McKenzie family descendant came to Opp in 1900s

Published 1:40 am Saturday, January 23, 2016

Although only some of the McKenzie family descendants migrated to Covington County, Ala., they did arrive very early in the 1900s. These settled in the Opp area about the time Opp was established as a town. Members of this family have been described as being of Scottish descent, but the earliest ancestor to be documented thus far is Alexander McKenzie.

Alexander was born in 1820 in North Carolina, but the names of his parents are not known at this time. He was married in 1844 in Marlborough County, S.C. to his first wife, Smith A. Bolton, who was born in 1824 in that county. They were blessed with three children before Smithy’s untimely death in 1854 supposedly in Marion County, S.C. The three children were James D., b. 1846, d. ca 1909, m. 1871 Aurelia V. Nall; John A., b. 1847, d. 1922, m. Mary Catherine Stewart; and William M., b. 1850, d. 1872 at 22 years of age, single. James D. was born in Marlborough County and the other two children, in Marion County, S.C.

With three very young children, Alexander McKenzie needed a new wife to help him care for them. About a year after Smithy’s death, he was married in 1855 in Roberson County, N.C. to Mary McArthur. Tragedy struck this young family again after about a year of their marriage when Mary died in 1856, three days after giving birth to their only child, Gracie McKenzie. This left Alexander still with three young children. He soon found another wife, Mary A. Bolton who happened to be the twin sister of his first wife, Smithy (Bolton) McKenzie. She stepped right in the role of wife and mother to help care for her three nephews.

Within the year, Alexander and Mary S. had a son, Archie McKenzie, who died 15 days after his birth in 1857. Alexander must have felt he had experienced enough tragedy in his life in this area, so he loaded up his young family and headed south and settled in Montgomery County, Ala. Since his trades were blacksmithing, wheelwright and wagon maker, he selected a site in the southeast section of the county, which was the young Pine Level area. There he settled and built his blacksmith shop behind the Pine Level Methodist Church building. The family most likely became members of this church.

By 1859, Mary S. gave birth to their second child, Sarah Jane McKenzie. She grew up in Pine Level and later was married to a neighbor, Gaines Walton Breedlove, and they had 11 children who will be listed later in this narrative. In the next year, 1860, the family was enumerated as residents of this community. Two years later in 1862, they had their last child, Harriet E. McKenzie. Another tragedy for this family occurred when Harriet died in 1881 at the young age of 19 years. In their later years, Alexander and Mary moved, probably due to failing health, from Pine Level to Gadsden, Ala., where they resided with their son, James McKenzie, and family.

Records regarding the early days of Pine Level suggest it was quite a notable, small rural community. In fact, it has been described as a booming settlement offering cultural opportunities as a social center and educational advantages. Some students came from considerable distances and were boarded there. The early businesses included a shoe shop, wagon and buggy factory, cotton gin, and gristmill for grinding corn and several saloons posing often as grocery stories. Near-by in Bullock County was a lumber company, which was owned and operated by John Fletcher Breedlove and his wife, Susie Jane (Duke).

Alexander’s oldest son, James D. McKenzie, worked as a railroad agent, which led him to Montgomery and then to Gadsden and eventually to Birmingham. He and his family members were buried in Birmingham’s Elmwood Cemetery. He and his wife, Aurelia were married in Bullock County, and they reared the following children: Maud May, Mary Lois, Frazier, William Nall, Lucy Ethel, Rosalie, Paul Dean, Joseph Kenneth, and Hazel Gladys.

Alexander’s second son, John A. McKenzie, was born circa 1850 in Marion County, S.C. The 1860 federal census lists him as a member of his father’s household In Pine Level, and his occupation was shown as blacksmith, which he would have learned from his father. His relatives indicate he was a Confederate Veteran even though he would have been a young teenager. Later he was a loyal member of the Masons.

John A. McKenzie was about 32 years old in 1882 when he married Mary Catherine “Mollie” Stewart in near-by Bullock County. John A. was the descendant who moved with his wife to Covington County and settled in the Town of Opp sometime before 1910, which would have been about the time Opp became a town. John A. worked as a real estate agent. He and Mollie shared the “J.C. Foster Home,” located on East Hart Avenue, with Mr. and Mrs. J.A. Whaley Jr. and the owners at the time, Dr. and Mrs. B.C. Stewart. John A. McKenzie appointed and served as Opp City Clerk during both terms of Mayor W.W. Champion. He and Mollie did not have any children, but they most likely helped in the rearing of John’s half-sister, Sarah Jane (McKenzie) Breedlove’s, 11.

Alexander’s daughter by his second wife, Mary A. (Bolton), was named Sarah Jane McKenzie. She was born in 1859 in Pine Level and was married to Gaines Walton Breedlove. They also moved to the Town of Opp where they were living with Sarah Jane’s brother, John A. McKenzie and family when the 1920 census was taken. They reared the following 11 children: Willie Florence, m. James Barbaree; Mary Elizabeth, m. Robert David West; Susie Belle, m. William Brannon; Myrtle Blanche, m. James Eli Jackson; James Fletcher, killed by a ricocheting bullet; Minnie Mavis, m. Andrew Bowden; Walton Homer, m. Cora Lee Stewart; John Gipson, m. Jeanie Martin; Enoch Marvin, m. Mary Lee Jeffcoat; Joseph Shofner, m. Julia Walker; and Ruth Hightower, m. Julius Claud Jeffcoat. Many of these relatives are buried in the Opp Cemetery.

The primary sources for this writing were two McKenzie family stories written for and published in The Heritage of Covington County, Alabama and The Heritage of Montgomery County, Alabama. These were written by two descendants, Faye Smith and Becky Bradley. A few notes were gleaned from Gus and Ruby Bryan’s History of Covington County, Alabama, 1821-1976.

Anyone who might discover an error in the above is requested to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-804-1442; or Email: