Butler County Beginnings - page 1
Butler County Beginnings

  *  Butler County Beginnings
Territorial Origins & Early Days as a County

  *  Who was Butler County named for?

  *  Little’s 1885 History of Butler County

  *  Bartram's Trail in Butler County

   *  Savannah Jack The Terror of Butler County in 1818

   *  The Ogly-Stroud Massacre at Poplar Springs

    * The Town of Greenville Celebrates 200 Years in 2022

Butler County map & logo

Butler County Beginnings
Territorial Origins & Early Days as a County

by Annie Crenshaw
The United States Congress created the Alabama Territory out of the eastern half of the Mississippi Territory on March 3, 1817. Eager land speculators, hopeful early settlers, enterprising merchants, craftsmen and peddlers, over-worked territorial judges, busy lawyers, devout gospel preachers, pioneering newspaper publishers, military veterans, slaves, freedmen, Native American leaders and tribes (and more) were all part of Alabama's amazing early history.

Alabama Territory & Mississippi Territory

Alabama's territorial days were lively and colorful, tragic and comic, rewarding for some and disappointing for others. It was a struggle towards identity and unity, filled with important events.

Butler County did not yet exist as a county on March 3, 1817, but our area became part of the Alabama Territory with the rest of what would become a state in 1819. So, the 200th territorial anniversary of 2017 was Butler County's "territorial" anniversary, too, first as part of the Mississippi Territory, and then part of the Alabama Territory.

After nearly two decades as United States territorial land, Butler County was created December 13, 1819,
from Monroe County and Conecuh County, one day before Alabama became a state. We're famously a county older than the state.

Fort Dale was the first county seat, but it was discontinued as the county seat after a few years, as more people settled at what would soon become Greenville, and Fort Dale began to decline. By Act of Legislature on December 18, 1821, the new county seat was designated to be "Butlerville."

This town name appears in an Alabama legislative act of December 7, 1821, when a public road was opened “from Buttsville [sic: Butlerville] in the County of Butler, to the Shoals of the Conecuh river.”

Researchers: take note that Greenville was not first called "BUTTSVILLE," as is often erroneously stated. The court clerk's original handwriting may have looked like Buttsville, and the name was transcribed with that spelling for the published Legislative Acts, but original handwritten documents exist that clearly show the town name as "BUTLERVILLE."

Butlerville 1822 handwritten town name
from handwritten reports by Nathan Cook, Butler County Court Clerk and Postmaster, 1822

After all, this was the new county seat, and it was given the same name as the county, like Montgomery (the town) being the county seat of Montgomery County, and Monroeville (the town) the county seat of Monroe County. "Butlerville" was the county seat of Butler County.

The town name was officially changed to "Greenville" by Act of Alabama Legislature on December 28, 1822. The oldest surviving Greenville plat map is dated 1854, created to replace earlier maps lost in the 1853 Butler County courthouse fire.

Who was Butler County named for?

by Annie Crenshaw

We all know where Butler County got its name – or you should know, if you had Alabama history as a fourth-grader in an Alabama school. If you don't remember, or you weren't an Alabama student, we'll be glad to tell you more about our county.

Butler County was created from Monroe and Conecuh counties in the Alabama Territory in December 1819. It was named for Captain William Butler, who was born in Virginia and moved to Georgia by the 1790s, where he married Charity Garrett in 1796, joined General John Floyd's militia company, and served several terms in the Georgia legislature.

Butler County map 1822 Butler County map 1844

Butler County maps of 1822 (Fielding) and 1844 (Tanner)

Captain Butler came into our part of Alabama with other militia men during the Creek Indian Wars of 1813-1814. He commanded a company under General John Floyd at the Battle of Calabee in 1814, near present-day Tuskegee.
Milledgeville Reflector April 14 1818
Indian attacks were alarming the countryside in those early years. The bloody Ogly-Stroud massacre occurred March 13, 1818, in Butler County, just a few miles south of today’s Cambrian Ridge/Robert Trent Jones golf course.

About a week later, Captain Butler, staying at Fort Bibb near Pine Flat, volunteered with several other men to take a message to Fort Dale, then being constructed by militia commander Capt. Sam Dale to help protect settlers.

While traveling between the two pioneer forts, Capt. William Butler, William Gardner and Daniel Shaw were killed by the same band of Creeks who had perpetrated the Ogly-Stroud massacre, led by the ruthless warrior, Savannah Jack. Many details of these attacks are recounted in Albert Pickett's History of Alabama (1851) and John B. Little's History of Butler County, Alabama (1885).

The Milledgeville Reflector reported details of the bloody event on April 14, 1818, with the headlines "Indian Murders."

