Royalists, Republicans, and Moore

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.

One Cent Spinster

We previously encountered Rodah Barnett in cahoots with several other spinsters; who all lived and worked in early Madison county. Although most of the women quickly faded from history, a few later reappeared “pasing and repasing along the public streets and common highways,” in a desperate bid to ply their wares. As Rodah Barnett eschewed this form of business, it was erroneously assumed by the staff of Huntsvillain that she found a new calling in life.

However, in early September of 1821, a little over a year after being acquitted on all previous charges of “whoredom” and “keeping a bawdy house” Rodah Barnett again stood before a jury. The charges against her seemed familiar. Joseph Eastland, the same state prosecutor that previously indicted Rodah, Mary King, Mary Baker, the Wilson sisters, Barbary, Elizabeth, and Ann, now once again placed Rodah Barnett in his sights.

The state of Alabama claimed that on April 1, 1821, “and on divers others days and times,” Rodah Barnett reopened and operated her brothel. It seemed that Rodah’s reopening attracted the same caliber of customer as her previous exploits.

Joseph Eastland painted her as a sinners’ magnet, entertaining “divers evil disposed person as well as men as women and whores… in the knight as in the day.” As usual the presence of an active brothel caused all sorts of calamity as the various prositutes procured by Barnett engaged in “dreadful filthy and lewd ofenses.” The “good citizens” of Madison county found the most distressing aspects of the brothel to be the sex workers lack of “manners, conversation, state, and obedience,” to various social norms.

Taken all together it seemed a pretty normal condemnation of local prostitution. Yet a single line stood out above all others. We’ve already acknowledged that women came to the brothel, although it seems uncertain as to whether or not they engaged the sex workers. Even then the possible rumors of sapphic acts failed to perplex Joseph Eastland and his contemporaries as much as people assembling “at unlawful times.” One of the only groups of people subject to an actual enforced curfew, and thus the only ones capable of congregating at unlawful times, were free blacks and enslaved people.

Due to later specific bans on enslaved people selling produce, hiring out their own time, or renting land for their own homes – we have an idea that they possessed some small levels of economic autonomy in early Madison county. Seeing as that autonomy occasionally consisted of them purchasing moonshine or attending Fourth of July celebrations; it should come as no surprise that they might be found at a brothel or that officials chose to couch their presence in terms of euphemisms instead of direct mention of a practice that undermined the racial caste system of 19th century Alabama.

Due to this possible flagrant breech of the contemporary social contract – Rodah Barnett had to be stopped. She survived the first indictment but a second jury found her guilty of keeping a brothel, though not of prostitution, before the state shut down her franchise and fined her one cent.


The State of Alabama v. Rodah Barnett, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 93-94 (1821).

Based Keelboat

Littleberry Adams arrived in the Tennessee Valley a comparatively wealthy man. With seventeen enslaved people in 1809, he and his family easily ranked as the wealthiest members of local white society. Had the Broad River planters not arrived in larger numbers later that year then the Adams family might have kept their position at the top of the local hierarchy.

Due to this affluence, and associated early influence, Littleberry Adams, sometimes known as Little B. in court documents, deserves mention in any early history of Madison county. As such, Daniel S. Dupre makes quick reference to Adams as an example of a successful early squatter in his fantastic book Transforming the Cotton Frontier: Madison County, Alabama, 1800-1840. 

Dupre briefly alights upon both Adams’ role as an enslaver of people and early entrepreneur before moving forward with his discussion of north Alabama history. In his citations for the book he references an early court case in Madison county, where in 1810 a man named Robert Beaty sued Adams over delinquent payments for a keelboat with which to haul cotton. Although glossed over in Dupre’s account this case is as informative as it is hilarious; as it highlights not only the cash poor frontier economy of the territorial period but the role of equity and common law in early Alabama legal history.

On January 10, 1810, Little B. and Robert Beaty* met at “Dittoes Landing” to sign a contract for “one Keelboat, six polls, four oars, one hammer, [and] one corking chisel all in good order,” for either $120 or $220, depending on who you asked, in increments of fifty cents a day between January 10 and April 1, followed by the rest of the payment upon Adams’ return from the Texan cotton markets.

