|Geneva County, Alabama Genealogy Trails|
Early Settlers of Geneva County
Among the interesting early settlers we've found in our research is Juan Ortis, who
might have been the first white man in this section. Neil McKinnon was the man who directed
the Scotch settlement of the renowned Euchee Valley and helped to found the Valley
View Presbyterian Church. From it came the churches at Geneva, Hartford and Immanuel,
east of Slocomb. From the enchanted Euchee Valley many settlers came to the western section of the
Wiregrass. This accounts for the many Mc names in the western section of Geneva County
and for other Scotch names. Gum Creek or Ebenezer Church at Glendale and Eight Mile
Church were derived from these settlers.
Most of Geneva County's early towns were on rivers, as is Newton, Geneva, Elba, Eufaula,
Columbia and Gordon. Riverboats supplied their necessities in the early days.
Richmond, near Wiggins Church, was the first county seat for Henry and Dale Counties,
but when Dale was formed, Daleville soon became its county seat. But the first court was
held at the home of Crede Collins, west of Daleville.
The early settlers in the east end of Geneva County came largely from the Carolinas
and Georgia and crossed the river at Eufaula. Among these were the Dowlings, Sconyers,
Broxsons, Sellers and Smiths, some of whom helped organize Claybank Church and Providence
at the flowing well. The Byrds were most prominent in this movement.
The Pate Creek Settlement was led by the Pates, Sellers, Kinsauls and Tindells. Jeremiah
Pate was with Jackson at New Orleans. John Kinsaul, a veteran of the Revolutionary
War, helped to organize Mt. Gilead Church. All were prominent in the early churches
while Thomas Sellers opened one of the earliest schools in the Wiregrass, organized the
Tindell School at County Line.
Today these pioneers, Jeremiah Pate, John Kinsaul, Thomas Sellers, Jerry Tindell and
Ben Thomley are all buried near each other in Mt. Gilead Cemetery in the community
they founded. Also buried there is Euastus Justice, grandfather of Dr. B. R. Justice, pastor
of Enterprise Baptist Church for some 25 years.
Another famous settlement is the Big Creek Community now in Houston County,
originally Beat Two, Geneva County. This was established under the leadership of James
W. Smith, whose son, Daniel U. Smith carried on the pioneer work. Among his sons were
Henry, Bill, Levi, Aaron, Frank, Daniel and others who had as their work, the post office,
school, church, polling place and several stores. Today nothing much remains but Big
Creek Church and its well kept cemetery.
To the west is New Hope Primitive Baptist Church where many of the Smith family
sleep peacefully. Elder H. A. Smith was an able minister of that faith. In the old days about
three-fourths of the voters in Beats Two and Four were named Smith or belonged to the
famous clan. When Houston County was formed in 1903, Beats One and Two were added
to the baby county of Alabama.
Perhaps the earliest settler in what is now Geneva County lived in Geneva. Henry
Yonge became its postmaster in 1836.
Aunt Polly Turner, a noted slave owner was born in 1822 and married John A.
Hughes, Sr., as Mary Bass and became the mother of the famous Hughes family of Hartford.
She lived with her husband in Selma until 1848 when he died and then she moved
back to Geneva where she married Love Turner. She is another of the famous early members
of Mt. Gilead Church and was known far and wide as she rode her pony over her extensive
farms. She is buried at Mt. Gilead.
James B. Ward was a noted confidence man among the Creek Indians and married a
charming maiden of that tribe. He did much to keep peace. He was born in 1796 and as an
adult worked in Savannah, Natchez, Wakefield and Daleville. He worked untiringly as he
labored with both Indians and whites for peace. He and his Indian wife sleep peacefully
beneath charming shrubbery on the Purvis Farm north of Malvern. The farm is now
owned by Randall Collins, whose mother was a Purvis. Many of their descendents occupy
positions of renown in the Wiregrass.
Originally Submitted by: Book Committee
Sources: This article appeared in The Geneva Reaper and was written by Mr. J. J. Collins,
Indians In Early Geneva County
The first whites that settled in the area in now Geneva County had as their neighbors
the Creek Indians. In 1814, the Creek nations ceded to the U. S. Government the territory
that is now Geneva County, but many Indians remained on the land as ordinary citizens.
