Concise History of Columbiana


Concise History Of Columbiana

A Story of Great Interest to the People of Shelby County


Local Historian Tells a Pretty Story Relative to Early Settlement of County Site


31st Anniversary Edition
of the
Columbiana Sentinel
September 7, 1905

Copied by Bobby Joe Seales

Copies of this edition of The Sentinel can be had by calling at this office. We have mailed a large number aside from our regular list, and the number on hand is limited. If you desire to send any copies to distant friends you would better place your order early. Price. 5 cents per copy. No other paper in Columbiana ever attempted such an edition as The Sentinel offers in this.

INSERT: A complete copy of this 31st Anniversary Edition of the Columbiana Sentinel, dated September 7, 1905, was presented in March 2000 to the Shelby County Museum and Archives by Bobby Joe and Diane Seales.

Click Here to visit the City of Columbiana website.

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Of the early history of Columbiana (Columbia, as it was originally called), especially that preceding the organization of the county of Shelby, and the admission of Alabama as a State into the Union in 1819, but little is known, except as derived from tradition, and that which may rest in the failing memory of the older inhabitants. It is well known, however, that for many years before any settlements were made at the place where Columbiana is located, or in its vicinity, several communities, each having a considerable population, had been formed in different parts of the county; that in the vicinity of Montevallo being the most numerous. There were populous communities located in and around Harpersville, where William W. Harper, for whom the village was named, resided, together with James McCartney, John W. and Webb Kidd, Wm. Ragsdale, Sam'l Hawkins, John Lawley, Mark E. and Sam'l Moore, and quite a number of others. A large number had also settled m the neighborhood of Wilsonville. No title was given by the government to settlers, to the lands in the county until 1821, when the first entries were made. The only title therefore held by the people residing upon the public lands, prior to that time, was by virtue of what was known as  "Squatter Sovereignty."  The incoming settler selected the best lands they could find where they chose to make their homes, and then proceeded to build houses and improve the lands, so that many valuable farms were cleared and improved and cultivated for many years before any legal title was obtained; and when the public lands were, by Act of Congress, made subject to entry there was a rush to the public land offices by that class of settlers who had taken the risk to improve their lands to obtain certificates of entry; and many were the disputes and petty law-suits growing out of these claims, often resulting in bitter personal altercations, and enmity.

It was principally from the neighborhood of Harpersville and Wilsonville, that most of the first settlers at Columbiana came. While no doubt many persons had before settled in and around the place, the first owners of land who lived in the town, deriving title from the government, was one Joseph Howard, who came in 1821; and entered most of the land where the town is situated. Where he came from is not known, but he resided in the town for many years. Jos. Howard owned the NW-1/4 of Section 25, which embraced nearly all the land on the eastern side of the town, also 80 acres in the NE-1/4 of Section 26, which embraced that part now covered by the White House and the land east of that. William Akin next came, and entered a large portion of the remainder of Section 26, in 1824. So that these two men were for many years the owners of nearly all the lands on which the town is situated.

The next owner of land in the town was Leonard Tarrant; who had been a teacher for some years a few miles west of Wilsonville, at a place called Pitt's Spring. He came to Columbiana in 1826 and entered the land where James T. Leeper and others afterwards resided, which is a part of Section 23. He became one of the most noted men of Shelby county, was Judge of the County Court from 1827 to 1833, and represented Shelby county in the Legislature in 1831 and 1832. He afterwards moved to Talladega county and represented that county in the Senate in 1849. He filled others positions of honor and trust. In the same year that Leonard Tarrant came to Columbiana, came also Jesse C. Roberts, Lemuel Moore, and Jesse Roach, all of whom purchased lands about the place. Jesse C. Roberts was a physician, and came from St. Clair county where he had married the only daughter of a Mr. Bridges. He lived for several years on a part of what is known as the John P. Spencer place. At what time he left is unknown, but he sold the land he owned to J.W. Smith in 1830. He was a brother of Oran M. Roberts, a famous lawyer of Texas.

