The Creation and Organization of Hancock County

By: Judge John Bennett Weaver

Written in the mid 1950s

Hancock County was created by an Act of the General Assembly of Alabama, approved February 12, 1850, out of the northern part of Walker County. Sections two and three of said Act read as follows:

"Sec. 2. Be it further enacted that all that portion of the County of Walker, lying north of a line dividing equally Township Number twelve, east and west, shall form and be created into a separate county, to be called Hancock."

"Sec. 3. Be it further enacted that John Hill, John W. Blackwell, Oran Davis, John Jones, James Vest, Daniel Speegle, and John Cargell be, and they are hereby appointed commissioners for the organization of said county."

While the duties of the commission were not stated in the act, evidently the purpose was to locate a site for the County Seat, arrange and have erected a suitable building for County purposes, and to recommend to the Governor qualified citizens for appointment to serve as temporary County Officers.

The members of the commission were notified of their appointment, and all of them accepted. While the people had never used the County Officials very much, they were proud of their new county.

About the first of March 1850, the commission met, and agreed to meet again on the 10th day of March at Looney’s Tavern. Each member was to invite all who could do so to attend.

On the 10th day of March 1850, all members of the commission were present at the Tavern, as were about thirty other leading citizens from all parts of the county.

John W. Blackwell was selected to preside. After stating the purpose of the meeting, which had been discussed at the first meeting, the following order of business was unanimously adopted:

  1. Locate the site for the temporary county seat;
  2. Arrange and build a temporary court house; and
  3. Recommend suitable persons for appointment as temporary county officials.

The commission was greatly encouraged to witness the attendance of the leading citizens from the different parts of the county; and, especially the interest: every one present manifested. Each citizen present assured the commission of his whole hearted support. At the conclusion of which, the chairman, for the commission, accepted the office and assured all present that the commission appreciated their assistance, encouragement, and support.

Tradition has it that there were two Revolutionary soldiers present: Matthew Payne and Andrew Nelson. Also several sons of Revolutionary soldiers were there as follows: Berry Dodd, son of Jesse Dodd; Jim Garrison and Silas Garrison, sons of Stephen Garrison; Jesse Livingston, Joseph Livingston, and William Livingston, sons of Samuel Livingston; and Preston Payne, son of Matthew Payne; and John Penn, the son of Stephen Penn. According to the census of Hancock County in 1850, the two Revolutionary soldiers, who, it was said, attended this meeting, were living in the county, and not over four miles from where the temporary county seat was located.

In fact, Matthew Payne’s suggestion as to the site for the temporary county seat was accepted by the commission. Matthew Payne lived about one mile, a little northwest of the site he suggested.

The commission reached an agreement on March the 12, 1850, accepting the site for the temporary county seat as aforesaid. The site was on the crest of a ridge on the west side of the old "Decatur and Columbus (Miss.) Road." It was in the south part of the NE ¼ of SE ¼, Sec. 14, Tp. 10 R. 7 West.

The site selected as above set out is about one-half mile east of the concrete bridge across Brushy Fork Creek on State Highway No. 74, and about one-fourth mile a little south west of a point where said highway tops the ridge one east side of said creek.

Andrew Nelson, the other Revolutionary Soldier present, wanted the county seat located about 2 ¼ miles south, and ¼ miles west of the site selected by Matthew Payne and approved by the commission for the temporary county seat. The commission assured Mr. Nelson that his location was a good one, and that, when the time came for the location of a permanent county seat, every member of the commission would use his influence to honor his suggestion, to the end that the permanent county seat be located where he selected. This was done in 1859, and the place, SW ¼ of SE ¼, Sec. 27, Tp. 10 R 7 West, which Mr. Nelson suggested became the permanent county seat until 1884. Mr. Nelson lived at the time about two miles south of the place he selected, but died November 1, 1850.

The commission appointed the 1st Monday in April 1850, as the day on which to begin to build a court house. The commission asked every one present to return and tell their neighbors to all meet at this site selected for temporary county seat on this day set. "Bring you’re teams, camping equipment, axes, and other tools," suggested the commission.

It was said by noon on the date selected, that about fifty men had arrived. They cleared the court house hill top the first afternoon. By the next morning the number reached about 75 men from all parts of the county. The most of those present were sons, grandsons, and great grandsons of Revolutionary Soldiers.

At least a half dozen citizens had already split out, and had dried puncheons to make the floor.

The new court house was built, log-cabin style, 16 feet by 24 feet of large logs halved on both sides, making the walls about 8 inches thick. It was covered with clapboards, rib-pole, end-pole, and weight-pole style; and floored with split-log puncheons about four inches thick and some twelve inches wide, on bark peeled logs about three feet apart; bark taken off for joists on which was the floor over head, or loft. The cracks were lined on inside and out. The building set north and south, the long way, with a door four feet wide in the south end. A stone chimney was built at the north end, about 8 feet wide, to burn logs six feet long. There were windows on the side of the chimney about 2 feet wide and three feet high. Doors and windows had wood shutters made of thick boards, and swung on wood hinges. The roof was clapboards about four feet long. Benches were made out of puncheons with large peg legs. Two inch augers were used to make the holes for the legs.

The building of the first court house of Hancock County was nearly ready in two days. They went home but returned the last Monday in May and completed the court house. Before the first of June 1850, the court house was ready for use; but no officers had been appointed.

John Garrison and Silas Garrison, sons of Stephen Garrison, a Revolutionary Soldier, helped to build the log cabin court house in 1850 at "old Houston." David M. Wilson, a grandson of John Wilson, a Revolutionary Soldier of North Carolina and William Buckman West (whose wife, Sarah Ann West, a granddaughter of James Tribble, a Revolutionary Soldier from Virginia) helped to erect the log cabin court house as well.

The officials appointed and commissioned by the Governor, who were recommended by the commission, were as follows, to wit:

John W. Blackwell, Judge of Probate, commissioned July 10, 1850; T. Degraffenreid, Clerk of the Circuit Court, commissioned August 31, 1850; and Willis Farris, Sheriff, commissioned August 31, 1850. This completes the organization of Hancock County.