Sunday, March 24, 2013

McKernan Plantation, Tuscumbia Railway, Benjamin Sherrod

Huston early days

After school each day, Huston Cobb, Jr. would put on his work clothes and do his chores until dark.  The family had a dug well where they got their drinking water and wash water for the big cast iron pot; Houston had to draw water from the well to use for the household.  He also had to hoe weeds out of the family’s cotton fields.  His folks planted two to three acres peas which had to be picked and shelled; also, they planted peanuts some of which were carried to the market to sell.  Each year Huston’s Family made 150 gallon of molasses from two to three acres sugarcane that they planted.  Each spring, the family planted a big garden and raised most of the food they ate.

Huston had to help cut hay to feed the mules and cows; he also took care of the other farm animals.  The family had two pair of mules and they had to be fed each night; the mules were named Blue, Annie, and Nell; the mules were an important part of the farm work.  He milked two cows and gathered eggs from all kinds of chickens that the family owned.   His folks also had a couple of sows to raise a bunch of pigs; each year four to five head of hogs were fattened to be killed which provided meat throughout the winter; Huston turned the sausage grinder to process some of the pork for breakfast meat.   

Huston’s family had a big orchard with peaches, apples, cherries, pears and big grape harbor; all kinds of fruit were dried on top of the house porch roof during the summer and fall.  The family had some pecan trees that provided nuts to eat each fall; they also had a hand cranked ice cream freezer which made some of the best eating during the hot summer and fall months.

In late 1930, Huston’s family had a two row drill planter, a mowing machine for hay cutting, and a new mule drawn Webber wagon. Houston, Sr.’s step-granddad, William Henry Fuqua was a blacksmith and repaired the farming equipment.  Houston Cobb, Sr. plowed with a pair of mules most of his life.

Closest grocery store was about two miles east of the Cobb Home in northwest corner of Mt. Stanley Road and Second Street.  Not far west of their home was Austin’s Mill which was run by kerosene; Huston’s dad would take corn to grind into meal which was paid for by giving a portion of the meal for the grinding.  Austin’s Mill was west of Brick Hatton School about one quarter of a mile.

The Cobb Family consisted of the two parents and four children; the first house they lived in was only two rooms and was on a log foundation.  To get from one room to the other room, they had to go out on porch; the rooms were not connected by a door.  In order to keep his family warm in the winter time, Huston cut wood for the fireplace with an ax and crosscut saw.  From the little two room home, his family moved into Salley Cobb Griffin’s house after she died; they used kerosene lamps for light at night and early morning.

When Huston was a young boy, Foster’s Bridge and Buck Bridge were the only two crossings of Town Creek in the area.  Buck Bridge was named because of a buck deer being killed at the bridge while the bridge was being built; the buck was swimming down the creek.  The original Buck Bridge fell in with a load of cotton and was rebuilt.

Houston’s maternal grandparents used Buck Bridge going to the Town of Town Creek to trade; a man by the name of Streeter was furnishing Tracy Carter.  Carter lost his property to Streeter including 1928 Ford, mules, and wagon; the family lost everything they had during the Great Depression of the early 1930’s.

McKernan Plantation

Not far west of Huston’s boyhood home was the drainage area of McKernan Creek; Hutson Cobb’s mother-in-law, Mary Long, learned to swim in McKernan Creek.  The creek was named for the large plantation of  the slave owning McKernan Family which owned land all the way to the Tennessee River including McKernan’s Island.  McKernan Creek is about one mile west of the present-day crossroads of the River Road and County Line Road at Ford City, Colbert County, Alabama.

As we were touring the area of Huston’s ancestral stomping grounds, he pointed out where the McKernan Plantation House was located; the site is some fifty yards from the north side of the River Road and just west of present-day McKernan Creek Bridge.  The old hilltop home place still has a stand of the old red cedar trees that mark the location of original plantation house.  The old McKernan home site was just west of the creek and north of the River Road and few hundred yards from the bridge.  Today, I have a home on McKernan Creek of Wilson Lake about one mile northwest of the River Road.

The McKernan Family owned the land to the middle of the Tennessee River; McKernan’s Island was an important skirmish site between the Confederate and Union forces which was described by Norman Farrell of General Phillip Dale Roddy’s Cavalry; Farrell was a rebel soldier who wrote about the Civil War fight that occurred in May 1864 near McKernan’s Island.  The rebel forces became pinned down behind the cut out bank of a smaller island by the Union forces until dark. 

After sunset, some sixty Confederates made their escape by swimming their horses to McKernan’s Island in the middle of the Tennessee River; during their escape, Farrell’s group crossed the dry bed of the western end of the abandoned Big Muscle Shoals Canal which was completed in the 1830’s, but was not used because the lower Little Muscle Shoals and the upper Elk River Shoals were still impassable.  Beyond the dry canal bed, there were a series of smaller islands which were located just east of the mouth of Shoals Creek that were used to ford the river during low water levels; Shoals Creek enters the Tennessee River from the north and is directly across the river from the mouth of McKernan Creek on the south side of the river in present-day Colbert County.

