in colonial times. Indian remains have been found in the vicinity, and an Indian village was undoubtedly located on or near the original site. Both along the Alabama and the Cahaba rivers in the vicinity are numerous evidence of Indian residence.
Parts of Old Cahawba still remain to remind us of its glorious past.
- Brewer, Alabama, pp. 208, 209; Mrs. Amelia G. Fry, Memories of Old Cahaba, 1908;
- Hawes, Cahaba. A story of captive boys in blue (1888); Official War Records, vol. vii, pp. 998-1001;
- Acts. Territorial Legislature, Feb., 1818, pp. 94-95; Nov., 1818, pp. 46-49; Acts of Ala.. 1825-26, p. 12; 1829-30, p. 11; 1830-31, p. 37; 1865-66, pp. 464-466; 3.
- Toulmin, Digest (1823), pp. 115, 692, 693, 814-827, 913, 921.
Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) – A novel inspired by the experiences of the Cottingham family who immigrated from the Eastern Shore of Virginia to Bibb County, Alabama
Filled with drama, suspense, humor, and romance, DISCORDANCE continues the family saga from the Tapestry of Love series with the children of Mary Dixon who married Thomas Cottingham.
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