By the way, our county was first proposed to be named "Fairfield County," said to have been suggested by South Carolina settlers from that location. The name "Butler County" won out, in honor of a militia man who gave his life to help our early settlers.

John B Little portrait Little’s History of Butler County

by Annie Crenshaw

The people of Butler County owe a debt of gratitude to John Buckner Little. Much of what is known today about the early history of the county comes from his monumental work, The History of Butler County, Alabama, From 1815 to 1885, with Sketches of Some of Her Most Distinguished Citizens, and Glances at Her Rich and Varied Resources. The book, first published in 1885 and reprinted by Little’s grandson John Goodwin Little in 1971, 1972 and 1979, is required reading for anyone doing genealogical research on Butler County ancestors. It was reprinted in the 1990s by a commercial company, and copies are available at various locations including the Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society research room at the public library in Greenville, and the reference room of the Alabama Archives in Montgomery. The book is also on-line at Ancestry.com, Archive.org, and through other web hosts.

At the time he researched and wrote this history, John Buckner Little was an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He had earned his A. B. degree in 1883 and was working on a second degree which he completed in 1886. He was obviously an energetic, well-read college student who enjoyed doing research and was interested in the history of his home county.

John B. was born on The Ridge in northwestern Butler County in 1861, and he was related to a number of families in that part of the county. His father, John Goodwin Little, was a Confederate veteran, and his great-great-grandfather, John Goodwin of Union County, South Carolina, served in the Revolutionary War. John Buckner Little must have been raised on interesting stories of his ancestors
a background that he used to good advantage in his historical writing.

In his preface to the 1885 book, Little wrote: “The people of Butler County have long expressed a desire to have a book published, containing the interesting history and a review of the natural resources of the County. The author was requested, by some of the prominent residents of the County, to undertake the preparation of such a book.

Littles History 1885 title page
“While in the County, during the summer of 1884, he began the collection of the data for a complete map of the County, and the materials for writing her history. These facts have been arranged by the author, at odd hours, during the last six months. The author has endeavored to present the facts in a plain and simple way, without aiming at the graces of elaborate history or the vivid coloring of exciting romance.

“Many inaccuracies will no doubt occur, owing to the different statements given concerning some particulars, and the author was forced to exercise his own judgment in some instances. A few facts
  here and there, that should be mentioned, are omitted entirely for want of authentic information. If the materials had been collected ten or fifteen years ago, while many of the older settlers of the County were still living, the errors would occur less frequently. But as it is, the humble volume is put before the people of Butler County, with the earnest hope that it may meet with their approval and receive their hearty support.”

This humble volume of 256 pages was published in 1885 by an author who was only 24 years old. His sources included interviews with Butler County residents, articles from The Greenville Advocate newspaper, and books such as Pickett’s 1851 History of Alabama – whose detailed accounts of the early settlers and Indian massacres in Butler County came from public records as well as eyewitnesses to the original events. For Little to have gathered information from these sources and compile his history in just six months was an extraordinary task. Even though he paraphrased and quoted his sources liberally and literally, it was still an enormous effort.

Little had health problems in later life, but kept up his historical research. He was said to have drafted  a history of Marengo County and, at the time of his death in 1918, was working on a history of  Monroe County. His notes and manuscripts on these counties have never been found.

On the title page of his Butler County history, Little included a quotation from the famous Confederate chaplain, Father Ryan, for whom a Butler County chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was later named: “A land without ruins is a land without memories – a land without memories is a land without history.”

Butler County is a land rich in memories and history, whose people were given a lasting treasure by John Buckner Little.

Bartram's Oakleaf Hydrangea
                    Bartram’s Trail In Butler  County

by Annie Crenshaw

From 1775 to 1778, naturalist William Bartram traveled through southern North America. He noted the characteristics of almost everything he encountered – rivers, forests, swamps, trails, wildlife, vegetation, Indians and their villages, white settlers and traders. His accurate and entertaining descriptions of the area made an amazing contribution to our knowledge of the South at the time of the American Revolution.

In the summer of 1775, Bartram passed through the northwestern part of Butler County on his way from Tallassee to Mobile. He followed an ancient Indian trading path marked roughly today by the Interstate 65 corridor between Montgomery and Mobile. Bartram’s route passed by what would become Pintlala in Montgomery County, Fort Deposit in Lowndes County and Fort Dale in Butler County.
Later, this route became the Federal Road, bringing settlers into Alabama by the thousands. It's clearly visible on early maps, including the 1822 and 1844 maps shown on this web site.

Bartram's path continued in a southwesterly direction, passing slightly east of the future village of Manningham, past the site of Fort Bibb at Pine Flat, and down the present-day county line between Conecuh and Monroe Counties. Parts of Alabama Highway 185 and Sherling Lake Road (County Road 44) follow Bartram’s route through Butler County, continuing
on County Road 38 through Shackelville into Monroe County.

