REMINISCENSES OF THE EARLY DAYS IN CHAMBERS COUNTY
By E. G. Richards1
Part IV and Part V
I find that I made a mistake in my last article in reference to the election of Sheriff. Thomas Taylor was the second Sheriff elected by the people of Chambers County. He defeated Col. Charles McLemore for that office. Mr. Taylor held a full term and then Mr. Kellam was elected over Mr. George. The first marriage that was ever celebrated between white persons in Chambers County, Ala., was that of Wiley Thaxton, of Georgia, and Miss Amanda F. Holifield, of Chambers County, on the 25th day of April 1833, the Rev. John A Hurst, officiating.
Guest at the first wedding in Chambers County
As I had the honor of being one of the guests, I will give a history of the affair, as things were in many respects different then from what they are now. Mr. Holifield, the father of the bride, had moved from Georgia and settled in Chambers County, then inhabited by the Creek Indians, about the first of the year, 1833. He settled on the north side of the Oseliga Creek, about five or six miles northwest from West Point, Ga., and near the place known as Wickerville, which is about three miles south of what is now Fredonia—then called Hurst’s Store. No white family lived nearer than about two miles of the Holifields, Mr. Thaxton, who was engaged to Miss Holifield, came over to consummate their engagement and the 25th of April was agreed on as the day of marriage, and arrangements made accordingly. Mr. Thaxton went to town and procured his marriage license.
At that time there were but two persons in the county authorized to celebrate the rites of matrimony. They were the Hon. James Thompson, Judge of the County Court, and the Rev. John A. Hurst. Mr. Thaxton was informed that Judge Thompson was absent on a visit to his old home, in Jefferson County, Ala., and would not return for a week or more. He at once went for Mr. Hust, whom he also found to be absent on a business trip to Columbus, Ga. But he was informed by Mrs. Hurst that she expected her husband to return on the evening of the 25th, and that she would inform him of the pressing call, and that he might rely on his being on hand at the proper time.
On this assurance Mr. Thaxton came to West Point and invited Mr. Beman H. Martin and this scribe, (both young and single men) to accompany him to Mr. Holifield’s and witness the first marriage in Chambers County, Ala., which invitation was accepted, and in due time we, three started for Mr. Holifield’s.
Parson was missing
Taking an Indian trail, we reached there about sundown, where we found all in readiness for the marriage except the parson, who had not made his appearance or been heard from. Night came on and with it a light shower of rain. It was very dark. Things looked gloomy for a marriage; parties became despondent; nine O’clock came and no parson. The family despaired of Mr. Hurst’s arrival and invited the few guests to eat supper and give up the hope of marriage until the next day, which was done. But a short time after we had eaten supper, some of us were out in the yard and looking northward saw a torch-light coming in the direction of the house. Excitement was aroused as to who it could be.
As they drew near, it was discovered to be the Rev. John A Hurst and his neighbor, George W. Browning. Hope revived, and as soon as the excitement of the moment was over the contracting parties appeared on the floor and were made one by Mr. Hurst repeating a most beautiful marriage ceremony. Thus the few of us who were there and who an hour before were filled with sadness and disappointment, were now filled with joy and gladness.
Mr. Hurst explained that he did not reach home until dark that evening and both himself and horse were hungry and tired; that his wife told him of the message left for him by Mr. Thaxton and that parties were evidently in waiting; that he fed his horse while his wife prepared some refreshments for himself, and that he sent at once for his neighbor, Mr. Browning, who lived a mile distant, to accompany him through the darkness of the night to Mr. Holifield’s, and that as soon as Mr. Browning arrived they started, torch in hand, and following an Indian trail, made their way to Mr. Holifield’s as early as circumstances would permit.
After partaking of the wedding supper, Messrs. Hurst and Browning returned home that night about 11 o’clock. By that act, Mr. Hurst established a reputation among the marrying class to the effect that he would do to depend on in case of an emergency. So ends the history of the first marriage in Chambers County, Alabama.
Three other marriages that year
There were only three other marriages in Chambers County that year, (1833,) two of these to-wit: Hilliary H. Argo to Miss Dorcas Reeves, on the 2nd of October, and James Waller to Miss Susan H. McCoy on the 3rd of October, 1833. The marriage rites of both couples were celebrated by the Rev. J. A. Hurst. The third was celebrated by the writer on the 27th of December, 1833, who, since the date of the first marriage above stated, had moved from West Point, Ga., to what is now LaFayette, Alabama, and who had in the meantime been authorized to celebrate the rites of matrimony. The contracting parties at this marriage were Charles Crew, of Butts County, Ga., and Miss Hicksey M. Bean, a daughter of Mr. Walter Bean, who then resided near Hurst’s Store (now Fredonia.)
The writer was then a single man and this was his first effort in that line. I undertook it with a degree of trepidation, but having a couple of young and gay friends as candle holders, with book in hand, I was enabled to read the marriage ceremony, as found in the Methodist discipline, without a bobble, and on pronouncing the parties husband-wife was flattered by a young man speaking out audibly, pronouncing the performance well done and engaging my services in his own case as soon as he could get the consent of his intended.
This was the largest collection of young people that had assembled on a similar occasion up to that time, in the County. The supper was excellent and all who were present appeared to enjoy the occasion highly. It was indeed an enjoyable occasion. There was no aristocracy among us—all being new settlers in the county, we were on an equality. Our style was of the free and easy, and unrestrained, pleasantry ruled the hour. I have married many couples since; some in large assemblies and others in small, but none under more pleasant surroundings than on this occasion.
Early religious denominations in Chambers
Among the early settlers in Chambers County, there was a fair portion of them, members of some religious denomination, principally Methodist and Baptist, with a few Presbyterians. At an early day each of these denominations, when they could collect a sufficient number of their order together, organized churches and built temporary houses as places’of public worship, where the people were frequently preached to by preachers of various denominations traveling through the country, and looking for homes in the new territory.
