Wilcox Historical Society Newsletter – Summer 2001

June 28 Meeting to be Held at Beck-Bryant-Talbot Home

Our next meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, June 28, 2001 at the home known as “River Bluff House”. This home is currently owned by Judi and Doug Talbot, and was featured in our 1999 Fall Pilgrimage. The Talbots have graciously agreed to host this late afternoon meeting which will start at 5:30 P.M. We will have a brief business meeting and then Bob Bradley of the State of Alabama Department of Archives and History will speak on historical flags of Alabama, and will specifically address the present status of the “Wilcox True Blues” flag which was made on this very property in early 1861. Following his talk, we will be treated to refreshments. This is a no-charge event and all members and prospective members are invitedPlease see attachment for directions to the home.

“River Bluff House” was built around 1847 for William King Beck, a nephew of William Rufus King of Collirene, a Vice President of the United States. Mr. Beck had migrated to Wilcox County around 1820 with his three brothers from North Carolina. Like many men of the Old South, he combined a law practice with cotton planting, and achieved considerable local prominence. Apparently Mr. Beck was married twice, with his second wife being Anne Eliza Smith, daughter of a neighboring planter, Duncan C. Smith. This home was their principal residence until they moved to Camden.

“River Bluff House” is a large Greek Revival Cottage with a recessed porch supported by octagonal columns. The columns and the eared architraves framing the interior window and door openings strongly link this structure to Alexander Bragg as the builder. According to local history, J. D. Bryant, who owned the home in the late1800’s, altered the hipped roof line from the original form. The roof, which extends over the veranda, was characteristic of a number of mid-19th century plantation homes that once existed across south central Alabama. This home was initially restored by Don Bell in the early 1990’s and then altered to its current state by Mr. and Mrs. Jim Bridges in the mid-1990’s.

The “Wilcox True Blues” was the first company formed in this part of the State in early 1861, and was initially comprised of young men from east Wilcox County followed by young men from the Camden area. The ladies of the families of these volunteers decided to present the company with a suitable flag, and while the company was being organized, the women began to make the flag. Since the stores in Camden had no suitable material, Miss Adele Robbins of Canton Bend presented the ladies with a blue silk dress to be used for the flag. Mr. Samuel Tepper

volunteered to paint the inscription on the banner which consisted of the words “Wilcox True Blues” on one side, and on the other side was depicted a steamboat, cotton boll, and a coiled rattlesnake. Mrs. Ella Thompson presented the flag to the company which the Honorable S.C. Cook accepted on its behalf. The company left Wilcox County in February 1861 and was engaged in the capture of Fort Barrancas and Fort McRea. The “Wilcox True Blues” then were organized into the First Regiment of Alabama as Company B and Judge Purifoy of Furman was made color bearer. Captain was I.G.W. Steadman, a medical doctor from Oak Hill. This regiment was the first one transferred to the Confederate Army, and was ordered to Island 10 on the Mississippi River. On the way to this outpost, thinly clad, many of the young soldiers became ill. The color bearer, among the sick, was put off the boat at a private residence at Tiptonville, Tennessee. There he and his colors were captured by Wisconsin troops, and sent to Madison, Wisconsin. The flag was placed in a military museum.

Many years later, the museum was destroyed by fire, and it was assumed that the flag had been destroyed also. However, in 1917, Miss Maud McWilliams of Camden was visiting her sister, Mrs. Margueritte McWilliams Cook, in Lansing, Michigan, and happened to discover the “Wilcox True Blues” banner in a military museum there. She recognized it from the description given to her by her father. When the word reached Richard Ervin McWilliams, an original member of Company B who later served as a Major in the Confederate Army, and who had spent many years trying to locate the flag, he wrote the Michigan State Auditor and the Grand Army of Michigan requesting its return. The flag was returned to Alabama sometime later, and was displayed at the Wilcox County Courthouse for a period of time. Later it was placed in the Department of Archives and History, where it rests today, though in dire need of repair. We have in hand a proposal to repair the flag, and this proposal will be discussed at the meeting.