The following account of the Civil War skirmish involving McKernan’s Island was recorded by a Confederate Soldier, Norman Farrell; the story is as he wrote about the fight after the Civil War, “When the noble Tennessee River reaches Lookout Mountain, it bends almost at a right angle toward the West, just south of the boundary of the State of Tennessee, and after a westwardly course of a hundred miles or more, its width becomes much greater and its surface is broken by many islands, some of them cleared and cultivated, as the soil is very rich; the width of the river is caused by the water flowing over a great ledge of limestone for many miles, and the depth of the current is so much less that steamboats cannot pass this obstruction, known as Muscle Shoals.

Many years before the Civil War, the National Government had dug a canal, for the use of keelboats, along the Northern shore; steamboats at that time had not come into use, but at the time of the war, the canal was not used, and its bed was dry.

One Saturday early in the month of May 1864, a company of Confederate cavalry, about 60 strong, crossed the river at the mouth of Shoal Creek, for the purpose of finding out what the Federal Cavalry at Athens, Alabama, was doing. After crossing, they took the main road East, and having ridden 15 or 20 miles, camped for the night, half a mile north of the river, and south of the road; and having put out a strong picket, and eaten a frugal meal, went to rest. As soon as day broke the camp was astir, and the men at once fed their horses, and made their ablutions, and having had breakfast of cold cornbread and broiled bacon, washed down with a drink of water, each man at once saddled his horse.

It was plain to see that these men were not holiday soldiers, loaded down with tents, camp stoves, and baggage; each man carried his rations in a small leather saddle-bag and had usually a change of underclothes. They were nearly all about 18 or 20 years of age, and almost all had served 3 years.

By this time, the sun was just above the horizon, and the men were standing around the fire, smoking their pipes, when a single report of a gun was heard in the still air of the morning, quickly followed by a dozen more. "Yankees" was the cry, and each soldier at once mounted his horse; there was no panic, for these men were veterans of many a fight. The Captain instantly formed the command in column of twos; told off a dozen men to assist the pickets, when they were driven in; and led the column at a sharp trot in the direction of the river. At this time, it occurred to the writer, then a lad of 19, that Company "K" was in a very bad position, with the river on the south, impassable, and a regiment of Yankees on the north.

After a rapid ride of a mile in a direction diagonal to the course of the river, we rode across the dry bed of the old canal, and came down to the water edge; just opposite to us, and about one hundred yards distant, was a small island probably eight hundred feet long, and rising from six to ten feet above the surface of the river. We at once rode across to it, through a narrow ford, the depth not being over four feet; we were then ordered to take our horses to the further side of the island, and to hitch them under the bank, so that they would be protected from the fire of the enemy; having done this, we took shelter behind trees or earthen banks, and waited for our rear-guard to be driven in, as we could hear the firing and yelling coming rapidly nearer. Nor did we have long to wait, for the Yankees were in force, and soon both parties came in sight through the trees; our rear-guard at a gallop, but stopping now and then to empty their carbines at the enemy. When they reached the ford, all crossed as quickly as they could, and fortunately without loss. The Yankees came down to the river's edge in hot pursuit; then we gave them volley after volley from the island until they fell back, leaving several dead horses and men lying at the ford.

We were all safe and protected from fire, but had not a single day's rations for either ourselves or horses. The Yankees could not come across to our island, but on the other hand we dare not cross to the north shore to escape; and it seemed to me that all they had to do was wait for us to starve out, which would not take long, as the Confederates never had a real square meal, and there was not a command of ours in fifty miles to come to our relief. I looked towards the South shore of the river and it was more than a mile and a half from us, but within half a mile was a large island called MacKernan's, and if we got there we would be safe. Between us and the island the water was shallow in some places, but in many it was deep; some few rocks and tow heads or sand bars, usually with cottonwood trees projected above the water, still it seemed unfordable, even to desperate men.

In the meantime all was still; our enemies had disappeared into the woods behind them; noon had come, and we were getting very hungry. Presently someone said, it was a great pity we could not get the saddles, guns, and over-coats of the dead Yankees, just 300 feet from us, across the ford. We needed them badly, as we were all ragged and badly clothed. Two men proposed to go over if I would, and I was rash enough to try it. If the enemy should see us, we would surely be captured or killed. Our chance was that they had gone back out of gunshot from the river. Leaving our carbines behind us as useless, and retaining only our pistols, we three rode into the ford and soon reached the other shore. Right at the water's edge was a dead horse, and lying with his head on the saddle was a fine looking boy of twenty years. A bullet had entered his head just above his left ear, and his brains had oozed out on his saddle and overcoat. But it was no time for sentiment. I quickly dismounted from my horse, and cut the saddle with the overcoat strapped behind, loose from the dead animal, threw them in front of my own saddle and jumped back on my horse. Every instant I was expecting to hear the cry of "Halt" and "Surrender" from some of the enemy, and I hurried my horse across the ford and made the trip back in safety as did the other men. After having that coat washed and dyed a fine butternut color, I wore it many a night the next winter, and was never kept awake by any dreams of its former owner who had baptized it with his blood. Looking back at this affair it seems to show what folly youth can be guilty of, to risk my life for a lot of things, whose entire value was not $15.00.

