Wilcox Historical Society Newsletter – Fall 2008

Following is a brief history of the home and the flag, including a reprint of February 10, 1921 article in the Wilcox Progressive Era written by R.E. McWilliams, Sr., a private in Company B, First Alabama Regiment, and who is responsible for the flag being returned to Alabama .he  next meeting of the Wilcox Historical Society is scheduled for Thursday, September 18, 2008 at the Canton Bend home known as “River Bluff House”.  This home is currently owned by Judi and Doug Talbot of New Orleans , and has been featured in several Pilgrimages.  The Talbots have graciously agreed to host this late afternoon meeting which will start at 2:00 P.M.   This meeting will be jointly hosted by the Wilcox Historical Society and the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  Bob Bradley, Flag Curator of the State of Alabama Department of Archives and History will accompany the “Wilcox True Blues” flag which was sewn on this very property in early 1861. The flag underwent several years of restoration in Maryland , and was returned to the Archives in 2007.  This will be the first time it has “come home” to Wilcox County since its return from Michigan in 1921. Following Mr. Bradley’s presentation on the restoration effort, refreshments will be served. This is a no-charge event and all members and prospective members are invited!

“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 .  He had migrated to Wilcox Countyaround 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 history. J. D. Bryant, who owned the home in the late 1800’s, altered the hipped roofline 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 (initially formed as Company K in Allenton on February 9, 1861, later to become Company B), 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 blue silk dress material 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.  Captains were I.G.W. Steadman, a medical doctor from Oak Hill, and David Wardlaw Ramsey.  The First Lieutenant was J.K. Hawthorne. This regiment was the first one transferred to the Confederate service, 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 where it 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.  However, in 1917, Miss Maud McWilliams of Camden was visiting her sister Mrs. Margueritte McWilliams Cook, in Lansing , Michigan , and happened to discover in a military museum there the “Wilcox True Blues” banner, which she recognized from the description given her by her father.  When the word reached Richard Ervin McWilliams, an original member of the Company, and 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 in 1921, 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 rested for over 80 years, though in dire need of repair. The local Wilcox Historical Society spearheaded the effort including a fundraiser to have this flag restored, and through the special efforts of the ADAH, this is has come to fruition.

 (The above information was excerpted from an article written by R.E. McWilliams, a Private in Company B, and which appeared in the Wilcox Progressive Era on February 10, 1921 .  Mr. McWilliams, the great-grandfather of our Vice President, GarlandCook Smith and her sister Jean Lindsay Cook, died on August 25, 1921 ).

Camden Cemetery listed on Alabama Historic Cemetery Register

 The Wilcox Historical Society received notice in June 2008, that the Camden Cemetery , located on Broad Street in Camden , “has been favorably reviewed and is now listed on the Alabama Historic Cemetery Register.”  The AHCR is a prestigious listing of historic cemeteries in Alabama .  The selected cemeteries are worthy of both recognition and preservation.  Listing on the state cemetery register is an honorary designation.

 According to Lee Anne Wofford, Architectural Survey & Cemetery Program Coordinator, with the Alabama Historical Commission, the Camden Cemetery is the third cemetery in Wilcox County to be listed on the register, which features 214 cemeteries statewide.

Historic Jail in Camden

Ed Shirley believes this is the oldest jail standing in Alabama ! Dorothy Walker with the Alabama Historical Commission met with a local committee to examine the property. The part of the structure closest to the street was probably constructed around 1850. Even the additions are more than likely before the Civil War, because of the type of bricks.

 The building is very ornate with rather elaborate masonry work, especially for a “jail.” When you want a building for the purpose of locking up rowdy folks, who cares about aesthetics? Somebody did.

 The county owns the building. Circuit Clerk Ralph Ervin represents the county’s interest in the structure. We are seeking estimates on repairing the windows and doors. The first step is to secure the building. The second step is to repair and paint all windows and doors to improve the old jail’s appearance. The front porch is a Victorian era addition, but it would be nice to keep it because it adds character to the structure. Once an estimate is established, measures to fund the project can be discussed.

It is indeed very rare to find an old jail still standing in the state. And its architectural details are certainly worth preserving.

  Wilcox Historical Society

 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 or on the web: The cost to join the society is $10 per person or $15 per couple annually.  Please join us! 

 Wilcox Historical Society Officers:

 President: Ed Shirley

V.P./Program Chairperson: Garland Cook Smith

Secretary: Jane Shelton Dale

Treasurer: Sheliah Jones

Curator: Pie Malone

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