Days Gone By - stories from the pastGenealogy Information

The Dowling family – one of the largest, early pioneer families in Southeast Alabama

Fourth part of a transcribed serial article published in the Southern Star, Ozark, Ala., beginning May 10, 1899.


By W. L. Andrewsi


History first dawns on the Dowling family in Virginia and dates back seven generations to Robert Dowling. The idea has obtained that he came to this country from Ireland in the 17th century but it is doubtful if he was of Irish blood. The name Robert reveals a reverence for Robert Bruce, leader of the Scot’s and hero of the battle of Sterling Castle in which the power of Edward the Third of England was broken. Another potent reason for believing that Robert Dowling was of Scottish descent is the great dissimilarity in the character of the Irish people and the well known traits of character belonging to the Dowlings the latter in all generations conforming more generally to the sturdy character of the Scots than to the Irish.

Robert Dowling settled in South Carolina

Robert Dowling was married twice, both times in Virginia but of his first wife little is known. Of this union, one son is known to have been born whose name was William. After the death of his wife, Robert Cowling married Sarah Guinn, members of whose family later distinguished themselves in the Revolutionary War. About this time he moved to Darlington District S. C, and settled on Jeffer’s creek, where he accumulated property, reared a family and died.

William must have arrived at the estate of manhood before his father’s second marriage for the reason he remained in Virginia. After his marriage, he followed the footsteps of his father southward and settled on the Savannah River in Barnwell district where he lived at the breaking out of the Revolution in 1776 and where he had lived several years prior to that time. Three sons were born to him, Jabez, Micajah and Elijah who were small boys at that time. He was strong American in sentiment and his prominence in the community made him the object of wrathful visitations at the hands of the Tories, being way layed (sic) by them and murdered in his own house. Of the three sons very little is known but it is supposed they moved to middle or western States, the name being rather numerous in Kentucky, Ohio and Missouri.

By his second wife Robert Dowling reared two sons-James and John, and three daughters, Betsy, Sarah and Millie.

Dowling/Murphree House in Ozark, Alabama built ca. 1858 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Children of Robert Dowling

John Dowling married Nancy Boutwell by whom he had six sons-Dempsey, Elias, Zacharias, Levi, Alien and Simeon-and three daughters-Lydia, Rhoda and Jemimah. James Dowling married Polly Boutwell, sister of his brother’s wife, by whom he had four sons, William, James, John and Willis-and three daughters-Sallie, Polly and Lettie. Millie married a man by the name of William Gibbson and moved to Mississippi. But little is known of the marriage of Sarah and Betsy, Robert Dowling’s other two daughters.

Dempsey Dowling, son of John and Nancy Dowling, was married to Martha Stokes September 22, 1803. In South Carolina, by whom he raised fourteen children-seven sons, Wesley, Noel, Fletcher, John Edward, James and Zinnamon, and seven daughters, Lacy, Millie, Elizabeth, the latter two were twins, Zillah, Martha, Anna and Frances.

Wesley married Amanda O’Neal by whom he had three sons -Colnel, Jasper, Martin Van Buren, (both died in the cause of their country) Frances Marion, also dead and Elizabeth.

Noel Dowling married Sarah D. daughter of John and Sally McDonald. They reared a family of nine children. Eight sons— Massolone Lafayette who died June 24, 1843, at the age of five years. John Wesley, who died December 14, 1893, Angus, Simeon, James King, who died at Pensacola serving the cause of his country, September 6, 1861; Daniel Young, Noel P. and Gabriel P. and one daughter, Anna Jane, who after the death of her first husband, J. W. T. Smith, married A. D. Wall, and died May 31, 1895.

Dowling-Murphree House at 311 Owens Street in Ozark, Alabama ca. 1990 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Fletcher Dowling married Caroline Martin to whom were born two sons, Jeferson, now dead, (1899) and Anderson, who lives with his mother in Texas, and two daughters, Mary Jane, wife of James Harris and Margaret, widow of Jefferson Bottoms.

John Dowling married Charlotte Brackin by whom he raised five sons—Samuel Losson, Elisha M. C., Noel R., George W., Jarrett and Louis—and two daughters—Lacy Ann, wife of John C. Parker and Nancy Jane, wife of John F. McDonald.

Edward Dowling and Anna Gates were married after the family removed to Alabama and raised a large family—three sons, Jesse, Robert J., and Eddie, all of whom are dead and six girls – Margaret, wife of Daniel Martin; Betsy, wife of Needham Hughes; Jane, wife of Ransom Byrd; Ophelia, second wife of William Byrd, Susan, wife of Dr. J. C. Holman; and Eudora, wife of N. P. Dowling.

James Dowling married Nancy Martin and of their children William Dowling who lives in the lower part of this county and his sister is the wife of Tim C. Lee.

Zinnamon Dowling maried Elizabeth Ingram by whom he raised a large family of children most of whom live in this and Coffee counties.

Front door of the Dowling-Murphree House at 311 Owens Street in Ozark, Alabama. ca. 1990 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Lacy Dowling married Elisha Matthews and was the mother of William Edward and Melon T, both of whom are dead, and of Jane Clark, relict of Jack Clark; Aquilla, wife of John F, Martin; Martha A. wife of S. J. Andrews; Mary, widow of William F. Martin, Betsy Ann, wife of Hugh McDonald, Talitha, wife of James C. Ross; and Margaret, first wife of William Byrd.

Millie married William Cox, and W. F. Cox, Cornelia, wife of Wm. Gray, Lilah, wife of Henry Casey, and Martha, widow of the late Gordon Matthews, are the surviving children.

Zillah married Samuel, son of Burrell Hallford. They reared a large family of children—Susan and James who died in 1854, Wesley, Mrs. Robert Skipper, Dixon H., Jesse, G. Gordon, and William, the last named three are dead, and Josephine, wife of James Pritchett and Piety, wife of Ezekiel Hallford.

Martha married Emanuel Parrish, whose two sons are in Texas, and Anna married James Parrish. She died in 1857, leaving a family of six children most of whom live in Texas.

Frances the youngest daughter married Mathias Brackin, and raised a large family of children, among whom are Simeon, Martha Jane, wife of Lafayette Metcalf, and Warren Brackin.

Zacharias Dowling was an itinerant Methodist preacher and carried the gospel of peace to perishing thousands from the Chattahoochee river to the western borders of the state during a long life of usefulness beginning in the pioneer days. He was plain, and scriptural in his mode of life almost to austerity but was pure in heart and a few years since passed to his reward from the late residence near Greenville.

Levi Dowling was one of the first settlers in Honey town Beat, and was a local preacher of great usefulness. He had several children, Robert and Mary being among them. The latter married a man by the name of Savage and was left a widow.

Dowling family led a private life

The family never dabbled much in politics preferring to live quietly and attend to their private interests. There is some exception and to marked degree in one instance, John Wesley, son of Noel Dowling, was a man of large brain and of noble impulses.

When the call to arms came in 1861 he raised a company and on the 3rd of April left for Pensacola where he served for one year. Returning home he was married to Miss Annie Jane Thompson, May 11, 1862. Miss Thompson was of a distinguished Key West family, her father being engaged in trade with foreign ports and a large ship owner. Soon he raised a company of cavalry and returned to the army of the Confederacy as second Lieutenant in Capt. Davis’ company 33rd Alabama regiment of cavalry. He served all through the war up to the battle six miles from Atlanta, July 6, 1864, without receiving a wound. But in the fight he was seriously wounded by shell and his life was despaired of.

By faithful nursing at the hands of his brother Peeler, and his devoted wife, he recovered sufficiently to return home in the early fall. His coming saved the lives of three old citizens. War scenes had been transformed from a drama to that of tragedy and no man knew when his life was his own. The day after Lieutenant Spears had been killed by deserters, Brere’s cavalry came up from Newton to investigate. Capt. Brere was furious when he fully realized the situation and was prepared for deeds of desparation. (sic)He had these three citizens, old men, quiet and unobstrusive, (sic) arrested on suspicion of harboring the deserters who killed Speares and shot Alec Speller. After a brief consultation, it was decided to hang them. At this moment Capt. John W. Dowling hobbled out to the front gate and called Capt. Brere to one side. When he told all the evidence on which it was proposed to hang them John W. Dowling said to Capt. Brere, “You’ve got no evidence on which to hang these men, and you shall not do it. I am an officer in the regular army and if you hang them I will report you to headquarters and, have you courtmartialled. (sic) This settled it and the men were sent back.