(This information was excerpted from an article written by R.E. McWilliams, a Private in Company B. This article appeared in the Wilcox Progressive Era on February 10, 1921. Mr. McWilliams, the great grandfather of our Vice President, Garland Cook Smith, died on August 25, 1921).

Dunn-Fairley-Bonner Project

As you may recall from the March 1, 2001 meeting, our Society voted to accept the donation of this home from the trustees of the James Bonner Trust. The deed completing this gift was signed on June 11, 2001, and we now officially own the property. There is a reversion clause in the deed which states that it will revert to the Trust if we have not begun restoration within three years of the donation. We plan to start stabilization/restoration efforts on the home per Historical Commission Guidelines within a few weeks.

Our Society has agreed to allow James David Bonner to clear the rear grounds of the property as his Eagle Scout project, with work to be done under our auspices. We have submitted a planning grant application to the Alabama Historical Commission (June 1), and will be submitting a restoration grant application by November 1, 2001. This property was placed on the list of the Top 10 Endangered Buildings in Alabama on May 17.

Loose Records Microfilming Update

The local society has been working with the State of Alabama Department of Archives and History in preparing loose records for microfilming by the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU). These records, which include pre-1915 estate case files, loose marriage and divorce records up to 1950, guardianship and apprenticeship files, slave records, and Confederate pension records, contain some of the most historically significant information held by Alabama Counties. Our volunteers, led by Ruth and Will Liddell, are unfolding and flattening the records, cleaning as necessary, alphabetizing, and then placing the records in acid-free folders in preparation for the microfilming operation. We are working on records from the courthouse and the old jail building. If you are interested in assisting in this ongoing project, please call Ruth Liddell at 682-9622. Society volunteers have “flattened” and filed several volumes to-date, but the effort really took off with the full-time volunteer effort by Josephine and Marvin Ek of Utah. They are working in the genealogical room of the local library most days, so please give them a hand.

Other Business

Another item discussed in March was the erection of a National District historic marker for Camden. We need to decide what should go on the marker, and where it may be erected. Jane Liddell and John Creswell are to report on this project. Another item of old business concerns the erection of a memorial sign/marker for Lieutenant Joseph M. Wilcox being coordinated by the local DAR chapter. The committee chaired by Slaton Crawford will report on their findings at the meeting. The final committee report will be from Phil Tate on the Veteran Memorial display project. We will be displaying memorabilia such as pictures, uniforms, and other items honoring our veterans in a display housed in the Wilcox Female Institute.

2001 Fall Pilgrimage

We have set the date for this year’s Pilgrimage. It will be on Saturday, September 29 from 9:00 to 6:00, and will feature the Camden and Canton Bend area. Sister McDuffie Curry and Jane Shelton Dale have agreed to serve as co-chairpersons for this event. Thanks! You can see what homes and other buildings are featured this year by visiting our web page, or come to the meeting and get an old-fashioned handout!

The Wilcox Historical Society was founded in the late 1960’s, with the initial goal to save and restore the Wilcox Female Institute. Our goal as a society continues to be to preserve the history of this region and to act in some regard as a clearing house and reference source to people searching for genealogical information. Our local Wilcox Library is an excellent source of information and features one of the best genealogical rooms to be found anywhere. You may contact us our local address: P.O. Box 464, Camden, AL 36726. You can also e-mail us at grsouth@frontiernet.net or call 334-682-9825 for information. And we have a web site link under http://www.wilcoxwebworks.com/history.

The cost to join the society is $10 per person, or $15 per couple annually. Please join with us! To get back on schedule, payment is due by September 1, 2001.

Don Donald, President
Garland Cook Smith, V.P./Program Chairperson
Secretary: Ruth Liddell
Treasurer: Roy MacIntosh
Membership Chairperson: Alyce Yarbrough
Curator: Ernestine Dunnam
Pilgrimage Chairpersons: Sister Curry & Jane Shelton Dale

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