Up to 1825, quite a number of families had settled in the town, forming, a strong community. Among them Thomas and Samuel Brasher; two brothers, who had resided near Wilsonville. Thomas coming from the eastern side, and Samuel from a few miles on the west side. They were the sons of Henry Brasher, who had lived about three miles west of Wilsonville for many years before, and one of the oldest citizens living in the county. These Brasher brothers were the first to engage in the mercantile business in Columbiana, and built a store house on the spot where the Dispensary now stands. They continued in business in general merchandise, there several years, and afterwards moved to the corner now occupied by Friedberger Bros., where they did an extensive and prosperous business for many years, and accumulated a large property. Samuel Brasher especially, owned in after years a large amount of land, and was at one time one of the wealthiest men in the county. He lived where Rev. H.M. Millstead now resides, having built the present residence there in 1854. His first wife was Elizabeth Johnson, the eldest daughter of William Johnson; a prominent farmer living on Beeswax four miles east of Columbiana. They had only one child, a daughter, who married James Allen, a son of Geo. R. Allen of Montevallo.

Samuel Brasher's wife having died early, he afterwards married Margaret Gooch, a daughter of Henry Gooch, who lived near Columbiana. He was in 1841, appointed Judge of the County Court, but on account of large private business, was unable to attend to the duties of the office, and shortly afterwards resigned. He was afterwards appointed County Treasurer which office he also resigned. In 1861 he represented Shelby county in Legislature. He died about the year 1866, leaving surviving him his widow and several children.

Thomas Brasher, brother of Samuel, was for a long time prominent in business and in the politics of the county. He lived at what is known as the N.B. Mardis place, having built the first house there, when he moved to town. He was energetic and successful in business, and traded extensively with the Creek Indians, who at that time occupied in large numbers the lower part of Talladega county. Many amusing stories are told of him in his traffic with the red men. In 1847, and again in 1849, he represented Shelby county in the Legislature. His first wife was Miss Elizabeth Hawkins, a daughter of Thomas Hawkins, who resided in the neighborhood of Wilsonville. She died some time during the civil war, leaving her husband and seven sons and one daughter surviving her. Thomas Brasher afterward married the widow of Isaiah George, a prominent teacher at one time residing in Columbiana. Soon afterward he moved to his plantation on the Coosa river, at Fort Williams Ferry, where, about the year 1868, he died, leaving his widow surviving him. His daughter Elizabeth became the wife of David Caldwell, a merchant of Columbiana.

Soon after the Brashers came to Columbiana, came one, Genet, a Frenchman, who had a store where Amos Elliott's house is located. Jas. Mundine then came; also Chas. Mundine, each of whom accumulated considerable property, keeping store in the building before occupied by Genet.

Up to the year 1826, we have but little evidence left of other persons moving into the town, but the surrounding communities were fast filling up and doubtless Columbiana was being largely supplied with settlers from them, and growing in numerical strength and influence as we shall see.

Up to the year 1826, the courts, even before the organization of the county, had been held in the northern end of the county; first at the residence of William Wallace; but shortly afterward, in 1822, a court house was build about one and a half miles north of Siluria, a short distance from the L and N railroad. These courts, by a provision of the territorial government, were presided over by five Justices of the Peace, who selected from their number, one to act as Chief Justice. The first chief Justice was George Phillips who had associated with him as members of the Court, Bennett Ware, Thomas Rodgers, and Patrick Hayes. These were, doubtless, men of prominence in their community, as we find that afterwards, in 1819, George Phillips and Thomas Rodgers were chosen to represent Shelby county in the Constitutional Convention which was held in 1819, and Bennett Ware was a Senator in the Legislature from Shelby the same year, Jesse Wilson and Arthur Taylor being the representatives. These men all lived in the neighborhood of the court house, where it was then located, and called Shelbyville, where was a prosperous community extending along the Cahaba valley to Montevallo. The latter, fast growing in importance, and becoming the trade center for all that part of Shelby, and the eastern part of Bibb county. The courts were conducted and justice administered in the way above mentioned until 1825, when the first Judge (Thomas W. Smith) was elected, and was styled  "Judge of the Orphans' Court,"  by which it was known until 1827, when it assumed the name of  "County Court."

