Cawthon family arrived during the 1600s from England

Published 11:58 pm Friday, June 26, 2009

The Cawthorne family of England is a very old one, which can be traced back to Yorkshire where the ancient village of Cawthorne may be found. Family legend holds that the earliest members of this family to leave England and migrate to America were William, Richard and John Cawthon. They left London during the latter 1600s and sailed to the State of Virginia.

A complete history and lineage of these brothers was not found by this writer. The next descendant to be identified was William Dabney Cawthon who was born circa 1734 in Augusta County, Virginia. Dabney Cawthon appears to have left Virginia during the 1750s and migrated to a site on the banks of the Savannah River on the South Carolina side in what is now Barnwell County. His parentage has not been determined at this time.

William Dabney Cawthon was the father of William Cawthon, Sr. who was married to Judith (? Thomas). They were the parents of the Cawthons who became early settlers in Henry County, Ala. This couple left Jefferson County, Ga., with their married sons and daughters and settled in Laurens and Telfair Counties. Next they appear in Henry County, Ala.

Members of the Cawthon family were among the very earliest settlers in Henry County. The first one to arrive was Josiah Dabney Cawthon (1784-1834) who was married to Nancy Sylvester. He achieved significant military status while serving as a Major and commanding a string of forts along the Okmulgee River during the War of 1812. After arriving in Alabama, he engaged in the mercantile business. In 1828, he was elected to serve as an Alabama State Representative. He was an outstanding leader in the area until his death in 1834, at which time he left a “considerable fortune in real estate and slaves.”

His children included the following: William Wilson, administrator of his estate; Martha, m. James H. Grace; Andrew Jackson; Margaret E., m. ? Knight; Susan, m. (1) ? McCullough (2) William Wilson (3) Rev. Edmund Talbot; Josiah Ashley; Mary Elizabeth, m. ?(?) Speight (2) ? Stringer; Bartlett S.; and James Wilson. The first two children are believed to be those of his first wife, and the others are the children of his second wife, Nancy Sylvester. The marriage of his daughter, Martha, to James H. Grace in 1823 is one of the earliest records of that county.

Josiah’s brother, William, moved to the same area about the same time and settled at a location called Poplar Head and Cawthon’s Cowpens, which later became the City of Dothan. He owned extensive herds of cattle, which grazed on the land where Dothan is now located. The numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren were told stories through the years of the great cattle drives to the ports of Pensacola and Mobile for shipment to other locations. They heard about the bags of gold received in return, which allowed him to purchase and bring gifts of finery home to his family.

William moved to Walton County circa 1838 and lived in that section for the remainder of his life. During the War Between the States, he was taken prisoner and sent to prison at Fort Barrancas. According to the report of Brigadier General Asboth, commander of the Federal forces, September 23, 1864, he “had captured at daybreak that morning, several prisoners of war and six political prisoners, including William Cawthon, an influential Rebel leader, Lieutenant Francis M. Gordon and Allen Hart, a wealthy Rebel beef contractor.” Francis and Allen were sons-in-law of William.

After being imprisoned for some time in Pensacola, William was released due to his advanced age. He was 78 years of age at the time of his capture. He died a few years later in 1870 at the age of 84 and was buried near Basin Bayou on Choctawatchee Bay in Walton County.

Stephen Cawthon also appears in the early records of Henry County. He appears to be the son of a third brother, Stephen, who died in Georgia. A fourth brother, Ashley Claborn Cawthon, bought land in the county, but there is no record of his having lived there.

The above William Cawthon is listed in some records as W.J.D. Cawthon. He was first married to Sarah Smith, daughter of Simon Smith of Laurens County, Georgia. They had the following children: Thomas Jefferson, d. young; Mary G., m. John Ghent; Elizabeth T., m. Allen Hart; Sarah B., m. Daniel McCaskill; Martha Ann, m. Isaac Welch; and Nancy Charity, m. E.B. Arms.

Family stories suggest William and Sarah had serious disagreements over religious matters, so he rounded up his stock and drove them further west. In 1837, he purchased property near McDade’s Pond, which became Lake Jackson at Florala. His arrival in covered wagons with his herds of cows and other stock strung out before him made quite an impressive site.

In his new place of residence, William met and was married to Elizabeth O’Neal. He and she had the following five children: Martha, m. Dr. Troutman; Stephen Ashley; Ascsah Jane, m. ? Ball; Murray Allen; Eliza Ann Eugenia, m. Augustus Hutchinson. Notable descendants of this family include the Honorable W. Stanmore Cawthon of Tallahassee, State Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of Florida for many years; Judge Ira A. Hutchison, Mrs. William C. Lockey of Panama City, and Mrs. Howard Cawthon of DeFuniak Springs.

William was married a third time to Nancy (Langston) Fountain. They reared the following eight children: William Jefferson, m. Louisa Hutcheson; Sarah Elizabeth, m. Louis Miller; Lafayette; Nancy, m. ? McSwain; Susan, m. ? Walden; Mary, m. (1) ? Gordon (2) ? McSwain; Julia “Judy,” m. ? Walden; and Hosea Ballou.

William and his fourth wife, Mary McSwain, had one son, John Cawthon. This brought William Cawthon’s total number of children to at least 20. He obviously made quite a significant contribution to developing and populating the areas of South Alabama and Northwest Florida. It is hoped that more information can be obtained on the next generation of this family and other Cawthon relatives.

This writer would like to continue the review of this family, but more family information is needed. Anyone who might be able to share their data on any aspect of the Cawthon family is requested to contact him at the addresses below.

The sources for this column were records from a History of Henry County, Alabama by Mrs. Marvin Scott, census records, and Covington County History by Gus and Ruby Bryan. The notes on the Cawthon family of Henry County were written by Ruth Lackey Philbrick.

Anyone who might have a correction to any of the above or additional information on Cawthon families is requested to contact Curtis Thomasson at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or E-mail:

HISTORICAL MEETING: The Covington Rifles Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans will meet at 6 p.m. on Thurs., July 2, in the Dixon Memorial Room of the Andalusia Public Library.