Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Brick, The Oaks, LaGrange

Brick Community

Brick Community was called Brick because of four very early 1800 houses in the area were built of slave brick: Jarman House, John Johnson House, Abernathy House, and Brick Church.  The building bricks used in construction of the homes and church were made from clay that was dug and fired in pits by the slaves.  This brick making site and activities used in making the bricks were close proximity to the Old Brick Presbyterian Church.

Also during the tour with Huston Cobb, we stopped at the Old Brick Church which was one of the original white churches in Colbert County; the Jarman Plantation Family supposedly attended the church with their black slaves.  The church had a balcony at the back of the building that was used as the black slave gallery for those slaves who attended the services because they were not allowed to sit with the white folks.

The original log church was completed in September 1820 and burned to the ground in 1824.  Black slaves of the church members made the bricks for construction of the new church which was built just southwest of Shegog Creek and Spring.  The Shegog Family was probably the origin of the name of the spring and creek; the 1860 Census of Lawrence County, Alabama, lists George Shegog, age 35, Ireland, physician; Mariah, female, age 28; John S., age 4; and, George H., age 1.
The slave bricks were fired hardened and still form the walls of the church that was completed on October 8, 1828.  The church members were not allowed to work their slaves on Sundays.  During the Civil War, there were no services at the church; supposedly General John Bell Hood used Old Brick Church as his headquarters.  The name of the church was eventually changed from Mount Pleasant to Old Brick.

The Oaks

Huston Cobb directed us from Highway 157 to Colbert County Road 61 where we visited The Oaks Plantation of Abraham Ricks, the home of Abe Sledge, Mother Church, and the black cemetery.  These four structures and features of the days of black slavery are still visible today.

Huston Cobb’s wife was Sadie Long; it is not known where Sadie was born, but it is sure that she attended the black school within a few hundred yards south of plantation house known as The Oaks.  The school was actually held in the black church just south of The Oaks Plantation House.  Sadie Long’s ancestors were more than likely descendants of the some 300 slaves owned by Abraham Ricks of The Oaks.

Owner of The Oaks was Abraham Ricks, Sr.; he was born on October 10, 1791, in Halifax County, North Carolina, and died at The Oaks in Colbert County, Alabama, on December 23, 1852.  Abraham left North Carolina in 1818 with some 30 families and he brought his slaves to Alabama.  Portions of the plantation were purchased during the United States government land sales of 1818.

The Ricks and King Families stopped briefly in Courtland, Alabama; the King Family moved to Leighton from Courtland in 1825.  According to Bertie Ricks, her grandmother Mrs. Abraham Ricks said they moved to The Oaks on November 3, 1818.  A log cabin was already built at The Oaks by Indians; Abraham Ricks added to the log cabin that was built by the Cherokees who occupied the area from the 1770 to 1816.  The big part of the Ricks house is on the same style as the little cabin and they are attached together.  The Oaks home was located on the flat plain that lies along north edge of LaGrange Mountain in Colbert County, Alabama.

At The Oaks, Abraham Ricks accumulated some 300 slaves and 10,000 acres of land which was part of the original land grant to Lemuel Sledge.  Abraham Ricks was said to have treated his slaves very well.  Many of the black families of Colbert County are descendants of the slaves and servants of Abraham Ricks; these black families were first listed in the census of 1870.

Mother Church

Abraham Ricks was a member of the Church of Christ which was started by Alexander Campbell; Campbell broke from the Presbyterian Church in 1812 adopting baptism by immersion.  Abraham Ricks wanted his black slaves to go to church and be converted to Christianity; he allowed his slaves to be taught catechisms which were bible verses.  Fannie Johnson Carter was Huston’s grandmother and taught her grandkids bible verses in the same tradition of the catechisms taught to their slave ancestors.

From The Oaks Plantation House, Huston Cobb directed us to the first black church in Alabama.  Sometime around 1825, Abraham Ricks built his slaves a log church about a quarter mile south of his plantation home on the little dirt road that passed just east of the main house.  The church was established as a Church of Christ; the church became known as the “Mother Church” or “Christian Home.”  Huston Cobb’s family was members of the Church of Christ; today, Huston Cobb is an elder in the Westside Church of Christ in Leighton, Alabama.

One of the black slave families of Abraham Ricks that attended the Mother Church was that of George Ricks.  George Ricks was born in 1838 and died on Christmas day, December 25, 1908. Some claim that George Ricks was from Liberia, Africa; however, in 1808 slave trade from Africa was outlawed by the United States.  Therefore, most of “The Oaks” slaves were probably descendants of those who had been in America prior to the stop of African slave trade.