For the dedication of the Bartram Trail in Butler County on October 24, 1976, Myra Ware Crenshaw (first president of The Butler County Historical Society) wrote: “Approximately 30 miles of the Bartram Trail lie in Butler County. It follows the path of the Old Federal Road which runs from Milledgeville, Georgia to the Tensas settlements north of Mobile. The Trail enters the northern boundary of Butler County at the Lowndes County line and follows State Highway 185 southward for about six miles. At the site of Fort Dale, the Trail leaves Hwy. 185, taking a westerly turn, and follows county roads, all paved, leaving Butler County along the Butler-Monroe line. All of the trail in Butler County is along paved roads with the exception of one two-mile stretch, where there is no road at all anymore. The most historic section of the Trail is a four-mile stretch extending from the site of Fort Dale to Poplar Springs, where the Ogly Massacre occurred.”

Plants and landscape features described by Bartram are still found in Butler County. He described the “limestone rocks” and “banks of various kinds of sea shells” left by oceans that covered this area millions of years ago, a geological feature also described by John B. Little in his 1885 History of Butler County. Cretaceous Period limestone is visible in rock outcroppings in northwestern Butler County today.

This millions-of-years-old foundation of our county was the source of Greenville’s “Cambrian Ridge” Robert Trent Jones golf course’s name, although "Cambrian" is a misnomer for the geological time period exhibited in Butler County's landscape.
Cambrian was the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era (540 million to 490 million years ago), while the Cretaceous Period (approximately 145 to 65 million years ago) was the last and longest segment of the Mesozoic Era.

Bartram and his fellow travelers were impressed with a remarkable dense grove of dogwood trees that grew for nine or ten miles on a flat section of land beneath huge magnolias and pines. Butler County residents are familiar with this location, a plateau of land between Reddock Creek and Pine Barren Creek, once covered with a dense undergrowth of dogwoods beneath a tall pine forest. John B. Little, in his 1885 History of Butler County, wrote about this area:

The level portion of low, flat land between Reddock and Pine Barren Creeks, was originally 
covered with a pine forest and a dense under- growth of dogwood. From the thickness of this
undergrowth, this section of the county was called Dogwood Flat, but the name was afterward
changed, and is now known as the Pine Flat.

William Bartram’s route is still traceable through rural areas of Butler County, and provides an excellent opportunity for environmental exploration and education. Sherling Lake Park on the Braggs Highway (AL 263) is only a short distance west of Bartram’s original trail. It’s a lovely place to visit and see dogwoods, hydrangeas, and other native flora and fauna. You’ll be following in the footsteps of a naturalist’s monumental Southern journey, and experiencing an interesting part of our county’s early heritage.

For more about Bartrams and his travels, see http://www.bartramtrail.org/.

For more historical maps of Butler County, the territories of Mississippi and Alabama, the state of Alabama and other interesting places, see The University of Alabama Cartography Lab's wonderful web site: http://alabamamaps.ua.edu/historicalmaps/

[This article was published in The Butler County Historical & Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 51, No. 1 (January 2015)]

Savannah Jack pg1

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Savannah Jack pg9

The Ogly-Stroud Massacre at Poplar Springs

by Annie Crenshaw

[This article was published in The Butler County Historical & Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 2 (April 2018)]

    The Ogly-Stroud massacre is Butler County’s most infamous pioneer story, an account of  unforgettable tragedy. In the Butler Massacre, armed militia men were killed by Indians in a daylight attack. In the Ogly-Stroud massacre, two families of men, women and children – down to the youngest infants – were cruelly murdered at night in their home. Only a few survived the attack.
    William Ogle (Ogly) was already a resident of the Mississippi Territory when he purchased land at Milledgeville, Georgia, on August 5, 1817. The tract he selected was in Section 36, Township 11 East, Range 13 North, in what was then the Mississippi Territory. This land, just ten days later on August 15, 1817, officially became the Alabama Territory. It’s part of Butler County today, with County Road 44/Sherling Lake Road following the route of the Federal Road northeasterly from Section 36.
    The most prominent water source in this area was Poplar Springs, a name that appears on several of Alabama’s earliest maps. William Ogle brought his family from Georgia, built a cabin on his property at Poplar Springs, and began to clear the land and plant and raise crops. But, his life was not to have a happy ending. It was a fateful day on March 13, 1818, when William Ogle met his old friend Eli Stroud at a militia muster, and Stroud, his wife Elizabeth, and their infant child went to stay the night with the Ogle family.
    The Ogly-Stroud massacre was related in Albert J. Picket's History of Alabama (1851):

    “On the 6th March, William Ogle drove his ox-cart in the direction of Fort Claiborne for provisions, and he had not proceeded far before a Chief, named Uchee Tom, and seventeen warriors, seized the rope with which he was driving, and gave other evidences of violence, but finally suffered him to proceed. Feeling much solicitude on account of his family, and purchasing corn at Sepulga Creek, he returned home, where the Indians had been in the meantime, and had manifested a turbulent disposition.

