Family traces roots to EnglandPublished 12:00am Saturday, February 11, 2012
The Simmons family of Covington County will be featured in today’s column and several seceding ones in the coming weeks. Fortunately, a descendant in this family has written and preserved his family’s heritage and has graciously consented for it to be shared in this manner.
These remembrances are an excerpt from autobiographical data written by Morgan Ferdinand Simmons, son of Morgan Foshee Simmons and Nan Prestwood Simmons. Simmons was born in Andalusia in 1929. Formerly, the organist and choirmaster of the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, he lives in Evanston, Ill., with his wife Mary of 59 years.
As far as I know, no one has ever made a detailed study of the Simmons family. Like the Prestwoods, the Simmonses were of British stock, and like Papa Prestwood, my grandfather William Ferdinand Simmons was born in Coffee County on March 22, 1861, to Edward Simmons and Mary Elizabeth Smith. His father Edward (listed in the 1860 census as Edmond) was born in Georgia in 1834 as was his wife Mary Elizabeth (b. 1835); she was the daughter of Ferdinand and Martha Smith. Ferdinand had been born in South Carolina in 1790 and Martha in Georgia in 1809, a stellar birth year shared with Abraham Lincoln, Felix Mendelssohn, Charles Darwin, Oliver Wendell Holmes and William Gladstone. Mama Simmons recounted the tale of how Ferdinand had taken Martha from a second story window by ladder and eloped with her and how they had lived with the Indians for a time. My namesake was a maverick. Maybe there is something in a name. The record shows that they were married August 8, 1826, in Butts County Ga. The 1830 census shows that they were living in Butts County along with two daughters; and the 1860 census reveals that they had moved to Coffee County, near Elba. At that time Ferdinand was 70 and Martha was 51. They had five children still at home: James, 19; Luceta, 16 (the mother of George Lindsey who married Aunt Minnie May); Frances, 11; and Texian, 8.
As a young man, Ferdinand accompanied Andrew Jackson on his march through the wilderness of Alabama on his way to Pensacola, Fla., and assisted in cutting the old Three Notch Road. Two of his sons, James and Levi, were casualties of the Civil War, and another son Henry died soon after the war. No one of that generation was spared the ravages of that horrendous conflict.
Edward and Mary Elizabeth had three children: George (b. 1856), Martha (“Mat”) (b. 1858) and William Ferdinand (March 22, 1861 – Dec. 1, 1928), my grandfather. Like my maternal great-grandfather Thomas Prestwood, Edward was a beginning farmer in Coffee County at the outbreak of war, and, like him, his life was ended as a private in the Confederate Army. He died in Mobile as a result of brills fever and is buried in the Confederate Cemetery there. Elizabeth was left to raise the three children – another tragic entry in the family album.
At age 22, Uncle George, the oldest of the family, left home to make his way in Escambia County where he worked as a hand in the timber business. In 1878 he married Sina Graves, but she died in 1887, leaving him with three children. In 1888 he married Mary Moore. That same year he moved to Covington County where he was joined by his brother-in-law Larkin Lindsey (Aunt Mat’s husband) and my grandfather “Ferdy” to form Lindsey, Simmons and Brothers. They owned lumber mills on the Conecuh and Pea Rivers and shipped timber to Pensacola. By 1893 they employed 22 men and eight teams, ran a general store and owned nearly 6,000 acres in Covington County and another 1,000 acres near the Pea River mill in Geneva County. At the Conecuh River mill there was a six-mile long ditch for floating logs to the mill; it had cost about $500 a mile to dig. It is not known when the brothers dissolved the partnership, but my grandfather continued in the lumber business and farming on his own and eventually acquired 12,000 acres of land. As timber was cut he sold the land, and at the time of his death in 1928 there were only 3,200 acres left.
Mary Elizabeth, my great grandmother, died in 1891 and is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Andalusia, as is Arthur Lindsey, infant son of Larkin and Mat Lindsey. Whether Grandma Simmons was living with one of the children at the Conecuh River site is unknown. The Lindseys later settled in Geneva, and Uncle George and family moved to Florida. After that there was little contact with his family, but the Lindsey family remained part of the fold.
Papa Simmons had little formal education, but he did attend the Brewton Academy in Escambia County for a short time. Nevertheless he had a beautiful handwriting and a shrewd mind for business and politics. He became one of the most respected and successful citizens of Andalusia. The following paragraph from his obituary captures something of his standing.
“Mr. Simmons was known to nearly everyone in the county, and he was recognized as a man of positive integrity and finest character. Few men enjoy the respect and esteem as did Mr. Simmons, for all knew that a first principle with him was to be just. All people respected his fine character and many of those who knew him intimately, esteemed and loved his gentleness and courtesy.”
In addition to his farming and timber interests, he served as vice president of the First National Bank, as a member of the board of directors of the Andalusia Dry Goods Company and was a founder, along with my father and Mr. A. C. Wilder, of the S. & W. Lumber Company. His interests also included politics, and among his political positions were Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, county treasurer and a Chairman of the Andalusia Board of Education at the time the old East Three Notch School (now the Andalusia City Hall) was built. It was under his administration with the county that the present handsome Greek revival courthouse was constructed in 1916 at the cost of only $150,000. His obituary also states that this “structure must remain always as one of the many fine monuments to his vision and sound judgment.”
In the tympanum above the massive Corinthian columns of the building is a small clock that never worked until recent years. Uncle Aus Prestwood, who was also a commissioner at the time of the building of the courthouse, insisted on a large clock, but Papa Simmons’ fiscal conservatism won out. Uncle Aus always referred to the ineffectual timepiece as his “pocket watch!” Two men of means; both second sons and orphaned at an early age; both self-made; both widely regarded as business and civic leaders. But what contrasts. Uncle Aus, the flamboyant, outspoken, rough edged character; Papa Simmons, the quiet, steady, impeccably honest gentleman. And I? I can feel the blood of both men coursing through my veins.
A story told by Uncle Clifton reveals the stock, which Papa Simmons placed in his sense of integrity – the fact that his word was his bond. His pattern was to pay his outstanding bills in person at the beginning of each month. His dentist, Dr. J. C. Hill, sent him a bill for services rendered. This, Papa took to be an assault on his character as an honest man. After paying the bill, he never used Dr. Hill’s services again.
A man of great humility, he never joined a church because he did not feel he was worthy of church membership. He did, however, attend the Primitive Baptist Church from time to time and instilled the highest Christian principles in his children. In South Alabama honesty and integrity are synonymous with the name “Simmons,” traits not easily maintained in today’s avaricious society.
Food has always had a prominent place in both families, and so it seems appropriate that while attending “dinner on the ground” over in Crenshaw County, Papa Simmons met my grandmother Lela Belle Morgan Payne (October 5, 1870 – March 1, 1963), a young widow with two children: Walter Clifton (January 30, 1889 – May 3, 1972) and Minnie May (September 9, 1890 – May 21, 1994). They began courting and were married on November 27, 1893, at the home of her parents, Henry and Affire Morgan, by Reverend Maloy. (Affire is not a typo; it’s for real. Only recently I discovered that it is a bastardized version of the name Apphia, which appears in the New Testament Letter to Philemon.)
The Morgan family was Georgians. Mama Simmons’ great grandfather was James Oliver Morgan (February 7, 1782 – June 26, 1877). Born at a time when the American Revolution was a fresh memory for many, he became a Methodist minister. The text of his last sermon, II Timothy 4:7-8, appears on his gravestone in Oak Grove Cemetery in Crenshaw County Alabama. (“I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”) The gravestone also includes the following: “95 years, 4 mos. and 19 days.” On April 6, 1816 he married Mary Dathney, twenty-two years his junior, who was from Richmond County near Augusta, Georgia. They had six sons (Green Berry, Elijah, James, Columbus, William, and Thomas) and two daughters (Julia and Lucinda); the oldest son Green Berry (February 7, 1818 – January 13, 1906), Mama Simmons’ grandfather, was born at Chattahoochee Springs, Georgia. His wife, Dorcas Tabitha Taylor (February 3, 1820 – October 27, 1908), who was born in England, was living in Augusta with her family at the time of their marriage. Both Green Berry and Dorcas are buried in Weed Cemetery in Crenshaw County. These were people of hardy stock – he living to the age of 88 and she to the age of 86 in a time before antibiotics and sophisticated medical procedures. Their children included John Green, James Henry (Mama Simmons’ father and my great grandfather), Snow Boyington, William Thomas, Caroline, Mary, Sara and Garge Ann. As a child I remember references to Uncle Snow and Aunt “Cowline.” Aunt Caroline married Henry Bray and through that family we are related to a number of people in Andalusia.
This family narrative will be continued in next week’s column. Anyone who might have any question is encouraged to contact Curtis Thomasson at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.