William T. Acree was chosen as Covington’s first probate judge

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 2, 2011

The early history of any county is quite important and sometimes enlightening to its citizens. Covington County is certainly no exception, and its history includes a number of firsts and an abundance of influential leaders. One of these was the first probate judge, William Thomas Acree, who served in the new office, which was initially created by an act of the state assembly on Feb. 11, 1850.

This act called for the probate judge to be elected by the citizens of the county for a term of six years. Many of the duties, which were assigned to the probate court, remain the same today.

These include original jurisdiction over estates, the appointment of guardians and the responsibility to record real property transactions, as well as other duties no longer under the supervision of the Court, such as the issuance of “tavern licenses.”

The judge was required to keep an office in the courthouse and be ”open for transaction of business at least on Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturdays of each week, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., with the exception of one hour each day at noon.”

The judge also presided over the court of the county commissioners and was allowed to hire a clerk at his own expense. It is easily seen why the probate judges were considered to be very powerful.

William T. Acree was the first to be elected by popular vote to the office of probate judge on May 6, 1850.

For some reason, he was unable to complete his full term of office, so he resigned effective Nov. 15, 1854. It has been suggested that he may have done so to accept a position in the Alabama General Assembly.

It is most unfortunate that the records of early Covington County history were destroyed by several fires, which burned the courthouses.

Therefore, there is little available on the activities of the probate office during Acree’s tenure.

His was one of the earliest families to reside in the new Town of Andalusia during the early 1850s when the population was about 75 residents. In 1857, he represented the county as a state representative.

In addition to his role as probate judge from 1850 to 1854, Acree performed numerous services to the county. Soon after he resigned from this office, he was named Postmaster of Andalusia Post Office in 1855, a position he held for two years. Also in 1855, he became a member of the Alabama General Assembly, where he served for two years. In 1857, he became a representative in the Alabama Legislature, an office he held for at least a year.

When the federal census was taken in 1860, Acree owned one slave. On June 29, 1861, he enlised as an R.P.M. in the 60th Regiment (Covington County) 8th Brigade, 11th Division, of the Alabama Militia. In 1862, be became a 1st Sergeant in Company I, 40th Alabama Infantry Regiment (Covington County Farmers) of the Confederate Army. Near the end of the War Between the States in March 1865, the group of Yankee raiders who came through Covington County took him and several other county leaders and imprisoned them. They were later released from Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island, Miss. and returned to continue as public servants in the county.

Acree was paroled after the war and listed as a registered voter in 1867, but when an election was held in 1868, he was listed as “disfranchised,” which barred him from voting. (He may have never signed the loyalty oath.)

However, he and former officials who were strong conservatives, continued to be active in politics during the reconstruction period.

In December 1868, Acree was appointed as the first known notary public for the county. This office achieved a more attractive status than the previous justice of the peace.

In 1872, Acree was appointed to the office of Clerk of Circuit County for the county where he served under Judge Harper. On June 9, 1874, he was commissioned as Clerk of Circuit County for the county. In 1881, he was appointed to the office of justice of the peace for Precinct One, Andalusia. Once again, in 1883, he was selected as Postmaster for Andalusia for a short term. He remained active in county affairs until his death in 1895 at the age of 79 . He was buried on Jan. 16, 1895, in Andalusia’s Magnolia Cemetery.

His obituary appeared in The Covington Times on Jan. 18, 1895: “An Old Landmark Gone: Judge William T. Acree breathed his last at his home near town about 11 o’clock Monday morning last.

He had a severe attack of paralysis several years ago, since which time he has been feeble in health. On Monday last, he had a second stroke which resulted in his death in about one hour. Deceased was about 80 years of age and one of the old land marks of this section, having settled in Covington County when quite a young man. He served one term each as probate judge, circuit clerk and superintendent of education and also represented the county in [the] legislature. He was a member of the Baptist Church and Mason, his remains being passed away with Masonic honors on Tuesday. A large crowd witnessed the impressive ceremonies at the grave.”

In addition to his grave marker, there is also a well-worn memorial marker, which appears to have Masonic engravings with the following epitaph: ALTHOUGH HE SLEEPS HIS MEMORY DOTH LIVE AND CHEERING COMFORT TO HIS MOURNERS GIVE.

William Thomas Acree, the son of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Ann (O’Neal) Acree, was born in 1815 in Wilkes County, Ga. The family moved to Lowndes County, Ala., circa 1837. William T. and his brother, Wooten O’Neal Acree, moved to Covington County before 1850.

In the census of that year, William was listed as a farmer and head of household with wife, Achsah, with both being 34 years of age. They had three children at the time: Ruth, 7; Francis, 4; and John, 1. His brother, Wooten, was not enumerated in this census.

Both brothers were enumerated in the 1860 census: Wooten, 34, is still single and residing in the household of James A. Jordan. He was listed as being Sheriff of the county at the time. He was married soon afterwards to Becky Wheeler and appears to have died in the late 1860s. William T. and Achsah had two additional children, Mary Ann E., 10; and Daniel M., 6.

When William first arrived in Covington County, he acquired land near the Montezuma settlement.

In 1851, he purchased 42 acres in the Conecuh River community. Over the next several years, he purchased an additional 412 acres in the same area.

Years later, his sons bought land in the general area. Daniel M. homesteaded 159 acres in the Blue Pond Township in 1893. William Jr. purchased 40 acres in the Red Oak community in 1908.

Judge William Acree and wife, Achsah, appear to have had the following children: Ruth, b. ca 1843; Francis H.J., b. ca 1846; John M., b. ca 1848; Mary Ann Elizabeth, b. ca 1850, d. 1880s, m. Zachariah T. Allen; Daniel M., b. 1854, d. 1920, m. Abi S.A. or M.; and Malissa Margaret “Lissy,” b. 1861, d. 1949, m. Lorenzo Jacob “Jade” Feaster.

Following Achsah’s death, William married Mary Amanda Adams, daughter of Benjamin and

Caroline Adams. This couple had at least the following two children, Theodocia, b. 1871, d. 1931, m. John Thomas Franklin; and William Thomas Jr., b. 1872, d. 1919, m. Mary Franklin.

The sources for today’s writing were a document prepared by current Probate Judge Ben Bowden, Lisa Franklin’s records and county books by Wyley Ward and Gus and Ruby Bryan.

Anyone who might have any correction to the above or additional information Judge Acree is requested to contact Curtis Thomasson at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or email: cthomasson@centurytel.net.

HISTORICAL MEETING: The Covington Rifles Camp, SCV, will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Thurs., April 7, in the Dixon Memorial Room of the Andalusia Public Library.