    “On the 13th of March Ogle attended a company muster, and from thence there went home with him in the evening an old acquaintance, named Eli Stroud, with his wife and child. Meeting in a savage land, under sad apprehensions, these friends, having put their children to sleep, sat by the fireside of the cabin and continued to converse in undertones, ever and anon casting their eyes through the cracks to discover if Indians were approaching.

    “Presently, by the dim light of the moon, Ogle saw a band of Red Sticks, who stealthily but rapidly approached the house. Springing from his seat he seized his gun, ran to the door, and set on his fierce dogs; but he was soon shot dead, falling upon the threshold which he was attempting to defend. Stroud and his wife sprang over his body into the yard, leaving their infant sleeping upon the hearth and ran off, pursued by a part of the savages. Paralyzed with fear, Mrs. Ogle at first stood in the floor, but recovering herself, ran around the corner of the house, and, protected by a large dog, escaped to a reed brake hard by, where she concealed herself. Here she heard the screams of Mrs. Stroud, who appeared to be running towards her, but who was soon overtaken and tomahawked.

    “The savages entered the house, dashed out the brains of the infant, which was sleeping upon the hearth, and butchered the other children, whose shrieks and dying groans the unhappy mother heard, from the place of her concealment. After robbing the house, the wretches decamped, being unable to find Stroud, who lay not far off, in the high grass. The next morning some of the emigrants assembled, to survey the horrid scene. During the night, Mrs. Stroud had scuffled to the cabin, and was found in the chimney corner, sitting beside the body of her child, bereft of her senses.

    “Ogle and four children lay in the sleep of death. His two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary Ann, were still alive, and were taken, with Mrs. Stroud, to the houses of the kind settlers, and, in a short time were sent to Fort Claiborne, with an escort furnished by Colonel Dale. On the way, Mrs. Stroud died, and, not long after reaching Claiborne, Mary Ann also expired. Elizabeth, through the kind attentions of Dr. John Watkins, survived her wounds, and is yet a resident of Butler county.”

    A. J. Pickett footnoted this dramatic and gruesome account: “In relation to the murders in Butler county, I must return my thanks to John K. Henry, Esq, of Greenville, who took the pains to procure correct statements of them from J. Dickerson and James D. K. Garrett. The late Reuben Hill, of Wetumpka, also furnished notes upon this subject.”
    An eyewitness report of the massacre aftermath was sent to the Milledgeville Reflector newspaper just a few days after the event:

    Milledgeville – Tuesday Morning, March 31.
    Indian Massacre! -- Extract of a letter from Dr. W. B. Ector, now on a tour in the Alabama territory, to the editor of the Reflector, dated Fort Claiborne, March 16 — “A most horrid massacre was committed on the federal road, seventy miles above here, on Friday night last, the 13th inst. I witnessed the scene myself, and hasten to inform you of the particulars. Mr. William Ogly, and three children killed, and two wounded; Mrs. Eli Stroud wounded, and child killed by the Indians. I encamped all night within two miles of the place, and dressed the wounded myself.  I considered them all mortal, at least very dangerous. Mr. Ogly was the only one shot and scalped; the others were tomahawked. Two persons only, Mrs. Ogly and Mr. Stroud, escaped unhurt. Several parties of Indians had been seen in the neighborhood, but were suffered to pass, as they professed friendship, though offering some personal insults. Trails have been discovered near the road, firing heard, and Indians occasionally seen. -- Danger and alarm prevail throughout the route and frontier of the territory. Governor Bibb is here, and is taking measures to pursue them, and intercept any hostiles who may be returning from below the Spanish line, and protect the road and inhabitants.”

    Letters were exchanged in March 1818 between Governor William Wyatt Bibb of the Alabama Territory, and the Creek leader, Big Warrior (see page 11 in this issue of our Quarterly). Governor Bibb described the Ogly-Stroud massacre and Butler massacre in his letter of March 26th:

    Coosada, 26 March, 1818 – Friend, I send you this letter to inform you that some of the white people in this Territory have been cruelly murdered, and to explain to you the things I have found it necessary to do. On Friday night the 13th of this month a family consisting of men, women and children, while sitting in peace around their fire, on the Federal road, about sixty five miles this side of the town of Claiborne, were attacked by a party of red men, and eight killed. The next Friday, five men riding quietly along the road, in the same neighborhood were fired on, three killed and one badly wounded. – These unexpected and unprovoked murders could not be borne. We could not sit down, and permit our wives and children to be tomahawked without resistance. I have therefore, ordered our soldiers to find and slay the hostile party.

