With Ropes, Cow skin, and Constable Cottrell

Organized mob violence began to foment in Madison county around 1821. Surprisingly, counterfeiters proved the first victims of these impromptu posses because men who made fake money pissed everyone off. Once caught, the counterfeiters suffered the wrath of the group. More than other contemporary assault victims – the early counterfeiters received a systematic and vengeful form of violence that often devolved into torture.

Torturers use what they have available, so random farm items often worked their way into the collective punishment. The violence is interesting because it incorporated not only vigilantes but often included lawmen. John Cottrell proved an active and willing participant in almost every early persecution. His exuberance and presence may have provided a level of legitimacy to the proceedings as he served as a constable for Madison county. Eventually his ineptitude caught up with him and the courts fined him $35 for letting a prisoner escape.

That prisoner was Thomas Watson. On July 20, 1821, he fled from Cottrell and the Madison county jail.

Originally imprisoned for the aforementioned crime of counterfeiting, Watson spent three days fleeing through Madison county on foot before Cottrell caught up with him. He brought backup. Although the court tried two separate cases for this offense, the brutality of it combined with the fact that many of the perpetrators were related leads me to believe that the county produced multiple suits from a single instance. John Cottrell brought Thomas McGaha and John Richardson to torture the captured Watson. The second case stated that Anthony Metcalfe, Edward Morgan, Francis Morgan, Robert Jones, and John McGaha assaulted Thomas Watson in the same manner on the same day. The presence of John McGaha points not to a separate assault but to Madison county dragging the case out so as to net the largest number of convictions.

Once assembled, the eight men beat Thomas Watson until their hands grew tired. Then they beat him with “ropes and a cow hide skin.” Now, there are a few options here. Some people have used cowhide as a sort of proto-whip to inflict punishment upon their enemies, while there are rumors of people being tied up in a cowhide and left outside. As the sun hits the cowhide it starts to dehydrate and mercilessly squeezes the life from the victim until the bones break and the will shatters.

Now, the court documents say that Thomas Watson’s life “was greatly despaired of,” so either method might have happened.

Of course, this sophisticated group level of barbarism most likely developed over time. However, we have only one previous example of Cottrell and the other assailants working together, and that is a series of assaults on a man named Benjamin Camp. On July 19, 1821, a day before Thomas Watson escaped from Cottrell; John Morgan, John Ingram, Robert Jones, Thomas McGaha, Arthur Jones, and John Cottrell all assaulted Camp in the same manner as Watson. They beat him hands, ropes, and cowhides until he was nearly dead. The similarity of the attack and the overlapping of assailants indicates that Benjamin Camp may have been an accused counterfeiter or a known associate of Thomas Watson.

Either way, they beat that boy bad.


The State of Alabama v. Thomas McGaha, John Cottrell, & John Richardson, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 77 (1821).

The State of Alabama v. Anthony Metcalfe, Edward Morgan, Francis Morgan, Robert Jones & John McGaha,  Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 79-80 (1821).

The State of Alabama v. John Morgan, John Ingram, & Robert Jones,  Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 81 (1821).

The State of Alabama v. Thomas McGaha, Arthur Jones, & John Cottrell,  Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 81-82 (1821).

The State of Alabama v. John A. Cottrell, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 94-95 (1822).

Zachariah Allen and the Almighty’s Dollar

They found him with stolen goods. On March 23, 1820, Zachariah Allen stole “one Moroco pocket book,” and eighty five dollars from a man named John Allison. The court also accused him of stealing a second “Moroco pocket book” from an unknown person with a further eighty five dollars in it.

Apparently, early north Alabamians carried their money around in style. Nineteenth century pocket books filled the role of wallet, small journal, and occasionally came equipped with a calendar. It’s interesting because although men usually carried them they eventually evolved into contemporary purses after 1) someone added straps and 2) the version designed for men shrank to fit inside newly tailored pants with adequate pocket storage. Around the 1850’s, people renamed the smaller pocket book and it became a wallet.

This distinction between female pocket books and male wallets is important because clothing often differentiated the genders during the nineteenth, and earlier, centuries. Prior to the advent of industrially available make-up and cheap Gillette razors for all America-kind; our ancestors spent a long time lingering on fabric to determine the differences between genders. Occasionally they were helped along by secondary sexual characteristics, like breasts, but these were easily faked with some rolled up socks or other cheap material. Facial hair was another indicator but a regularly shaven male face might easily pass for female, or vice versa, thus all those stories about women enlisting as men during the Civil War.