In 1825, the question of a removal of the court house to a more central point in the county, began to be agitated, and Columbiana and Montevallo became competitors. Montevallo being then supported by a large population along the Cahaba Valley, and having the largest population of its own of any town in the county, gave it the advantages; but Columbiana being nearer the center of the county, and having the large communities filling the Coosa Valley, together with the strong voting force at Harpersville and Wilsonville supporting it, enabled it to win, and in 1826 the election was held, and Columbiana by a small majority was decided upon as the County Site. Great excitement prevailed at the time, and great demonstration was made by the people of Columbiana over the result. The first building used for the court house after the election, and removal of the records to Columbiana, was the wooden building standing on the site of the present court house, then used as a school building. We have been unable to learn the name of the teacher who then occupied it, or the owner of the building. It is probable that it was owned by the town, or that it was still held by William Akins who entered the land on which it was located on August 26, 1824, and there is no record evidence that he ever conveyed it to anyone. That wooden structure was used as the seat of justice for about twenty-eight years.

The first Judge of the County Court after its removal to Columbiana, was Joab Lawler. He came from Monroe county, N.C. to Shelby county in 1819. From 1821 to 1824 he held the office of Clerk of the Court and probably lived in the neighborhood of the court house. In 1825, he was elected Judge the County Court, but held the office only about one year; being a man of fine native talent he was destined to occupy a large sphere. In 1826 he was elected as representative to the Legislature from Shelby county where he served until 1831; then served Bibb and Shelby one year in the Senate. In 1832 he was appointed Receiver of public money for the Coosa Land District. This he resigned in 1835, when he was elected to Congress over Eli Shortridge and Pleasant H. May, both of Tuscaloosa; he was re-elected in 1837 over H.W. Ellis of Tuscaloosa. His useful life was cut short by death in Washington, May 8, 1838. He was buried there in the Congressional Cemetery. His only son, Levi W. Lawler, was for a long while a prominent man in public life in Talladega county. Judge Lawler was a fluent orator, an upright citizen and a pious man. He was for many years an elder in the Baptist church, and at the time of his election to Congress was pastor of a Baptist church.

During the period from 1826 to 1836 but little is known of Columbiana or its people aside from its public men. About the year 1830, Dr. J.C. Roberts, before referred to, sold his farm to David Owen, who built the first tavern there, a log house of comparatively small dimensions, but which answered the purpose for many years. David Owen was a man of convivial habits, and lingered long at the wine bowl, and in after years lost a great deal he had accumulated. He lived there many years, however, when he conveyed the property to Dixon McLendon, a relative. He was killed in a difficulty about 1859, with a Mr. McCullona, a blacksmith who had a shop about where the new jail now stands.

A great deal of land was being entered in other parts of the county about this time, especially in the region of Montevallo, and up Cahaba Valley, also along the Coosa Valley; but very little land was taken up in the neighborhood of Columbiana for several miles around, before 1850. Joseph Roper, who had formerly owned much land in the Wilsonville district, entered land and moved to Columbiana in 1835, and became an important factor in its citizenship. He first owned land south of town, afterward living in town, and owning and occupying several places in the business section. Alphonzo A. Sterrett came to Columbiana in 1832, and became one of the most prominent men of the county. He was born August 27, 1810, at Glascow, Ky. His parents removed to Huntsville, Ala., in 1816, living there one year, coming thence to Shelby county and settling about two miles southwest of Montevallo, on the public road leading from that place to Centerville, where he grew to manhood. He read law under Chancellor Jos. D. Clark, and was admitted to the bar in 1831; was Judge of Probate 1833-34. He served in the Legislature from Shelby county in 1834-5 and again in 1853. Judge Sterrett resided in this county continuously from 1817 (except a short time at Kingston, Autauga county in 1845) until his death which occurred at his home in Columbiana, July 20, 1876. His first wife was a Miss Gooch, by whom he had three children; M.D. Sterrett, the oldest, a physician, now living in Texas; Lavonia, a daughter, who died in early life. Robert A. Sterrett, the younger son, was a prominent lawyer, who died in Birmingham several years ago. Judge Sterrett, after the death of his first wife, married Mrs. Elizabeth Roper, widow of John Roper, the father of Samuel Roper, and grandfather of Mrs. W.B. Browne.