In a short time our friends, the enemy, appeared again and began a desultory fire at us, but doing no harm as we were well protected. Thus the day went by, and escape seemed hopeless. About sundown, our Captain ordered us to mount our horses very quietly, and detailing a rear guard of ten men to hold the ford led the rest of the company in column of twos into the water toward MacKernan's Island. We were going to try to ford or swim to it, provided we were not shot in the attempt. The stream in some places was only a foot or two deep, then without warning we would plunge into a hole, which would swim our horses, and the next moment have to climb up steep rocks, into another shallow place. It was very slow work crossing with such a rough bottom, but still we made some progress forward, and gradually after going 300 yards, we got from behind the trees which had sheltered us this far from the view of the Yankees, and then the trouble commenced. ''Bang" went a carbine and a bullet struck the water near us. Soon came another and then half a dozen. We could not fire in return, and we were going forward more slowly than a funeral procession; I crouched down on my horse's back and made myself as small as possible, but thought every moment that I would get a ball through my back. It is one thing to charge shooting and yelling, and full of enthusiasm; but another kind of courage is needed, when you feel you are being potted like a turkey, by a lot of men who are not in any fear of being fired at in return. Another volley came, one bullet struck the man beside me in the calf of his leg, and spattered the water in my face, he yelled loudly but clung to his horse; had he fallen off, he would surely have drowned. I thought my turn would come next, but by this time we had increased our distance, and the darkness became greater, so we suffered no further loss, and soon afterwards reached MacKernan's Island, wet, tired, and hungry, but safe. Our rear-guard followed without loss, as by this time, it became too dark for them to be seen by the enemy.

We found a pen of corn on the island and on the parched corn and a shoat which we killed, we made a hearty meal; and drying ourselves by the fire, we soon fell into a sound slumber, without even putting out a sentinel, conscious that the Yankees would not follow us across that dangerous passage. Next day at daybreak, we put our saddles and guns on an old flat boat we had found, and making our horses swim crossed the deep water to the southern side of the river

In one week more, our gallant Captain was killed in a skirmish, and the writer severely wounded, and the memory of our deep fording of the Tennessee River passed out of mind among the stirring scenes of the battles of Tishomingo Creek and Harrisburg.” 

Huston Cobb told a story that had been passed down through several generations of black folks in the area; he said, “Charlie McKernan punished one of his black slaves by putting a saddle on the man and riding him until he died.  Charlie McKernan also made some of his slaves eat watermelons rind and all because he thought they had stolen some of his melons.”

According to the 1870 census of South Florence Post Office, Alabama, Charles McKernan is listed as the head of the household which contains four blacks and one mulatto boy as follows:  54/54, McKernan, Charles, age 54, male, white, farmer, born in TN; Rebecca, age 40, female, white, keeping house, born in TN; Charles, age 21, male, white, clerk ??ton, born in AL; Mary, age14, female, white, at home, born in AL; Jacobsen, Mary, age 53, female, white, from Sweeden; Bailey, Parmelia, age 40, female, white, born in AL; Levi A., age 20, male, white, farm laborer, born in AL; John, age 17, male, white, AL; Patrek, Josephine, age 22, female, black, cook, born in AL; Stephen, age 2, male, black, born in AL; McKendan, Harriet, age 18, female, black, milk maid, born in AL; Laura, age 2, female, black, born in AL; Sambo, age 5/12, male, mulatto, born in AL; McKernan is Charles B. McKiernan.  In 1880 census, Levi A. Bailey is listed as head of household, with mother and sister.  Also according to the 1870 census of Colbert County, some 30 black and mulatto folks with the last name McKernan are listed as living in the area of South Florence Post Office.

Another McKernan Family member was Bernard McKernan who would rent his slaves out to other farmers for a small fee.  One of Bernard McKernan’s slaves escaped to the north by way of the Underground Railroad; in the north, he made enough money to pay a white man to get boat and come back to Colbert County to steal his family and bring them north.  The white man who was paid by the former McKernan slave got caught while traveling the Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky.  He tried to escape by jumping to another boat and drowned.  Later, one of the white McKernan girls married a Dunnagan man from Huntsville; therefore, the area of McKernan Creek became known as Dunnagan Slough.

Tuscumbia to Decatur Railroad

As many other wealth slave holding plantation owners, Bernard McKernan owned stock in the Tuscumbia, Courtland, and Decatur Railroad which was originally called the Tuscumbia Railway that was chartered on January 16, 1830.  The first section of railway was about two miles in length and went from downtown Tuscumbia to Tuscumbia Landing at the mouth of Spring or Cold Water Creek on the Tennessee River; it was used to transport cotton from the town to the Tennessee River where it could be loaded on keel boats headed to New Orleans and other profitable markets. 

Tuscumbia Landing was near the site of the Chickamauga Indian village known as Oka Kapassa or Cold Water that was destroyed by General James Robertson about June 15, 1787.  An Indian trail known as the Coosa or Muscle Shoals Path circumvented the Muscle Shoals and ran south of the Tennessee River through the Moulton Valley connecting Ditto’s Landing south of Huntsville to Tuscumbia Landing near the Town of Tuscumbia.

Eventually, the railroad was extended some 42 miles east of Tuscumbia, and beyond the upstream end of Elk River Shoals to Decatur, Alabama.  Colonel Benjamin Sherrod, who was born in Halifax County, North Carolina, on January 16, 1777, and a nephew of Isaac Ricks, became the first president of the Tuscumbia Railway and later the Tuscumbia, Courtland, to Decatur Railroad.  Colonel Sherrod owned a total of four plantations, three of which were in Lawrence County, Alabama, which he left to his children and grandchildren when he died in 1847. 

