Chapter 47: The First Legislature of the State of Alabama -- Governor Bibb

Albert James Pickett: HISTORY OF ALABAMA.
(Kindly contributed by William C. Bell)



Summer 1819: An election was held throughout the new State of Alabama for a governor and members of the legislature, in anticipation of the admission by Congress of the State as of a member of the American Union. William W. Bibb received eight thousand three hundred and forty-two votes for governor, and his opponent, Marmaduke Williams, received seven thousand one hundred and forty.

The General Assembly of Alabama convened at Huntsville on the fourth Monday in October. The House of Representatives was composed of forty-five members, and James Dellet, of Monroe, was elected Speaker. The Senate had twenty-one members, and Thomas Bibb was elected President of that body.

Nov. 9: William W. Bibb was inaugurated as the first governor of the State before both houses of the legislature, in the presence of a large assemblage of citizens, to whom he made a handsome and appropriate address. He had previously presented an excellent message, in which he congratulated the people upon the abundant crops which it had pleased the Almighty to afford them, the health which they had universally enjoyed, and the fortunate termination of the convention, which had resulted in the establishment of an excellent constitution. He brought to the attention of the legislature the subject of the liberal donations by Congress in reserving for a seminary of learning seventy-two sections of land -- the sixteenth section in every township for the use of schools -- five per cent. of the net proceeds of the sales of the public lands (sold after the first of September, 1819) for purposes of internal improvements--and sixteen hundred and twenty acres of land, at the confluence of the Cahawba and Alabama rivers, for a seat of government. He reported that he had laid off the town of Cahawba, and that one hundred and eighty-two lots had been sold, for one hundred and twenty-three thousand eight hundred and fifty-six dollars -- one-fourth of which, received in cash, had been deposited in the Planters' and Merchants' Bank of Huntsville, to be expended in the erection of a temporary State-house, which was then under contract. The message concluded by recommending a revision of the statutes, the organization of the judicial department, the election of judges, and the appointment by law of an engineer to examine the rivers, who was to report in what manner their navigation might be improved.

The legislature proceeded to elect two Senators of the United States. William R. King and John W. Walker were elected upon the first ballot, over Thomas D. Crabb and George Phillips.

During the session of the legislature, General Jackson visited Huntsville with his horses, and was enthusiastically engaged in the sports of the turf, then an amusement indulged Session in by the highest classes. Colonel Howell Rose, a Senator from the county of Autauga, was also at Huntsville. Colonel Rose was then a young man of indomitable energy and fearless spirit, and possessed a native intellect of remarkable vigor and strength. He was ardent in his attachment to Jackson, and was the first to propose resolutions approbatory of his valuable services to the State performed during the late Creek and Seminole wars. Colonel Rose introduced joint resolutions of this character, together with one inviting the general to a seat within the bar both of the House and the Senate on all occasions when it should be his pleasure to attend those bodies, which were adopted. Colonel Rose, at the head of a committee, waited upon Jackson, with a copy of the resolutions, to which the latter replied in a letter full of the liveliest gratitude. Since that interesting occasion Colonel Rose has from time to time performed valuable services to the State, as a member of the General Assembly. He is a wealthy citizen of the county of Coosa. His mind, naturally one of the richest in the country, and improved by self-instruction, is still vigorous and clear, while his agreeable eccentricity of manner, and original ideas and sayings, engage the attention of all who are thrown in his way. His colloquial powers are of a very high as well as of a very peculiar order. He delivers his views with force and energy, and is never at a loss for a spicy repartee. While he was addressing the members of the legislature, he never failed to engage their attention. Colonel Rose was born in North Carolina, removed from thence to Georgia, and emigrated to Alabama soon after the Creek war.

So soon as the judicial circuits were organized, the legislature proceeded to elect officers. Henry Hitchcock, the former Territorial Secretary, was elected Attorney-General over John S. N. Jones and D. Sullivan. Abner S. Lipscomb was elected Judge of the First Judicial Circuit over Harry Toulmin; Reuben Saffold, Judge of the second without opposition; Henry Y. Webb, Judge of the third without opposition; Richard Ellis, Judge of the fourth over Beverly Hughes and John McKinley; Clement C. Clay, Judge of the fifth without opposition.

John Gayle was elected Solicitor of the First Judicial Circuit without opposition; Constantine Perkins, of the third, over Sion L. Perry; Peter Martin, of the fourth, without opposition; James Eastland, of the fifth, over James W. McClung and Poladore Naylor.

The legislature was exceedingly anxious to see the laws enforced; and, for that purpose, selected magistrates from among the most respectable and prominent men throughout the State. They discharged the same duties which the Judges of the County Courts had done previous to the adoption of the present Probate system, and as was the practice of Virginia. A few of those now selected must be mentioned merely to show the determination of our then infant State, to give tone and dignity to the administration of the laws, even in inferior courts. For the county of Autauga, for instance, John A. Elmore, John Armstrong, Robert Gaston, James Jackson and William R. Pickett were elected magistrates.