However, none of that happened yet. It’s still 1820 and men still carried pocket books and Zachariah Allen just stole $170.00. The court came down hard on Allen. Jurors decreed that on September 20, he should “receive on his bare back thirty stripes, well laid on.” They subjected Allen to two hours a day, from September 20-22, in the pillory. This meant that he suffered not only corporal punishment for his theft but also faced about six hours of public abuse, during which time the rule of law suspended itself as people might humiliate him in any way they saw fit.

Of course, one’s sympathy for the man decreases once you learn what he did to William Hampton. On August 2, 1820, just a few days before being tried for his original crime, Zachariah Allen “being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil,” got into an argument with his cellmate. The two men both awaited trial in “the comon jail” of Madison county. We don’t know the kind of man William Hampton was because no records have yet been found to indicate his original crime. However, we now know that Allen was a violent sociopath because “with both his hands did throw down, and that he the said Zachariah Allen… with his rights foot did stamp on the center of the breast… of which the said William Hampton, then and there instantly died.” He stomped on this man’s chest until his ribs cracked and his heart gave up.

Two prisoners, James Vinyard and Thomas Goodwin, appeared before the court to give testimony about the murder. Vinyard gave evidence against Allen and Goodwin for him. Goodwin must have regaled the “good and Lawful men,” with a tale of bruised honor or justified homicide; because although the jury found Zachariah Allen guilty of murder they only issued him a one dollar fine.

Then they took him outside to be whipped for his original theft.


The State of Alabama v. Zachariah Allen, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 50-51 (1820).

The State of Alabama v. Zachariah Allen, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 51-52 (1820).

The Spinsters of Madison County

They’re back.

Not content to follow the path of their former friends and slowly fade away from historical record, the unruly “spinsters” known as Mary Baker and Ann Martin continued to cause trouble after the county raided their brothel. The documents made no mention of Rodah Barnard, Elizabeth Burton, or the Wilson sisters. This omission implies that the women either moved, were less of a raging hot mess, or possessed the ability to be covert.* Either way, Baker and Martin managed to entice another unmarried woman, named Mary King, to “riotously, routously, and tumultuously, asemble and gather together.”

Their purpose was to roam the county on May 7, 1820. Apparently the three women engaged in various acts of “pasing and repasing along the public streets and common highways,” in search of business. As they chose to ply their trade along the byways of the county on a Sunday they did two things. First, they attracted a lot of customers, Sunday proved to be a day off for most laboring men and they approached the women in large packs. The second accomplishment proved less fruitful. Baker, Martin, and King inadvertently attracted the attention of the sheriff and his men.

When the law arrived they found a small gathering. The three women stood on the road and negotiated prices and turns with “evil dispared persons to the number of ten and more.” The documents specify that the court did not know the names of the men, so they probably scattered as soon as someone shouted ‘oh shit, it’s the sheriff.’

According to neighbors who failed to appreciate the women’s hardworking ethic they’d “remained and continued together,” along the roads of Madison county “making such noise… for a long span of time, to wit, for the space of six hours.” Now, the documents remain vague about the nature of “such noise.” However, context clues indicate that it was something along the lines of ‘hey! y’all wanna fornicate?’ followed by the jingle of coins as they passed between hands and the sad grunts of a woman who’d rather be somewhere else.

The jury found all three women guilty and fined them a dollar each.**

Unfortunately, life as a prostitute proved harsh in Madison county. Although the two cases already examined paint things in a more comical light, because that’s what we do here, “spinsters” often faced unrepentant violence with little repercussion for their attackers.*** Fortunately, there exists some small sampling of justice and as happenstance would have it, it involves one of the women arrested here. Mary King entered into a dispute with a man named Jenning Seay on June 1, 1820. It most likely arose over payment for services. He beat her viciously and then committed “other great wrongs to the said Mary King,” which sounds like a euphemism for rape. This assertion is amplified by the fact that he either gave her a “riot wound” or “lust wound,” we are unable to make out the specific word because the handwriting is ambiguous. Unfortunately Jenning Seay did not receive jail time, fortunately the county acted quickly and arrested the man and issued a $500.00 fine against him. Hopefully he died bankrupt.


