Finding and Documenting History
In addition being the administrator of this web page, I am the Editor for the National Stovall Family Association newsletter. I published this article, “Grave Seekers” in one of our recent issues. It’s the tale that dates back two hundred years, when my distant grandfather and his family was settling the area around North Alabama.
The clan of Drury Stovall migrated west to Alabama sometimes around 1813. Unfortunately, Grandpaw Drury only got a glimpse of his family prospering until he left his earthen vessel: on May 12, 1826. When I discovered that he was buried at Wise Cemetery, near Decatur, I set about the task of finding his burial place.
As written in the journal article, I did lay witness to Drury’s grave site. But what I DIDN’T write on was my follow-up quest: that being to assure that the State of Alabama recognizes this family cemetery as a historic place. My first instinct was to contact a bureau at the State capitol and request the correct forms.
The people I worked with in Montgomery were extremely helpful, and within two weeks I held the dreaded package in my hands.
The story goes on and on, but I will summarize:
For those of you who are doing historical or genealogical research, or are in need of services such as my request, first seek help from the nearest County Archives Department. These people are the subject experts, and their services are absolutely free.
In my case, I’m to spend approximately one hour with the Morgan County Archivist and then they will prepare the forms and file the request.
Hey, you never know until you ask! – Enjoy the article. . . I hope. . .
The Search For Drury Stovall Sr.
Members of the Stovall Nation are constantly searching for historical evidence of relatives dated back as far as possible. Hard core seekers pursue troves of old family Bibles and correspondence, courthouse records, libraries and the internet that might yield the secrets to their lineage.
We are a fortunate ancestry that can pinpoint the object of our exploration. Bartholomew Stovall was our Colonial roots founder, and we, as members of that descent, strive to obtain information as close to his generations as possible.
My bloodline travels through Bartholomew’s son, John, who left Virginia and headed west to settle land in North Carolina. One generation later his son, Drury Stovall, settled in North Alabama in the early 1800s.
Evidence indicates that other Stovall’s traveled with Drury and his growing family. They were some of the initial founders of this lush farmland near the Tennessee River. He and his wife Ann Stone Stovall raised a large family who helped develop this region and populated it with grandchildren that would help grow the city of Decatur into a commercial hub.
Drury Stovall Sr. was laid to rest on the twelfth of May, 1826. It was the same area where I was born and raised during the mid to latter point of the twentieth century. The “Stovall” surname has resonated throughout Morgan County for centuries. The lineage strain from Bartholomew remains strong in my section of the country, but today, our telephone’s white pages are running thin when you query our family name.
Reaching For My Past
Because of my kinship with this area, I felt a need to discover my ancestor’s place of burial. The location of their graves was predetermined from Stovall archives, and the position of their plots was pinpointed by satellite navigation systems from the World Wide Web.
In a compiliation by Donald E. Bishop, Descendents of Bartholomew Stovall (1665 – 1722) (First Five American Generations), Drury Stovall was buried in Wise Cemetery, Decatur, Morgan County, Alabama.
The following is a brief story for the search and discovery of my distant grandfather’s grave site.
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
“Hello Brother. I need your help.”
Being somewhat internet savvy, I did a Google search of “Wise Cemetery, Decatur, Morgan County, Alabama” and was rewarded with the following result set:
“Cemetery Notes and Description: From the intersection of Hwy 67 and Hwy 31 (Beltline Rd,), go west on Beltline Rd. on Central Pkwy. Turn left and go 1.6 miles to 3704 Central Pkwy. the cemetery is behind a residence and is very grown and snaky.”
As fate would have it, my brother, Stephen Stovall owns and works in an office building not three miles from 3704 Central Pkwy. Steve is about as inquisitive as me, so I gave him a call. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Well I just read that one of the founders of the area around Decatur, and our ancient grand paw is buried there. It’s located right down from your office at 3704 Central Parkway.
Steve: No Kidding! I know I can find that.
Me: Great! It says here that it “may be grown up and kind of snaky”. Just check it out and I’ll come over for an invasion when you validate it.