Through treaties with other Indian nations, three-fourths of Alabama was open to white
settlers by 1820. However, it was not until March 1832 that the Creeks signed the Treaty of
Cusseta relinquishing their last lands in Alabama. These lands belonging to the Upper
Creeks and none of the land that is now Geneva County lay within the Upper Creek nation.
The Treaty of Cusseta provided that certain lands within the Upper Creek nation
would be provided for the Indians and white settlers restrained from settling on such
tracts until after the Indians had moved away. The U. S. Government was trying to persuade
the Creeks to move to new territory in the West, but they were reluctant to give up
their ancestral hunting grounds.
Soon after signing the Cusseta Treaty, the provision protecting the Indians from
white encroachment was violated by some white settlers. This led to hostilities that spread
over into the region that is now Geneva County and lasted until May 1837, when the Government
forcibly moved all the Indians, except a remnant that fled to Florida out of the
Then encroachments by the whites violated the Cusseta Treaty, the U. S. Government
tried to enforce the provision protecting the Indians, but the white settlers resented the
effort and were ready to take up arms against the Federal Government. A peaceful settlement seemed
hopeless. Governor Gayle presented the whole matter to the Alabama legislature
and the state seriously considered leaving the Union. So serious was the matter that
the President of the United States sent Francis Scott Key, author of the Star Spangled Banner
as com-missioner to Alabama to try to reach an understanding. A satisfactory agreement
was reached, but it had little influence on the white set-tiers and the growing strife
After much fighting in the Upper Creek nation, the Indians began spreading out as
they fell back before the white troops. One large unit sought refuge on the head of Pea
River, but they did not remain there long before General Wellborn's army routed them.
The Indians went in many directions so as to confuse the whites and evade capture.
One large band of Indians came toward the region that is now Geneva County and
ten miles north of where Samson was later built, they wiped out a whole family of Harts
except the wife of a Geneva County citizen named Marlow. A great granddaughter of this
couple now lives three miles north of Samson. She is Miss Minnie Marlow.
Continuing toward Florida, the fleeing Indians crossed Pea River where Boyenton
Creek runs into the river two yards up stream from the bridge on Highway 12. This is
three miles west of Samson. About a quarter of a mile west of the bridge is Moates Bay,
Highway 12 divides this big swamp in halves. The Creeks hid in this dismal swamp to rest
and recuperate. When the whites discovered them the Indians had submerged their bodies
in the murky water with only their noses protruding enough to breathe. Routed them
there, they scattered in small groups and headed for Florida.
Shelly Spears, a Geneva County Citizen who lives five miles south of Samson, had a
great uncle to fall victim to the Creeks. He was riding his horse near Sandy Creek with a
small colt following. Spears failed to return home and a searching party found his body
stuffed in a hole made by a fallen tree. The horse was killed and pushed over a high bank
on Sandy Creek and the colt carried away by the Indians.
Neal McDuffie, one of our earliest pioneers and the progenitor of one of the largest
groups of descendants in the state, lived on Pea River five miles northwest of Geneva. His
century old home still stands on Sandy Creek. One day while his boys were plowing near
the river, they heard Indian quills blowing in the swamp. Realizing, that this meant trouble,
they cut the horse traces and dashed for home. A snack of food was hurriedly eaten
and all parties pulled out for the fort of Pollard, Alabama. A year later, the McDuffies returned
home and found one plate on the table and one old hen in the yard. The house had
been spared. A few families living where Samson is fled to a small fort up Pea River near where
Old Town Cemetery is located.
Written bv Tatum Bedsole
Submitted by Danny McDuffie, Rt. 2, Samson, AL Source- Geneva County Reaper,
December 9, 1971
"Pioneer Life of the Early Settlers"
Ed M. Johnson, editor of the Geneva County Reaper in 1902, wrote an article praising
the early preachers who soened roughness of pioneer life. The article is as follows:
Among the early settlers of the Wiregrass portion of Alabama, life was primitive in
the extreme. Everything was made at home and women spun all the cloth that was used
and game was plentiful, there was not reason to accumulate property.
Indians had kept the underbrush burned off and there was splendid grazing for cattle
in the tall grass in the summer and in the cane breaks in the winter.
Of social life there was none at all. The people were generally illiterate, living in one
room log cabins and often far separated from each other.
Even at the time of the Civil War, the population of this area was sparse. The men living
here did little else but hunt, fish and drink whiskey, so an old resident said. Liquor
could be purchased for 40 cents a gallon and there was plenty of it to be had. The outdoor
life, however, seems to have neutralized the effects of indulgence in intoxicants as the men
generally lived to a ripe old age.