The State of Alabama v. Mary Baker, Mary King, & Ann Martin, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 49-50 (1820).

The State of Alabama v. Jenning Seay, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 50 (1820).

*It’s a pun!

**Fun fact, John W. Looney served on this jury.

***Another series of cases documents how a spinster named Mary Wilson was attacked at various times by several men, one with a cow shin, and other spinsters. I am uncertain whether or not it’s Barbara or Lucinda Wilson from the previous update going by a different name.

Dangerous Will Robertson

People in the early 19th century really enjoyed dueling. Something about locking eyes with an opponent as you fired pistols at each other’s heads made life less dull. Especially when you did it over minor things like breaches of etiquette or adultery. Early legislatures sought to limit the pastime by issuing decrees that participants had to duel in the next state over, could only wound each, or other buzzkill measures. Travel requirements limited the amount of men capable of dueling to the elite who could afford to leave their homes for days or weeks at a time to go shoot a guy in a neighboring county or state. However, this meant that people who could afford to duel were also the people that ruled. So in some areas with slightly more violent populaces, like Alabama, dueling seriously depleted the amount of landowning young men.

Which meant it had to be stopped.

One of the first laws passed by the Alabama state legislature was “An act to suppress Duelling.” Originally enacted on December 17, 1819, the act provided for a small grace period to get all the dueling out of the state’s system. Participants had until April 1, 1820, to shoot at each other over matters of honor. New legislators entering the statehouses had to proclaim that they’d foregone dueling as of January 1, 1820, and the law explicitly forbade the election of any man found guilty of dueling after that time.

So, when William H. Robertson sent “a certain John W. Looney a challenge to fight with him,” on July 23, 1820, he was only two months late. Although he came near to the expiration date for dueling, Madison county felt like flexing its big law muscles. Shortly after learning that Robertson demanded that he and Looney go at each other “with deadly weapons,” the sheriff took an interest. Apparently Looney turned down the original threat because Robertson spent a lot of his spare time time trying to provoke the man.

Which leads me to my next question, why not just shoot the guy from behind a bush or something?

Either way, Robertson’s stubborn attempt to honor-kill the bejeesus out of John Looney resulted in his arrest and indictment for attempting to provoke a duel. He immediately threw himself upon the mercy of the county, which meant he had no money for a lawyer because he probably spent it all trying to get John Looney to duel him, and the court quickly found him not guilty. Although he suffered no punishment, William Robertson’s trial sent a message to the men of north Alabama – if you want to kill somebody you better be sneaky because Madison county don’t play that middle of the day stuff anymore.

The State of Alabama v. William H. Robertson, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 36 (1820).

An act to suppress Duelling.

Spinsters for Filthy Lucer

Rodah Barnard, Mary Baker, Elizabeth Burton, Ann Martin, Barbara Wilson, and Lucinda Wilson never joined the traditional caste known as wife. Some process either prevented them from marrying or they just felt no compulsion to go hang out at some dude’s house for the rest of their lives. Keep in mind that single women, or feme sole, during this period owned property, negotiated contracts, and represented themselves in court. Upon marriage they underwent a legal expunging of their former autonomy and assumed the mantle of feme covert – covered women.

The status of covered woman meant that society at large accepted you as a decent human but also prevented you from accessing and controlling your dowry, the property a woman in the United States and England brought into the marriage, or otherwise existing legally as a separate person.* Married women required the use of “next friends” in any court proceeding and often relied on their fathers or lawyers to represent them in any suit they brought against their husbands.** Although widowed women often received an automatic portion of a former husband’s estate known as “the widow’s third,” even in the case of outstanding debts or other costs incurred during his lifetime. So, at best, a lot of women gambled on the fact that their husbands wouldn’t be idiots and might make enough money to sustain them after his death. Unfortunately, a lot of women were wrong.

So for the few with enough gumption to stay by their lonesome – liberty made the best husband.

