Or, Subtitled: Alabama Fever and Skyrocketing Cotton Prices as Alabama Opened to White Settlers
By 9 September 1818, Dennis Lindsey had moved his family from Wayne County, Kentucky, to Lawrence County, Alabama, since he patented a piece of land on that date in township 7, range 6 west, section 8 at the Huntsville land office. Alabama would become a state the following year, so this land was in Mississippi Territory when Dennis Lindsey patented it. As my previous posting showed, this land was adjacent (on the west) to what would become the town of Oakville in Lawrence County, a town that Dennis would play a role in founding. The fact that Dennis Lindsey disappears from Wayne County, Kentucky, tax returns after 1816 and then shows up acquiring land in Lawrence County, Alabama, in 1818 indicates, I think, that he moved his family to Alabama in 1817. The Huntsville Republican newspaper contains a notice on 14 October 1817 (p. 3, col. 4) that an unclaimed letter was waiting in the Huntsville post office for Dennis Lindsey, further evidence that he moved to Alabama in that year.
When James Edmond Saunders writes of Mark and Dennis Lindsey coming to Alabama in 1827, it seems he had mistaken 1827 for 1817, though it was Dennis who came to Alabama in 1817. Mark and his wife Mary Jane actually moved to Alabama with Dennis’s younger siblings in 1819. Dennis’s move in 1817 would have been a step to prepare for the resettling of his parents and siblings two years later.
As I have noted previously, about half of the counties in Alabama are missing from the 1820 federal census of the state, and the missing counties include Lawrence, where we know that both Mark and his son Dennis were living by 1820, since they appear on the 1820 Alabama state census in that county next to each other. Dennis’s household includes a male over 21, two males under 21, a female over 21, and a female under 21. The older male and female are Dennis and wife Jane; the two younger males are their sons John Wesley (born April 1814) and Mark Jefferson (born 9 October 1820). The female is daughter Sarah Brooks Lindsey, who was born 1 August 1818. According to Saunders in Early Settlers of Alabama, Sarah was the first child born in the community in which the Lindseys lived when they came to Lawrence County — further evidence that Dennis Lindsey had settled in Lawrence County by the time he acquired land there in September 1818.
As Saunders explains, what drew early white settlers to Lawrence and surrounding counties in Alabama at this time was that the title of the native peoples living on the land had just been extinguished — that is, the land was forcibly taken from its previous occupants. Following the Creek War of 1813-1814 and his defeat of the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend in March 1814, Andrew Jackson forced the Creeks and Choctaws to cede large portions of their landholdings in what would soon become the state of Alabama in 1819. These events resulted in an influx of people of European descent who had caught “Alabama fever” and were looking for fertile new land at cheap prices as cotton prices were skyrocketing and fortunes were to be made quickly with cotton grown by the labor of enslaved people on the new frontier edge of the cotton kingdom.
Saunders notes that the early settlers of Lawrence County of European descent who arrived in the county in this period — that is, soon after the title of native peoples to the land had been extinguished — were not, on the whole, people of wealth, though some of them soon acquired considerable wealth. They were, he thinks, mostly people “in good circumstances,” the bulk of them coming from Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia, drawn by “a rich soil easily reduced to cultivation” at a time when the price of cotton was very high.
Lawrence County, Alabama, First Ten Years: Records for Dennis Lindsey, 1820-1829
Once settled in Lawrence County, Dennis Lindsey seems to have established himself and his family in comfortable circumstances fairly quickly, and to have acquired a role as a local leader within several years after his arrival in the county. Here are some records I’ve found tracking his life in the area from 1820 to 1830:
- On 21 December 1825, Dennis gave bond (the bond amount was $14,000) with Samuel Forbes, Thomas A. Strain, William Faris, Spottswood Jones, and John Manning for Littleberry H. Jones’s guardianship of Edwin, Robert, John, Charles W., and Mary Ann Price, minor heirs of Robert Price.
