JCHA NEWSLETTER – JANUARY 2011

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JEFFERSON COUNTY HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION
NEWSLETTER


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The first Masonic Lodge in Alabama was founded in Huntsville, with John Hunt being a prominent charter member and Andrew Jackson being a frequent visitor to the lodge. General Jackson was also a frequent visitor to Huntsville's Green Bottom Inn and race track. Jackson speculated in large tracts of acreage in the Florence, Alabama area. When Pres. James Monroe visited the Alabama Territory in June 1819, he and his entourage stayed at the Huntsville Inn.

No sooner had the Mississippi territory been formed than questions over its division arose. Pressure from white southerners savvy in political power wanted to see two slave states emerge. Congress created the Alabama Territory out of the eastern half of the Mississippi Territory on March 3, 1817. With thousands of new settlers pouring into the territory, calls for statehood were soon heard.

William Wyatt Bibb, who had served multiple terms as both a U.S. Congressman and Senator from Georgia suffered a serious political defeat. In the spring of 1816 Bibb joined a majority of his fellow congressmen in passing the Salary Act, which effectively doubled congressional pay. Even though he had a Georgia county named for him, this unpopular action caused Bibb to lose his bid for re-election that fail to George M. Troup. Bibb resigned his Senate seat in the fall of 1816.

With his political future in Georgia looking dim, Bibb turned his attention westward. When the Alabama Territory was divided from the Mississippi Territory in 1817, President James Monroe appointed Bibb territorial governor upon the advice of Secretary of Treasury William H. Crawford. That April, Bibb and his wife, Mary Freeman Bibb, traveled to the territorial capital at St. Stephens on the Tombigbee River.

The second wave of Broad River settlement in Alabama came with the opening of the Black Belt region for purchase in 1816. The Broad River investors like U.S. Senator Charles Tait and connected land speculators bought large holdings around the future towns of Montgomery at the confluence of the Alabama, Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers and Cahawba at the confluence of the Cahaba and Alabama Rivers.

As Territorial Governor, Bibb almost immediately began campaigning for the state capital to be moved to the little settlement of Cahawba. The anticipated rise in land values would soon make fortunes for the Broad River Group of speculators.

North Alabama was now the most populous area of the territory. The U.S. Congress selected the largest town, Huntsville, as the site for the first Constitutional Convention of Alabama. From July 5 to August 2, 1819, delegates met in Walker Allen's large cabinet shop preparing the new state constitution.

Broad River adherents won control of the constitutional convention. Leroy Pope's son in law, John W. Walker, served as the convention's president, and Broad River allies dominated the Committee of Fifteen that drafted the constitution. The document approved by the convention was the most democratic constitution of any state at the time. But in one of the convention's principal battles, Broad River delegates insisted upon and obtained life terms for judges. This made them unaccountable to the electorate.

With his strong national political connections and his brother, Thomas Bibb, being the delegate from Limestone County, it was no surprise that William Wyatt Bibb was elected as Alabama's first State Governor. Walker Alien's large shop building also served as Bibb's inauguration site in December of 1819 and was the meeting place for the newly formed Alabama State Legislature. After Governor Bibb's death in 1820, Thomas Bibb became the second governor of Alabama. Alabama's Bibb County was named in honor of William Wyatt Bibb.

Since the Tennessee Valley area was cut off from the rest of Alabama by the hill country to the south of it, the territorial legislature appointed a commission in early 1818 to determine a new state capital location. The commission chose the thriving town of Tuscaloosa, a site far enough north on the Black Warrior River to make it accessible to the residents of the Tennessee Valley and accessible to south Alabama.

Territorial Governor Bibb overrode that decision in favor Cahawba. Flexing his political muscle in Washington, Bibb arranged a federal land grant in that area and promised, in his message to the stunned assembly in November 1818, that the new town of Cahawba would "vie with the largest inland towns in the Country" in population and prosperity.