However, this is where the dispute arose. For although the contract itself mentions the $120, Beaty contended that they made it “in great hast at the boat landing” and that $220 remained the original price agreed upon by all parties. Beaty produced a man named David Thompson, mentioned as the original witness to the contract, who confirmed this differing price.

Adams not only neglected to pay the difference but had gone a solid year since that contract without paying Beaty any of the aforementioned money for the keelboat. As such, Beaty turned not to the common law, which would discount the oral testimony of David Thompson, but towards the newly established courts of equity where his case might be tried “in tender consideration… [for] mattes of fraud, deception, and such mistakes are properly cognizable and relieveable.”**

Both men mustered their attorneys and exchanged barbs over their contract. Littleberry Adams contended that their original contract was “informal” at best and not a binding covenant. While Beaty railed against his non-payment. Finally, in March of 1812, Adams admitted that the original verbal contract stipulated that he pay Beaty $220 for the keelboat.

Yet he still claimed that he ought not pay the total amount. Adams knew that the oral testimony of witnesses doomed him to a lighter wallet, so he decided that everyone should go down with him. He claimed that the boat was faulty and “in consequence of its leakiness the defendant was detained considerable time on the river.” By the time that Adams reached his destination, which appeared to be the Sabine River – a neutral territory between the United States and Spanish America that now forms the border between Texas and Louisiana, the boat began sinking again and he paid two dollars and “a considerable quantity of whiskey,” to have it both caulked and “laid high and dry,” during the repair process.

Littleberry Adams considered the associated expenses sufficient as the Neutral Ground, the territory around the Sabine River, existed as a haven for outlaws and bandits, and any time not spent on the relative safety of the boat probably exposed his small cotton shipping expedition to these dangers. Due to Beaty’s negligence, Adams found no reason to pay him the full price, or really any money at all.

Obviously this argument failed to hold up and Obadiah Jones, that lonely frontier judge, declared that Little B. owed The Beat $220 for the boat and an extra $22 for the court costs.


Robert Beaty v. Littleberry Adams, Book A, 1-3 (1811)

*Who I desperately want to refer to as The Beat.

**This is legitimately like the first court case ever prosecuted in Madison county, so Beaty is going out on a limb here.

Yazoo! Or creating Alabama for one and a half cents an acre.

On January 7, 1795, George Mathews – then the governor of Georgia – signed into law a “great cancerous abomination.” With the stroke of a pen, Mathews not only doomed his own political career, but touched off a contentious spark that ultimately resolved itself in the creation of two states, a Supreme Court case, and the cession of all of Georgia’s western domains.

I speak of course of the Yazoo Land Fraud. This update lies a little bit outside the blog’s usual domains – humorous accounts from north Alabama history – and instead ventures into something more macro in scope, the creation of the Mississippi Territory from Georgia’s western claims.

After the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, it soon became apparent that many states claimed large portions of their neighbors; or that overlapping claims to various frontiers threatened to tear apart the tentative cooperation and coherence of the young republic.

Courtesy of US History Maps

Most of the land in the United States during the Revolutionary War and afterwards in 1783 consisted of these aforementioned overlapping claims. For instance, both New Hampshire and New York claimed the modern state of Vermont, and both willingly ceded this land to the federal government – allowing Vermont to enter the union as a state in 1791. However, one state refused to give up its trans-Appalachian territories. A single state saw the sweeping tide of land reform and simply shrugged. *

That state was Georgia.

Georgia complicated matters not just with its mulish insistence that the original colonial charter, a document from 1732 granting Georgia lands all the way to the Pacific Ocean, be honored by the new nation. No, that would be too simple for the 18th century; instead Georgia’s western claims overlapped not just with South Carolina but also the Spanish Empire.

Courtesy of GeorgiaInfo 

Thus any settlement of these claims prior to the 1796 Treaty of San Lorenzo, which solved the territorial and trade issues between the United States and Spanish America, carried with it no less than the prospect of provocation and potential war with a foreign nation.