According to the 1850 slave census of Lawrence County, the Sherrod Family owned some 320 black slaves on the three plantations.  These plantations included the following: the Cotton Garden Plantation was near Courtland, Alabama, and the home of Colonel Benjamin Sherrod; Pond Spring Plantation which became the Wheeler Plantation after Daniella Jones Sherrod married General Joseph Wheeler-Daniella Jones, who had inherited the place after her husband Benjamin Sherrod died, was the daughter of plantation owner Richard Jones, who owned 107 black slaves in 1860; and, Alamance Plantation which is named after Alamance Cotton Mill built in 1837 and produced the first dyed cloth south of the Potomac River in Alamance County, North Carolina.

The new railroad was incorporated on January 13, 1832, and was completed in June 1834.  Since the three upper shoals of the Muscle Shoals was impassable by boats transporting cotton, the railroad was a priority for the large slave holding plantation owners wanting to transport their cotton to the best markets; therefore, many of the wealthy white plantation aristocrats became stockholders in this first railroad west of the Appalachians.  The hard back breaking work of black slaves in the plantation cotton fields made many of these plantation owners’ railroad investments very productive and their extended families extremely wealthy.

In addition, the Tuscumbia to Decatur Railroad was used during Indian removal of the late 1830’s to transport Cherokee Indians around the Muscle Shoals to Tuscumbia Landing where they would board steamers bound to areas west of the Mississippi River.  Again, the greed of the wealthy plantation owners helped provide for the ethnic cleansing of the Tennessee Valley of Indian people; thus, making more lands available to men using black slave labor to become very wealthy.   

Huston’s Military Service

Huston Cobb was drafted in 1944; it was near the time he was to graduate from high school when he was drafted.  Huston was in the Navy when he graduated from high school; he was eventually stationed in Hawaii.  He was a naval stevedore; his main job was loading and unloading ships at Pearl Harbor from 1944 until April 1946. He spent two years in Hawaii and got back home exactly two years from the day he left.  Huston got three hundred dollars when he was discharged in April 1946 from the U. S. Navy.

When Huston Cobb got back from Pearl Harbor after two years of service in the United States Navy, he had to ride in the back of the bus, could not drink from the same water fountain, eat with white folks, or go in some white establishments.  By executive order in 1945, President Harry S. Truman desegregated blacks and whites in the military, but it was still segregation in civilian life. 

He rode back from Pearl Harbor with the white soldiers; however, all servicemen had to sleep on stretchers in the bottom of the ship.  It took five to six days on the ship to get from Pearl Harbor to the main land.

When Huston Cobb got back to California from Pearl Harbor and then went to Memphis, Tennessee,  he had to be aware of the color requirements for drinking and using the bathroom.  Blacks had to use certain facilities separate from the whites.  Even though President Truman tried to desegregate the blacks and whites serving in the United States military, it appeared to Huston that many of the white soldiers did all that they could to keep blacks and whites segregated.

After getting out of the Navy in 1946, Huston Cobb, Jr. gave George Eggleston $130.00 for a horse which George had mortgaged.  Huston stalled his vehicle and George charged him $5.00 to pull him out of the mud.  Later George’s brother told him that he could not sell a mortgaged horse; therefore, George told Huston that he wanted to buy the horse he had mortgaged.  Houston sold him the horse for $135.00; therefore, they broke even. 

Later after his service in the U. S. Navy, Huston bought a tractor which he and his brothers used for at least two years. Huston sold the first tractor and bought H-Farmall; he farmed with the Farmall for several years.

Huston’s Family

Hutson and Sadie Long Cobb had two sons and one daughter who are: Charles Darnell Cobb, Bruce Winford Cobb (deceased), and Cheryl Deresie Cobb.  The Huston Cobb family picture below was taken in front of their 1954 Plymouth at their home on Shaw Road near Huston’s present-day home.

This story will also be CONTINUED; stay in touch with my blog on the black, Indian, and plantation history in our area as it unfolds in my new book and on my blogs.  Mr. Houston Cobb, Jr.’s story will be included in my new book which will be called “Black Folk Tales of Appalachia: Slavery to Survival.”

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Leighton, Bethel Colbert, Shaw Plantation

Sadie Long Cobb

Huston Cobb, Jr. and his wife, Sadie Long, were married for 50 years prior to her death on January 18, 1998.  Sadie’s mother was Mary Long; her father was Harry Long.  Sadie’s siblings were Mable, Mildred, Pearl, Dorothy, Bobbie Jean, Harry Jr., and John Lewis (Buddy) Long.

Sadie Long initially went to Ricks School at The Oaks which was held in the Mother Church; the black school finally closed in 1937.  After her school was closed, Sadie started to Leighton Training School.  Today, the picture below is all that is left of the black school in Leighton, Alabama.  Huston Cobb said that after desegregation, the Leighton Training School was abandoned because it was in a predominately black neighborhood in the Town of Leighton, Alabama.

