Willis Farris, first sheriff of Hancock (Winston) County; photo courtesy of Joyce Farris.
Willis Farris was appointed the first sheriff of Hancock County, Alabama, serving a three year term, from August 31, 1850 to September 1853. On January 22, 1858, the county's name was changed to Winston. Willis served another term as sheriff again in 1859 until 1865.
Willis was born 1814 in South Carolina and married Jane Collins about 1836. Their first child William was born August 12, 1837 in Franklin County, Alabama. By 1840 they are found in Lawrence County, AL and 1850 in Hancock County (later named Winston). Family stories say one attraction to this area was the fact that fish and game were plentiful.
Willis was against the secession from the Union during the Civil War. He felt the separation of states would weaken the country. Many of the Winston County citizens were in agreement with him. Willis supported the elected State Representative, Chris Sheets, who vowed to vote against secession. He accompanied Sheets to the State Meeting of the legislature. When Sheets refused to sign the secession ordinace, he was thrown in prison where he remained for the duration of the war.
Willis was well known for his honesty and fairness to friends and foes. After the war was over, bushwhackers roamed and looted whatever they found worth taking. The leader of the gang gave strict orders to his men to leave the Farris place alone. His orders were obeyed. It so happened that his leader had once been a prisoner of Willis Farris who had treated him fairly, and he had not forgotten.
Willis was elected to represent Winston County in the Hosue of Representatives in 1874 - 1875 and 1875 - 1876. During his terms he introduced and passed many bills to the Legislature. One bill he introduced and passed was to limit ex officio fees of the judge of probate and clerk of Winston County, to fees and salaries.
Willis was a man of many talents; he was a farmer, owned the Stage Coach Inn and operated a stagecoach line on Byler Road between Tuscumbia and Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The Inn was located near the intersection of Highway 1 (to Lynn) and Highway 13 (Byler Road). His son William J. Farris and son-in-law William Alexander Roberts were two of the drivers. They alternated spending one night at home and one at the other end of the line.
Willis and Jane were the parents of 10 children: William J., Henry, Mary Josephine, Oakley Bynum, Elizabeth, James Thomas, John Tucker, George Washington, Lucious Dee, and Caldonia. Many of the Farris' and descendants remained in Winston and Walker Counties.
Written by Joyce Cheatham Farris; thanks to Landon Farris of Winfield, AL for his help.