The neighborhood south of town began to be settled up about this time and several came in from a distance. David G. Mason and Geo. M. Mason coming, from McMinnville, Tenn. and settled a mile below town in 1836. West A. Seale and Jno. M. McClanahan also entered land near Shelby in that year. The latter deserves more than a passing notice. He was one of the most prominent, as well as useful citizens of the county. He was born in Laurens District, S.C., in 1812. Coming with his father, Samuel McClanahan, in early boyhood to Shelby county, and located on the land now covered by Shelby Iron Works. Jno. M. worked on the farm until nearly grown, when a relative of his, Judge Samuel McClanahan of Jackson, Tenn., offered him board free and persuaded him to spend some months in school at that place. Returning home he taught school, worked on the farm and studied surveying. Later he followed surveying, meanwhile reading law under Daniel E. Watrous of Montevallo. He married Miss Ann Eliza Roper, a daughter of Joseph Roper. He built for a long while resided in the house now occupied by H.M. Norris, rearing there a large family. Later he built and resided in the house occupied by Francis Nelson, at the time of his death, one mile south of town. He practiced law for some time and filled several minor offices before he was elected to the Legislature in 1836, where he continued until 1838. In 1849 he was elected Judge of Probate which office he filled from that time until 1862. In 1861 he was a delegate with Geo. D. Shortridge to the Secession Convention at Montgomery, and voted for and ardently supported the ordinance of Secession; but when a resolution was offered by Mr. Johnson of Talladega county, to reduce the area of the counties below the territorial limit, Judge McClanahan vigorously opposed it by an animated and telling speech, and the resolution was defeated. His speech on that question, will be found in the printed proceedings of the Constitution, published by Wm. P. Smith of Tuscaloosa, who was one of the leading spirits of the Convention but opposed to Secession. Judge McClanahan was active in procuring needed legislation for his county, during the civil war, and did a great deal for the relief of the poor during that trying period. At the close of the war he with brothers, David and Samuel, and several other families of Columbiana, emigrated to Louisiana, and located near Mansfield, where, about the year 1867, he was killed by lightning while standing in his door, leaving his widow and several children surviving. James McClanahan, his only surviving son, now resides in Mansfield, La., and is editor of the Mansfield Journal.

Wade Griffin, who followed A.A. Sterrett as Judge of Probate, was also a prominent citizen of the town, but filled the office only for one year, and was succeeded by James Woodruff, in 1835. Wade Griffin, however, filled other important places of trust in the county, until 1839, when he was elected a member of the Legislature from Shelby county, in which capacity he served until 1842. During the period from 1826 to 1836, many other men lived and owned property in the town who made their impress upon society and the county. Martin H. McHenry (who lived about where Judge Longshore now lives) among them. He was sheriff of the county from 1831 to 1833. In 1845 he bought 160 acres of land of Leonard Tarrant. Thomas Toomey was also sheriff, and resided here from 1833 to 1835. Jacob D. Shelby having been sheriff before that time from 1827 to 1831. James W. Smith was Clerk of the Circuit Court from 1827 to 1829, and lived on the land bought by him from Dr. Carter Roberts, heretofore referred to. O.B. Havis, Clerk of the Circuit Court from 1829 to 1832, also lived in town during his term. He was succeeded by Wm. M. Johnson who was Clerk from 1832 to 1835.

Before leaving this period of Columbiana history, reference should be made to the county prisons: The first jail was located, in 1826, where Henry Norris now lives. It was a log building and poorly constructed. A man named Caldwell being incarcerated there, bored augur holes thro' its walls and escaped. He afterwards killed an Indian and was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. He was carried by the sheriff to the hollow back of the town graveyard, and all things made ready for the execution of the criminal; while crocodile tears were coursing their way down his cheeks, a reprieve from the Governor was presented, and the criminal was set free, much to the disappointment of the immense crowd assembled to witness the hanging. The jail being wholly inefficient to be longer used as a county prison, was moved up near the place where Mrs. Joseph Parker now lives, where it remained until about 1854.

During the period between 1836 and 1850 but little transpired in Columbiana of interest, except that the town and surrounding community gradually increased in population and business importance. The records of the county show but a small amount of lands entered in this part of the county during this period, but quite a number of town lots and lands changed hands from time to time. The population in the county had increased much more than in the towns. In 1820 the white population being only 2011 in the entire county comprising 845 square miles. Only a little more than 2-1/2 souls to the square mile, while in 1840 it was 4549. The increase being greater than at any other period in the history of the county. The ten years following 1830 shows a decrease in white population: that of 1830 being 4549, while that of 1840 was only 4444. The next period of ten years, however, showed a fair increase: the population in 1850 being 7153. The Negro population increased in about the same ratio, except a large increase from 1830 to 1840.