Now Georgia, as the spiritual antecedent of the Deep South, acted with the according amounts of diplomacy and restraint on this issue by immediately establishing a short-lived county on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Bourbon county, Georgia, existed from 1785-1788, and served little purpose other than to upset the local Spanish governors and prove a drain on resources. Although the Georgia legislature rescinded Bourbon county’s charter after only three years of settlement; the site eventually became Natchez, the capital of the Mississippi Territory, in 1798. After the failed Bourbon county business other Americans soon took an interest in speculating about Georgia’s western lands.***

In 1789, the Georgia legislature attempted to sell its western territory to various land speculation companies for around $200,000. Unfortunately these companies only possessed the nearly worthless Continental currency circulated by various states during the American Revolution and Georgia only wanted to see that cold hard gold.**

Not until 1795, did Georgian legislators make their third attempt to sell massive amounts of land in exchange for bribes whilst simultaneously setting the stage to spark a border war with Spain. The 1795 sale effectively surrendered most of modern Alabama and Mississippi for about $500,000.00, or about a cent and a half an acre. Although a treaty of friendship between the United States and Spain soon emerged, and the disputed territories ceded to the United States, news of the treachery in Augusta soon trickled down to the rest of the state.

Which is when the entire state of Georgia lost its collective shit.

Upon hearing of the Yazoo Fraud, James Jackson, then serving as a Senator from Georgia – immediately resigned his position in the United States Congress, left Philadelphia, traveled back to Georgia, and got elected a member of the Georgia state legislature running entirely on an anti-Yazoo land sales campaign.

The Yazoo conspirators failed to take into account that 1796 was an election year and after the ink dried on the ballots almost none of them remained in office. The Georgia state legislature, and newly elected governor Jared Irwin, set about righting these tremendous wrongs. They cancelled all the original land sales, and accepted some cash help from the government in paying off the incurred debts.

These efforts culminated in a symbolic burning of every copy of the original act enabling Yazoo land sales. The Yazoo Fraud entered the popular imagination of Georgians young and old, and the heroics of the anti-Yazoo crusaders and associated duplicity of the Yazoo speculators began to grow in scale with every retelling.

Absalom Chappell, in his 1874 text about the history of Georgia, recounts a story about James Jackson, the aforementioned former Senator, burning the first copy of the Yazoo Act “with fire drawn from heaven… by a sun-glass.” Although Chappell’s history tends to rely heavily on dramatic wording, for example his insistence on referring to the Mississippi River as the Father of Floods, there’s a level of ingrained cultural hatred that must be obtained before a popular myth recounts how a man literally used the fires of heaven to destroy a document. This is not mere hyperbole and grandstanding, this is a great example of how much everyone in Georgia hated the Yazoo sales.

yazoo burning
Burning the Yazoo Act. Courtesy of Georgia Encyclopedia

Unfortunately, many of the speculators already sold their claims to other buyers. This compounded the problem and resulted in several layers of claimants, many of whom refused to accept a buyback scheme and insisted on Georgia giving up the loot. In an effort to resolve the claims, Georgia ceded much of the land originally contested in the Yazoo fraud to the federal government, which organized the most southern portions of it into the Mississippi Territory.

Of course, not all of the land originally sold to speculators resided inside the newly minted territory, and people sued the state until Georgia completely washed its hands of the affair with the Compact of 1802, an agreement finally delineating the Georgia border and adding the remainder of the former western lands to the Mississippi Territory.

Eventually the Supreme Court handled the matter with the decision of Fletcher v. Peck in 1810, which ruled the 1796 cancellation of Yazoo land sales unconstitutional; thereby setting the precedent that federal courts might strike down state laws.

Had Georgia simply waited another year, or been more open in its speculation process, then the Yazoo Fraud would not have occurred and this blog might have a much dumber name – something like “Wacky West Georgian Tales” springs to mind. Instead, the shortsighted greed of a few not only reshaped Georgia state politics, but effectively birthed both Alabama and Mississippi and laid the conceptual framework for greater federal involvement in local legal processes.

Yazoo y’all.

*Although I’ve always been curious how Connecticut intended to enforce its territorial claims to parts of modern day Ohio.

**Fun fact, the Virginia Yazoo Company was headed by Patrick Henry, the “give me liberty or give me death,” guy. Which is kind of nice.