Although these women possessed enough intestinal fortitude to retain the status of feme sole and keep on truckin’, they still required things like food and housing. Which meant feme sole often dominated the few industries available to women at that time – like spinning fabrics and weaving. Thus the term “spinster.” However, the industrial revolution removed this traditional occupation because machine spun fabric outstripped spinster fabric in both price and quantity. So much so that by the early nineteenth century spinster became a pejorative term for an older feme sole.***

The fact that industries traditionally dominated by single women no longer existed, or were in serious decline, meant that the heroes of our story turned to an industry even more traditionally dominated by single women.

That’s right.

I’m talking about hookers.

On January 1, 1820, “and on divers other days and times,” the aforementioned women held a massive party at their brothel. It should be mentioned that although other cases might have insinuated about prostitution, this is the first confirmed indictment for it in Madison county’s history. Oh man, what an indictment it is. The documents never expressly name the ringleader but from the amount of times her name appears it indicates that Rodah Barnard, spelled Barnett in the original bill, may have run the brothel and served as its madame.

Either way, the women operated “a certain Bawdy house” within the limits of Huntsville that apparently did pretty good business. They served a wide variety of customers ranging from “evil dispared persons, as well men as women,” and operated “in the night as in the day…[to] commit whoredom and fornication.” From the descriptions provided by the court documents it appears that much of Huntsville came to the establishment to satisfy their various lusts.

Not only would have the presence of a brothel enraged some of the more reform minded people of Huntsville but the presence of a brothel that served women? Well it’s no wonder that the sheriff raided the place fully armed and that the state itself sued the lady proprietors.

Joseph Eastland, the state’s prosecuting attorney, went all out in his portrayal of the brothel as a factory of sin. Not only did the women engage in sex “for filthy Lucer,” but they also initiated “riots, Routs, affairs, disturbances, and violations of the peace of the said State of Alabama.”**** Worst of all they committed the grave sin of distracting and subverting the youth. Eastland contended that they served all sorts of liquor and compelled their clients to engage in swearing contests. When the people of Huntsville arrived at the brothel their thin veneer of civilization faded away and they spent their free time “drinking, tippling, cursing, swearing, quarreling, and otherwise misbehaving themselves.”

The women were of course acquitted on all charges. I imagine they celebrated in true style.


The State of Alabama v. Rodah Barnett, Mary King, Mary Baker, Barbary Wilson, Ann Martin, Elizabeth Burton & Lucinda Wilson, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 34-35 (1820).

*Fun fact, Mississippi passed the first married woman’s property law in 1839. Originally stemming from the court case of Fisher v. Allen it eventually resulted in white, and occasionally wealthy indigenous women, being allowed to manage the dowry slaves they brought into a marriage.

**Second fun fact, Alabama was one of the only states that allowed single women to represent married women as a next friend. So if you had an unmarried daughter over the age of 21 and wanted to sue your husband you’d have to be like “hey, remember how I carried you in my damn womb?”

***Obsolete occupational names for demographic groups are just the greatest – bachelor originally meant ‘the lowest form of squire,’ husband is just an Old Norse word for farmer, and villains were a type of serf. So every time you watch a movie and say “I bet that guy’s the villain,” what you’re really saying is ‘oh man, that human is definitely the medieval sharecropper in this story.’

****For those keeping track, a Rout is just a synonym for riot. These women went so hard in the fornication that they caused two distinct kinds of riots.

The T is for Thief

Charles T. Collins did not care about the little things. Property law, the goodwill of his neighbors, and the bodily autonomy of enslaved peoples meant little to him. We know this much about the man from the events of August 24, 1820. Collins farmed in Madison county during the later territorial period and early statehood. During the summer of 1820, he looked at all this new wealth pouring into the Tennessee Valley and said ‘I’m gonna get me some of that.’

Nobody knows why he snapped. Maybe he got tired of looking at corn. Maybe his fields ran fallow more often than he cared to admit. Maybe he woke up on that hot August day without any intention of robbing multiple people. His motives are unclear but we know his actions.