We’ve met some of these names previously. As I noted in a previous posting, Dennis’s father Mark Lindsey witnessed the will of Robert Price on 31 July 1821. Following Price’s death, his widow Frances (Chappell) remarried to Thomas A. Strain, a Methodist minister. Both Strain’s name and Price’s appear in this December 1825 bond of Dennis Lindsey and others.
When James Brooks, uncle of Dennis Lindsey’s wife Jane, married Nancy Isbell on 8 March 1804 in Wayne County, Kentucky, Nancy’s father Godfrey Isbell wrote a note of permission for Nancy to marry with Samuel Forbes, another name in the document above, witnessing the permission note.
- 19 October 1826: Joseph Rhodes, Mark Lindsey, Dennis Lindsey, Spottswood Jones, and John Stewart were appointed by Lawrence County court to appraise the estate of Thomas Dutton.
Note the recurrence of the name Spottswood Jones here: he was among those giving bond with Dennis Lindsey in December 1825 for Littleberry Jones’s guardianship of the Price orphans. As noted in a previous posting, Dennis’s father Mark Lindsey gave bond on 19 January 1831 for Samuel Irwin’s guardianship of Aaron Dutton; Irwin was administrator of Thomas Dutton’s estate.
I also noted in a previous posting that John Stewart petitioned with Dennis Lindsey on 18 July 1827 for the establishment of a school at what would soon become the town of Oakville. I’ll discuss that document in more detail below.
- On 1 November 1826, Nimrod Morris recorded a mortgage he had made in Lawrence County on 21 October to Dennis Lindsey as security for a debt Morris owed to Philip Thirkel. Morris proved the mortgage on 14 November and it was recorded.
As I’ve stated in a previous posting, Nimrod is in all likelihood a brother of the William Morris who married Dennis’s sister Nancy about 1825.
- 18 July 1827: on application of Dennis Lindsey, Lawrence County court ordered John Stewart and Dennis Lindsey to hold an election to erect a school in township 7, range 6, section 16.
In my previous posting about Dennis Lindsey, I pointed readers to two Bureau of Land Management maps of township 7, range 6 west in Lawrence County. Consult those two maps, and you’ll see that the school Dennis Lindsey and John Stewart were establishing in their part of the county was at what became the community of Oakville. It was immediately south of Oakville, between Oakville and the Speake community. The teacher at the Oakville school from 1830 forward was James Beckham Speake, who would marry Dennis Lindsey’s oldest daughter Sarah in Lawrence County on 4 June 1833. Speake, who was born in Washington County, Kentucky, on 19 April 1803 (son of Basil Speake and Elizabeth Kennett), came to Alabama in 1824, first settling in Tuscaloosa, where he continued his schooling while living with a relative. He moved to Lawrence County in 1830 to assume the position of teacher at the school Dennis Lindsey and John Stewart set up for their section of the county.
- 25 August 1828: Niles Weekly Register transcribes an affidavit Dennis Lindsey and others gave on 16 June 1828 attesting to the good character of John May of Oakville. Others signing the affidavit were John Gibson, Samuel Irwin, John Birdwell, Richard Puckett, and Thomas Sparks. The affidavit is included in an article entitled “The Case of John Harris” discussing Andrew Jackson’s order for the execution of Reverend John Harris on 21 February 1815, with claims that Harris was a deserter during the Creek War and a mutineer. Harris’s son James Harris of Lawrence County was trying to vindicate his father, and this story was being resurrected in 1828 as Jackson campaigned for the presidency.
John May affirmed what James Harris said about his father and refuted Jackson’s claims about John Harris. The statement of Dennis Lindsey and others on May’s behalf states, “We do certify, we have lived neighbors to, and been acquainted with John May for several years, and have always regarded him strictly honest and a man of veracity.” Niles Weekly Register was published in Baltimore. The same article ran in the Kentucky Reporter, published in Lexington, on 23 July 1828, and in the Burlington [Vermont] Weekly Free Press on 26 September 1828.
As I noted in a previous posting, Saunders describes Richard Puckett as the leading merchant of Oakville at the time the town was ruined by the economic crash of 1837. As this posting also states, Puckett was the uncle of Carolina Puckett, who married 1) Alexander Mackey Brooks, a brother of Dennis Lindsey’s wife Jane; and 2) William Burke Lindsey, Dennis’s brother.
The John Birdwell signing the affidavit in support of John May along with Dennis Lindsey was born 24 September 1770 in Botetourt County, Virginia, and died 24 April 1854 at Mount Enterprise in Rusk County, Texas. He moved to Madison County, Mississippi Territory (later Alabama), from Tennessee about 1808, and was an organizer and first clerk of Enon Baptist church at Huntsville, which later became First Baptist church of Huntsville. Madison County deed records show John Birdwell buying and selling land on Flint River by 1816; he was evidently living in a part of the county that would become Lawrence in 1818, close to where Dennis Lindsey settled. On 6 December 1820, John Birdwell was assigned by an act of the Alabama legislature to view the Flint River in Cotaco (later Morgan) County from its junction with the Tennessee to its main fork, to see if it was navigable.
In his history of Morgan County, John Knox tells us that John Birdwell was an elder and constituting member of Hopewell Baptist church which was established prior to 1825 about 2½ miles east of Danville. John also helped to organize a Baptist church about 10 miles west of Moulton near Danville in Morgan County in 1819, which was originally known as Birdwell or Birdwell Springs Baptist church and then as Enon. This is a different Enon Baptist church from the one mentioned above that John Birdwell helped organize about a decade earlier at Huntsville.
Several generations down the road, the Lindsey and Birdwell families tie together in my own family tree by the marriage of my great-grandfather Alexander Cobb Lindsey, a grandson of Dennis, on 2 November 1876 in Red River Parish, Louisiana, to Mary Ann Green, daughter of Ezekiel Samuel Green and Camilla Birdwell. Camilla’s grandfather Moses Birdwell was a brother of John Birdwell, and joined him in Madison County, Mississippi Territory, shortly after 1810.
- Lawrence County, Alabama loose papers files document a debt case involving Dennis Lindsey and James Collins that appears to have occurred in the period 1826-8. Collins seems to have filed the case (#581) in county court in 1826. The loose papers file folder, labeled as a case of Collins v. Lindsey, contains a summons to Collins dated 8 June 1828 to appear in court to respond to a debt judgment against him in favor of Lindsey. There is a note that no property was found. Another note in the case file states that Collins had filed a complaint of trespass against Lindsey and Lindsey was ordered to appear in court on 1 July (1828?). Another note in the case file says that Collins alleged that Lindsey had sold him an “unsound horse.” It appears that the case began, then, in 1826 as a complaint by Collins that Lindsey had sold him an unsound horse, and then a dispute ensued between the two which ended in the judgment of debt in favor of Lindsey.
- 15 September 1828: Alabama Register of Officers shows Dennis Lindsey commissioned as a lieutenant for the 4th division, 11th brigade, 46th regiment in Lawrence County.
- 26 March 1829: Dennis Lindsey gave bond with John Stewart for Joel Burnam to serve as constable in Captain Thomas’ company in Lawrence County.
- 22 October 1829: Dennis Lindsey and his father Mark were purchasers at the sale of the estate of James L. Richardson in Lawrence County. The list of buyers at the sale states that Dennis bought a book called Whelkley’s Compendium along with a pot; a list of those paid by the estate shows Mark as one of those receiving a payment.
 Bureau of Land Management Tract Books for Alabama, vol. 19, p. 95; see also Huntsville land office ledger 127.
 James Edmond Saunders, Early Settlers of Alabama (New Orleans, 1899), pp. 122-3.
 Saunders, Early Settlers of Alabama, p. 123.
 Ibid., pp. 42-3.
