Purnell descendants left positive mark on Town of Red Level

Published 1:55 am Saturday, November 3, 2018

The earliest ancestor found by this writer for the Purnell family of Covington County is Solomon Purnal as he spelled his name. Although born in South Carolina, he later resided in Americus, Ga., where he is credited with being an early founder of the Friendship Baptist Church. He eventually migrated circa 1851 to the Cohassett community in Conecuh County, Ala. and moved around some between Cohassett and Brooklyn.

Solomon Purnell was born in 1808 in Marlboro, S.C. He was first married in 1830 to Frances Turner (1810-1837). They had three children before her untimely death: Susannah “Susan,” b. 1832, d. 1900; Caroline, b. 1833, d. 1892; and Mary Elizabeth, b. 1835, d. 1920. Solomon was next married to Julia Antionette Reed (1800-1842), and they had one daughter, Julia Annette, b. 1842, d. 1917. Then, in 1844, Solomon was married a third time to Penelope Hardy (b. 1817), daughter of John B. Hardy Jr. (1779-1860) and Elizabeth Cowan Matthews (b. 1795), natives of South Carolina. They were the parents of four children: Solomon Hardy, b. 1849, d. 1920; John Peter, b. 1850, d. 1921; Lucy, b. 1852; and James, b. 1857.

The son, John Peter Purnell, was born in 1850 in Sumter County, Ga., and moved as an infant with the family to Conecuh County, Ala. circa 1851. He is reported to have lived in Louisiana in 1870 and afterwards, he moved to Pensacola, Fla. There he owned land at a major intersection near the Olive Baptist Church. Around 1871, he was married to Sarah Ann Catherine Thomas, daughter of Alfred Thomas (1819-1889) and Catherine J. Deens. Since Sarah Ann was born in Conecuh County it would seem that John Peter most likely met and married her there. They were enumerated as residing in the Old Town community of Conecuh County in 1880 and in Jamestown in 1900.

John Peter and Sarah Ann Catherine Purnell were the parents of the following children: Susan E., b. ca 1873; John Ellis, b. 1875, d. 1945, m. 1912 Effie Mae Cowart (1892-1974); Robert Lee, b. 1878, d. 1952, m. Theodocia Ernest Hugghins (1879-1940); Hiram Alfred, b. 1881, d. 1950, m. Katherine Reynolds (1889-1929); Mary Estella, b. 1885, d. 1960; Bessie P., b. 1889, m. ? McLeod; Alba G., b. ca 1890; Pauline, b. 1891; and two unnamed children.

The second son, Robert Lee Purnell, was born in 1878 in Evergreen, Ala. In 1902, he was married to Theodocia Ernest Hugghins. They chose to settle in the community of Red Level after their marriage. That year, in 1802, Robert Lee became Agent for the L&N Railroad in Red Level, a position he held until his retirement in 1948. He succeeded John I. Deens who built the first railroad depot and served as agent until December 31, 1901. Preparations for the railroad were begun in 1898, and the area began to grow immediately. Robert Lee Purnell assumed his long tenure as agent on January 1, 1902.

Robert Lee became an outstanding citizen of the growing town and was elected Mayor of Red Level. According to Gus and Ruby Bryan in their history of the county, he served several terms before 1928 and was re-elected in 1946. The councilmen who served with him as mayor include W.G. Foshee, D.E. Terry, C.L. Sellers, J.W. Owen and C.W. Hall who was also clerk and treasurer. Robert Lee is also credited with building an engine and establishing the first water works system for the town in 1912. He operated it until 1937 at which time he sold it to the town.

Robert Lee and Theodocia Purnell had only one son, Vernon Lee Purnell, who was born in 1903 in Red Level, Ala., to survive. They had several additional children to die in infancy who were buried in the Fairmount Baptist Church Cemetery. Vernon Lee was reared in Red Level where he met and was married to Stella Stowers, daughter of John “Johnny” Washington Stowers (1885-1952) and Eva Eugenia Ramsey (1886-1968). Stella was born in Banner Springs, Tenn., in 1905 and died in1953 in Red Level. Her father, son of John Stowers and Jensey Brown, was born in Tennessee and died in Dothan, Ala. Her mother was born in Tennessee and died in Ozark, Ala.

Vernon Lee and Stella Purnell made their home in Red Level where he worked as a lumberman. He was a bookkeeper and lumber checker for several companies operated by Johnny Stowers, Will McGowin and Eland Anthony who liquidated it eventually. Vernon and Stella were the parents of the following children: Robert Lee, b.&d. 1926; Vernon Creigh, m. Ann Kilcrease; John Clayborn, m. Mary Louise Everett; James Ferrell, m. Gloria Cain; Wilda Lee, m. Charles Stough; and Michael “Mike,” m. Kathy Murphy. A year or so before his death, Vernon Lee was married to Mary Lela (Powell). He was buried amid the graves of his relatives in the Fairmount Baptist Church Cemetery.

The oldest surviving son, Vernon Creigh Purnell, was born and reared in Red Level where he developed a fascination and strong interest in railroads. This stemmed primarily from early association with his Grandfather Robert Lee Purnell who was the agent for the local L&N Railroad. Creigh spent considerable time at the popular Red Level Depot where his grandfather taught him how to use the Morse Code to send and receive telegraph messages. Even at six years of age, he would receive messages of the price of cotton about every 15 minutes and then run that information to the three gins located near each other in Red Level. Creigh reported that he could make that run in 11 minutes time. Creigh has continued his interest in railroads throughout life and has accumulated an extensive collection of railroad date nails along with various other related memorabilia. Unfortunately, the impressive depot structure was removed years ago, but Creigh has a beautiful oil painting of if done by a friend, Elizabeth Ballard.

Aside from his hobbies, Creigh Purnell, has a record of having a very successful career coaching basketball at Kinston High School and LBW Jr. College. He and his wife, Ann, have been teachers in area schools. They are the parents of two children: Vernon Creigh Jr. and Mickey Ann.

The next son, John Clayborn Purnell, and is wife, Mary Louise were the parents of four children: John Keith, Grover, Cynthia and Sandra. The third son, James Ferrell Purnell, and his wife, Gloria, were the parents of two children: Patrick and Sally. The only daughter, Wilda Lee Purnell, and her husband, Charles Stough, were the parents of a son, Jay Scott. The youngest son, Michael Purnell, and his wife, Kathy, were the parents of a daughter, Michelle.

Michael “Mike” Purnell and his wife reside in the heart of Red Level on the property and homeplace of his parents. The Crystal Springs Park and the Robert Dye Football Stadium are located on seven acres purchased from the Vernon Purnell family circa 1837. Mike Purnell was a teacher at Red Level School from which he retired a few years earlier. He served his Town of Red Level as Mayor from 2004 to 2012. He is remembered by some for his productive scuppernong arbors.

The Purnell family definitely left a substantial mark on the Town of Red Level. They have tremendous pride in it and its history.

Sources for today’s writing include Ancestry.com, Gus and Ruby Bryan’s Covington County History, 1821-1976 and interviews with Creigh Purnell and Mike Purnell, descendants of this Purnell family.

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