Griffin family homesteads in Friendship Community in 1800s

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 23, 2010

Although records show there were members of the Griffin family in Covington County as early as 1828, today’s feature will focus on the family of Thomas Griffin. Thomas was born during the mid-1800s in South Carolina, and he died in the late 1880s. Thomas had a brother, John N. Griffin, who came to Alabama around the turn of the century and would come to play an important part in Thomas’s family.

Thomas was killed in a tragic accident in the late 1880s when the turpentine still where he was employed in South Carolina exploded. Family members oral history has related the death as “He was scalded to death.” He left a young widow with at least two small sons. Around 1874, he was married to Henrietta Stanton (1861-1927), and they made their home in Cheraw, South Carolina. The following two sons were born to them: John, b. 1885, d. 1927; and Thomas Pearson, b. 1887, d. 1941. Thomas was only an infant when his father was killed.

A few years later, Henrietta, was married to her first husband’s brother, John Griffin. That was not an uncommon occurrance during that period of time in that the brother would want to help rear his deceased brother’s children. Henrietta and John Griffin then had three children of their own: Jasper, Stanton, and Aggie. After a few years, John N. Moved the growing family to Coffee County, Alabama, and settled in the Elba community where the turpentine industry was thriving in the vast sections of pine forests.

After a few years of working in this location, the family moved to the young Town of Opp where John built and operated a service station on the Florala Highway in the vicinity of the former Dairy Queen and the Opp Motor Lodge. They resided in Opp and worked his station until John died on January 20, 1927, just 11 days after Henrietta died on January 9. They were both buried in the Friendship Cemetery in Covington County near the Coffee County line.

ohn Pearson Griffin, Henrietta’s youngest son by Thomas Griffin, worked with his uncle, John N. Griffin who was also his step-father, in the turpentine industry while they lived in Coffee County. When the family moved to Covington County, he met and was married to Mary Elizabeth “Mollie” Cauley (1887-1977), daughter of William Thomas (1852-1930) and Martha Louisa (King) (1887-1977) Cauley. She was the granddaughter of the pioneer Bartholomew Cauley and his wife, Winneford (Taylor). The Cauley and Taylor families were large and well-known early settlers in the county. (See Scott Smith’s Cauley Chronicles. (Scott lives in Enterprise, Alabama, and is retired from teaching English at the Enterprise Community College.)

Thomas Pearson “Tom” and Mollie resided in the Friendship and Bell’s Crossing communities when they were courting. They were married by J. H. Stephens on September 6, 1906, at her parents’ home. J.M. Robinson was serving as Probate Judge of Covington County at the time. Tom was still in the turpentine business, so they “set up house-keeping” in the Bell’s Crossing community, which was near his father’s place.

An interesting anecdote in the Griffin family is the way Mollie became familiar with rice. Her family did not normally eat rice, but her new husband’s family loved eating it regularly. Tom bought a bag of rice, so Mollie set about cooking it. She emptied the entire bag in a pot of hot water, so, of course, it began to expand a great deal. The shocked Mollie began dipping it out and placing in other containers until she had three large pans. Maybe they had a “rice party” for their entire family.

About eight years later in 1914, Tom purchased 40 acres of land, located on the Friendship Road, from Mollie’s father, William Thomas Cauley. The area was assigned as Route Three, Opp, Alabama. Here Tom built a three-bedroom house, which stood until the late 1970s when the land was sold to Earl and Dorothy Burge. Tom began to farm and gin cotton for his brother-in-law, Billy Cauley, at the Cauley Gin, located on property adjoining the Friendship Cemetery.

One day while Tom was plowing in his field, he heard a loud explosion in the direction of the gin. He ran to the site to find that a boiler had blown up and killed his young nephew, Little Tom Cauley, son of Mollie’s brother, Marvin Cauley. Marvin operated a taxi service in the Town of Opp for many years.

In 1927, Tom began employment at the Dannelley’s Crossroads Cotton Gin, which was operated by Button Grimes and Henry D. Jones. Tom began operating it and did so until his death on July 4, 1947. During those years, he would operate the gin until the season was ended, and then he would operate the Grimes Gristmill at the same location.

Tom and Mollie had the following four children: Willard Sargeant, b. 1907, d. 1991, m. Maggie Lee McCart (1911-1998); Button Blue, b. 1911, m. 1945 Bessie Frances Dawlins; Rossie Ruth, b. 1916, m. 1934 Wilbur O. Ellenburg; and William Tobe, b. 1921, d. 1923.

The oldest son, Willard Sargeant Griffin, attended Gravel Hill School, located between Friendship Methodist Church and Union Grove Pentecostal Church in Covington County. Afterwards, he attended business school in Montgomery. He and his wife, Maggie Lee, lived most of their lives in Covington County with the exception of a few years when they lived and worked at the shipyard on Blakely Island. They reared the following three children: Robert Thomas, b. 1929; Roland Pearson, b. 1931; and Ned Franklin, b. 1934. Robert Thomas remembered spending many happy Christmases at his Griffin Grandparents’ home. At their deaths, Willard and Maggie were buried in the Friendship Cemetery.

The second son, Button Blue Griffin, and his wife, Bessie Frances, lived most of their married life in Pensacola. They reared two sons, Winston Thomas and Wayne Blue.

The only daughter, Rossie Ruth Griffin, was married in 1934 to Wilbur O. Ellenburg. Since they married during the depression years, they traveled to South Florida to work in the citrus orchards during their first two years. They later worked in Civil Service jobs in Mobile and Ft. Walton until they retired in 1973. Within the next year of 1974 they decided to return to their hometown of Elba. Wilbur died in 1990, and while it is not known, Rossie probably died in the last few years.

The fourth and last child, William Tobe Griffin, was only two years old when he died from complications of mastoid surgery.

The source for this narrative was a family story submitted for publication in The Heritage of Covington County, Alabama, by Rossie Ruth (Griffin) Ellenburg who was 84 years of age at the time the book was published in 2003. It is very fortunate for families who had relatives to submit such family histories for the heritage book.

Anyone who has additions to the above history or new information on other Griffin families who have lived in Covington County is requested to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or E-mail:

HISTORICAL MEETING: The Covington Historical Society will be meeting at 7 p.m. on Thurs., Jan. 28, in the Dixon Memorial Room of the Andalusia Public Library.

Local resident, John Vick, will present a program on the U.S. Navy from his experiences while rendering service. Guests are cordially invited.