Sentell descendants excelled in educational, legal fields

Published 11:59 am Friday, August 12, 2011

The early genealogy of the Sentell family of Covington County was reviewed in last week’s column.

The lineage of John Edward Sentell, the earliest ancestor to arrive in Covington County before 1820, was covered. In today’s writing, the lineage of John Troup Sentell who came to Covington County during the late 1800s will be reviewed.

First, there is a need to correct an error in the coverage of John E. Sentell in last week’s column. His wife was listed as Martha Fletcher Wilbanks, but she was instead the wife of John T. Sentell, who is being featured in this writing. Actually, the name of John Edward Sentell’s wife was Mary A.

John Troup Sentell was the son of Nathan Sentell (1785-1833) and Mary “Polly” Bradley (1801-1882). He was the grandson of Nathan’s parents, Samuel Sentell and Nancy Stephens. Samuel was born in 1759 in Brunswick County, Virginia, and died in 1844 in Newton or DeKalb County, Georgia. Nancy Stephens, a sister to Elizabeth Stephens who married Samuel’ brother, William Sentell, was born in 1760 and died in 1847.

John Troup Sentell was born in 1830 in Newton, Fulton County, Georgia, near Marietta.

He was the youngest son in a large family, and his father died at a fairly young age while John T. was still a young lad. Nathan and Mary “Polly” (Bradley) Sentell had the following children: Elizabeth; Nancy E.; Sarah A.; William W., b. 1814, d. 1889; Ada Lucinda, b. 1816; James Monroe, b. 1828, d. 1899; John Troup, b. 1830, d. 1912; and Susan Caroline, b. 1833.

Upon reaching adulthood, John T. made his way to Alabama before the War Between the State, which began in 1861. He first settled in Pike County in the vicinity of Mt. Hilliard. He had begun his career in education by teaching for seven years in the rural schools a short distance from Atlanta while still residing in Georgia. In Alabama, he began teaching in the Mt. Hilliard School, located near Union Springs, which is today in Bullock County, but it was Pike in those days.

John T. next moved to the Ramer community in the southern area of Mont-gomery County where he taught in several schools: Hill’s Chapel, Grange Hall (Meadville), Dublin and Ramer. He then went to the Shady Grove School in Pike County and later to Rutledge in Crenshaw County where he conducted a boarding school for 13 years. During these later years, John T. served for eight years as Supe-rintendent of Education for Crenshaw County. All in all he taught school for more than 40 years.

John T.’s son described his father’s ideas and rules for teaching.

“The school should provide separate playgrounds for boys and girls, and they should not be allowed to speak to each other during school hours unless given such permission. The students are expected to always do right. John T. was considered to be a stern disciplinarian and believed in using the switch when necessary. He was so firm and positive in his requirements that he rarely had to use it. He was a great believer in work and study and felt students show remain at school from early to nearly sundown.”

John T. moved to Andalusia during the late 1800s. He served as a Councilman during Henry Opp’s tenure as Mayor from 1899 to 1906.

His wife died in 1904 and he in 1912.

They were buried in the Magnolia Cemetery behind the Covington County Courthouse.

John T. Sentell and his wife, Martha (Fletcher) Willbanks, reared the following children: James Oscar Sr., b. 1863, d. 1954; Dr. William Eugene, b. 1867, d. 1901, m. Mollie O’Neal; Minnie Iola, b. 1871, d. 1936, m. Dr. William Watts Avant (1873-1947); Mary Lillian “Lillie,” b. 1876, d. 1943, m. James William Shreve; and Ada Lucinda, b. 1879, d. 1978, single.

The oldest son, James Oscar Sentell, Sr., was born in Bullock County and was his father’s student at the school in Rutledge. He was carefully trained in the common schools at Ramer, Montgomery County, and later at the Florence Normal School and the Southern University in Greensboro. His first work was assisting his father in the classroom for a few years, but he did not particularly like that work. He then turned to studying law. His biography states, “He was admitted to practice law at Luverne in 1891, where he later resided.”

James Oscar Sr. was also prominent in civic and political affairs in Crenshaw County.

He was prominent in the Democratic party councils where he was a member of the county executive committee for a number of years.

He was selected as the party’s campaign manager during several of their campaigns.

He was then in 1900 and 1901 elected to represent the county in the state legislature.

He was also selected to be a member of the Alabama Constitutional Convention of 1901, in which he played a major role in helping frame the new Constitution.

Locally he was the first Mayor of Luverne, a town for which he had helped survey and design the site.

The area had been heavily wooded previously, so James Oscar conceived the idea of using prisoners of the court to help clear away the stumps, etc.

James Oscar Sr. and his family were Methodists, and he was a past chancellor of the Knights of Pythias as well as a member of the Improved Order of Red Men.

James Oscar Sr. was married to Fannie Cody, daughter of Francis M. Cody of Rutledge.

Her father was for 19 years Clerk of the Circuit Court of Crenshaw County at Rutledge.

In 1904, the family resided in Luverne. James Oscar Sr. and Fannie reared the following three children: Ellie Verne, b. 1889; James Leland, b. 1892; and Mildred Mary, b. 1896. Following Fannie’s death, James Oscar Sr. was remarried to Ida S. Fonville, and they had one child, James Oscar Jr., b. 1909, d. 1985, m. Dr. Jane Jones.

The primary source for this Sentell genealogy was the family records of Charles Edgar Sentell, an attorney in Madison, Mississippi, which is near Jackson. He has an informative feature story on Professor John T. Sentell written by Mildred Smith for the Montgomery Advertiser and published on Sunday, December 7, 1941. He also has a biography of James Oscar Sentell, Sr., which appeared in the Sunday, July 11, 2010, issue of Biographies of Notable & Not-so-Notable Alabamians. Then his father, James Oscar Sentell, Jr., was honored by an “In Memoriam” story in the Alabama Lawyer in March 1985. Appreciation is expressed to Edgar for sharing his records of family’s history.

Anyone who might have any corrections to the above or additional information on the Sentell family is requested to contact Curtis Thomasson at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or email: