PATRON – Excerpts from a diary by Thomas M. Fancher, Bibb County, Alabama – from 1871 – 1889

(This diary excerpt was transcribed for the 1st edition of THE CAHABA JOURNAL (Bibb County, Alabama) 


Through the pages of the Thomas M. Fancher diaries a unique glimpse of late 19th century Bibb County emerges. He was first of all a family man then a farmer, part-time ore and lime contractor for the Bibb furnace and deeply interested in the Baptist Church and politics. Through the generosity of Tom and Marie Fancher excerpts from the elder Tom Fancher diaries follow.

December 3, 1871

Horris Fancher and Ellen Day has tied a knot with their tongue they cannot untie with their teeth. Yes, they are to be married.

July 8, 1872

I went to the Rolling mill (Brierfield) before noon with L. T. McGuire as a witness in regard to his losses during our late struggle. All men who were opposed to the war & stuck to the Union can receive damages.

Bibb County Courthouse in Centreville, Alabama. Looking north. The structure was built in 1859 and was razed to build the current courthouse. Q60053Bibb County Courthouse in Centreville, Alabama.  Looking north. The structure was built in 1859 and was razed to build the current courthouse. (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

June 26, 1873

Burns killed a couple small does at one shot and he carried them to Furnace. They netted us about four dollars each which is better made then lost.

July 14, 1873

Burns and I went out (to Bibb furnace) to get a contract of raising ore or hauling. I reckon we will go to work tomorrow morning if nothing happens more than expected. It it dont rain in a short time we will all have to resort to the Furnace or somewhere else. Everything is burning up fast and appearances for rain gloomy.

July 18, 1873

I am working a most too hard. We commence to work Tuesday morning, hired two hands and I think we are raising ore faster than any number of hands in the same length of time I assure you. I think it is as hard hot work as I ever was engaged in.

July 22, 1873

We are gathering ore I think we are making some money. It it don’t rain tomorrow we will ascertain how we are getting along. We will commence hauling it in.

July 27, 1873

Raised ore I am so very tired. I never was engaged in any work that comes so near wearing me out. We are making some money I think, perhaps three dollars each besides all other expenses.

August 7, 1873

I was at Furnace I saw something too I never liked to see. Something that is unnecessary if all men is disposed to act right. I saw a couple men fight the hardest fight I ever saw. A man by the name of John Williams and Bob Holsomback. Two large hearty young men. There was no weapons used except their fists, and it seemed that that was enough from what I saw and I saw all of it. I endeavored to quell it before the fight and after I failed to keep them from fighting I endeavored to part them but I was not man enough to do that without aid. There was a dozen present, and all desired it seemed to see them fight. So they did fight it out. Williams got a little the best of the fight. At the same time he was badly whiped. Now I shall endeaver to tell you the cause. Mac Carleton nasty little fislty scamp was the cause of the whole. He wanted Bob whiped and he knew he could not do it himself and Williams cant whip him fairly. I fear the worst is yet behind. I considered Holsomback was imposed upon and I could not help him for fear of worst dificulties. I hope all was for the best and that there will be no more said about it. One thing I do greatly regret that is I saw it. A matter of course I will have to loose a few days at court on account of it.

December 8, 1883

You will find by examination I am living and have been for past 12 months at Brierfield. I will in a few days move back to my farm……For past three years I have been engaged at public work contracting principally. I learn from sad experience it is best to live on farm. I have made a great deal money but to collect same it is a great deal trouble to collect from most Companys. The Brierfield Coal and Iron Company is good pay. The saw mill lumber Company which I have done great deal work for is slow pay. Notwithstanding a portion of B. C. & I. Co. composed a part of S. M. & L. Co. I am selling out my stock. Brierfield is rapidly growing. It bids fair to be a large business place in future.

December 24, 1883

By the number of jugs and kegs in the express office one would believe they will certainly have a lively time around about Brierfield. I would guess there was not less than two hundred jugs and kegs from one to five gallons. Prohibition is not doing much gook in that portion. If it was just so because of Christmas it would not be so much matter, but it is constantly so there and cant be prevented. Rolling mill men and nailry men are composed of a low class of men especially pudlers; being from every quarter of the globe.

January 5, 1886

Geo. Smith – a good honest hardworking respectable col. Citizen has managed by hard licks and strict economy laid up from time a sufficiency to buy him a little home from Col. J. N. Smith deceased) and managed to put him a griss mill and gin up and just completed a few months ago and the freshet swept all away with contents including corn cotton cottonseed and I suppose everything connected therewith.

February 13, 1887

William Story buried a son at Cahaba Valley graveyard. He about 16 year & died at Bibb Furnace

August 31, 1889

We received new today that Jno. Lawrence of Montevallo was killed this morning about 2 ½ OK by an unknown party but suppose to be a negro that was seen on streets yesterday. The party broke into the store of his father in law Mr. S. A. Lathem for whom he was clerking and he fird on the party and was shot by same. Shot dead through the heart. Notices have been circulated every where and no doubt the suspected party will be arrested. Mr. Lawrence was a high tone gentleman beloved by all who know him. We deeply regret to hear such. The Negroes are preparing to give the whites of the south no little trouble. Since the last election of Pres many have been appointed to office and they have become very independent and the whites, although they have been freed twenty years and are amply protected by the laws cant get used to their impudence. Oh the future we look forward with no little fear.