    Pickett's History tells the Ogly-Stroud massacre story in lurid detail, but doesn't say anything about the burial of the dead. J. B. Little's 1885 History of Butler County gave this account: “The dead were all buried together in an old wagon-body under an oak tree near the cabin.” Under an oak tree near the cabin – that sounds reasonable, if the burial workers were able to avoid the tree roots.
    As we know, Professor J. B. Little not only interviewed older residents for his History, but also industriously read local newspapers, history articles, and previously-published books. He had found this statement made by an earlier author: Mrs. Ina Marie Porter Ockenden. Ina Marie, like John B. Little, was a dedicated gatherer of local history and folk knowledge. She wrote about the Ogly-Stroud massacre in 1873:  “...Two of the children were found to be still alive; the living were cared for, and the dead buried together in a wagon-body under an oak-tree only about seven miles from Greenville, your own home.” [See “Home History for Dixie” by Mrs. I. M. P. Henry, in Home and School – A Journal of Popular Education, Literature and Science, Volume II, January to December 1873, by William J. Davis (Louisville, 1873)].
    Most of the older residents of the Poplar Springs/Manningham area in the 20th century agreed with Ina Marie’s 1873 statement, even though they may never have read her history article, and many had probably not read Pickett’s 1851 History of Alabama or Little’s 1885 History of Butler County. They repeated the story, over and over, that the massacred Ogles and Strouds were buried all together in a wagon body, and that the burial was in a specific location – the Old Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery.
    The Old Shiloh Cemetery lies beside the Federal Road, on what was originally William Ogle's land. The cemetery has many unmarked burials; its oldest marked grave has an 1852 death date. The Ogles’ cabin had to have been close to this known pioneer burial site. Also, the Ogles’ cabin would have been near the well-known Poplar Springs, for water – another location pointer.
    The settlers of March 1818 were keeping an eye out for the very Indians who had just murdered the cabin-full of people, so we know that the mass burial was conducted as quickly as possible. The Ogle-Stroud burial may have been in a small gully or other landscape depression, and not actually on the firm ground of an unbroken hilltop. Would settlers dig a large, fresh grave for a wagon-body full of people, if there was a convenient gully nearby? The land drops off to the east behind the existing cemetery, and gullies were available. Or, perhaps an ancient tree had fallen and left a convenient crater.
    In The Greenville Advocate issue of July 30, 1874, Jacob Lewis Womack wrote a lengthy historical article, adding to and correcting the reminiscences of J. C. Wade that had just been published in The Advocate. Womack said:

    “I will now correct two errors in J. C. Wade's Reminiscences. First, as to Dixon's family being murdered by the Indians. It was Oglesby's family, composed of himself and four or five children. Mrs. Stroud and infant were also murdered. Mrs. Oglesby and Mr. Stroud escaped. The slain were buried where the Ferguson grave-yard now is, all in one grave.”

    The Ferguson grave-yard? What about Old Shiloh Cemetery? Take a look at our Quarterly Vol. 48, No. 4 (October 2012). Our cover photo and main article is on: “Jacob Ferguson, 1782-1852: Oldest Marked Grave in Old Shiloh Cemetery.” Jacob L. Womack obviously thought of the Shiloh Cemetery as the family graveyard of Jacob Ferguson, who established that church in 1842, and whose burial is the oldest marked grave in the cemetery.
    We’ve run out of space, and we’ll have to tell you more about William Ogle and his wife Mary Ray, and Eli Stroud and his wife Ada Elizabeth “Betsy” Durbin, in another Quarterly. By the way, William Ogle's name is sometimes Ogle, Ogly, and Oglesby. Oglesberry can also be a variant of Oglesby. When William made his land purchase in August 1817, already a resident of the Mississippi Territory, his name was listed as “William Ogle.” When his daughter Elizabeth's surname was changed to Dickerson in 1839, the Alabama Legislature listed her as “Elizabeth Ogle,” and her deceased father as “William Ogle.”

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[See the Ogly-Stroud massacre and family mentioned in previous issues of The Butler County Quarterly: “The Re-Creation of Old Fort Dale” in Vol. 30, No. 3 (July 1994); Cover photo and “Family History of Malissa N. Neal & Daniel G. Boggan, and Sallie Dickerson & William R. Smith” in Vol. 39, No. 1 (January 2003); “Poplar Springs: A Pioneer Site Revisited” in Vol. 45, No. 4 (October 2009).]

