Remember When: Early settlers of Covington County – Part 2

Published 3:00 pm Friday, August 26, 2022

This is a continuation or Part 2 of recognizing some early settlers of Covington County whose sketches or brief biographical stories are featured in an 1893 Memorial Record of Alabama volume. Personal memoirs were recorded apparently by several individuals from interviews, essays, lectures, political and military history, and other Alabama biographies. The names of early settlers from every county that was a county in 1893 were included. No doubt there were many other early settlers but the ones featured in this edition were probably ones that information could be found about at the time. Only men, of course, were listed by the men, no doubt, who wrote these accounts.

Robert H. Miller, a prosperous farmer, was in the late war. (This book was written in 1893 so the war referred to was the Civil War.) He was the youngest of six sons and six daughters. His brother George, a brother, was also in the war and died of measles. Robert was engaged in the logging business in Escambia County, but in 1880, he came to Covington where he purchased a mill and married Mrs. Rosetta Webb (nee Dixon). After several years, he became associated with James A. Prestwood where he purchased an interest. The mill belonging to this firm which owned about 1,200 acres of timber land, was one of the best in the county having a yearly capacity of from 12,000 to 14,000 pieces. The mill was connected to the Conecuh River where timber was hauled about five miles to that river. Miller also owned a farm of about 400 acres. While he started poor, he nevertheless even as a young man possessed rare business qualities together with an indomitable will and indefatigable energy which carried him forward to success.

William J. Moseley, clerk of the circuit court of Covington, was brought up on a farm and was third in a family of twelve.

In March of 1861 he joined Company C, 5th Alabama Infantry, where he went to Virginia and fought in the battle of Bull Run then at Seven Pines, Mechanicsville, Cold Harbor, and Malvern Hills where he was wounded five times and lost his left leg. He was taken to Richmond and taken care of by a cousin then taken home. In 1871 he went to Texas where he attended school and taught school. In 1886, he came to Covington and taught school until he was appointed circuit court clerk. Moseley and his wife Cynthia Tillis were both members of the Missionary Baptist Church. He was a Mason and a member of the farmer’s alliance.

Dr. John F. Pendrey, physician, surgeon, and merchant of Rose Hill, was educated in country schools at Greenville and afterwards read medicine with Drs. Joseph and William Kendrick. He graduated medical college in Mobile in 1881, practiced one year at Leon, and since which time he has practiced at Rose Hill. In 1882, he married Roberta Lee Riley, sister of Malachi Riley. Besides his practice, he owned a 500-acre farm. The Pendreys had a family of six children. In addition to being the postmaster at Rose Hill, Pendrey was a member of the state and county medical associations. Both he and his wife sustained a high social position and were esteemed for their many excellent qualities.

James Austin Prestwood, one of the leading timber men and one of the most wealthy citizens of Covington, was born in Coffee County in 1855. His father who joined the Confederate army and fought at Shiloh, Corinth, and Mississippi Ridge was mortally wounded, taken to Atlanta, and died in 1864 after three years of gallant service. J. A. Prestwood was brought up on a farm by his widowed mother and never attended school but three months. His maternal grandfather, John McIntosh, was a native of Scotland. At 19 years of age, his mother gave him permission to leave home, and he went to Andalusia where he worked as a mill hand where he had the confidence that he could make a success of the business. In a short time, he owned two of the leading mills in the county cutting 14,000 to 16,000 pieces each season which timber was rafted down the Conecuh and Escambia rivers to the Pensacola market. He employed 85 men and ran about 17 teams. He became the owner of 4,500 acres and other considerable property in Andalusia and Geneva. In 1890 and 1891, he erected one of the most expensive and elegant mansions in southern Alabama which was protected against fire by a large tank supplied with water by a fine windmill, one of the very few in Alabama. He also engaged in farming and in the saloon business although he never took a dram in his life or used tobacco in any form. In 1878, Prestwood married Mary Fletcher, daughter of Judge A. J. Fletcher. They were members of the Missionary Baptist Church and highly respected by his neighbors and friends.