Leighton or Jeffrey’s Cross Roads

The Town of Jeffrey’s Cross Roads was one of the early mixed settlements of Celtic Indian people established prior to 1808; this mixed Cherokee and Scots Irish settler town is one of many that were in North Alabama prior to the Indian removal from the area.  Many of the Jeffreys were mixed blood Celtic Indians of Scots Irish and Cherokee ancestry; today, many of the Jeffreys still reside in the area and are state recognized Indians; most Jeffreys that are tribal members belong to the Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama.

The area of Jeffreys Crossroads was claimed by Doublehead’s Chickamauga faction of the Lower Cherokees by 1770; however, the area was actually recognized by the United States government as Chickasaw land by the Chickasaw Boundary Treaty of January 10, 1786.  The territory around Leighton remained Indian land until the Turkey Town Treaty of 1816; the treaty was ratified by congress in July 1817.  Shortly after the treaty, white settlers began buying up the land during the 1818 federal lands sales and the town became Leighton, Alabama. 

One early white settler that moved to Jeffreys Cross Roads was the family of William Leigh; therefore, the town became known as Leighton.  William Leigh came to Alabama from Amelia County, Virginia, about 1823 and purchased large tracts of land around the town.  Hershel Leigh from the Town of Leighton married Annie Frances Alexander a descendent of the Alexander Plantation just southeast of Moulton.

The first railroad west of the Appalachians came through the Town of Leighton; the rail line was known as the Decatur to Tuscumbia Railroad.  During the 1830’s, many Indian people that were being removed west rode the railroad from Decatur through Leighton to Tuscumbia Landing on the Tennessee River; the rail line was a route around the Elk River Shoals, Big Muscle Shoals, and Little Muscle Shoals which were barriers to navigation along the Tennessee River from Decatur to Tuscumbia.  The navigational water barriers along the Tennessee River at the shoals were created by vast layers of resistant chert (flint) rock; therefore the railroad was used to circumvent these natural obstacles to water travel through the Muscle Shoals.

On our tour through Leighton, Hutson Cobb pointed out the Westside Church of Christ he now attends; he pointed out houses that were owned by the Claude King.  The King Family came to the area with Abraham Ricks of The Oaks and some 30 other families.  Originally, the east half of Leighton was in Lawrence County and the west half was in Franklin County from 1816 until February 6, 1867; in 1867, the west half became Colbert County and in 1895 the east half was annexed from Lawrence County into Colbert County.

Bethel Colbert Baptist Church

When he was young, Huston Cobb, Jr. was a member of Bethel Colbert Baptist Church for 22 years; however, his family moved their membership to the Westside Church of Christ in Leighton, Alabama.  Huston has been a member of the Westside Church of Christ some 56 years, but he still has a copy of the deed for the Bethel Colbert Baptist Church where he attended church in his youth. 

The Bethel Colbert Church property was bought on May 2, 1911, for the black folks in the area and originally belonged to the slave owning white Shaw Family; Baldy Shaw, who was born about 1820, owned land from Sixth Street to Second Street in Colbert County.  The road that runs past the Shaw Farm and also Huston Cobb’s old home place is called Shaw Road.  J. C. Shaw deeded one and three quarter acres his property on Second Street to Huston Cobb, Jr.’s folks for the black church. 

The deed is as follows: “act of said corporation. Given under my hand this 2 day of May 1911. John E. Delony, Jr., Notary Public. State of Alabama)  I, Oscar G. Simpson, Judge of Probate in and for said State and County, Colbert County) Know all men by these presents, That I, J. C. Shaw, an unmarried man, for and in consideration of One Dollar to me in hand paid the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, do hereby grant, bargain, sell, release, quit claim and convey unto Tom Cobb, Cole Johnson, Ed Hill, Alex Stanley and Tom Carter as Trustees and Deacons of the Bethel Colbert Baptist Church (Colored) of Colbert County, Alabama, and their successors in office, the following described real estate lying and being in Colbert County, Alabama, and more particularly described as follows: Commencing at the N. W. corner of Section 35, thence running South 472-1/2 feet to a stake, thence East 139-1/2 feet; thence North 472-1/2 feet to a stake, thence West 139-1/2 to a stake in Section 35, Township 3, Range 9, in said Colbert County, Alabama containing 1.3/4 acres.  To have and hold unto the said Tom Cobb, Cole Johnson, Ed Hill, Alex Stanley and Tom Carter as Trustees and Deacons of the said Bethel Church (Colored) and their successors in office forever.  Witness my hand and seal on this the 4th day of May, 1911.  J. C. Shaw (Seal)

State of Alabama) Colbert County) I, John R. Ayers, a Notary Public in and for said County in said state hereby certify that J. C. Shaw whose name is signed to the foregoing conveyance, who is known to me, acknowledged before me on this day that being informed of the contents of the conveyance, he executed the same voluntarily on the day the same bears name.  Given under my hand this the 4th day of May, 1911.  John R. Ayers, Notary Public.

State of Alabama) Colbert County) I, Oscar G. Simpson, Judge of Probate in and for said State and County, hereby certify that the foregoing conveyance was filed in this office for record on the 4th day of May, 1911, and recorded in Deed Record Vol. 15, page this 4th Day of May, 1911.  Oscar R. Simpson, Judge of Probate.

