Early Wilcox County History

Alabama a social and economic history of the state (2)

From ALABAMA A SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC HISTORY OF THE STATE by Marie Bankhead Owen, 1938: Wilcox County was created by the Alabama Legislature December 13, 1819, and was named for Lieutenant J.M. Wilcox. It is situated in the south central part of the state. Its elevation ranges from 275 feet to 475 feet above sea level, and its topography is from undulating to hilly. It lies wholly within the Gulf Coastal Plain; and its soil may be divided into two groups: the uplands, or hill lands, and the lowlands, or made lands. There is a small area of black prairie or limestone soil in the county. The soils are well suited to agriculture. Cattle and hog raising are also found to be profitable.   

The county is well drained by the Alabama and its tributaries and McCants’, Pussley’s, Rhodes’, Pine Barren, Prairie, Wolf, Little Bear, Straight, Studivant, Breast Works, Hills, Chulatchee, Foster’s, Turkey, Red, Moccasin, Goose, James, Beaver, Tiger and Bear Creeks. The forest trees of the county are long- and shortleaf pine, oak, hickory, ash, elm, poplar, cedar, cypress, cottonwood, sycamore, mulberry, beech and magnolia.

It is presumed by students of the subject that the Indian inhabitants of Wilcox County were Maubila Indians, later known as Mobilians, who were a Choctaw-speaking people. Nanipacna, meaning “hill top”, visited by the DeLuna expedition in 1560, was situated on the east side of the Alabama River in the upper part of Wilcox County. It seems there were no Indian settlements in Wilcox County during the French and Indian times, although there were two, doubtless both Creek settlements, in later American times. Because peach trees were found growing there, these two localities were called Upper and Lower Peach Tree. Lower Peach Tree still retains its name, but Upper Peach Tree has been given the modern name of Clifton. Wilcox County was in the Creek domain and became an American possession by the Treaty of Fort Jackson August 9, 1814. Burial mounds and town sites have been located along the river.  

A number of white pioneers made settlements in the county in 1816. Peter Thornhill made the first road through the woods. The road was constructed to enable him to find his way to and from his hunting expeditions. Following the Creek Indian War of two years previous, the people of the Mississippi Territory were still subject to military duty; and the pioneers coming into Alabama from Mississippi were not exempt from that duty but were required to rendezvous at Fort Claiborne for drill and inspection by the proper officers every three months. As the county was infested with roving bands of Indians who were bitter over their defeat and ready for any act of violence, the trips of the militia down to Fort Claiborne were always attended with danger.   

These militiamen would travel in squads of three or four, always on foot, and were armed with rifles and hunting knives. Since most of them lived on the west side of the river, they usually crossed the Alabama River at Yellow Bluff. To baffle the Indians and to avoid being ambushed, they seldom travelled the same road twice. On several occasions, they were followed by Indians; but they usually succeeded in throwing them off the track. During the absence of the men at the militia muster, their families would concentrate at one place for better protection. These precautions were kept up until the Indian troubles were ended by General Jackson’s Seminole campaign.

Camden, the county seat, is situated near the Alabama River in the central part of the county. The town was settled in the early 1830’s by Thomas Dunn and a Mr. Hall. The settlement was first called Barboursville, and the county seat was removed from Clanton to that point in 1832. In 1841, the name was changed to Camden, for Camden, South Carolina, whence many of the settlers had come. In 1853, a handsome brick building for the use of the Wilcox Female Institute was built.  

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