Malachi Riley, probate judge of Covington, was born in Barbour County. His father died when he was yet a small boy, and he was reared by his widowed mother, Martha Clark Riley. Riley was fifth of a family of nine children. Reared on a farm, he began life for himself at nineteen years of age reading law with Gamble and Powell where he was admitted to the bar in 1872. During the war, he was not subject to military duty, and therefore devoted his attention to the families of those who went. He taught school in Crenshaw County until 1876 and came to Andalusia in April of that year where he was appointed superintendent of education. A very energetic, industrious, and progressive man, Riley was elected to the legislature in 1878 and served with distinction. In 1880 he was elected probate judge of Covington and was said to be the youngest probate judge in the state at that time. This same year, he married Ann White, a daughter of Hon. John D. and Mary Chapman. Judge Riley and his wife were both members of the Missionary Baptist Church. He was always known for his kindness and hospitality wherever he lived. He was known to be a well read and well informed man in general affairs.

Hon. James P. Rousseau, farmer of Rose Hill, was born in Greene County in 1824, the fourth of five children. He received a common school education. His grandfather was John Rosseau of French extraction was perhaps the 3rd generation born in this country and had been in one of the Indian wars. His family was some of the first families to settle in Virginia. They emigrated to Georgia. When he was 13 years old, he was sent to Davidson College in North Carolina where he spent 5 years. He taught school in Texas, Georgia, and Alabama where he was recognized as one of the best educators in the state. He married Elizabeth Matthews and they had a family of five children. He accumulated a fine farm of about 400 acres in 2 tracts near Rose Hill. He served some years as justice of the peace, and was in public life for many years serving first as a legislator from Crenshaw County in 1874 then in 1890 in the same position from Covington County. Rosseau was a Mason in the Rose Hill lodge, president of the Farmers’ Club of Covington, and a local Methodist preacher. Early in the war, he enlisted as a first lieutenant of Company A, 42nd Regiment, and served 2 years in the service of the Confederate States. At Vicksburg, he was discharged on account of sickness. The family was one of the leading and most influential families of the county.

George L. Simmons, of the firm of Lindsey, Simmons, & bros., timber manufacturers of Covington, was born in Coffee County in 1856. His father, Edward Simmons, was with General Andrew Jackson when he made his march through the wilderness of Alabama to Pensacola, and assisted to cut the old Three Notch road. George Simmons remained on the farm until age 22 when he went to Escambia County working as a hand in the timber business a short time. In 1888, he came to Covington and formed a firm who purchased a mill on the Conecuh River and one on the Pea River. They employed about 22 men and 8 teams, and beside their timber business, they ran a general store. The firm owned nearly 6,000 acres in Covington and about 1,000 acres near the Pea River mill. At the Conecuh River mill, they had a ditch 6 miles long for floating logs to the mill. Simmons was married to Sina Graves who died in 1887 leaving 3 children. He then married a 2nd time to Mary Moore in 1888. Simmons who was a member of the Andalusia lodge was described as a public-spirited citizen and highly esteemed for his many excellent qualities.

John L. Stewart, farmer and ginner of Rose Hill, was born in Newton County, Georgia in 1833. His father was of Scotch descent and was a Revolutionary soldier. Stewart was raised on a farm but had little opportunity for acquiring an education never attending school for more than six months. What education he had, he obtained by his own effort since his marriage to Sarah Dunn at 18 years of age. After being one of the first settlers in Brundidge, he and his wife came to Rose Hill and became one of the leading farmers in the county. He was always a farmer except for the years he spent in the Confederate army during the civil war. In 1861, he joined Company B., 18th Alabama Infantry where he mustered in at Auburn, then joined the Tennessee army fighting at Shiloh and Corinth, was taken sick, was discharged and came home. In the fall of 1862, he joined Company E., 6th Alabama Infantry, of Battle’s brigade in the army of Virginia, and fought at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, being wounded in battle in the right side and neck by a shell and then on detached service as a steward in a hospital at Lynchburg until the close of the war. During the war, he lost all that he had previously accumulated but realty, but he began again with his accustomed vigor. He was always a staunch Democrat but never has taken any active part in politics except that he has allied himself firmly with the farmers’ movement always having the interest of the farmers at heart. He always raised all his own supplies never buying either pork or corn. At one time, he owned about a 400 acres before he reduced his landed possessions. He and his wife were Congregationalists and are highly respected for their excellent qualities.