 See Thomas Chase Hagood, “Territorial Period and Early Statehood,” Encyclopedia of Alabama; Kathryn Braund, “Creek War of 1813-4,” Encyclopedia of Alabama; LeeAnna Keith, “Alabama Land Fever,” Encyclopedia of Alabama; Carolyn Earle Billingsley, “Antebellum Planters: Communities of Kinship on the Cotton Frontier,” East Texas Historical Journal 39,2 (fall 1997 ), pp. 58-74; James David Miller, South by Southwest: Planter Emigration and Identity in the South and Southwest (Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia, 2002); Thomas Perkins Abernethy, The Formative Period in Alabama, 1815-1828 (Montgomery: Alabama Department of Archives and History, 1922), pp. 34-43, 67-8, 74-87, 120-1; Malcolm J. Rohrbough, The Trans-Appalachian Frontier (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1978), pp. 195-217; and Lewis Gray, “The Expansion of the Cotton Belt: 1815-60,” in Cotton and the Growth of the American Economy: 1790-1860, ed. Stuart Bruchey (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967), pp. 107-110.
 Saunders, Early Settlers of Alabama, pp. 42-3.
 Lawrence County, Alabama, Orphans Court Bk. C, pp. 29-30.
 See June Baldwin Bork, Wayne County, Kentucky, Marriages and Vital Records 1801-1860, vol. 1: Marriages A-J (Huntington Beach, CA, 1972), p. 35.
 Lawrence County, Alabama, Orphans Court Bk. C, p. 107.
 Lawrence County, Alabama, Deed Bk. C, pp. 223-4.
 Lawrence County, Alabama, Orphans Court Bk. C, p. 171.
 Information about James Beckham Speake’s first years in Alabama was sent to me in a letter dated 31 January 1983 by Harold Speake, a Moulton attorney who was a descendant of James B. and Sarah Lindsey Speake. Harold Speake’s letter cites a cites a 17 February 1924 letter of James and Sarah’s son Charles Washington Speake to A. Howard Speake of Brooklyn, New York. Saunders, Early History of Alabama, p. 123, says that Speake came from Kentucky to Alabama in 1830, but Saunders appears to be speaking specifically of when Speake arrived in Lawrence County. Thomas McAdory Owen, Dictionary of Alabama Biography, vol. 4 (Chicago: S.J. Clarke, 1921), p. 1605, has Speake arriving in Alabama in 1832. In a 4 April 1996 article in Moulton Advertiser written by Deangelo McDaniel (pp. 1-2), Harold Speake suggests that Dennis Lindsey brought James B. Speake to Lawrence County as Dennis and John Stewart set up their school at Oakville — that is, Harold Speake had concluded that it was Dennis Lindsey who actually brought Speake to Lawrence County to take the position of teacher at the school he and Stewart petitioned to set up in 1827.
 “The Case of John Harris,” Niles Weekly Register 34 (25 August 1828), p. 423. The entire article runs from pp. 419-423.
 Saunders, Early Settlers of Alabama, p. 123.
 See History of the First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama: First 175 Years (Huntsville: First Baptist Church, 1985). Enon church minutes for 1 June 1811 state that the church authorized Brethren Watkins, Pruet, Brock, Birdwell, and Powell to view a place for a meeting house.
 See John Knox, A History of Morgan County, Alabama (Decatur, Alabama: Decatur Printing Co., 1967), p. 54.
 Ibid., p. 160.
 See Gwenneth Aeone Marshall Mitchell, The Mitchells of Linn Flat (Austin, Texas, 1981), p. 215; and Dennis Grizzle, “John and Mary Allen Birdwell,” in Families and History of Sullivan County, Tennessee, ed. Holston Territory Genealogical Society (Waynesville, North Carolina: Walsworth, 1992), pp. 349-50.
 Lawrence County, Alabama, Loose Papers Court Files, box 84, folder 52.
 The case is apparently also documented in Lawrence County, Alabama, Orphans Court Minutes Bk. C, pp. 117-8.
 See Anne S. Lee, “Court Records,” Old Lawrence Reminiscences 10,3 (September 1996), p. 109, citing Lawrence County, Alabama, Official Bond Records 1829-50, p. 2.
 See the original estate file and “Lawrence County Estate Papers,” Valley Leaves 10,1 (1975), pp. 71-2.