Parson George Ricks was a black slave of Abraham Ricks; he was the first preacher at the Mother Church and helped set up other black Churches of Christ in the area.   During George’s time, all black preachers were called parson.

Today, the third church building is still standing at the site of the original church. Huston’s wife Sadie Long Cobb went to school in the second building that was on the site.  Material from the second church was used in the construction of the third building and included the original pews of the second church.  The first church was a log building which was built about 1825.  The second building was used until 1937 when it was replaced in 1940 with the building that is at the site today.  The second building was torn down and replaced with a block building. Arthur Graves paid for putting the roof on the church that stands today.

Fred Ricks, Parson George’s grandson, carried on preaching at the Mother Church and later moved to Leighton, Alabama, some 10 miles from The Oaks.  All the black churches in the area would go to the old original church one Sunday per year to have service.

Several years ago, the great, great, granddaughter of Parson George, Lois Long died some two years ago in her 70’s; prior to her death, she and her husband revived the weekly services at the original church.  Grant Ricks, Parson George’s grandson, was the father of Nellie Mae Ricks Long who was Lois Long’s mother; Nellie Mae Ricks married Isaac Long who had land on the Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama.

After a short stop at the Mother Church, we went to the black cemetery that was located just west of the church.  Parson George bought 320 acres of land around the church and gave one half acre for the graveyard.  The majority of the deceased black folks buried in the cemetery are the descendants of Abraham Ricks’ slaves.

Abe Sledge Home

As we were making the tour of the old black landmarks in northeast Colbert County, Huston Cobb showed us the home of Abe Sledge, who was a direct descendant of the slaves of The Oaks; Abraham Ricks owned Abe Sledge’s ancestors.  Abe’s old home appears to be in good shape and looks to be occupied today. 

Abe Sledge’s grandmother was Emma Ricks Sledge; she was known as Momma Emma and was the cook for the plantation.  Momma Emma was born on November 7, 1866, and died on May 7, 1954.  In 1930 the government interviewed Momma Emma by workers of  the Library of Congress.  Emma Sledge was a midwife that delivered both black and white babies.

Abe was born on The Oaks Plantation; Abe was born in the house where he died.  Abe Sledge was a black man; the Miles brothers repaired his old house which is located between The Oaks and the original black Mother Church.  The Sledge name came from a white family by the same name; Lemuel Sledge, a white man, owned half a section of land in the area.

LaGrange Mountain Cemetery

Within a few miles southeast of The Oaks, Huston Cobb directed us to the LaGrange Mountain Cemetery where Abraham Ricks, Sr. was buried in December 1852; LaGrange is a French word that means “The Place.”  By far, the largest monument in the cemetery is that of Abraham Ricks, Sr.; he was the owner of The Oaks Plantation.  It took 16 yokes of oxen three days to transport the Italian marble from the river to the top of LaGrange Mountain to construct Ricks’ tombstone and monument.

The mountaintop cemetery was just south of LaGrange College which opened on January 11, 1830, with two three story brick buildings.  On January 19, 1830, LaGrange College became the first educational institution issued a charter by the Alabama Legislature with Reverend Robert Paine as the first president.  In 1830, Turner Saunders was elected the first President of the Board of Trustees; a Cherokee and Choctaw served on the board with John Coffee, who surveyed the Indian lands taken in the Turkey Town Treaty of September 1816.  Turner Saunders mansion, which was supposedly designed by President Thomas Jefferson, still stands in Lawrence County just one mile east of Doublehead’s Trace or present-day Highway 101.  LaGrange College was burned by the Union forces of General Grenville M. Dodge on April 28, 1863. 

Turner Saunders’ son was James Edmonds Saunders; James was a owner of black slaves and was said to have chains and shackles in his basement.  The Saunders, Goode, Hall Mansion is just one mile east of Highway 101 in Lawrence County, Alabama.  According to the 1850 slave census, James Edmonds Saunders owned 41 black slaves; by 1860, James Edmonds Saunders owned 145 black slaves.

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.”


  1. Hi
    I think it looks amazing. I'm not sure I would have had the patience that you had though! ecofriendly construction

  2. Thank you for all this information! I'm researching genealogy for descendants of "Parson" George Ricks and your blog has been most helpful.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I am a descendant of Parson George Ricks. I would like more information.

    1. I am a descendant of Parson George Ricks also. Which makes us cousins. I would like to speak more with you regarding our family genealogy.