The Royalist Faction ruled Madison county, and much of Alabama, with near impunity from the time of the first federal land sales in 1809 until the election of Israel Pickens as governor in 1821.* They hailed from the Broad River in Georgia by way of the rough and tumble sections of Virginia. Their original leader, George Mathews, signed the infamous Yazoo Act during his tenure as governor. Their avarice shaped the 19th century southeast and their names served as bywords for the frontier aristocracy that developed in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas prior to the civil war.
Not rich enough to join the planter elite of South Carolina or Tidewater Virginia, they still proved far too blue of blood for the average yeoman from North Carolina and Tennessee. As Anglos in between classes they searched for a land to make their own. They almost found it, and just as quickly lost it, in the Mississippi Territory.
One man led the charge against their overreach – a controversial figure who formed a counterbalance to the Georgia boys – Gabriel Moore. Originally a lawyer and small planter, Moore eventually headed the ‘North Carolina faction’ a group that came to dominate Alabama politics following the fallout from Royalist actions. However, this is not the story of schemes and laws and machinations in back rooms. This is simply the tale of Moore’s fight for life.
People attacked him, like a lot. Prior to his taking the governorship Moore suffered multiple violent encounters with men who disagreed with him politically or simply disliked his argumentative nature. From Moore’s arrival in 1811 to early statehood in 1820, he came close to death at least three times.**
In early April of 1811, no exact date being recorded, Robert Farish found Gabriel Moore by himself. Listed as a laborer of the county it seems strange that Farish might find fault with the attorney Gabriel Moore. However, Moore recently entered the political scene, leading the charge to restore Twickenham’s original name to Huntsville – in direct defiance of Leroy Pope, the local leader of the Royalist faction. Also, Robert Farish made no appearance in the 1809 “squatter census” of Madison county. Although this is inconclusive it appears possible that Farish possessed some attachment to the Royalist faction and attacked Moore out of frustration.***
Either way, Farish received a fifteen dollar fine for his actions.
Things calmed down for Moore until October 11, 1815, when Nicholas Spring, a landowner and yeoman, attacked him. Spring’s assault seemed more likely as result of politics, as he proved not only able to own land but also afford a lawyer to contest the case and avoid arrest for a lengthy period of time. Spring felt cocky enough to send “Williams & Minor” to represent him before Obadiah Jones, stating that since he had yet to be arrested he could not be prosecuted and that a hundred dollar fine levied upon him for the “trespass, assault, and battery” of Gabriel Moore meant nothing.^
Unfortunately for Nicholas Spring the fine stuck.
The most obviously political assaults came in 1820. The Royalists seemed poised to cement their control over Alabama after the ascension of Thomas Bibb as governor following the death of his older brother, William Wyatt Bibb.^^ Tensions were high in Madison county and debates quickly morphed into fist fights. In fact a future US senator and Supreme Court justice from Huntsville, John McKinley, got attacked in 1820, when a man named Stokely D. Hutchings beat him on the head with “one Hickory stick.”^^^
Suffice to say that 1820 was a passionate year.
As such, Gabriel Moore got into an argument with a man named William H. Winter on October 7, 1820. Their differences soon boiled over into a brawl and Winter felt the need to draw a pistol. So there stood Winter, with the loaded pistol “in his right hand… maliciously leveled” against Gabriel Moore. The pistol either misfired or Winter suddenly changed his mind, because instead of just straight up murdering Moore he turned the gun around and began to viciously pistol whip the future governor until he was almost dead.
The jury did not equivocate. By this time Moore had risen from local rabble rouser to the President of the State Senate and candidate for the national congress. Moore was now respected and admired from the southern border of Tennessee to the Gulf of Mexico. The jurors quickly doomed William H. Winter to six months incarceration and a rash of fines.
Moore continued to make enemies – later in life accidentally being seated on the same stagecoach as his nemesis, Clement Comer Clay, which resulted in both men staring at each other in enraged silence for the entirety of the 170 mile journey – but he never again faced as many physical dangers as those early years spent in opposition to the Broad River faction.
Ironically, Moore fell from national favor when he turned from his rough-and-tumble Jackson-loving beginnings and allied himself with John C. Calhoun, the consummate South Carolina planter and politician, during the early 1830’s. Public outcry shot through the state at this abrupt about face and the people of Madison county clamored for his resignation until he left the Senate in 1836. Effectively unelectable in Alabama after questioning the directives of Jackson, Moore fled from the state, ultimately settling in the Republic of Texas, where he finally died in 1844.
The Territory v. Robert Farish, Minute Book of Madison County Mississippi Territory of the Superior Court in Law and Equity, 1811-1819. p. 5/3-6/4 (1811).
The Territory v. Nicholas Spring, Minute Book of Madison County Mississippi Territory of the Superior Court in Law and Equity, 1811-1819. p. 176/142-178/144 (1816).
The State of Alabama v. William H. Winter, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 45-46 (1820).
The State of Alabama v. Stokely D. Hutchings, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 47-48 (1820).
*I’m referencing the Broad River Faction, for those that can’t pick up on context clues. Also, Israel Pickens was a political ally of Gabriel Moore and started the 19th century trend of important Alabama politicians dying in Cuba. He perished at Matanzas in 1827, followed 26 years later by the death of Vice President of the United States, William Rufus King, in Havana in 1853. Also, seeing as we’re talking about early Alabama governor trivia – let’s not forget that John Murphy, the fourth governor of the state and later member of the House of Representatives, carried on an affair with the wife of South Carolina politician James Blair. Blair’s discovery of their affections resulted in his suicide on April 1, 1834.
**Of course, this being a frontier, other north Alabama politicians also felt the near brush of the eternal, so we’ll probably get to examine those as well, provided my coffee remains strong and my cigarettes don’t run out.
***Complete conjecture on my part. It might be just as likely that Farish was from Tennessee and just hated Moore’s face. A position supported by the fact that Littleberry Adams served on the deciding jury.
^The Minor part of Williams & Minor is a big deal. Henry Minor served as the Madison county prosecutor for about four years previous to this case. Spring found the meanest lawyer in the country to represent him.
^^You can see why people called them the Royalists.
^^^Even more fun fact – McKinley and Moore later faced off in a Senate race which centered around how much either man loved Andrew Jackson. Moore squeaked by, claiming that McKinley only loved Andrew Jackson because it was cool, and both men died hating each other.