Nicholas Sheffield owned a horse. It was a beautiful beast, “one bay gelding with forked ears of the value of one hundred dollars.” Due to its status as a gelding, an Old Norse for castration that survived into modern English, the animal made little noise while Collins stole it. Like most mammals that undergo genital mutilation prior to puberty, geldings were agreeable and gentle and often proved a perfect addition to any farm that required the heavy labor of equines without the frustration of a stallion, donkey, or mule.*

As such, Charles T. Collins hardly needed the gun he held, but he held it anyway. He may have felt embarrassed about going all out for such a quick theft. Which is why he kidnapped somebody. After securing the horse Collins looked around the farm of Nicholas Sheffield and spotted a thirty year old enslaved man named Tom. Tom stood nearby as his enslaver’s horse was stolen. He may have even found the situation humorous, right up to the point that Collins gestured with the gun and said something along the lines of ‘you’re coming with me.’**

Charles T. Collins then set off to the farm of the Brandon brothers because he had plans, big stealin’ plans, and was thus not content to rob Sheffield of his horse and Tom of his non-existent liberty. When Charles and Tom pulled up to the Brandon farm they found two other enslaved persons tending the fields. Edmund and Lewis watched as Charles T. Collins rampaged across the landscape with Tom in tow. He pointed the gun at them and demanded they come with him.

At this point, one of the three separate court cases against Collins insinuates that he planned to take the men to the woods outside of town and turn them over to an unspecified buyer. However, the random nature of the abductions and the terrible logistical planning involved makes it more likely that Collins planned to take them back to his own farm and hope that nobody noticed.

Unfortunately everyone noticed.

He appeared in court on September 1, 1820. A mere week after his thefts the court retaliated in spectacular fashion. First, Collins received a $300.00 fine to be paid from his lands and possessions. Second, the grand jurors decided that “on this day, between the hour of two and the hour of four he the said Charles T. Collins… on his bare back receive thirty nine stripes well laid on.” Third, not content to impoverish him and add interesting new horizontal patterns to his flesh via bull whip – Madison county decreed that a T be branded into the flesh of his right hand at some random point during the whipping. Fourth, he received six months in the county jail.

Charles T. Collins made poor life choices.


The State of Alabama v. Charles T. Collins, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 24-25 (1820).

The State of Alabama v. Charles T. Collins, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 25-26 (1820).

The State of Alabama v. Charles T. Collins, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 26 (1820).

*Which is why empires throughout history employed eunuchs to guard harems, perform administrative functions, and collect taxes. You become far less aggressive when your ability to reproduce is removed from the equation. A further side effect is a high pitched voice capable of caressing notes unknown to male or female musicians with fully developed sexual organs. As such, castrated men often became singers of surreal and ethereal renown. Their music proved so sweet that the Italians waited until 1870 to outlaw the practice; while the Vatican itself waited until 1903. Southern Europeans friggin’ loved to saw off young boys’ testicles for musical purposes.

**I imagine him whispering something like “Way to go, Charles T. Collins, you steal that horse. Nicholas Sheffield is an asshole.” Followed almost immediately by “oh shit, you’re stealing me too? goddamn white people.”

Nobody Wants Corn for Christmas.

Christmas day began easily enough for Thomas Evans. He lounged on the farm of Ezekiel Mackins and probably looked forward to the coming of 1818. Rumors circulated that Madison county planned to absorb the tiny Elk county. This barely impacted Thomas Evans’s daily life as he served as a farmhand and lacked much free time to worry about the maneuvers of local politicians.

All he knew was that Christmas arrived and he could enjoy this little bit of downtime before setting back to the breaking of earth and planting of seeds.

Then the McGaha brothers arrived.

John McGaha and Livingston McGaha came to the Mackins farm to whoop up on somebody and they did just that. When the McGaha boys found Thomas Evans they set upon him with a ferocity not seen since the days of John B. Haynes. People literally thought the man might die. They held Evans down and kicked him. They beat him with sticks and fists as they cussed him out for whatever slight he delivered to them. Then came the coup de grace. When the sticks broke and their fists grew tired they grabbed the nearest item they could to continue the walloping.

That item happened to be several “ears of corn.” The McGaha brothers tried to beat this man to death with corn.

The court case gives no concrete description of where the assault took place. However, some context clues give us room to speculate. We know that although Alabama winters are mild there sure ain’t no corn growing during the depths of winter. So they managed to get inside somehow. As Thomas Evans labored on Ezekiel Mackins’s property he probably lived in an outbuilding and not the main house. Other popular outbuildings on any given farm during the 19th century included an outhouse, a barn, and a corn crib.

