Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Black Folk Tales of Appalachia

Colonel Arthur Graves Story

Captain William C. Gorgas, who worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, moved from Lake Charles, Louisiana; Gorgas accepted an assignment near Brown’s Ferry in Lawrence County, Alabama.  Bridges across the Tennessee River were not in existence and work on the Muscle Shoals Canal had begun under the leadership of George Washington Goethals; therefore, Captain Gorgas was put in charge of controlling outbreaks yellow fever and malaria.  Browns Ferry was located at the head of the Muscle Shoals Canal to insure that people were able to cross the river throughout the year.  Captain Gorgas’ man servant, Edward Doctor Reynolds, followed his boss to the north Alabama area and brought his Creole wife.  Reynolds was a red headed Irishman who had married a black Creole from Lake Charles, Louisiana; but when Captain Gorgas was assigned duty at the Panama Canal, Reynolds stayed at Hillsboro and ran his store.

William Crawford Gorgas and George Washington Goethals were assigned duty near the Muscle Shoals Canal in Lawrence County, Alabama; Gorgas, who early in life had contracted yellow fever that was carried by mosquitoes, had the medical knowledge to eradicate breeding areas of mosquitoes to control yellow fever and malaria; and, George Washington Goethals had the engineering knowledge to build and complete the canal through the Muscle Shoals of the Tennessee River.  Both these great men were later assigned to the Panama Canal; their combined efforts were successful in the completion of the canal at Panama.

When Gorgas was assigned to Panama, Edward D. Reynolds and his wife stayed in Lawrence County, Alabama, and received from the Civil War Reconstruction a temporary deed for 40 acres and two mules which he used to cultivate the land and plant crops.  Reynolds and his wife had to farm the land for two years before he could receive title to the property.  After a few years, Reynolds opened a general store where the old Hillsboro Road crossed the Southern Railroad; he maintained accurate records on credit that he had given to the local farmers in order to make a crop.  During the tough economic times and bad crops, a lot of farmers were unable to pay their bills owed to Edward D. Reynolds; Reynolds foreclosed on the farmers and took their land because of delinquent credit.  During the tough farming years, many of the land owners that owed Reynolds money for their failed crops left the area; Reynolds wound up acquiring their property which eventually accumulated to some 2,600 acres of land in the area of Hillsboro, Alabama.

Not only did Reynolds maintain a store, but he also built a cotton gin which operated until the 1930’s; he also had a grist mill, and the first Coke A Cola Bottling Company at Hillsboro which was the first of its kind in north Alabama.  Edward D. Reynolds was a dedicated owner and worker in his general store; he stayed in the store building 24 hours a day for six days.  Reynolds would go home on Saturday afternoon and would return to his store on Sunday evening; he stayed in the store to protect his financial interests.  The Reynolds owned a huge two storied house which had indoor toilets and electricity powered by a two cylinder engine was just one block from his store, Reynolds and his wife had seven girls and six boys who were half Irish and half black Creole; all their children married black people.

The Reynolds children had complete access to the store and could come and go as they pleased; the children were not allowed to spend the night away from home.  The Reynolds children were sent to some of the best schools in the area; Edward Reynolds sent his children to Huntsville, Atlanta, or Nashville to get the best schooling that he could find for his children.  After Edward Doctor Reynolds died, some 2600 acres of land and his possessions was split between his thirteen children; Reynolds had moved from a poor man servant of the young Captain William C. Gorgas to become one of the wealthiest men in the Hillsboro, Alabama region.

The oldest child of Edward D. Reynolds was Alice who was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana.  Alice Reynolds assisted her dad in the store and kept up with running the business for her father.  After completing high school, Alice was sent to Alabama A &M University where she received a college education; after graduating from college, Alice taught public school for a short period in Moulton, Alabama in 1898.  Alice Reynolds became one of the first registered black female voters in 1921; her son Arthur Graves still cherishes her voter registration certificate.

Alice Reynolds married Frank Graves, a black fireman who supplied coal to the boiler on the steam engine of the Southern Railroad train engine; Frank worked for the Southern Railroad all his working career.  Frank Graves was a native of Tyler, Texas, and hoboed from Texas to Memphis, Tennessee.  The train would leave Memphis and had stops in Tuscumbia and Sheffield; the train engine turned around in Sheffield and another engine would work from Sheffield to Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Since Frank was working for the railroad during the depression, the Graves family did not suffer due to the difficult times.

During the Great Depression, every vacant lot around the Graves home in Tuscumbia was planted by the family.  They raised hogs and chickens; the family also had a large garden of vegetables such as beans, corn, sweet potatoes, greens, and other vegetables; and they had sugar cane which was processed by Mr. Leo Merritt for a share of the molasses.  In other words, during the Great Depression, the Graves family was not rich but they did not go hungry and had plenty of food that they would sometimes share with strangers whether they were black or white.  Arthur Graves said, “I really do not know about the depression because I always had a roof over my head, two mules in the barn, pens of chickens, and killed hogs for meat.”

Even though Frank never owned a car, he could tell you how fast an automobile was traveling by counting the telephone posts; he had been so accustomed to counting the posts along the rail lines, knowing the speed of a vehicle was very simple matter of the intervals between the power poles.  He could not write but Frank was far from being ignorant and was a very intelligent man. 

After Frank and Alice married they moved to Tuscumbia, Alabama; today at the very location where he was born, their son Arthur Graves still lives in a fine brick home.  Frank and Alice Reynolds Graves had seven children all of which graduated from college; their children were Patsy, Frank, Alice, Isaac, John, Arthur, and Gloria.  Frank required his children to set at the table with the whole family to have dinner.  Frank and Alice were very family oriented; they required that the children are seated and present at the table during the family meals.  Both Frank and Alice had very high expectations for their children and pushed their children to be successful people in society; they passed away in the late 1980’s.


  1. Loved this one also.
    Taking me way back & I like it.

  2. Alice sounds like the type of person I would like. I'm glad to share a name with her. :)