Tom Cobb, Cole Johnson, and Tom Carter were great uncles of Huston Cobb, Jr.  They helped build and organize the black church in the early 1900’s for the descendants of former slaves that remained in the area after the Civil War.  Across the road and just west of Bethel Colbert Baptist Church was a one room school that Huston Cobb, Jr. attended; the school was also on the south side of Second Street only a quarter mile east of where Huston lives today.  In 1938 at the age of 12, Huston Cobb, Jr. transferred from the one room school near Bethel Colbert Baptist Church and started to the all black Leighton Training School at Leighton, Alabama.     

Huston and Sadie

At Leighton Training School, Huston’s first teacher Carrie Pierce told the students to write Ms. Sadie Long a letter telling her they missed her at school.  Shortly after receiving the letters, Sadie started back to Leighton School.  At the time Huston wrote his letter to Sadie, she was living with her family in Wooten Field which was located approximately one and one half miles south of Second Street and about three miles southeast of present-day Wise Metal Company (Reynolds).  Sadie’s mother was Mary Mars Long and her father was Harry Long; they were buried in the black Pearsall Cemetery on Ford Road which connects Second Street and the River Road.  Ford Road is just southeast of Stinson Hollow on Wilson Lake in Colbert County, Alabama. 

When Huston wrote his letter, he did not know Sadie Long and had never met her.  When Sadie started coming to Leighton in the sixth grade, Huston Cobb claimed Sadie as his girlfriend after a class picnic in the spring of the year.  Finally, Huston Cobb, Jr. married his long time sweetheart Sadie on October 2, 1947.

Shaw Plantation

During his school days, Huston Cobb had to help on the family farm; as a young man, Huston could pick 300 pounds of cotton per day.  He plowed mules with a turning plow, scratcher, and Georgia stock.  His family planted cotton as the main cash crop and would make 12 to 15 bales of cotton per year which sold for twenty five to thirty cents per pound.  Houston, Sr. and his boys farmed the land where Huston, Jr. lives today near the corner of Second Street and Shaw Road; Shaw Road was named after the white Shaw Family.  After the Cobb Family gathered their cotton crops, Huston and his family would hire out to pick cotton on the old Baldy Shaw Farm; at the time, the Tidwell Family was renting and planting cotton on the former Shaw slave owner’s property.  Huston and his family picked cotton on the Shaw Plantation and would be paid fifty to seventy five cents per one hundred pounds of cotton they picked.

According to the 1850 Census of Lawrence County, Alabama, Bauldy Shaw is listed as being 30 years old from North Carolina, but according to his tombstone, he would have been 56 years old in 1850.  His tombstone record indicates he was born in 1794 and was 59 years old at his death.  In the 1830 Census, Baldy is listed as being between 30 to 40 years old and in 1840 census, Baldey Shaw is listed as being between 40 to 50 years old which is in line with his tombstone record.

According to the 1850 slave census, Baldy Shaw owned 15 black slaves; by 1860, he owned 24 black slaves that would be divided among two heirs.  In the 1850 census, his family is listed as Lemenda, age 43, from Kentucky; William H., age 19, Alabama; Martha F., age 17; Lemenda, age 15; Jessee C., age five; and Henry, age 48, from North Carolina.

Many of the Shaw Family are buried in the Shaw Cemetery which is on Sixth Street about one half mile west of where the Shaw Road dead ends on Sixth Street.  The Shaw Plantation home is between Second Street and Sixth Street and some two miles south from Second Street.  The north end of Shaw Road is Second Street and the south end is Sixth Street.
This story will also be CONTINUED; stay in touch with my blog on the black, Indian, and plantation history in our area as it unfolds in my new book and on my blogs.  Mr. Houston Cobb, Jr.’s story will be included in my new book which will be called “Black Folk Tales of Appalachia: Slavery to Survival.”

Monday, March 11, 2013

Babe Ruth Taylor, Jesse Owens, Bessie Smith

Oakville Baseball

When I was a small boy in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, most country folks like mine did not have a television, very few had radios, and many were without electricity or could not afford the cost; therefore, community baseball was a local sport that many people enjoyed watching to pass the time.  The baseball teams were not allowed to play on crop land, but many cattle farming folks would allow the teams to play in their pastures. During those years, each small community including the black folks of Oakville had a baseball team; most of the time, the players would play ball in overalls and plow boots or barefooted.  

During most baseball games, big picnics would also be a part of the festivities in order to support the team.  Some folks would donate chickens and garden vegetables for the big stew pot and ice down drinks in number three wash tubs.  The black folks of the Oakville Community would have a fish fry at their baseball games; the fish would be seined from the nearby Oakville Pond.  The baseball picnics were to raise money for their team to travel and to buy necessary equipment.  All the items donated by the families of the Oakville players were used to raise money for the home team.