September 3, 1889

The parties supposed to have done the shooting of Mr. Lawrence was caught next evening and hung by the citizens of Montevallo Sat night. They owned up and on noted yellow negro claimed Mr. Lawrence was his 6th man to kill among them was Levi Lawley who was killed more than a year ago. There is a band of them consisting of 3 negroes and 2 white men. They are selling whiskey and robing and thieving generally. The citizens are at last accounts in pursuit of the other parties. There great excitement throughout south in regard the negro race. Not far now in the distant future we anticipate blood shed.

September 7, 1889

Had citizens meeting at Wilson’s School house for the purpose of considering the question of organizing as citizens for our protection against Negros. After considerable discussion we decided to organize publicly and openly. Some however thought best to have a secret organization. I for one oposed any secret organization. Whatever what we do as citizens I propose to do it publicly & openly. I am under the impression however that there is no need of any kind of organization, for I am persuaded that the negros mean no harm towards whites whatever except against a few oppressive characters. I mean when & where opposed upon by reckless drunken white men.

December 21, 1890

Blockton is on a big strike. They were getting 45 & struck for fifty cents two weeks ago and from what I hear will stay struck as the Co. refuses to raise or compromise. Strikes has proved to be curse in southern states.

May 17, 1892

The coal shed and perhaps forty thousand bushels of coal with four coal cars burned at Bibb Furnace Sunday morning. They had blown out for repairs and expected to start up again in three weeks; but now will probably be two months. I think most of loss was covered by insurance.

August 1, 1892

This is the great election day. Everything passed off without any difficulty but wonderfully surprising considering the excitement and the heated contest. J. E. Farrington and Dock Ward came near having trouble and there were many quarrels. Capt. Pratt and I had hard words and Lafayette Arnold also and myself. I fear Kolb will be defeated and also trouble, bloodshed. The Jones crowd has got most negroes in the county I feel sure and also most Rupublicans(white) yet they claim themselves true blues. I predict now if Jones is elected the Kolb faction is gone for peoples party.

March 31, 1893

Under a recent act of Congress there has been a pension granted to the colored men who enlisted in the late war, or to their surviving widdows who have not married again. One of our old colored servants, Dick, and others joined Wilson’s Army and went off just at the close of the war. He is dead for past ten or twelve years had his wife Maude is entitled to a pension. She lives in Shelby County and requested Clay and I to aid her in making necessary proof. I wrote him & he met me at Brfield this morning with Maude & Arter her son & we had Sam Sheppard to make application for her. The republican party has granted and bestowed pensions lavishly. Many to unworthy persons not entitled to same. But I am glad to see our old colored mamma who was a faithful servant get a pension. She is about seventy years of age & one of first servants my father ever owned. They owned about twenty-five when they were set free and they are all scattered & dead except Maude & some of her children & they are worthy colored citizens. I wish them well.

April 3, 1893

Went out to see Company about selling three pair mules & I have some forty tons rock to deliver and then I have no use for the team on lime. They weighed them to consider the use on charcoal. It requires heavy mules to carry one hundred bushels the distance of 4-5 miles 2 loads per day. The mules are extra fine mules, yet they only weigh together 1950 lbs. I suppose if the lime stone that they propose to use will answer their purpose we will trade, which I have grave doubts.

December 25, 1893

Dull dry Christmas most so than I ever knew at Brfield notwithstanding jugs was carried away by the dozen. Prohibition does not prohibit in some places.

January 22, 1894

Quite a narrow escape by Burns & hyche today. They put down a hole about four feet charged with four sticks dynamite set fire and repared to their usual places of safety. The cap bursted but failed to explode. When they returned they found the dynamite burning & Burns poured water in the hole to extinguish & if failed to do so & he ran his stick down & it excluded the air & it exploded. Hyche was not hurt. Burns face & eyes considerably burned & cup up but not serious I hope. It certainly is hard to account for him not being killed as it blew out several tons of heavy rock. It was not solid rock or the jar would have killed them.

February 1, 1894

Times very dull as yet. Company paid me the small sum of thirty three dollars on time Dec. 1892. They owe now thousand or twelve hundred dollars for lime stone delivered past twelve months. I guess I will collect in course of time. I dont need the money particularly, as I have enough to pay my way. I would simply like to handle it. Perhaps it is that I have not got it.

March 14, 1895

Our church (Cahaba Valley Baptist) was organized Saturday before 4th Sunday in June 1817 nearly four score years ago. They met in a small rude log cabin some forty yards south East of where the present building now stands. There were eleven whites & one black.



  1. Kathleen Owens Johnson & Judy Holdsambeck

  2. I love the work you have done. I am so interested in Alabama so many of my family members lived and died there. I miss the old days growing up in Shannon and Lipscomb. of course it has changed a lot and when I do go back there I can still see some of our old home steads. The picture of Bay View bridge brought back many memories it was a spooky place for a bunch of teens waiting for the woman to come out of the water not to mention the car not starting. lol Keep up the great work. Again Thank you.

    1. Thanks Gwenn!

  3. Samuel Fancher and Thornton Fancher married two Lemley sisters, daughters of Manes Lemley, in 1800s. All were members of Cahaba Valley Baptist Church. It would be interesting to know how Samuel and Thornton were related to Thomas in this story. Loved reading about Brierfield. My Lemley ancestors moved to this area in1820s and Warren ancestors right after civil war.

    1. Thornton was Samuel’s son. Samuel was Thomas M. Fancher’s great uncle.

  4. Where can I find “The Cahaba Journal”? Was this a magazine or newspaper?