Cattle and hogs became wild and the sheep were driven up only once a year to be
sheared. There were many wild turkeys, bear and other game. A man could go out and
shoot a deer as easily as getting a drink of water.
Nevertheless, we are told that every man paid his debts and though there was no law,
there seemed to have been no need of law.It was a common thing for both men and women to go barefoot.
I heard a man say some time ago that the proudest moment of his life was when at the age of 18 he put on
his first suit of 'store bought' clothes. He also said that he had a pair of boots which he
never wore except when in town or at church, and when on the road he would go barefoot
with his boots slung over his shoulders until he came nearly to the church. He would then
wash his feet in the branch and walk proudly into church with his red top boots on, the
envy of every young man there.
Fiddlers were common in the country and young and old would go for miles to a
dance, after the news became 'norated.' It would seem that dancing would be beyond them
as many of the houses had only a 'puncheon' (rough-dressed split logs or timber slabs)
floor and few were without flooring.The family lived crowded together in one or two small rooms
in which the cooking was also done. Yet it is marvelous that many families of 10 or 12 children were raised
up in one room and had perfect health all the time. A house of two rooms with a hall between,
called a 'double-pen' house, marked the home of one of the upper ten.
Upon Saturdays there was a great migration to the store or town though it might be
12 miles off. The day would be spent in having a good time. This is, the men would fight
and quarrel and spend the day so as to become better acquainted, and often the women
took part in the hostilities. Seldom, however, was there any weapon used and generally but
little damage was done to the participants.
The spinning wheel and loom occupied an important place in the home. The women
made most of the clothes for the family. These are just a few of the burdens the pioneer
The people bought very little food, for they raised most of what was needed. Coffee
and salt were two items necessary to import. The farmer's swine, cattle and chickens furnished
the family with meat and could be supplemented by wild game, which was plentiful.
Vegetables of almost any kind flourished and the winters were so mild that some
things would grow the year around.
There was not much in the way of recreation to occupy the people's leisure time. For
the men there was hunting and fishing. Shooting matches were common occurrences with
turkeys or other prizes given to the winner. Gregarious desires too often were restricted to
loitering in villages or around the stoves of country stores.
When a farmer had work to do, which required outside labor, he would ask his
neighbors for help. Life was more monotonous for the women than the men for they had
more work to do, and were tied more closely at home. If they had neighbors close enough,
visits were exchanged, and they would converse while they sewed, knitted or quilted.
On Saturday, there was shopping to be done, the whole family often made the trip to town.
The young people found relaxation in giving parties, which often took the form of
candy drawings, or some other combination of work and pleasure. Local fiddlers furnished
music for square dancing, which was engaged in by both the young and old. Life
was crude, but the people seemed to have been satisfied to continue living in their own
The people were not prepared for the shock of war or for the sacrifices that come
with war. They wished to be left alone, and could see nothing in their way of life for others
to object to or wish to change.
Submitted by: The book committee
Big Creek Pioneers
A history of Geneva County would not be complete without the history of the portion
of Houston County, designated and described by General Coffee in his survey of the
public lands, completed in 1824, as township 1, range 26, which from the formation of our
county in 1868, until the formation of Houston County was a part of our county. Through
this township, runs a stream of water known as Big Creek, which is still shown on the
map. A settlement was known to exist in this part of the township as early as 1750 and
that it was composed of a hardy band of pioneers or colonists who came to this country
from the County of Cork in Ireland.
From this band of pioneers, the east end of our county was settled as well as that portion
of Houston, formerly a part of Geneva County. The descendants of these hardy pioneers
are now scattered through out the world. It was not possible to secure the family
names of all these colonists, but it is sufficient to name a few.
The Ward family was among them, but the earliest recorded name was James B.
Ward, who entered lands in 1853 near Big Creek or along its borders. Dempsey Taylor the
founder of another family and whose descendants named Taylor, Alabama entered lands
in this tract on October 29, 1830.
Samuel Branton, who entered land in 1852 and who was reputed to have had a large
family of girls and whose name does not remain for his descendants, but whose blood
flows through numerous citizens of our county.
The Hinson family was one of the original family emigrating to this country, and
whose descendants are still numerous.
The Stokes family one of whom John O. Stokes, an ancestor of our present Stokes
family, was born near Big Creek in 1830, and entered lands in this tract, August 27,1855.