***Funner fact, one of these speculators was James Wilson. Who, to my knowledge, is the only Supreme Court justice to be imprisoned. He failed to pay his debts after getting involved in another land speculation scheme and spent a few years chilling in debtors’ prison, while remaining a justice of the highest court in the land, because the Early Republic was a crazy place.

Susannah Don’t Give a Ship

In 1802, the first Anglo-American settlers arrived in Madison county. The Ditto family came around the Great Bend of the Tennessee River and settled on what was either federal or Chickasaw land, depending on who you asked.

Not that the distinction mattered too much, as the Chickasaw Nation suffered from a long history of Anglophilia. After the Choctaw, a neighbor and regional foe, made alliances with the French, it quickly became advantageous to side with the British in all things. Following the American Revolution this quickly translated into a friendly relationship with the nascent United States. It unfortunately ended with the cession of Chickasaw lands in western Tennessee, northern Alabama, and eastern Mississippi and exile to Oklahoma – where the Chickasaw Nation found itself sharing land and resources with the Choctaw Nation, for administrative convenience.*

So when James and Jane Ditto settled on an island in the middle of the Tennessee River they found themselves surrounded by rough terrain and kind people. Originally from Baltimore county, Maryland; James Ditto eventually married a woman named Jane in North Carolina around 1775.

By the time they made it to Alabama, James Ditto found himself pushing sixty and too old for most professions. So he established a trading post and a ferry service that rapidly became a hub for north Alabama’s transportation and burgeoning commerce.

American colonists relied on the Ditto family’s boats and close ties with the Chickasaw Nation to ensure safe passage in the newly opened lands to the south. Ditto even ferried portions of Andrew Jackson’s army across the Tennessee river during the War of 1812. Eventually the outpost grew and in 1824, a salt trader and plantation owner from Virginia named James White expanded Ditto Landing into a port city named Whitesburg. The city eventually faded away before being absorbed by Huntsville in 1905.**

However, this is not really the story of Ditto Landing, nor is it the tale of James Ditto. Instead we shall focus on his second daughter, Susannah Ditto, and her brief marriage to Joseph Anderson.

August 27, 1806, saw what was probably the first American marriage in Madison county. A seventeen year old Susannah Ditto became the first bride. She lived for four years among the Chickasaw Nation. She, and her seven other siblings, helped her parents run the trading post. They were wild people, squatting on land and worried about money, and now she was married. The prospect failed to excite her for long.

On February 23, 1810, Susannah decided that she preferred Ditto to Anderson and went back to her father’s home on the river. Joseph Anderson waited the prerequisite number of years to file for a divorce and in 1813 presented his claims to the court.

She no longer loved him and refused to live with him while she drew breath. Since her departure several men “seduced” her and she “committed adultery with divers persons.”

Susannah replied to the allegations almost immediately. Surprisingly, she agreed with everything. The court could not fathom this. Why would a young woman, only 22 years old, admit to running around with all sorts of men and leaving her husband?

As the daughter of an infrequent pioneer, Susannah grew up on one frontier after another, she had little use for the civilization that so slowly crept into the Tennessee Valley, and as such felt no great compulsion to lie or cast herself as a faithful, if spurned, maiden. She was a Ditto, the first Anglo-Americans on the land. Everyone else was trespassing in her county. However, the judge, Obadiah Jones, saw in her reply not honesty but a woman manipulated by her husband.

He accused the couple of collusion and barred their chance at divorce. They remained married the rest of their days.


Joseph Anderson v. Susannah Anderson, Book A, 12-13 (1813)

*Which would be similar to forcing British and French people to live together because a bureaucrat from Bangladesh couldn’t tell the difference between them. Also, fun fact, during the American civil war the Chickasaw finally fought against the United States – marking the first time the nation ever raised a rifle at an English speaking state.

**One of my favorite tropes from north Alabama history is:

1) poor white settler from Tennessee or North Carolina squats on land

2) other English speaking people start to refer to that geographic feature as “someone-ville” or “specific human-point”

3) rich person from Virginia buys it and names it after themselves or a place where their family is from

4) other poor white settlers from Tennessee or North Carolina wait for rich Virginian to die before renaming it

5) poor white person enters communal history and memory

6) rich Virginian occasionally included as an afterthought, in this exact case as a street name.