There’s no mention of the McGahas stealing any corn or otherwise robbing Ezekiel Mackins, so it appears that they followed Thomas Evans to the corn crib and assaulted him there. No word on whether or not he developed a gluten allergy after surviving the assault.

Divers Persons of Evil Name

Woody Martin, Daniel Murphy, James Badlem, and William Badlem appeared at the Madison county courthouse in October 1819. Although they committed the same crime the court deemed it so egregious that three separate trials commenced. One for Martin, one for Murphy, and one for the Badlem brothers.

They killed not man, nor stole horse. They burned nothing and rioted not. Yet their transgression proved so grave that the state of Alabama itself sued them. For you see, the conspirators committed a crime of passion.

They loved America too much.

In the year 1819, the Fourth of July fell on a Sunday. Instead of somber remembrance and quiet contemplation the men gathered together at the home of Daniel Murphy.* Once assembled, they looked to the heavens and knew what must be done. They stockpiled liquor while the “orderly citizens” of Huntsville gathered together at churches. Martin, Murphy, and the Badlems invited a wide array of Alabamians.

Instead of prudish merchants and bureaucrats the four egalitarians saw fit to “cause and procure divers persons of evil name and fame and dishonest conversation, to come together” for the sole purpose of celebrating the hell out of America’s birthday. They invited gamblers, “negro slaves,” prostitutes, and lowly day-laborers. They looked at the town of Huntsville and its quickening caste system and said ‘No. Not today. Today, we are Americans, and we’re going to celebrate that fact until we can’t see straight. Also, possibly get rich from selling all this liquor.’

None of the men possessed a liquor license and they more than willingly ignored the ban on selling liquor on the Sabbath. Instead they went wild and their party quickly devolved into beautiful patriotic anarchy. They made “a great noise and disturbance,” which upset nearly the entire city, and the court documents describe the scene at Daniel Murphy’s house as “common ill governed and disorderly.”

Remember them for the heroes they were.


The State of Alabama v. Woody Martin, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 2 (1819).

The State of Alabama v. Daniel Murphy, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 2-3 (1819).

The State of Alabama v. James Badlem & William Badlem, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 4 (1819).

*most likely his home because he’s the only person that actually received a fine. It was for $200. Also, Daniel Murphy was a “Grocer,” so he owned a store. The liquor probably came from his illegal larder.

Philip Pritchett is Bad at Murder

Philip Pritchett confessed to murder. He told the court that he held “a certain rifle gun then and there loaded and charged with gunpowder and one leaden bullet” that shot a man named Henry Stammers above the right hip. Although his confession made the case a short one, the fact that Pritchett murdered Stammers in broad daylight in front of multiple witnesses, ensured a speedy trial. Pritchett spent ten years in a Limestone county jail for his crime.

April 13 or 14, 1846:

Jarvis H. Poor sat behind a desk and listened to a man argue with himself about a horse. The man demanded a warrant against Henry Stammers for theft or some associated crime. Although he wished to leave, Jarvis originally took the job of Justice of the Peace for the prestige it carried in the community, he stayed and listened. Horse theft constituted a fairly high, if common, crime. So, Jarvis H. Poor issued a warrant on behalf of Philip Pritchett to get him to shut up. Pritchett ran his mouth about town because a few short hours later a man named Henry Stammers appeared.

“Did you free a warrant against me?” he asked.

Jarvis H. Poor nodded. “Well,” began Henry Stammers, “if Pritchett would only pay the bo…” the man stammered on but Jarvis found little solace in his rebuttal. Instead the Justice nodded along and informed him that both men could argue their claims soon enough.

April 19, 1846:

Joseph Elliott leaned against his plough. Philip Pritchett yammered on at him about a variety of topics. The two men were neighbors. Everyone was neighbors. They lived in a small community. Joseph mostly thought about plowing and the sweet grooves that yielded corn. Philip’s words turned to Henry Stammers. The man frothed at the mouth before exalting, “if he comes within forty yards of me I’ll kill him.” He left Elliott’s land, but Pritchett’s words wiggled their way into his memory.

“I guess Philip Pritchett is having problems with Henry Stammers,” Joseph Elliott probably muttered to his plough. He got back to work.