However, Cahawba was sited in a low swampy area much prone to Malaria and Yellow Fever outbreaks as well as regular flooding from the two rivers. The Alabama legislature grudgingly appropriated $10,000 to build a temporary capital building, but they granted the assembly the power to select a permanent seat of government in 1825 without the involvement of the governor. In 1826 the Alabama legislature moved the capital to where they originally wanted it, Tuscaloosa. Cahawba lasted as a town for a few decades, but it was a ghost town by the latter part of the 1800's

In 1811, lawyer Clement Comer Clay moved to Huntsville. After serving under General Andrew Jackson in the Creek War of 1813–14, he married Susanna Claiborne Withers in 1815. Allying himself with Leroy Pope and John W. Walker, Clay became a stockholder and director of the Planters and Merchant Bank of Huntsville. He also represented Madison County in the Territorial legislature in 1818. After being in the U.S. House of Representatives, Clay was elected Alabama Governor in 1835. Another Withers, Confederate Major General Jones M. Withers, was born in Huntsville, Alabama.

During the financial Panic of 1819 and the following depression that lasted until 1821, wealthier residents such as members of the Broad River Group were able to take advantage of depressed prices for slaves and land. This helped concentrate cotton production in Alabama and other cotton-producing states among fewer individuals.

By the 1830's the industrial revolution, the steam engine and the steam locomotive were beginning to change the world. In 1832 to circumvent the Muscle Shoals of the Tennessee River, Alabama's first railroad, the ever financially troubled Tuscumbia, Courtland & Decatur Railroad, was chartered with a capitalization of $1,000,000.

It was no secret that the "worthless hill country where a buzzard might starve" between the Tennessee and Alabama Rivers was a mineral storehouse of huge proportions. Also no secret was that railroads were going to be the driving engines of the industrial revolution. The Broad River Group remembering how their ancestors profited from the Shenandoah Valley iron, began investing in railroads and having their legislators work to get charters, state land grants and funding for their railroads.

In 1835 a second Alabama railroad was proposed. The Montgomery Railroad was a narrow gauge road designed to run from Montgomery to West Point Georgia. The driving force behind this railroad was Charles T. Pollard, merchant and farmer Abner McGehee (who was married to Frank M. Gilmer's aunt) and planter Francis "Frank" M, Gilmer, a relative of Georgia Governor and Broad River Group member George R, Gilmer. Also vitally involved was Willis J. Milner as materials contractor and his son John T. Milner as surveyor and engineer. Construction was finally completed to West Point, Georgia on April 28, 1851, with the line meeting up with the Atlanta and La Grange Railroad.

In 1833, New Hampshire Yankee Daniel Pratt migrated from Clinton, Georgia, to set up his cotton gin manufactory at the river fall line in Autauga County between Selma and Montgomery. Directing his sales efforts to the West in the opening cotton lands, his improved design well built gins soon became very popular with all the planters. With his increasing wealth, practical forward looking nature and serious need of improved transportation, he and his early Alabama partner, Shadrack Mims, soon became closely allied with the Montgomery Broad River Group. Pratt used Montevallo mined coal and Horace Ware's excellent Shelby County wrought iron for his gins' manufacture.

In the early 1840's, a tornado flattened Tuscaloosa. Between that and the growing power of the planters in the southern part of the state, the capital was moved to Montgomery in 1846. By that time the families connected with the Broad River Group in the Montgomery area were well established.

It was an uphill battle to get any state funding for any railroad. Jacksonian Democrats felt that no public money should be used to advance any private interests, especially the interests of powerful corporations such as railroads. Many of the south Alabama planters and the legislators they controlled felt that their own positions would be best served if they kept the state firmly agricultural. They had a magnificent river system to flatboat their cotton to Mobile. They didn't need any railroads. They certainly didn't want great numbers of voters whom they could not control coming into the state and destroying their cotton kingdoms.

In the late 1850's Governor John A. Winston ruined his political career by opposing the use of any state monies or land grants to aid any railroad expansion. In 1859, a growing group of Democratic Party legislators backed by the commercial and railroad interests which included the Broad River Group in Alabama succeeded in pushing a railroad bill through the legislature that provided general aid to proposed railroads. Passage of this bill established a precedent for state aid to railroads that would be important during the Reconstruction Era.