Babe Ruth Taylor

Oakville was a black community not far from my present-day home of the original Preuit Farm site; the black league played most of their baseball games in P.B. (Bryant) Lowery’s cow pasture or across the road where the church now stands.  Charlie Pointer said he was a first cousin to Babe Ruth Taylor; Taylor was the main player, leader, and coach of the Oakville team.  Charlie Pointer, Buddy Taylor, and many of the other black baseball players from the Oakville team did farm work for John Wiley, John McCay, Tass Jacobs, Clebe Preuit, and Bryant Lowery

I remember Mr. Jimmy Speake, who was an attorney in Moulton for years, telling me about some of the best black baseball players that he had ever seen and coached against were from Oakville; one player in particular that Speake liked was called Babe Ruth Taylor; Jimmy Speake said, “Babe Ruth Taylor could knock a baseball over 500 feet on a regular basis and he should have been a major league baseball player.  The black Babe Ruth from Oakville was one of the best baseball players to ever play the game;” the Babe Ruth of Oakville was James Andrew Taylor, also known as Buddy Taylor

For a long time, Babe Ruth and his family owned and lived in the old J. C. Cannon House which was built in 1890 just a hundred yards west of the West Fork of Flint Creek in the Community of Oakville, Lawrence County, Alabama.  Today, the old house is owned by Mr. Don Alexander who is in the process of saving this historic home.  The Cannon House is just north of Highway 157 and just west of the bridge crossing the West Fork of Flint Creek; if you were heading east toward Cullman and just prior to crossing the bridge on Highway 157, you can see the Cannon House across the farm fields.  Jim Cannon and his wife Minnie McLemore eventually moved to Moulton, and he was elected Sheriff of Lawrence County.

Charlie Pointer who was a team mate of Buddy Taylor said, “Babe Ruth Taylor was definitely one of the best baseball players to ever play the game for Oakville. I do not remember us ever losing a game.” Today, years after his death, everyone in the area of the Warrior Mountains has heard of the baseball exploits of Buddy “Babe Ruth” Taylor.  It was an honor for me as a young boy to watch the legendary Babe Ruth Taylor play baseball at Oakville; to this day, I remember the crack of that bat when Babe Ruth Taylor would hit a homerun.

My Uncle Cadle Wilburn was a member of some of the cow pasture baseball teams; he played for Speake, Wren, and Pin Hook.  He spent most of his amateur baseball playing with the Pin Hook team that, for a long time, had their home field in the pasture of Mr. Ben McMillan of the Pin Hook Community.  He said, “One of the best baseball teams that I ever played against was the black team from Oakville; Babe Ruth (Buddy Taylor) would knock a homerun nearly every time the ball went over home plate.”

In his early days, Babe Ruth Taylor was both a left and right handed pitcher, but after one of his pitches caused a fatality, Babe Ruth chose to played catcher; he had the ability to play any position on the baseball field.  Taylor doubled for many years as a player/coach for the team; he could throw a runner out at second base without even standing up.  His son Rayford Taylor told me if a man was on first base that his dad would say to the pitcher, “Let him run, I got him;” seldom did a runner ever steal second base when Taylor was catcher. 

At the time that Buddy Taylor was catching baseballs, it was legal for the catcher to chatter, and he was constantly chattering to the batter.  Buddy would say, “You can’t hit what you can’t see; the bat must have a hole in it.”  As a young boy, I loved to hear Buddy Taylor chatter at a baseball game.

Also, Buddy Taylor had a feel for the baseball; he would tell the players this ball is dead and we are not going to play with it anymore.  Buddy’s son said that he went up north one time to try out for professional baseball, but did not want to stay away from his family or leave his Oakville home.  From all that people have said about Babe Ruth Taylor, you could tell that he loved the game of baseball.  After he got too old to play baseball, Babe Ruth Taylor coached a girls’ softball team that was also very good.

Babe Ruth Taylor, the grandson of a former slave, and Emma Williams Taylor had 17 children.  Buddy encouraged his kids and grandkids to play ball because he loved the game with all his being.  Many of these children and grandchildren of Babe Ruth and Emma Taylor still live near the Oakville Community.

James Andrew “Babe Ruth” Taylor also had a son that was also a great baseball pitcher; his name was Hosey Lee Taylor.  Besides Hosey Lee Taylor, Babe Ruth Taylor had other sons that played baseball:  Wyman Taylor, Wayne Taylor, and Rayford Taylor.   Hosey would usually start the game pitching left handed and about half way through the game, he would switch to pitching right handed. 

Mr. Rayford Taylor, the son of Babe Ruth Taylor, told me that the Oakville team finally raised enough money to buy uniforms and equipment.  The team would get together and seine Oakville Pond; the fish they caught would be cooked and sold at the baseball game to make enough money for the team’s expenses.  They would fry the fish, and then sell fish sandwiches and cold drinks to the spectators that came to watch the home games.  I feel fortunate to say that I was one of those spectators when my Uncle Cadle Wilburn pitched for the Pin Hook Team; Pin Hook was never able to beat the all black Oakville baseball team with Babe Ruth Taylor behind home plate.  

Jesse Owens

Another famous black Lawrence County family that had ties to the J. C. Cannon place was Henry Cleveland Owens and Mary Emma Fitzgerald who were the parents of the Olympic great James Cleveland (Jesse) Owens.  According to the 1847 tax list of Lawrence County, Alabama, Isaac N. Owen owned a black slave known as Henry who was the grandfather of Jesse Owens.  Henry had a son who was named Henry Cleveland Owens; the black Owens took their name from the Owen Estate in Lawrence County.  After the Civil War, several of the slaves of Isaac N. Owen added an “s” to their last name and became Owens. 