The year 1837 was signalized by the departure of a large portion of the Indians, who were hostile to the whites. They were principally the Muscogees and Seminoles who had occupied portions of Talladega and Calhoun counties, and were occupying in large numbers the lands along the Tallapoosa River. They were always ready for an affray with the whites and their Indian allies. It was principally against these tribes that Gen'l Jackson came in 1813 with a large force to Talladega and Tallapoosa counties to protect the whites in those counties, and to avenge the massacre of Fort Mims which occurred below Mobile in September, 1813. He fought the battles of Talladega and Tallaseehatchie and routed the Indians with great slaughter. Many bloody battles were fought until the Indians were completely overcome and vanquished. The traffic with the red men ceased at this time, and since that time but little is known of them in east Alabama.

Of the people who came to Columbiana after 1836, was Charles P. Gibbs who was elected Judge of Probate in 1841, and continued until 1846. It is not known where he lived or what became of him after his term of office expired. But he owned the land north of East College street, and it is supposed he lived on it. William G. Bowdon was elected Judge of Probate in 1846, and continued until 1849, when he probably resigned, as his tern of office had not expired. We find no evidence of his owning property here, but he owned lands in other parts of the county. He was a son of Robert Bowdon, who came from Chester District, S.C., in 1817. His mother was a daughter of Thos. Welsh of Dallas. The parents came to Shelby in 1820, and lived and died here. William G. (or Billy, as he was called) was a cousin of Frank Bowdon, a distinguished lawyer of Talladega, who married Miss Chilton. Miss Sarah Bowdon, his sister, became the wife of Taul Bradford, who was also a prominent lawyer of Talladega.

INSERT: The following correction is made by Judge Peters:  "Since printing the article in this edition entitled A Concise History of Columbiana, the writer learns that he was in error in stating that Miss Sarah Bowdon, sister of Judge Wm. G. Bowdon, became the wife of Taul Bradford, of Talladega. We were misinformed as to this and take occasion here to correct the mistake."

Judge Bowdon was well known and highly respected by the people of the county. His cousin, Lewis Bowdon, was Clerk of the Circuit Court from 1840 to 1843. The latter was succeeded in the office of Clerk by Michael J. O'Barr, who was Clerk from 1843 to 1845. Henry H. Wilson being elected in 1845, served until 1850. The latter was a son of Benj. Wilson who lived in Cahaba Valley, and belonged to one of the first and oldest families in the county. Space forbids a more extended account of him. He lived on Main street in Columbiana, where Mr. Max Lefkovits, a prominent merchant of Columbiana, now lives. He died while living there, and is interred in the Columbiana cemetery.

Archibald Sloan, Benj. F. Randall and Jas. M. Finley filled this period in the Sheriff's office. Of the first little is known, except that he formerly lived in the northeastern part of the county, and an early settler there, and came to Columbiana when elected in 1839. Benj. F. Randall lived in the lower end of the county after his term expired. He married a sister of Henry M. Wilson above mentioned, and raised a large family, several of whom are now living in the county. The following held the office of Tax Collector during this period: Green B. Evans, Hudson W. Nelson, who was shortly afterward elected Sheriff, Jno. Sansing, Meredy Busby, Jno. B. Walton and Needham Lee. And the following filled the office of Treasurer: Elijah J. Lawley, Samuel Brasher, Wiley H. Pope and N.B. Mardis. The latter was for a long while a prominent citizen of the town. Judge Mardis came from Tennessee when a young man, with his father Reuben Mardis, who was probably a native of that State. He was a half-brother of the distinguished Sam'l W. Mardis, one of the most gifted public men of the State. In 1846 he was elected Treasurer of Shelby county and continued in that office with credit to himself until 1861. In 1862 he was elected Judge of Probate, where he continued until 1869. In 1857 he represented Shelby county in the Legislature, with John S. Storrs. Judge Mardis was a member of the bar of Columbiana, and continued the practice of law to near the close of his life, which occurred about 1887. His wife was Miss Adelaide Curtis, who survived her husband only a few years. Judge Mardis was a Republican in politics, but was so from principle. He was true to his convictions, and never meant to deceive. His death was mourned by many friends throughout the county.