Bamba Watford, born in what was then a part of Georgia near Big Creek in 1808 and
entered lands January 27,1834, and whose descendants are still residents of Geneva
County as well as Houston County.
One of the larger families in our eastern end of the county was the Register family.
Certain it is this family was among the early settlers, since John Register was born in the
year 1809 and entered lands in this tract on May 26, 1831. His son, Elias Register, entered
lands on October 22, 1856 and is the immediate ancestor of the Registers now residing
around Fadette in this county.
On the map of Alabama in the southwestern corner of Houston County may be
found a circle with the words Big Creek designating this a settlement. Near this circle is a
line of a creek also designated as Big Creek, no doubt was really considered a Big Creek in
the early days since it was noted on the Coffee map as well as the settlement known as Big
Creek settlement in 1824. Georgia, having ceded to the United States the lands west of the
Chattahoochee River, and Alabama having been admitted as a state in 1819, this land became
public domain and was later opened to settlement. Those who were residing on
these lands were known as squatters rights. The government recognized these rights and
permitted these lands to be entered by those who resided on them. Since the lands to be
entered were occupied by forties in the settlement, it was necessary for these settlers to enter
other lands, some of which did not join their original tracts in order to obtain the total
of 160 acres of land, this explains the long delay in the entering of these lands.
At this time what is known as beat three and four in Geneva County did not have
any settlers, it was not until 1851 that the first settler entered on lands in Range 25, which
is a part of the present county.
From the Moore History of Alabama, we learn that there were several Smiths among
those in the settlement of Big Creek. These Smiths had their origin in the County of Cork
in Ireland, and the first to come to this section of our country settled near the Chattahoochee
River on the east side of Houston, near Old Columbia, later at least one of them
came to Big Creek. It is recorded that the first known of this name to be born at Big Creek
was James M. Smith. He was born in what was then Georgia, June 9,1778. He was the father
of Daniel U. Smith who was born at Big Creek February 10, 1820.
Daniel U. Smith was the father of 12 children. Four of his sons were soldiers in t he
Confederate Army, one being killed in the Virginia campaign. Another of his sons was
Henry M. Smith, who was a Confederate veteran with four years of service. Henry M. was
born at Big Creek on May 7, 1844. His children were born in Geneva County near Malvern.
Alabama. Jennie, who married Joseph Whitaker, lived at what was known as Whitaker,
in the southern part of Range 25. Callie married Jasper Barnes, of Dothan, Alabama,
Henry A., known far and wide as H. A. Smith, Elder of Primitive Baptist Church, moderator
of his association, Fannie who first married Wash Robins and resided near Fadette on
lands entered by him, until his death later marrying Alonzo Chancey, and moving to Florida
near Graceville, Sarah who married William T. Collins, and upon his death married
Charlie Stokes, one of the descendants of the Stokes previously mentioned. Anthony, now
resides near Caryville, Florida. The baby, Rose, married a Whitaker. All of these children
lived to a ripe old age, three of them still living. Fannie, Sarah and Anthony, and all being
in their 80's.
Source: This article appeared in the Geneva Reaper, ?, and was written by Mr. J.J. Collins, now deceased.
Submitted by: Book Committee
Some Geneva County Elected Officials
Probate Judges: omas H. Yarborough 1869; Erastus J. Borland 1880; Jere Merritt
1892; Edmund Roach 1898; P. C. Black 1905; W. H. Morris 1911; D. G. Roach 1923; P. C.
Black 1929; R. S. Ward 1953; J. P. Faulk, Jr. 1965; Harold B. Wise, 1977; Harry O. Adkison,
Circuit Clerks: Henry C. Yarbough 1869; William H. Morris 1871; M. M. McAlily
1874; Elisha Martin 1880; Sidney Latimer 1884; Rufus J. Purvis 1892; John W. Draughn
1904; Gordon C. Grantham 1922; Fred Grantham 1938; Well Draughn, Sr. 1942; Earl
Ward; Veleria omley; Gayle Laye, current Clerk.
The Big Ole Oak(1)
If anyone in Geneva said the "big ole oak", everybody knew he was talking about the
big oak at the junction of the Choctawhatchee and Pea Rivers, located at what is now
known as Robert Fowler Park. The trunk of the picturesque tree has a grandeur limb
spread of 168 feet. Measured on November 13,1981, this tree is thought to be the largest
live oak tree in the world.