The Town of Greenville Celebrates 200 Years in 2022

    2022 will be Greenville’s 200th year of existence – what an anniversary! Two hundred years will have passed since the Alabama Legislature officially created the town of Greenville in 1822, in the heart of Butler County, Alabama.
    Local residents held a city-wide Centennial C elebration in July 1922 with a “gorgeous pageant-parade,” a barbecue, band concerts, baseball, dancing, a community sing-along, and more.

Greenville Centennial ad 1922

    Brig-Gen. Robert E. Steiner, Commander of the Alabama National Guard, led the parade procession up Commerce Street. He was escorted by the Butler Horse Guard, Troop A of the 55th Machine Gun Battalion, and the Montgomery Masonic Home Brass Band, which was led by the Honorable George Thigpen (a former long-time Greenville resident).
    Ten colorful and creatively designed historical floats participated in the parade, including themes of “Indian Life” (a float whose participants must have had fun making their native costumes), “Home Seekers” (a covered wagon pulled by three yokes of oxen), and “Early Settlers,” with a miniature log cabin and memb ers of the Dunklin family and others representing Greenville’s pioneers.
    The Greenville Advocate issue of June 14, 1922, advertised the Centennial, and the issue of July 7, 1922, reported on the pageant's parade floats and participants, and "Distinguished Dead" (notable residents).

Greenville Centennial parade floats list

Greenville Centennial 1922 - Distinguished Dead list

    Riding on the Centennial floats were quite a few generations of Butler County and Greenville residents, both young and old – people who were the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of many of Greenville’s residents today.
    The floats were designed and constructed by Clarence C. Boutwell, who was assisted in decoration and costuming by Mrs. Broughton Wilkerson, Mrs. Harry Pierce, Mrs. J. M. Stabler, Mrs. J. O. Grogan, Mrs. Florence Richardson, Mrs. Porter Martin, Mrs. R. Y. Porter, Mrs. Ralfe Searcy, Mrs. S. B. Hopkins, Mrs. A. R. Carlisle, Mrs. R. B. Dickerson, Mr. J. G. Stanley, and Mr. Robert L. Harrison. Most of these surnames are familiar to local readers. Some may be among your own ancestors.
The participants had an amazing collection of heirlooms to display in their costumes and on the floats. Edward Searcy wore homespun clothing of his great-uncle’s; J. R. Dunklin wore a vest originally worn by Captain Kidd, great-great-grandfather of the Porters.
    The Thagard family contributed the handsome pioneer spinning wheel used on the settlers’ float, and Florence Beeland wore a French organdy gown worn by Mrs. F. C. Webb in the 1860s.
    Sam Hopkins Jr. carried the sword of his great-grandfather, Lieutenant Jefferson Beeland, and General James B. Stanley (founder of The Greenville Advocate newspaper) wore his Confederate uniform.
    Indians were portrayed, not by people of native American descent, alas, but by Misses Earline Turner, Lena Claire Butler, Lottie Boutwell, Ettie Beeland Dickerson, Rosina Haygood, and Messrs. Grady Butler and Robert Shanks. There were no African-American portrayals of ethnic ancestors of 1822, but most would have come to Butler County as slaves.
    The “Modern Era” of the 1920s was represented by Miss Marie Hamilton as “Miss Greenville.” Mrs. S. J. Bolling portrayed the Goddess of Peace. Remember, World War I had just ended a few years earlier, many lives had been lost, and peace was on everyone’s minds.
    The “Patriotism” float included Miss Verna Steindorff as the Statue of Liberty and Frank Herlong as Uncle Sam. What an appropriate couple! Alice Boutwell represented the Salvation Army and Alice Boutwell, the Red Cross.
    “Future Hope” lay in Education (Miss Mary Palmer), Art (Misses Elizabeth Bryan and Dorothy Grogan), Music (Misses Lurline Kern and Anita Reviere), Household Arts (Nanaline Amerine and Catherine Grogan), Home (J. B. Powell III and Jean Beeland), and Future Citizens – “en masse.”