Wiley H. Pope, mentioned above was one of the early settlers of Columbiana. His parents were Wiley Pope and Sarah Davis Pope. He was born in Oglethorpe county, Ga. At what time he came to Shelby county is not known, but was here many years before he was elected to the office of Treasurer in 1843. He served in that office until 1846. In 1854 to 1856 he served as Clerk of the Circuit Court. He resided for many years in the house and at the place now owned and occupied by Judge Longshore. He afterwards moved to the new place now occupied by Jefferson B. Elliott. The old house in which he lived having been torn away many years ago. His wife was the widow of Dr. Thos. McHenry, formerly Miss Caroline Bowdon. He was a brother to Burrell T. Pope, a distinguished lawyer and Judge of St. Clair county. He died about the close of the civil war, leaving surviving him his widow and two children, William Pope who was killed in a duel some years ago at Calera, and a daughter who is the wife of Judge Jno. W. Inger of St. Clair county.

Charles Coleman came to Columbiana in the early 30's, and owned land in the adjoining neighborhoods. He at one time owned several lots in town. He owned in 1833 all the land on which the Southern depot and railroad yards are located, and also other lands north and east of Columbiana. During this time D.N. McClanahan, a brother of John M. McClanahan, came to Columbiana. He purchased the place now occupied by the elder Longshore. The present residence of Mr. Longshore was built by D.N. McClanahan some time near 1838, or before, and was for a long time used by him as a hotel. Some years afterward he bought the lot and built the house in which Judge Sterrett lived. D.N. McClanahan was a prominent merchant also during his time. His store was on the corner now occupied by the Columbiana Mercantile Co.

We now come to a period in the history of the town when more progress was made in its growth and business and population than ever before. Up to 1854 the same old wooden building had been used for a court house. Antiquated and ill-constructed, it was in every way unsuited to the wants of the people. In 1854, during the Judgeship of John M. McClanahan, the Commissioners made an order for the building of a new court house. The order provides that the walls or at least one foot above the surface should be of stone. But the order was not complied with. The new court house was built in 1854, of brick. It consisted of two large rooms, and two smaller ones in front, below, for offices, and one large room above for a court room. The walls were filled with windows on every side. There were no jury rooms, no vestibule, nothing in front but a small platform projecting out from the upper story on which the sheriff stood to call court. The larger rooms below were used for the offices of Judge of Probate and Circuit Clerk; the smaller ones in front for Sheriff and Register in Chancery. The contractors for the building of this, then imposing structure and temple of justice, were McCan & Williamson, at a cost of $2500.00. It is a wonder that the people were content with such a building for a court house! No change was made in it until 1881, during the Judgeship of Jas. T. Leeper, when a vestibule was built in front and grand jury room in the rear. The contractors being Nelson & Duran. Some years afterward two small vaults were built in the rear of the Clerk and Judge's offices for the preservation of the records.

It is well here to remember that up to 1850 most of the comforts and luxuries now enjoyed by the people were unknown to the early settlers, even in the villages. The dread of the encroachments of the Indians (who roamed in large numbers on the eastern side of the Coosa, in what was then the Muscogee Country, many years later ceded to the government) together with the uncertainty of the title to the lands held by the settlers, made them content with houses of the most simple and inexpensive kind, not knowing what day or hour their fields and homes might be invaded by a horde of savages, and all they might have be destroyed or taken from them. As an evidence of this, it would now be hard to find a house standing, or any trace of one, built back in the days when our forefathers came to this county. When we remember that only a few years before, Shelby county was organized, while large communities, aggregating nearly 2,000 people, were occupying the valleys of the Cahaba and Coosa on the west side of the Coosa, there were comparatively few white settlers on the east side; the county of Talladega not having sufficient numerical strength to organize until 1832, about thirteen years after Shelby was organized. In 1813, the place where Talladega stands was then an Indian village, occupied by what was known as the friendly Indians. They were being attacked by a ferocious tribe belonging to the Muscogees and Seminoles, when General Andrew Jackson came from Tennessee and fought the battles of Talladega and Tallassehatchie, expelling the Indians with great slaughter. He was on his way to South Alabama to avenge the massacre at Ft. Mims which had occurred a short time before near Mobile. General Jackson then proceeded south to the Horse Shoe Bend, and on his way built Ft. Williams, on the Talladega side of the Coosa, at what is known as Fort Williams Ferry. I refer to these incidents to show the circumstances surrounding the first settlers in the neighborhood of Columbiana, for more than thirty years after they came, and the dangers to which they were exposed. The Indians came very often into Shelby county in large numbers, crossing the river at Ft. Williams' Ferry. They traded a great deal at Columbiana, exchanging horses and such other things as they might bring with them, and were often imposed upon by the whites, who would, with the use of whiskey, induce them to pay exhorbitant prices for things they bought.

