Wilcox Historical Society Newsletter – Winter 2004

Jane Shelton Dale to Present  Program on the H. L. Hunley

 Local resident Jane Shelton Dale will present a program on the war-time history, the discovery, and recovery of the Confederate submarine H.L.Hunley on Friday, February 6, at 2:00 PM at the Wilcox Female Institute.   All Wilcox Society members and guests are invited.  This program is also  open to the general public at no charge.  The Hunley was built in Mobile and was the first submarine to sink an enemy ship in battle.  It was sunk in Charleston Harbor in 1864 with the crew of eight going down with the vessel.  It was discovered in 1995 by salvage hunters and raised from the harbor in 2000. The bodies of the crew were recovered, most of which were still at their battle stations.  This 3rd and final group of heroic men will be interred at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina on April 17, 2004.  You will have to attend the meeting to hear the fascinating details of the history of this vessel and crew, and the recovery procedure!

Jane Shelton Dale and her family have been active members of our Society for many years.  She is a native of Camden and attended local schools, and graduated from Erskine College in 1973.  She is active in many organizations and is a former school teacher at both Catherine Academy and Wilcox Academy.

 Historical Records Microfilming

The  project has been completed, and the records from the courthouse and old jail which met the criteria have been flattened and cataloged, filmed, and are currently stored in the library genealogical room.  Tom Turley and Lyn Frazier of the Historical Records Department, State Department of the Archives, were instrumental in originating this program and are due a debt of gratitude for their contribution.  Locally Ruth and Will Liddell , Bettie Morgan and her staff, Bobby Lane, and John Clyde Riggs and ATRC are extended a special thank you for their efforts in completing the project.  Mr. Turley and staff will deliver the microfilm to Wilcox County at the February 6 meeting, and recognize the local contributors to this project.

Wilcox True Blues Flag Project

Following is a reprint of an article by Mini Lambert  that appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of FOTA Facts, the official publication of the Friends of the Archives:

It is said that flags represent the fabric of a people.  In the case of the Wilcox True Blues, a Confederate militia from Camden and east Wilcox County, this sentiment wasn’t just a metaphor.  It was true.  The flag was actually sown from a blue silk dress donated by a local resident, Adele Robbins.  Pieces of the dress were sewn together by ladies from the soldiers’ families, and then the flag was painted by Samuel Tepper.  He painted the company’s name on one side of the banner and a steamboat and cotton boll of the other.  ADAH curator Bob Bradley explained that when the war broke out, there was a fervor to make flags for military companies .  “Each company had its own flag, and the idea was for the flag to be unique and set that company apart,” said Bradley.  The people of Camden and Wilcox County refused to let their young men go off to war without a suitable banner; thus, the flag – and the story behind it – were created, forming yet another interesting piece of Alabama history.

 Preserving the 140-year old flag became a project in the local community just as creating it had been.  The Wilcox Historical Society worked diligently to raise funds for the flag’s conservation, and on August 3, 2002, the society’s president, Don Donald, presented a check to Bob Bradley to be used for the conservation of the Wilcox True Blues banner. “They have done better with fund-raising than any single group that’s sponsored a flag,” Bradley said.  The conservation process, which will take over a year, will be conducted by Textile Preservation Associates of Keedysville, Maryland, for a cost of $25,634.  With a third of this amount provided by the Wilcox Historical Society, the remainder will come from the Friends of the Archives Flag Fund, which is primarily made up of donations from the Alabama Division of the Confederate Veterans and the Alabama Division of Civil War Re-enactors.  During an examination of the flag, preservation professionals noted that the silk fabric is in good condition, but the paintings are severely damaged and fragmented.  With numerous loose pieces, approximately 40 per cent of the flag is missing.   “Nobody alive has seen this flag intact,” said Bradley. “When it’s restored, we’ll not only be getting a flag.  We’ll be getting a painting as well.  It will be truly spectacular.”  The flag is slated to be displayed in the new ADAH Museum of Natural History.

 Originally, the flag was presented to the company prior to their departure for Pensacola, Florida, in February 1861.  After the regiment was captured at Island 10 in April 1862, the flag was kept in a private home near there, but it subsequently disappeared. In 1917 Maude McWilliams of Camden discovered the flag on display at the capitol in Lansing, Michigan.  She notified her father, Richard Ervin McWilliams, who had served with the True Blues.  Through his efforts, the flag was returned to him by permission of the Board of Governors of the State of Michigan and the Michigan Grand Army of the Republic.  The flag was presented to the Department of Archives and History in 1921.  Richard McWilliams’ great-granddaughter, Garland Cook Smith, currently serves as vice president of the Wilcox Historical Society.

Note: The Friends of the Archives is a very worthwhile organization, and Don Donald was nominated and installed as a  member of the Board of Directors in 2003.  You are encouraged to join “Friends” to  help support many worthwhile projects such as our True Blue Flag project.  Membership is only $25 per year.  You can contact them at P.O. Box 300100, Montgomery, AL or contact Don for a membership application.

 Dunn-Fairley-Bonner Project

As noted in prior newsletters, we received a planning grant relating to the preservation of the home in the amount of $5,000 on August 2, 2001. Richard Hudgens, historical architect from Selma, has  completed the preservation plans and drawings.  We received notice from the Alabama Historical Commission on February 10, 2003 that our Society had received a grant in the amount of $25,000.  This was a matching grant, and we had intended to start Phase I work in the summer of 2003, but the refunds were withdrawn as part of the Governor’s cost cutting actions.  Applications and information on other sources have been received and are being pursued.  Another option would be to place the building and grounds on the open market, with any buyer being bound to follow the preservation guidelines established in Mr. Hudgens’ package.

 Other Projects Update

 World War II Veterans Project –  The boards which have been completed are on display in the back room (historical display room) of the Beck-Miller-Bonner Law Office. This room is open and available for not only these display boards but other memorabilia that may be available for exhibition.  This building has been leased to Gail Tait, and you should coordinate any tour requests by calling Gail at 337-4756.

 Society History

 The Wilcox Historical Society was founded in the late 1960’s with the initial goal to save and restore the Wilcox Female Institute.  The primary goal of the Society continues to be to preserve the history of this region and to act in some degree as a clearing house and reference source to people searching for genealogical information.  Our local Wilcox County Public Library is the best source of genealogical information and features one of the best genealogical rooms to be found anywhere. The library staff can be reached at 334-682-4355, 100 Broad Street, Camden, AL 36726, e-mail at wcl@pinebelt.net. If research is needed, they can refer you to  a local historian who can perform the research for a fee. The Historical Society may be contacted at  P.O. Box 464, Camden, AL 36726.  You can also e-mail us at grsouth@frontiernet.net .Our web site link may be accessed through www.wilcoxwebworks.com.  The cost to join the society is $10 per person, or $15 per couple annually.  Please join with us!  Payment of dues is due by September 1 of each year.

 The current Wilcox Historical Society Officers:

Don Donald, President

Garland Cook Smith, V.P./Program Chairperson

Secretary: Lindsay Johnson

Treasurer: Mary Charles Donald

Membership Chairperson: Alyce Yarbrough

Curator: Vacant

We plan to elect officers for 2004/2005 term at the February meeting.  We have a partial slate of persons willing to serve as officers for the coming year, and will accept nominations from the floor.

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