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    How, exactly, did the town of Greenville come into existence? If you haven’t read the 1819-1822 House Journals, Senate Journals and Alabama Legislative Acts lately, or browsed informative articles in the BCHGS Quarterly such as the issue of October 2000 (Vol. 36, No. 4) with: “To B – , or Not To B –” by BCHGS editor/librarian Judy Taylor, “Butler County Beginnings” (Vol. 1, No. 1), or “Early Days in Greenville” (Vol. 10, No. 1), or the “big red book”(The Heritage of Butler County, 2003), you may not recall the precise details.
    On December 18, 1819, the Alabama Legislature commissioned five men to establish a site for Butler County’s seat of justice. “Micajah Wade, John Carter, senior, George Harrison, Hilary Herbert, and Talleferro Livingston” were given the power “to contract for and receive, in behalf of their respective counties, a good and sufficient title, to not exceeding a fourth section of land, so fixed on respectively for the seats of justice, for the purpose of erecting thereon public buildings for the use of said counties, respectively.”
    This tells us that our county seat town was to be established on no more than one-fourth of a section of land. A section measures one mile on each side and contains 640 acres – so the original area that would become the town of Greenville was a 160-acre allotment, or as much of that area as was needed. Hard to visualize? That’s about the size of 160 average football fields, without adjacent parking lots and tailgate parties, or the size of a large golf course.
    The first Butler County commissioners had the power “to contract for, erect, and superintend, the building a court house and jail of such description and dimensions as they shall agree upon, with the approbation of the county court of the counties, respectively: Provided, That notice shall be given by said commissioners, at three or more public places in their respective counties, of the time and place of letting said buildings, or either of them, shall contract for the erection thereof, with the lowest bidder, who shall enter into bond with sufficient security for the performance of his contract.”
    In the midst of the complicated prepositional clauses of which legislators have always been fond, note the term “lowest bidder.” Alabama’s new state government was being careful with the tax money that it was soon to be requiring from its new citizens.
    Taxes? Isn’t that why we fought the British in the American Revolution? But, we were fighting against unjust taxation, not the principles of taxation. Remember, one of the Revolutionary slogans was “No taxation without representation!” We wouldn’t mind being taxed, if we had a say-so in the process.
    The county courts of our newly created state in 1819 were “authorized and required to lay such tax, not exceeding one half of the amount of the state tax, on the persons, and property of the inhabitants of their respective counties, liable to taxation in other cases, as shall be sufficient to defray all expenses to be incurred under this act.” Government of the people, by the people, for the people (with taxation to cover its expenses) was underway.
    Interestingly, it was the legislative session of December 1821 – two years later – before the government thought to pay its county commissioners. Acts approved on December 15, 1821 included the motion: “To authorize the County Court of Butler county to compensate the commissioners heretofore appointed to fix the seat of Justice for said County, and for other purposes.” Also at this time, Ward Taylor and Isaac Cook were appointed county commissioners in place of Taliaferro Livingston and John Carter, who had “declined acting.” We don’t know why they declined. Both men were respected early settlers, but Livingston had been appointed a county court justice as well, so he might have thought a commissioner’s duties were a bit too much to take on.
    The really interesting part comes in other legislative acts approved on December 15, 1821:

    Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That an additional election precinct be established at Buttsville in Butler county: and that the election precinct heretofore established at Fort Dale, be, and the same is, hereby discontinued.

And then a few days later, on December 18, 1821, this act was approved:

    Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That the town of Buttsville shall be, and the same is hereby, made the permanent seat of Justice in and for the county of Butler.

    Why wasn’t Fort Dale left as our main town and a principal voting precinct? Well, Fort Dale was in the far northern part of Butler County. A more central location was preferable when choosing a town that would be the seat of justice.
    But ... “Buttsville”? Weren’t we talking about Greenville? Of course we were, and of course our readers know that the town was first called “Buttsville” – except that, actually, it wasn’t.
    No matter what the typed transcript of Alabama’s Legislative Acts say (and the originals are VERY hard to read today), and no matter what John B. Little wrote in his 1885 History of Butler County, the first Butler County clerk and postmaster, Nathan Cook, believed that he was serving the government of “Butlerville.” He wrote that place name heading on his documents and official reports, not once, but numerous times during the year of 1822. And then beginning in 1823, he headed his reports from “Greenville.”

Butlerville name

Excerpt from Nathan Cook’s correspondence as Butler County clerk and postmaster,
headed “Butlerville Feby 18th 1822.”

    You really do need to read the Heritage Book, or the October 2000 issue of the Butler County Historical Society Quarterly, again! Buttsville was obviously Butlerville, or at least it was believed to be so by the town’s first postmaster and  county clerk – but we’re coming to Greenville, too.
    In Legislative Acts approved on December 28, 1822, we read:

    Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That from and after the passage of this act, the town of  Buttsville, in the county of Butler, shall be called and known by the name of Greenville.
    Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That all rights, claims and contracts, as well of individuals as of bodies corporate, shall continue as if the name of Buttsville had not been changed.