It may be well to refer here to the fact that up to the year 1850, the means of communication between the different sections were very poor. Without railroads or telegraph lines, and with very poor mail facilities. And the cost of sending a letter by mail in those days was so great that but few postoffices had been established up to 1845, when the rates of postage were, by an Act of Congress, reduced. Prior to that time the cost of sending a letter over 300 miles was ten cents. The postoffices were confined altogether to the towns and villages, and but little letter writing was done. Schools were very scarce in the country and only the favored few had the privilege of even an old field school education. Dr. E.B. Teague tells in his sketches of Shelby county that he was once a pupil in a school taught by Abner and James Hayes in 1825 to 1827, at the head of Bullace Creek, where the school house was made of round poles, with the bark on, with the naked ground for a floor, and with seats having only the walls of the house for backs; and a crack hewn out between two logs to let in the light on the writing bench, which consisted of a slab dressed on one side. This, doubtless, was a fair sample of the school houses in use throughout the rural districts of the county at that time, and for many years afterwards. But in these rude structures labored men, who, while they were not  "up-to-date"  in Latin and Greek, or the higher mathematics, had high ideals, who moulded the characters and fashioned the lives of future statesmen who have controlled the destinies of this country. It was a custom long observed by communities before the war, and the writer has seen it in a few instances, since, to meet at the country graveyards at certain seasons, to commemorate the virtues of those who had braved the dangers of the wilderness, and by their toil and sacrifice and privations, have transmitted to us, their children, this goodly land, abounding in everything desirable; a noble heritage, to be enjoyed by us and the generations to follow. Would it not become us to revive and continue that beautiful custom, for it is to be regretted that many of those who have done so much for us, now sleep forgotten in their lonely graves  "where no mourner goes to weep"  and not even a rude slab marks their resting places?

In the year 1850, a new era began to dawn upon the country, and Columbiana, with other places, had stepped out of her swaddling clothes, and donned the garments and assumed the airs of a town; feeling its importance as the seat of justice of a rich and prosperous county. Ephraim Reinhart came to Columbiana in this year, and built down on the branch, where the negro Methodist church now stands. The writer remembers him a few years afterwards as a man full of energy and enterprise. He at once established a tan-yard near his house, where he did a successful business for many years. The old tan-vats he constructed are yet visible. He also kept a livery stable, and did a considerable business in that line. He owned, or was largely interested in, a stage-line, connecting Columbiana with Montevallo, and other places. David Owen was then, and had been for many years before, keeper of the tavern, where the White House now stands, and when the stage coach drawn by its four large horses, reached the top of the hill, above the residence of Mrs. (Verschott) German, the driver would make known his approach be blowing a long horn, the number of toots from the horn indicating the number of passengers to be entertained. After the stage-line was superseded by the railroad in 1855, the old coach was still used for a long time as a hack to carry passengers from the depot to the tavern. Mr. Reinhart entered and owned for many years the whole of the SW-1/4 of Sec. 26, at that time very fine land. He reared a large family, but most of his sons, we believe, went West. The, dwelling house of Mr. Reinhart was, many years after his death, moved by A.M. Elliott, sen., to his lot below the court house, where he irnproved and used it as a dwelling, and is now occupied by A.M. Elliott, Jr. This place was in 1850, and for many years after, the home of the Parnells; two sisters and brothers as we remember, lived together. The two sisters (Miss Dorinda, the eldest, especially) were expert seamstresses, earning a handsome living by their needles. Their brothers were skilled mechanics and made buggies principally, having a large shop on the corner of the lot. This family afterwards went away, some of them we are told, moved to Texas.