General John A. Elmore, one of these justices, was a native of South Carolina, of the legislature of which State he had often been a respectable member. Not long after his removal to Alabama, he represented the county of Autauga in our legislature, which then sat at Cahawba. He was a man of firmness and much good sense, and always delivered his opinions, even in common conversation, in a distinct and loud voice, with that candor and honesty which characterized his conduct through life. He had a commanding appearance, was large in person, and, altogether, an exceedingly fine looking man. He delighted in the sports of the chase, being a most successful and spirited hunter, and an agreeable companion in the many camp-hunts in which he engaged with his neighbors and friends. Towards the close of his life, we remember that he presented a dignified and venerable appearance, and we saw him preside as chairman of several large and exciting meetings in the town of Montgomery during the days of nullification.

James Jackson, another of these magistrates, was born in the county of Wilkes, Georgia. He had been a man of influence in that region. Upon his arrival, in 1818, in the Territory of Alabama, he immediately ranked with the leading men of the county of Autauga. He was elected a member of the State convention, and assisted to give us the excellent constitution we now have. Afterwards, Mr. Jackson was several times an active and influential member of the House of Representatives and of the Senate of the State of Alabama. He died the 19th July, 1832, at his residence in Autauga, within a few miles of that of General Elmore, who also died about that period. Mr. Jackson was a man for whom nature had done much. Although raised upon the frontiers of Georgia, among a rude population, and thrown upon the world with but little means and still less education, he was decidedly elegant in conversation and polite and polished in his manners. He had the faculty of adapting himself to all classes. In person he was of medium size, his face was handsome and expressive, and, when meeting a friend, was generally enlivened with a smile. He was a most excellent and liberal neighbor. Smooth and fluent in conversation, and conciliating in his general views, he was a most delightful fireside companion. He was shrewd and sagacious, and a close and correct observer of human nature.

The author, being the son of William R. Pickett, another of the Autauga magistrates, is relieved from the delicate task of portraying his character by copying the following obituary, written by a friend for the gazettes:

"Colonel William Raiford Pickett died at his residence, in Autauga county, on the 20th September, 1850, aged seventy-three years. Colonel Pickett was born in Anson county, North Carolina, upon the Pedee river, where his parents, James Pickett and Martha Terry, had removed some time before the revolutionary war from their place of nativity, near Bolling Green, in Caroline county, Virginia. Their ancestors, whose extraction was Scotch, English and French, were among the earliest colonists of Virginia.

"Soon after he became of age Colonel Pickett filled the post of sheriff of Anson county, and was afterwards elected to the legislature, which sat at Raleigh, where he served for several years. When the federal revenue was collected by direct taxation, he received from Mr. Madison, then President, the appointment of assessor and collector for a large district in North Carolina, the arduous and responsible duties of which he discharged to the end with zeal and fidelity.

"In the spring of 1818 he brought his family out to this country, and established himself as a planter and merchant in the present Autauga county, which then formed a portion of the county of Montgomery. Two years before this early period he had explored these southwestern wilds, in company with his near relative and friend, Tod Robinson, encountering dangers and hardships incident upon the close of a sanguinary war with the Creeks.

"When the legislature of Alabama sat at Cahawba, Colonel Pickett took his seat in that body in 1821. In 1823 he was a member, and again in 1824, which term closed his duties in the Lower House. In 1828 he was elected to the State Senate, and entered that body in the fall of that year at Tuscaloosa, then the capital of Alabama. He was a Senator for the period of five years, when, in the summer of 1834, he was beaten for that position by Colonel Broadnax, during an exceedingly high state of party excitement, the election turning solely upon party grounds, and many of his old friends voting against him with much reluctance. In his legislative career, he was an active and very influential member, and was the originator of many salutary laws, some of which are still ill force. In the meantime, he was three times placed upon the democratic electoral ticket for President and Vice-President, and each time received overwhelming majorities.

"He was a man of sterling honor and integrity, and, perhaps, no one ever surpassed him in disinterested benevolence and charity, for he not only supported the poor and destitute around him, but freely dispensed to those upon the highway. In person, he was large, erect and commanding, with a face beaming with intelligence, a forehead bold and lofty, and eyes brilliant and expressive, to the last moments of his existence. He was peculiarly remarkable for his wit and originality, and the risible faculties of more men have been aroused, while in his company, than in that of almost any other person. And even to this day, in North Carolina, though thirty-two years have transpired since he left that State, his original sayings and anecdotes are often repeated. No man ever received more attention, during his protracted illness, from those in his immediate neighborhood, who deeply mourn his departure from their midst. Persons from all parts of the country visited him in his affliction."