The first church ever organized in the county of any order was the Methodist church formed by this writer in the fall of 1833, near where the village of Fredonia is now situated. That church consisted of thirteen members, not one of which is now living. That was the beginning of the Methodist church at Fredonia. The Alabama Conference met that fall in Montgomery, Alabama.
Fredonia Methodist Church Constituted 1833 (ALGEnweb Chambers County.)
This writer made known to said Conference the destitute condition of this section of the country and said Conference sent two missionaries into this section. Their names were Squires and Finley. They traveled through the country, preached to the people wherever they could get a congregation, and organized churches wherever they could find members of this order. They founded churches at LaFayette, Fredonia, Standing Rock, Cusseta, Oakbowery and perhaps some others. Finley died in the early fall and was buried at Fredonia. Squires continued to labor until the end of the year, after which he was transferred to the Mississippi Conference.
In 1835 the Conference sent P. F. Starns and G. W. Cotton in charge of the Methodist churches in the county. They labored faithfully and built up their various churches to some extent. Starnes, who was a single man, married a Miss Lane, daughter of the Rev. Henry Lane, of this county, in the fall of 1835, and afterward removed from this county. Cotton died that fall at Conference in Mobile. During the years 1834, and 1835, several Baptist churches were organized in the county, one at Bethel, Fredonia, LaFayette, Flint Hill, Antioch, Sardis and perhaps others.
Several Baptist preachers in the meantime having settled in this and adjoining counties, their churches were enabled to select suitable pastors and were supplied with regular preaching. The increase in membership in the various denominations during those early years in the history of Chambers County was mostly from emigration. Not many new members joining. There was at that time, unfortunately, a want of that Christian courtesy among the members of the different denominations which should exist among Christians everywhere, and which I am glad to know is improving in this day and time.
Prejudice sometimes showed itself in the pulpit
The sectarian prejudice which then existed sometimes showed itself in the pulpit, especially among the less cultivated class of preachers, by making scurrilous remarks about the faith or usages of those of other churches, and that sort of sectarian preaching was not confined to any one denomination. These things are a hindrance to the spread of Scriptural holiness anywhere and everywhere, and were to some extent a hindrance to the spread of Christianity at that time.
At the time above named the rules on the subject of dress, established by the early Methodists, were still in the Methodist discipline, and while the members, especially the younger ones, paid but little attention to them, there was a class of preachers who held us as rigidly to them as the Jews of old did to the tradition of their elders, and who could but seldom preach a sermon without saying something about dress, and that often in an offensive manner. But fortunately for the Methodist church, the members of the law-making department of that church saw the folly of such rules and repealed all law on the subject of dress, which relieved their members from the lectures on that subject from that class of preachers.
During these years the Rev. Cyrus White, of the State of Georgia, a Baptist minister of good ability, who had adopted the Armenian view of the. atonement, and had separated from the regular Baptist and established a church of his own, who were familiarly called Whiteite Baptists, visited this county with some other preachers entertaining the same views and preached throughout the county. They met with some success in the south-eastern part of this county. They met with very bitter opposition from the regular Baptists, who, in forming their churches, were careful to see that no one joined who did not subscribe to the old Calvinistic confession of faith.
After the death of Mr. White, his denomination dwindled for the want of preachers to sustain their views. But notwithstanding Mr. White’s comparative failure in producing reform in his original church, it is the belief of this writer that the preaching of Mr. White and his followers was the means of waking up an interest in the Baptist church, which led to a permanent split, causing two denominations, Missionary and Anti-Missionary Baptist churches.
The more intelligent and enterprising portion of the Baptist church, though they did not go off with Mr. White, they saw that other religious denominations around them, especially the Methodists and Presbyterians, were doing so much more for the kingdom of the Master than they were, by sending the Gospel to the heathen and looking after the children of their own community, who were ignorant of the word of God, and that the Baptists as a denomination, were not doing their duty in these respects. Such members commenced to advocate the cause of both missions and Sabbath Schools, which met with stubborn opposition from all who were opposed to progress or to depart in any degree from the customs of their fathers. And like some of the old Methodists were about dress, thought it sacrilege to depart from the customs of their fathers in any matter pertaining to the church, however trivial those customs might be. The differences, of course, led to a permanent separation, and we now have the Missionary and the Anti-Missionary Baptist churches.
Since the separation, the Missionary Baptists, like all other Christian denominations, who send out missionaries and sustain Sabbath schools are aiding in spreading the Gospel of the Son of God throughout the world and are seeing the glory of the Lord prospering in their hands. It is gratifying to me to know that I have lived to see the day when all denominations of Christians, who believe that Christ died for the salvation of all the world, can lay aside their particular church professions and work together as brethren for the Master’s kingdom and the salvation of sinners.
1HON. EVAN GOODWIN RICHARDS, the author of a series of articles on Chambers County, published in the LaFayette Sun, during the year 1890, was a minister and lawyer. He was born August 26, 1807, at Northampton County, N. C., and died December 31, 1893, his last residence being LaFayette, Alabama. His father was a native of Wales, who settled in North Carolina in 1815 and removed to Madison County, Alabama. He went to the country schools of that County in 1830 and was licensed by the Methodist Church to preach. He located at LaFayette, that same year and was one of the chief promoters of the Opelika, Oxford and Guntersville Railroad, being its first President. He was also among the first to advocate the building of cotton factories in the South after the War Between the States. He was a Democrat and supported Stephen A. Douglas or the United States Presidency in 1860. Mr. Richards married Sarah Dickens Clark Webb, of Perry County, in 1835, and they were the parents of a large family of children.