The lower Creek Indians lived in this area until 1800's where Henry A. Yonge came,
settled and named the small village, Geneva. At this time, the area around Geneva was
heavily covered with pines and large oaks. Main Street of Old Town, as it was referred to
after being moved to the present location, ran parallel to the Choctawhatchee River with
loading docks for the boats located at the point of the junction of the two rivers.
The Big Ole Oak(2)
The huge old oak was said to have stood in the back yard of William H. Morris.
Some of the other people who once owned the big tree were: W. W. Benson, H. H. (Hill)
Brown, Judge P. C. Black, and James Hughes. The oak tree has been deeded to the City of
Geneva three times. In 1907, W.W. Benson deeded a strip of land between the junction of
the rivers to the town of Geneva for the general public to use as a park and a pleasure
ground forever! This strip included the large oak tree. This deed is on file at the Geneva
Descendants of H.H. (Hill) Brown have confirmed that their father gave to the tree a
deed to the site prior to his death He wanted to make sure that nobody cut it down. A
search of the Courthouse records has failed to turn up the deed; however,searchers did not
know how to so about looking up a deed given to a tree. On February 5, 1973, James and
Mary Hughes again deeded the tree to the City of Geneva. This deed is also on file at the
Geneva County Courthouse.
Miss Rebekah Keenan, Geneva Librarian, called the great oak "Charter Oak" because
it reminded her of the famed oak in which the State of Connecticut's Charter
once was hidden.
Many events have taken place under or around the ole' oak. Members of the Home
Guard and other men and boys gathered there soon after Christmas in 1862 when they
learned that Union forces were trying to make off with the steamer, "Bloomer". The Union
forces made good their escape with the steamer down the river to the Navy Yard at Pensacola,
It was the custom for many years to celebrate the Fourth of July with a barbeque at
Old Town. Fishermen, boatmen and lovers frequented the area. Sometimes explorers and
picnickers also. During the 1930's, at AEA time, we did not go to the beaches or Washington
D.C., take a cruise, or tour Europe. We would just take off after answering roll call and
head for the Junction. Along the way, we would pick up bread, bananas, mayonnaise, vienna
sausages and crackers. The rest of the day was spent at the junction exploring the
woods, boat riding, picking violets and drinking that cold water from the flowing well.
The day would end with everyone climbing the "Big Ole' Oak". One year, no one who had
been at the Junction, except one, showed up for classes on Monday. Even the seventh
grade teacher, Virginia Lee, was home with a case of poison ivy from climbing the tree.
A few years ago, hundreds gathered under the tree in support of the
Choctawhatchee-Pea Rivers Association in an effort to get navigational improvements for
the rivers. Senator John Sparkman was the guest speaker.
Today, we have returned to Old Town Festival on the Rivers, sponsored by the Club
and the Geneva Chamber of Commerce. The annual Festival starts when the River Rats
meet Billy Bowlegs with his flotilla from Fort Walton, Florida, on Friday.
On April 28, 1984, The Big Ole Oak, in a dedication ceremony with C.W. Moody,
head of the Alabama State Forrestry Commission, Montgomery, Alabama, was placed on
the Historical Register, State of Alabama, by the Alabama Historical Commission, as a
Historical Tree for its beauty, size and age.
The tree is also registered with the International Association of Live oak Trees. The
tree species is Quercus Virginiana Mill, 19 feet, 9 1/2 inches in circumference with a limb
spread of 168 feet, is estimated to be over 200 years old.
On September 16, 1987, ceremonies were held at the Robert A. Fowler Memorial
Park making our tree a Constitution Tree for the State of Alabama, one of only two recognized
in the State. Geneva Chamber of Commerce, President Mike Kelly presided. City of
Geneva Mayor, Hugh Herring, Jr., received a bronze plaque honoring the occasion from
the United States Forestry Department
We pay tribute to our great oak, which has withstood many floods, storms and generations
of children playing upon, as well as, under its great branches.
Source: Geneva, Alabama-A History by the Geneva Woman's Club. Submitted by the Geneva County Heritage Committee
BACK TO MAIN INDEX
VISIT OUR ALABAMA STATE PAGE
OR VISIT OUR NATIONAL SITE
Copyright ©Genealogy Trails
All data on this website is Copyright by Genealogy Trails with full rights reserved for original submitters.