    There’s our town name at  last: GREENVILLE. It was officially designated as the town’s name on December 28, 1822.
    It’s a nice name, but where did it come from? Willis Brewer told us in his 1872 history of Alabama that the town’s name was changed from Buttsville to Greenville “because many of its early inhabitants were from that district in South Carolina.”
    Later historians and authors repeated that story with various embellishments, repeatedly using the name “Buttsville” in error as they referred to the typeset records of Alabama’s Legislative Acts, rather than to the original handwritten documents of Butler County’s first clerk, Nathan Cook.
    Was this “Greenville” name origin true? Land office records, family bibles, censuses, tombstones and other records show us that our early settlers included a large percentage of immigrants from South Carolina and Georgia, but evidence doesn’t show that a majority were specifically from Greenville, South Carolina.
    Greenville is indeed a city and county in South Carolina, where counties were originally called “districts.” That Greenville lies in the northernmost part of the state, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
    Which of our early settlers called that district “home,” and petitioned to name their new Alabama residence for this ancestral location? Cook, Wade, Herbert, Dunklin, Caldwell, Bolling, Black, Pickens, Parmer... did any of these notable pioneer families come from Greenville, South Carolina?
    The Cooks were from Fairfield District, South Carolina and then Baldwin County, Georgia. The Wades came from North Carolina to Georgia and then to Butler County.
    The Herberts came from Hancock County, Georgia, and earlier were from Laurens and Newberry Districts, South Carolina. The Caldwells were natives of North Carolina who joined other families emigrating from South Carolina to Butler County in 1818-1819.
    The Blacks and Pickens were from Abbeville District, South Carolina. The Parmers moved from Maryland to settle in Jones County, Georgia, before moving on to Butler County.
    We finally find that the Bollings were from Greenville, South Carolina – as were the Dunklins, who also lived in Laurens District, South Carolina, before joining the long wagon trains heading southward in the days of “Alabama Fever.” These settlers must have had the deciding voices (or at least the loudest) when the town’s new name was selected.
    All stories, legends, transcribed and mis-transcribed records aside – at last, on December 28, 1822, Greenville came into official existence. Its location was only marked as “C.H.” (court house) on a national atlas published the following year, but the town had been created, surveyed, named and populated.

Butler County on Fielding map 1823

~  Butler County on Fielding's Alabama map of 1823, showing "C. H." at the site of Greenville  ~

    Backtracking to a little earlier in the year 1822, Little’s 1885 History tells us that “The commissioners appointed May 5, 1822, as the day for laying out the town and locating the court-house. According to an understanding, the settlers from all parts of the county assembled at an early hour for the specified purpose, and took great delight in assisting in such a good work.”
    We can imagine the excitement – with perhaps a little confusion, a few disagreements and differences of opinions, judicial consultations and compromises – as the population “assisted” the commissioners in their worthy work on that momentous spring day in 1822.
    J. C. (John) Wade’s “Butler County Reminiscences,” published in The Greenville Advocate, June 18, 1874, include an interesting description of Greenville’s beginnings in 1822.

    “... County Commissioners were also elected, on whom devolved the duty of looking out and purchasing a location for the county town. My father, Micajah Wade, being one of the Commissioners, I well remember the night he came home and told the family of the place selected. Soon arrangements were made for a survey of the town. My brother, Capt. James W. Wade, was employed to do the work. The day was set, the Commissioners with my brother, met, and as his apparatus was minus a "Jacob Staff" he cut a small sassafras out of which he made one that answered the purpose. He was consequently the first man that ever struck a lick toward the erection of the town of Greenville. He was at the time only 18 years of age. He afterwards held several important positions in the militia; was elected to the legislature from Butler; was a merchant in Greenville; director of one of the banks in Montgomery; came to Mississippi in 1841; was elected to the legislature in 1843; held the position for many years; was during the time Speaker of the House, and afterwards superintendent of the penitentiary.”

    The surveyed site was in the northeast quarter of Section 23 and northwest quarter of Section 24, with the courthouse designated to be built on lands originally patented by Ephraim Parmer in 1818. It’s unfortunate that the first plat map of the town, surveyed and drawn by Capt. John Cook in May 1822, was lost in Butler County’s 1853 courthouse fire.
     However, we do have the Greenville map drawn by William Graydon in 1854 as a replacement for the lost original map. The town had grown a bit, with a “Presby. Church,” “Old Academy Lot,” and “Meth. Burying Ground” that wouldn’t have been on the 1822 map.

Greenville map 1854
William Graydon's 1854 map of Greenville

    So there we have the origins of Greenville. For further reading, we recommend our very informative stories in The Heritage of Butler County (2003), as well as back  issues of the Quarterly. Remember, we’re headed for the Big Two-O in 2022 (century-wise, that is): Greenville’s Bicentennial anniversary. Keep our town and county’s history and our founding pioneer families in mind as this historic decade marches on towards a two hundred-year birthday.

                                            – by Annie Crenshaw

[A shorter version of this story was first published as “Greenville Celebrates 190 Years, 1822-2012"
in The Butler County Historical Society Quarterly, Volume 48, Number 3 (July 2012).]

~  Copyright 2021 by Annie Crenshaw  ~
Email: [email protected]