The old English custom of having a child's middle name be the mother's maiden name has long continued in the South. This is especially true if the mother's family is socially prominent or wealthy. In 1860, James Withers Sloss completed his sixty mile long Tennessee and Alabama Central Railroad from Decatur to meet up with the Central Southern Railroad and the Tennessee and Alabama Railroad at the Alabama-Tennessee state line.

Before 1860, southerners could see that a civil war was eminent. Many of the wealthy planters, manufacturers and bankers across the South such as brothers John and Daniel Kerr Stewart of Richmond, Virginia, well knew of the North's advantage in population, industrialization and railroad transportation. The Stewarts along with others quietly moved as many of their liquid assets as possible to New York City. Daniel Stewart moved to New York City along with the bulk of the family's fortune for the duration of the war.

Another safe harbor for southern capital was the financial houses of Great Britain. The British had been profitably trading with southerners since before the American Revolution, American raw cotton for English mills was economically important to them.

Thinking southerners knew that the coming war would be defensive in nature, That meant that the war would be fought in the South. Crops, livestock, homes, the few railroads and any manufactories would be destroyed. Even their labor base, their slaves, would be lost. No one could comprehend the huge numbers of young men who would be killed, die of disease or wounds with many more maimed and crippled. That hidden capital would be desperately needed to rebuild the South.

Those funds trickling back into the South and his Broad River Group connections through his marriage enabled Josiah Morris to pay out $100,000 to Alburto Martin for the options to Elyton land during Reconstruction when most of the South was destitute. Those funds also helped Daniel Pratt get his foundry and cotton gin manufactory back in operation, Frank M. Gilmer with the help of his brother, Elyton land owner James Gilmer, wrested control of the South and North Railroad from John C. Stanton by procuring the voting proxies of the railroad's stock with help from his Broad River Group connections.

Daniel Stewart's investments during the war greatly increased the Stewart family fortune. That fortune was increasingly controlled and invested by John Stewart's son in law, Joseph Bryan. Born in 1845 at his father's Eagle Point tobacco plantation in Gloucester County, Virginia, Bryan spent most of the war as a teenager fearlessly fighting with Col. John S. Mosby's guerilla raiders. As a lawyer-entrepreneur after the war, Bryan used his intense energy and intellect to become a leader of southern industrialization, He and the Stewart brothers invested heavily in the Danville and Terminal railroad systems which later became the Southern Railway System.

Bryan was the leader and driving force behind the Georgia Pacific Railroad. It was he and his Richmond investors who were financially supporting John W, Johnston who purchased the Sloss Furnace Company and developed the North Birmingham Industrial Complex. Thomas Seddon, the son Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon, was installed as president of Sloss. Thomas Seddon was born at his family's Sabot Hill plantation in Goochland County near Charlottesville, Virginia.

Prominent Virginians such as John W. Johnston, famous educator and geologist William H. Ruffner and engineer Edward M. Tutwiler were brought into the Birmingham District by the Richmond group. Former Confederate Cavalry Colonel Edmund W. Rucker and Confederate General John Gordon were among the Georgia Pacific investors. Joseph Forney Johnston also was an associate of and investor with the Virginians.

Purchasing John T. Milner's and Dr. Henry Caldwell's various coal and railroad right of way properties in the North Birmingham area, the Virginians brought a huge amount of additional capital investment to the Birmingham District.

British capital also flowed into the Birmingham District. The extraordinary number of British mining and furnace engineers who came to inspect the District was no fluke. The names Birmingham and Bessemer were not just picked out of a hat, It is no accident that there are many British and Scottish place names here such as, Cardiff, Oxmoor, Sayre, Wylam as well as ail the English named streets and neighborhoods. Even Richmond is an English place name.

Certainly it was no coincidence that this county is named Jefferson, after the most famous neighbor of the Broad River Group.

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