Hon. Travis W. Straughn, county surveyor and farmer, was the son of Leroy Straughn who came with his parents to Alabama and who settled in Crenshaw County in the woods, living there some time among the Indians and becoming familiar with their habits and customs. His paternal grandfather was of English descent. His maternal grandfather, Windal Taylor, was one of the first settlers of Crenshaw County having first settled on the Conecuh River in Conecuh County. Straughn in early life was so afflicted with rheumatism that he could not attend school. He began life for himself at 22 years of age, first engaging in farming. He then ran a shoe shop and a tannery. In June 1861, he joined the Wilcox True Blues for 30 days then enlisted in Company B. 18th Alabama Infantry where he fought at Corinth, Shiloh, and other places. In 1863, he fought at Chickamauga where he received three distinct wounds, one in the jaw, one in the left hip, and one in the left arm, the last two disabling him for life. After spending some time in an Atlanta hospital, he returned home, and then in the spring of 1864, he rejoined his company at Dalton, fought at Atlanta, then back with Hood to Tennessee, on the retreat to Mississippi, then to Fort Blakely and Spanish Fort, where the garrison surrendered. After the war, he followed his shoe business, tanning, saddlery, and took up farming once again where he settled and married in 1871 to Sarah Cook. Straughn was elected to the legislature in 1874 and reelected in 1876 and served on the committees on temperance and penitentiary. He was a member of the Rose Hill alliance and was lecturer for the Covington County alliance. It may be noted that in his boyhood days, he did marketing in Mobile and Pensacola which required five to fifteen days to make the trip. Straughn was considered as one of the substantial and reliable men of the county.

Windal W. Taylor, a farmer and miller, was brought by his parents to Alabama in 1824. His father Windal Taylor was born in North Carolina and was one of the first settlers in southern Alabama. He settled in Crenshaw County while the woods were full of Indians, wolves, and bears. Windal W. married Matilda Jones in 1861 and they had eleven children. Matilda died in 1889 and in 1890, Windal married Nancy Wiggins who bore him one child, Viney Lee. Soon after his first marriage, he joined Company B, 18th Alabama Infantry, recruited at Auburn, and saw nearly four years of hard service. After the war, he resumed farming and milling on the grist mill he purchased from his father. He owned over 400 acres of land, all of which he acquired by his industry and energy. He was a county commissioner and a member of the Primitive Baptist Church.

In summary, most of these settlers were of Scotch, English, or French descent. They began their lives growing up, living, and working on farms, and left home to make their way into the world at ages 18 to 22 having had limited educational experiences. Their lives were hard with having to travel by horse or wagon for miles and days on end to do business in larger cities or to serve in the legislature in Montgomery. They often had more than one wife, because their wives died early probably of disease or child birth or hard pioneer life. To settle where they settled and resided, they often had skirmishes with Indians. The earliest area where they entered Covington County and resided was in Rose Hill. They were mostly Protestants and noted for being faithful Christians. Andalusia city streets and county roads bear the names of some of these early settlers including Benton, Fletcher, Gantt, Prestwood, Riley, Rousseau, Simmons, Stewart, and Straughn.

In this Remember When column, these are just a few facts that we didn’t know about and now we do! It is good to look back to study and learn from the past. When I walk through Magnolia Cemetery and see some of these names on the tombstones and read their epitaphs, I always have a strange feeling. Will someone stand over my grave in 100 years? Mostly I am overcome with a great appreciation for those that blazed the trails and came before which has brought us to the present day and the lives we are able to enjoy today. I hope they know they are remembered.

Sue Bass Wilson, AHS Class of 1965, is a local real estate broker and long-time member of the Covington Historical Society. She can be reached at suebwilson47@gmail.com.