Fail ancestors came from Scotland to South Carolina circa 1682

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 7, 2010

Descendants of the Fail family primarily resided in Crenshaw and Lowndes Counties, but some later moved on to Covington County. They are of Scotch-Irish ancestry, and the name was mostly MacPhail in Scotland with it being changed to Fail in America. In 1682, John Fail immigrated to South Carolina, which was still an English colony at the time. There is a record from 1656 of an Abraham Fail being an early Virginia immigrant who settled in Westmoreland County, but no further information nor his relationship to John is known.

From records, it has been determined that John was born circa 1656 in Scotland. In 1690, Martin Elam affirmed John Fail was one of 18 immigrants he brought into America, but it is uncertain why he waited eight years before making this claim. The name of John’s first wife is not known, but it appears that most of his children were born to them. His will, dated June 8, 1712, names his wife, Mary, and the following children: John; Thomas; Mary, b. ca 1685, d. 1717, m. William Bass; Anne; Elizabeth; Martha; and Mary Fail. In 1697, John was married to Mary Elam, a widow, in Henrico County, Virginia. The youngest child, Mary Fail, may have been born to Mary Elam Fail.

It is not known to this writer for certain, but the above son, Thomas Faile Sr. appears to be the father of the following children: Mary, b. 1737, d. after 1797, m. ? Johnson; Martha, b. 1739; Elizabeth, b. 1742; John, b. 1743, d. after 1800; Thomas Jr., b. 1745, d. 1797; Lewis; William, b. 1759, before 1790; and Dickson/Dixon. There is a D.A.R. record of some Fail descendant joining under the service of Thomas Fail Jr. in the Rev-olutionary War.

Several of these sons served during the American Revolution. In 1776, Dixon Fail enlisted for service at Big Lynch’s Creek, S.C.. He and his brother, William, fought under Co. William Thompson on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. In 1777, Thomas Faile, Jr. enlisted in Capt. John Sheppard’s Company, Dobbs, County, North Carolina Militia. In 1788, Lewis Fail submitted claims for supplies furnished during the Revolution between 1783 and 1786. Also, in 1788, a State of South Carolina Land Grant for 200 acres was awarded to William Fail, heir of William Fail, deceased, for military services. Most of these brothers resided for a time in Johnston County, N.C.

The son, Thomas Fail Jr., had a son named William Fail, b. 1791, who was reported as being born in Georgia. The maiden name of William’s wife, Linna, is not known, but among their children was a son, Dixon Newton Fail, b. in 1826 in Georgia. He enlisted in the Confederate Army and served as a First Sergeant in Company F. 15th Alabama Battalion, Partisan Rangers. He died in 1862 while hospitalized in Mobile. Before the war, he was married to Barbara Shuler May (1832-1918).

Dixon Newton and Barbara Fail had a son, James May Fail, who was born in 1854 near Greenville in Butler County. He was reared there until about 1866 when his widowed mother moved him to Lowndes County. In 1879, he homesteaded 160 acres near Ft. Deposit and added additional land until he owned around 400 acres. He became quite successful in farming and had a special pecan orchard of about 6 acres. Be was recognized in the area as an authority on pecan culture. He was also a successful community leader and served as a member of the Crenshaw County Board of Education from 1917 to 1921. He was a Democrat, a Mason and a very faithful member of the Christian (church of Christ) Church.

James May Fail was married to Joanna Reynolds, daughter of Capt. Elijah Reynolds and Clairssa Carolyn (Layne) Reynolds (1836-1928). Joanna was born in 1858 in Manchester, Tennessee. She died in 1932 in Butler County and he, in 1939 in Crenshaw County. They were both buried in the Bethel Cemetery in Butler County.

James May and Joanna Fail reared the following children: Elijah Newton, b. 1877, d. 1972, m. Kate Herlong; Clarence Herbert, b. 1879, d. 1966, m. 1903 Lucy Alma Williams (1883-1972); Early Lee, b. 1882, d. 1967, m. Annie Lou Vinson; Zollie Joseph Layne, b. 1884, d. 1958, m. Grace McDougald (1886-1964); Rosa Mae, b. 1887, d. 1966, m. Julius Martin Herlong (1880-1953); Anna Ione, b. ca 1890; m. Henry Williamson; Clarissa Irene, b. 1893, d. 1967, m. Dr. Irby Clyde Bates (1888-1952); Mollie Reynolds, b. 1895, m. Dr. John Alexander Harper; James May, Jr., b.&d. 1898; and James Frank, b. 1901, d. 1998, m. Virginia Hayes.

The fourth son, Zollie Joseph Layne Fail, grew up in Ft. Deposit and chose a career in the field of education. He was a faithful member of the Christian Church and attended school at Highland Home College, a church of Christ institution. He earned a Bachelor of Science in 1909. He had begun teaching in 1905 and taught for several years in Butler, Covington, Crenshaw, and Lowndes Counties. In 1920, he was elected to serve as Tax Collector for Crenshaw County, which he did from 1921 to 1927.

Also in 1920, Zollie was married to Grace McDougald, daughter of Elisha Shorter and Ida (Pope) McDouglad. Grace had attended Alabama State Normal School at Troy, and had become a popular teacher for seven years in Crenshaw and Pike Counties.

In a historical record of Alabama, the following quote commends Zollie J.L. Fail: “Tax Collector of Crenshaw County. One of the best known and most representative citizens of this part of the state and one who stands deservedly high in popular approval. A native son of the county, he was born near Ft. Deposit, Alabama on August 17, 1884, and he belongs to one of the old and honored families of the South.”

Zollie J. L. and Grace Fail reared a son, Joseph Layne Fail, Sr., who was born in 1921 in Luverne.  Joseph L. “Joe” worked with the Alabama Department of Health until his retirement when he located in the Gantt area. He was married to Harrie E. Carl with whom he had two children: Joseph Layne Jr. and Barbara Ann. Joe was an active member of the Covington Rifles Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which is based in Andalusia. He joined under the service of his Great Grandfather Dixon Newton Fail.

The source for today’s writing was the family records, which were provided by Joe Fail before his death several years earlier. Joe was very proud of his heritage and wanted to share it with others.

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