The Owen Plantation was the namesake of Owen Chapel Church in the present-day Community of Youngtown some five to seven miles east of Mt. Hope School and some three to four miles south of Landersville Community in Lawrence County, Alabama.  The church and community lies along the north edge of the William B. Bankhead National Forest, and within one mile north of the Indian trail known as High Town Path which follows the Tennessee Divide through Lawrence County.

Youngtown got its name from Reason Young, who according to the 1860 Census of Lawrence County slave schedules owned 20 black slaves; the Young Family owned a vast estate in the area that extended from the edge of the mountain to Landersville.  In addition, Youngtown became one of the largest reconstruction black schools in the area after the Civil War; as I was interviewing folks in the area for my book “Warrior Mountains Folklore,” I heard many stories about long lines of black children walking the dusty country roads every morning and afternoon heading to and from the black school at Youngtown.  Today, the black school has long since been torn down; very few black people remain in the area of Youngtown.  I remember the old two story wooden black school that sit about one mile west of present-day Owen Chapel Church; the school sit in the 90 degree curve just west of the church.

After Henry Cleveland Owens and Mary Emma Fitzgerald married, they moved to the J. C. Cannon place just west of the Community of Oakville; they lived in a small wooden house that was located just south and behind the Jim Cannon house.  Since the West Fork of Flint Creek was the line between the Oakville and Pin Hook Precincts, it appears that the Henry Owens Family was living on the J. C. Cannon place at the time Jesse Owens was born on September 12, 1913; during this time, the Henry Owens’ family was listed in the Pin Hook Precinct.  When Jesse Owens was about nine years old, the family moved north to Cleveland, Ohio.  During the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, Jesse Owens won four gold medals; his remarkable wins embarrassed the white supremacy ruler Adolph Hitler.

State Representative Roger Dutton, who was a friend of mine, pursued the placement of a monument to Jesse Owens on the Lawrence County Courthouse Square when he was serving in the State of Alabama House of Representatives.  His intentions was to honor the black Olympic hero who was born in our county, but the white political structure of Lawrence County effectively blocked the placement of the monument for Jesse Owens on the courthouse square.  I remember Roger telling me that he wanted to see the ivory towers of Lawrence County’s political structure crumble and fall; therefore, not to be outdone, Roger got funds provided to buy a small rectangular block of property at the road junction in the Community of Oakville for placement of the Jesse Owens Monument; originally the monument was just west and across the road from the present-day Jesse Owens Park.  Roger Dutton died before seeing his dream come to fruition; he is buried in the Naylor Family Cemetery at Bulah Church near my great, great, great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Welborn Segars Naylor.

Marvin Fitzgerald, a dear departed black friend, along with other black and white leaders worked tirelessly to insure that his cousin Jesse Owens was appropriately honored.  After several years, additional land was purchased on the east side of the road for the Jesse Owens Park; the park was strongly supported by then Lawrence County Commissioner Larry LouAllen.  During his tenure, LouAllen worked with the Lawrence County Commission to insure the Jesse Owens Park and the adjacent Oakville Indian Mounds Park received their fair share of funding.  Today, Jesse Owens Park in Oakville has worldwide recognition; the museum in the park tells the story of one of the most famous native Lawrence County athletes-James Cleveland (Jesse) Owens, the grandson of a former Lawrence County, Alabama slave.    

Bessie Smith

Also on the Lawrence County, Alabama, 1847 tax list of Isaac N. Owen was another famous black slave lady, Laura Owens; Laura became the mother of the famous Blues legend known as Bessie Smith.  In the 1847 tax list, Bessie’s mother, Laura Owens, was only a new born slave baby.  Shortly after the Civil War, Bessie’s father, William Smith and Laura Owens were married; William became a black Baptist parson or preacher in Moulton.  According to the 1870 Census of Lawrence County, Alabama, William Smith was listed as a black minister of the gospel in Moulton, Alabama.

It appears for some reason that William and Laura Owens Smith moved from Moulton, Alabama, to Chattanooga, Tennessee; Bessie Smith was born on April 15, 1894, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.   By the time Bessie was nine years old, her parents were dead.  Bessie’s older sister Viola took charge of her siblings including Bessie.

From Lawrence County slaves, Bessie Smith eventually became known as “The Empress of the Blues.”  During her time, Bessie became the highest paid black singer and entertainer in the United States.  She had many recordings with Columbia Records; Bessie Smith was considered the first lady of “Blues Music.”  In 1929, Bessie Smith was in a movie based on W. C. Handy’s song known as the “St. Louis Blues;” Handy, who was the Father of the Blues, was born in Florence, Alabama, where he is honored each year for his contributions to Blues music.

Bessie Smith died as a result of terrible car crash on September 26, 1937; she was on United States Route 61 between Memphis, Tennessee, and Clarksdale, Mississippi.  The delay of the arrival of the ambulance contributed to her death.  Some say if Bessie had been carried to the white hospital in Clarksville that she would have survived the car accident; however, the time it took to get her to the G. T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital did not help her chances of survival and she died in the hospital.  She was buried in Philadelphia at the Mount Lawn Cemetery.  Finally, on August 7, 1970, singer Janis Joplin provided money and support to erect a tombstone for Bessie Smith.

Be sure to follow my blog and learn about the plantation owners, slaves, and the survivors of slavery.  This part of Charlie life and other stories will be a part of my book, “Black Folk Tales of Appalachia: Slavery to Survival!”