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.

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