The place where Mrs. Laura Armstrong now resides was formerly owned by a Mr. Dumas; after his death, his widow lived there for some years, and then married Belton Nabors, who was for many years engaged in the saloon business. His grocery stood for a long time about where the bank is located. In the year 1878, he was killed in a duel or street fight by John T. Wilson who lived below town. During this period Wiley H. Pope, before referred to, Noel Mason and Amos M. Elliott occupied the Circuit Clerk's office. Of Noel Mason we know but little. The headstone of his grave we find bears this inscription:  Born in Coswell county, N.C., June 22, 1812; died Sept. 29, 1843. Amos M. Elliott, who succeeded him, was a very prominent man in Columbiana the greater part of his life, figuring largely in the most interesting period of its history. He served continuously as Circuit Clerk from 1862 until 1886. He then went into the mercantile business, in a building where Friedbergers are now located, where he continued in business until his death.

The men who filled the office of Sheriff during this period were Hudson W. Nelson, Jno. T. McCormack, Tod R. Wyatt, Wm. R. Reeves, Jno. Edmondson, Henry T. Sawyer, Richard H. Brasher, and James Walton. Of these we will say but little as with the exception of Richard H. Brasher, they were here but a short time. Jno. T. McCormack was elected in 1855, but resigned in a short time. It was about this time that his brother, Hugh McCormack, was killed between the jail and the Owen tavern. It was never legally ascertained who killed him as he was shot in the night time. Tod R. Wyatt served a part of the same year as sheriff, probably by appointment. John Edmondson was elected in 1856 and served until 1858, and was succeeded by Henry Sawyer, who in turn was succeeded by Richard H. Brasher.

Reason B. Sawyer, Isaac Walker, and Moses Johnson filled the office of Tax Collector during this period, the latter continuing in office until 1869. He was the youngest son of Moses Johnson who was born in the State of Virginia in 1756; a soldier in Washington's army, and with him at the seige and surrender of Yorktown. Removing from Virginia to East Tennessee, he soon after came to Jefferson county, Ala., and there among the Indians opened the first farm in that county. He soon afterward came to Shelby and settled four miles east of Columbiana and became the head of one of the largest families in the county. A number other county officials served during this period, but as they lived here only during their terms of office we will, for want of space, omit further mention of them in this sketch, which has already grown too lengthy.

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Facts about Judge Joseph L. Peters, as recorded in the 31st Anniversary Edition of the Columbiana Sentinel, dated September 7, 1905


Joseph L. Peters was born in the Cahaba Valley in the lower part of Shelby county.

INSERT: He was born March 22, 1848 and was the son of William Joseph Peters and Jane Johnson. Judge Peters was a grandson of William Johnson and Margaret Runyan, and a great-grandson of Moses Johnson, Sr. and Elenor Havis. He married on December 8, 1886 to Ella Wilson, daughter of Dr. John Baker Wilson and Mary A. Bandy. Ella was a granddaughter of Benjamin Wilson and Hannah Harless. Benjamin was a brother to Jesse Wilson, was known to be one of the first settlers in about 1816 of Montevallo, at that time it was known as Wilson's Hill.

A short time after his birth, his father moved to Columbiana and lived here four years, then removed to below Montevallo, and later, to Six Mile, in Bibb county, where he formed a partnership with R.H. Pratt and taught the Male and Female Institute at that place from 1859 to 1866. His early schooling was at Six Mile under F.M. Wood and R.M. Humphrey, and later at Montevallo. In 1870 entered Howard College, then located at Marion, and, attended that institution one year. For two years afterward he taught school, in the meantime was reading law under R.M. McIlvane and J.M. Suttle and Wm. W. McMath and admitted to the bar in 1873, and in 1875 he began the practice of law at Centerville, and soon after was appointed County solicitor of that county in which capacity he served for eight years. In 1883 he came to Columbiana, and in 1885 formed a partnership with Henry Wilson and E.S. Lyman under the firm name of Peters, Wilson & Lyman, the partnership continuing until the death of Henry Wilson in 1895. He then formed partnership with Gov. Cobb which continued for one year, and then with J.R. Beavers until 1903. Judge Peters served as County Solicitor of Shelby county from 1886 to 1894. He ranks well in the legal profession of Alabama, and is a safe counsellor.

INSERT: Judge Joseph L. Peters for many years maintained a  "ledger"  concerning much information about many people in Shelby County. A copy of this ledger is in the Shelby County Museum and Archives.   Marshel Roy Cunningham  was presented this original ledger by Ella W. Peters on July 29, 1974.