One of largest and oldest families in Southeast Alabama

The Dowling family is one of the largest as well the oldest families in Southeast Alabama and their industry and intelligent frugality have made the name a power in the financial affairs of the country and formed the basis of a large percentage of the stability in its citizenship, Their religious convictions have done no less for the cause of religion and good morals. When the three brothers, Dempsey, Zacharias and Levi came here in 1826 one of the first things was to establish preaching places and look after the spiritual welfare of the people. They were strict in their lives and in their teachings going beyond the standard of religious work usually recognized in pioneering. But they had the courage of their convictions and persisted in planting the seeds of the gospel along with the evil which was springing up on all sides.

Their course often brought criticism which occasionally ripened into bitter persecutions. Rev. Dempsey Dowling, being the most prominent as well as the most progressive, came in for a larger share of persecution but what mattered it. God seems to have set His seal of approval on the life and works of this martyr to His cause for while the name and posterity of his most rabid persecuters (sic) have almost faded among men the posterity of Rev. Dempsey Dowling like that of Abraham Lincoln, have “become as the sands of the sea and the stars of the heavens”, and possesses a goodly portion in the land of our fathers. Very few if any of them are homeless and they are generally considered good citizens.

Returned to peaceful pursuits after Civil War

When the war ended John W. Dowling returned to the peaceful pursuits of life, engaging in farming, teaching and in the fall of 1870 the mercantile business. He found a man who could take the reconstruction iron-clad and he engaged in mail contracting out of which he made considerable money. He was successful in every venture and accumulated a large fortune. In 1869 he led the fight for removing the county site from Newton to Ozark and has been one of the leading spirits in every laudable enterprise for the upbuilding of this section of the country ever since contributing largely from his private fortune to secure these ends. He subscribed one thousand dollars to the Alabama Midland Railroad and a considerable sum to the Central of Georgia and has given liberally to other enterprises. Being a man of independent thought, John W. Dowling always espoused the cause of what he believed to be right, regardless of any reward it might bring or of any opposition it might arouse. He never sought political preferment of the honors it might secure, but for the good he might accomplish. He served two terms very acceptably (sic) in the Legislature from his county and secured the passage of important bills. On December 14, 1893, death cut him down in the bloom of usefulness and success, and his remains were deposited in a vault at old Claybank.

Rev. Angus Dowling his brother was converted in 1854 at old Claybank and soon after was licensed to preach. Later he joined the conference and began the work of his life as a gospel preacher. He has filled many leading appointments in his conference and served as presiding elder doing most efficient work for the master in whatever capacity he was assigned to labor. Under his impashioned (sic) appeals thousands have been converted and many thousands inspired to lead better lives. And yet his work is not done. Today he is doing as able work as ever in his past life, in all probability has long years of usefulness still before him. He has reared a noble family who give promise of great things for the Dowling name in future.

Gabriel Dowling, present county Judge, (1899) is another brother. He possesses many of the sterling qualities of his brother John W. and from whom he learned much of his ways during a business association of twenty years. He is making a noble officer, has a future full of promise. Elisha M. Dowling, the present sheriff, (1899) is a man with marked probity of character. He was elected to the office he is filling with such satisfaction, in 1896, and will serve for another year. The family have been probably the heaviest tax payers in the county for three quarters of a century but have received only a very small percentage of the emoluments and honors of official life at the hands of the people.

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.”

Discordance: The Cottinghams Inspired by true events and the Cottingham family that resided in 17th century Somerset, Maryland, and Delaware, colonial America comes alive with pirate attacks, religious discord, and governmental disagreements in the pre-Revolutionary War days of America.

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 All her books can be purchased at 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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