April 20, 1846:

Eleven year old June MacHee walked to school. Grass sweated off the last of its dew as the near summer sun began knocking the chill from the air. Henry Stammers stood on his land. Although six hundred feet lay between them June recognized Henry because the road was clear and the day was bright and they were neighbors. They probably waved at one another.

John Webb walked further behind. He passed Philip Pritchett’s house. John Webb passed Pritchett’s property almost every day, it came right up to the roadside. Pritchett stood in his yard with a gun that “he was priming or picking & was then trying.” He disappeared through the trees.

June MacHee heard a powerful scream. “Stop! I have come to shoot you!” Henry Stammers quit waving and turned around.

The sound of gunfire echoed across the valley.

June MacHee looked up and saw a man running away with a gun in his hand. She hurried on to school and told her teachers that someone shot Henry Stammers.

Joseph Elliott heard the commotion and left his plough standing in the field. He found Pritchett coming down the road “in a trot or rapid walk, looking back frequently.” He chose not to engage with the man as he still carried a rifle but instead hurried up to Henry Stammers’ house. He found Stammers “shot open” in a pool of blood and viscera.

Herman Marley escorted Philip Pritchett to the Limestone county jail. As the sheriff he’d made the decision to secure Pritchett until something made sense. His prisoner opened up about a quarter-mile from the jail. Pritchett claimed that he’d been directed to kill Henry Stammers by two men named Edward Lewis and Aaron McGaha. At first he refused to give into their brutal demands but they knew his wife’s address. So he killed Stammers in broad daylight to bring the real killers to justice. He claimed to have no fear of Stammers but knew only terror when it came to Lewis and McGaha.

It didn’t hold up in court.


State of Alabama v. Philip Pritchett, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1852-1854. p. 1-11 (1852).

James Titus Had the Easiest Job

The legislature of the Alabama Territory met in St. Stephens from January 19 – February 14, 1818. Now an easily flooded ghost town and occasional archaeological site, St. Stephens flourished during the time of the Mississippi and Alabama territories. The town emerged from a Spanish fortress turned Choctaw trading post turned deerskin factory and blossomed into a temporary capital. Some of its first American inhabitants went on to become major players in state politics and Alabama cultural history: George Strother Gaines headed the Choctaw Agency and, in the opinion of the federal government, was second only to Benjamin Hawkins on matters of southeastern indigenous peoples; Ephraim Kirby – Alabama’s first judge; all-around crazed preacher Lorenzo Dow; Henry Hitchcock as the state’s first attorney general and one of the few lawyers south of Huntsville; the poet Lewis Sewall; and Alabama’s third governor Israel Pickens, all lived in or near the city around the same time.

So although it rose, fell, and felt the archaeologist’s trowel within a short span of time, St. Stephens possessed a vibrant cultural life that branded the settlement as markedly different from the surrounding cesspool of violence and intercontinental struggle between Britain, Choctaw, France, Spain, and the United States. As such, it seemed only natural for the territorial legislature to gather together there and dictate the laws of Alabama. This is a story about one of those men.

Eleven men met in St. Stephens for the first session. It being 1818, only five counties found representation; Madison, Washington, Clarke, Baldwin, and Mobile. The lion’s share of votes for or against any act came from the Madison county representatives. Thus the interests of north Alabama dominated, even so far south. Ten formed the entirety of the General Assembly. The astute reader will have noticed that eleven men traveled to St. Stephens. The upper chamber of the territorial legislature, the Legislative Council, consisted entirely of James Titus.

Originally from Madison county, Titus met with himself every few days to debate various acts passed by the General Assembly. James Titus leaned heavily on pomp and ceremony and even hired a Doorkeeper named John Pearson and a Secretary named Curtis Hooks to help dispel the illusion that he sat alone in a room and thought hard about stuff. He forced Curtis Hooks to stand up and read any Acts passed by the General Assembly aloud, just like might happen in an actual upper chamber. However, the two legislative bodies shared a building, so the entire display possesses a desperate and comical air, even two centuries later.

Almost every day James Titus walked into the recently vacated chamber that he shared with the General Assembly, where his own Doorkeeper and Secretary awaited. Pearson guarded the entrance against any stray monarchs or mobs that might suddenly appear, while Hooks read the preceding that literally just took place. After all of this, James Titus left for the day, promising to return tomorrow at 10 o’clock.