The legislature of Alabama, during its session at Huntsville, enacted many salutary laws, and judiciously arranged the districts. Six new counties were established, and were added to those already organized. They were Greene, Jefferson, Session Perry, Henry, Wilcox and Butler. Wilcox was of 1819 named in honor of the lieutenant, who, in 1814, was killed by the Indians upon the Alabama river, as we have seen, and Butler in memory of the captain, who was also killed by the Indians, near Fort Dale, on the 20th March, 1818. The legislature adjourned on the 17th December, 1819.*

* State Archives.

The land offices at Milledgeville and Huntsville were in active operation. Extensive surveys had been completed, 1819-20 sales had been everywhere proclaimed, and thousands of eager purchasers flocked into the country from every Atlantic and Western State. Never before or since, did the population of any State so rapidly increase as that of Alabama from the period of 1820 until 1830.

No sooner had the flourishing State of Alabama been thoroughly organized, than the citizens were called upon to mourn the death of their first governor. Riding in the forest one day, the horse of Governor Bibb fell with him to the ground, and he then received an injury from which he never recovered. He died at his residence, in the county of Autauga, in July, 1820, in the fortieth year of his age--calm, collected, peaceful--surrounded by numerous friends and relations.

Governor Bibb was five feet ten inches in height, with an erect but delicate frame. He was exceedingly easy and graceful in his bearing. His interesting face bore the marks of deep thought and great intelligence. His eyes, of a dark color, were mild, yet expressive. Whether thrown into the company of the rude or the refined, his language was pure and chaste. No one ever lived, either in Georgia or Alabama, who was treated with a greater degree of respect by all classes. This was owing to his high moral character, unsurpassed honor, excellent judgment, and a very high order of talents. Entirely free from that dogmatism and those patronizing airs which characterize many of our distinguished men, he invariably treated the opinions of the humblest citizen with courtesy and respect. He was, however, a man of firmness, swaying the minds of men with great success, and governing by seeming to obey.

In all the stations which he filled, Governor Bibb was eminently successful. When quite a young man his skill and attention as a physician, in the then flourishing town of Petersburg, Georgia, secured for him an extensive practice. He next went into the legislature from Elbert county, and, serving four years in that body, acquired a popularity rarely attained by one of his age. At the early age of twenty-five he was elected to Congress under the General Ticket System, by a vote so large as to leave no doubt but that he was a great favorite with the people. He immediately became a leading member of the Lower House of the National Legislature -- was an able and fearless advocate of the war of 1812, and a conscientious supporter of the administration of Madison. His contemporaries, at his first election, were Bolling Hall, George M. Troup and Howell Cobb. He had not been long in Congress before his popularity caused him to come within a few votes of being elected to the office of Speaker of the House. Afterwards the legislature of Georgia elected him to the Senate of the United States. He was thus a member of Congress from 1806 until 1816, when as we have seen in the preceding pages. he was appointed by the President, Governor of Alabama Territory, and was afterwards elected by the people Governor of the State of Alabama. In reference to his Congressional career, we have often heard, from the lips of many of his distinguished contemporaries, that the practical order of his mind, the wisdom of his views, and the peculiar music of his voice, contributed to render him one of the most attractive and effective of speakers.

When Governor Bibb first established himself as a physician he married Mary, only daughter of Colonel Holman Freeman, of revolutionary memory, and then a citizen of Wilkes county. She was one of the most beautiful and accomplished ladies of her day, and has ever been esteemed and admired by the early inhabitants of Alabama. She is now residing in the county of Dallas, in the enjoyment of fine health. Governor Bibb left two children by this lady--a son and a daughter. The latter, the late Mrs. Alfred V. Scott, who died some years ago, was much like her father in the mildness of her disposition, the grace and ease of her manners, and the intellectual beauty of her face.

After the death of Governor Bibb his brother, Thomas Bibb, who was President of the Senate, became the acting governor. He was a man of strong mind and indomitable energy.

In the preceding pages we have alluded to the mother of Governor Bibb. She was one of the most remarkable women we ever knew, for energy, decision, and superior sense. When Captain Bibb, her husband, died, he left her with eight children, and an estate much embarrassed by debt. Benajah, the ninth child, was born a few months after the death of his father. Mrs. Bibb worked the estate out of debt--educated her children, and lived to see them all in affluence, and many of them enjoying offices of honor and profit. She was known to the early inhabitants of Alabama, by whom she was much esteemed, as Mrs. Barnett, having married a gentleman of that name. Thomas Bibb resembled his mother m The memory of Governor William Wyatt Bibb is preserved in the name of a county in Georgia, and one in Alabama.

But here we lay down our pen. The early history of Alabama, as far as it rests in our hands, is ended, and our task is accomplished. To some other person, fonder than we are of the dry details of State legislation and fierce party spirit, we leave the task of bringing the history down to a later period.


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