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
The next day I received an email from Steve: “I found the address and it is in a scary looking place. I did not turn into the driveway because I was alone in my car. The name on the mail box was Willie Garth and he has a phone listed at a different location. I talked to a lady named Nellie Garth Jones and she now lives in the house and said Willie was dead. She knows nothing of a cemetery behind the house but said we were welcome to look for ourselves. I told her we would call before we came.”
I immediately replied: “I love an adventure. I’ll be in touch as soon as I get things figured out on my end.”
Early Morgan County Settlers
The land currently known as Morgan County, Alabama was claimed by both Cherokee and Chickasaw tribes of Native Americans prior to 1810. White settlers were quick to adopt this fertile basin and by 1818 a territorial census numbered 2,513 souls. This was considered a rather large concentration of people with farms, mills, taverns, and small businesses already in operation.
Shortly before 1818 the newly formed United States of America issued offerings of 640 acre sections for $1.00 per acre. Disgruntled settlers deemed the price too high and bartered with the government for cheaper, more flexible financing. All the while, families began to dot the area as “squatters”.
Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Cherokee tribes accepted a treaty with the United States. By 1816 the Chickasaw nation followed suit.
Before the first public land sale in Morgan County, the laws for disbursement made it possible for individuals to purchase smaller tracts. It’s historically written that on the first Monday in March, 1818 the first public land sale took place. After reviewing land and deed records I am convinced that this date was the first Monday in July, 1818. I found no sale of land prior to July, but numerous transactions are listed on July 18, 1818. Among them was a transaction to Peter Stovall, son of Drury Stovall for 60 acres in section 9, the land which is near the present day City of Decatur.
The roads between Atlanta and Decatur, Alabama could be 210 miles of interstate, but my wife and I chose to take the back roads, through the mountains.
Atlanta rests on the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountains and Decatur is just west in the fertile Tennessee valley. The rise is only about 500 feet in elevation, but the summit displays the quaint, tourist town of Mentone, Alabama.
Leaving Mentone you quickly drop 1,200 feet into the Tennessee Valley with its lush farmland that is flat as the coastal plains. We crossed over the mighty Tennessee River twice before we reached Decatur, the area that Drury helped settle 200 years ago.
Wednesday September 22, 2015 – Wise Cemetery
Initially my Brother and I had planned to find the graveyard and uncover the whereabouts of Drury Stovall. Luckily, the search party swelled to seven people including a very inquisitive ten year old nephew.
We pulled into the driveway of Nellie Garth Jones and were greeted by a lady who advised us that the place of burial we were looking for was not located behind her home. She pointed to her right and said, “It’s in the back of that vacant lot, right next to that building.” This is when I knew I had found the destination of our search. The area was identical to the shots I had seen on the internet weeks before.
We crossed the field and immediately saw grave markers and two burial sites that had four concrete slabs, upright approximately four feet high. My initial thought was that they were crypts, but as we looked closer, found that the underneath was secured with a thick concrete slab.
The entire scene was in disarray with markers scattered around broken to pieces. Most all headstones had markings but time had worn the hand carved letterings so that none were legible, less a few.
I was excited that some of the etchings could be deciphered, but was delighted when I located the clearly marked headstone of Peter Stovall, obviously the burial place of Drury’s son who obtained a rank of Major in the war of 1812.
We looked inside one of the “caved in” crypts and were astonished to find one large stone with a faint markings of “STOVALL”. My adrenalin must have been flowing, because I lifted the 80 lb. slab out of the crypt and placed it flat on the ground to get a better visual. With a little cleaning around the lettering it became obvious that we needed to remove some of the residue before the etchings could be read.
Then someone said, “Bill, you should take a look at this.” Laying facedown outside the crypt, another piece of the headstone clearly showed the letters “DRURY” in excellent shape. We placed it next to the larger marking, forming a perfect fit with the name spelled out, “Drury Stovall”. There were viable dates, but one was fairly clear. 1826 shown through clearly, marking the date of Drury’s recorded year of departure from life on earth.
By the time we left for the day most of the headstone was assembled and placed on plywood atop Drury’s crypt. Only one vital piece is left hidden in the brush. It’s a single triangular section that contained part of the headstone inscription. I’m sure it’s there and I will find it on a future trip.
It was a totally successful and very fun outing. For now I’m satisfied that the area has been located, but continuing forward I want to get back and clean the area up and make an attempt to have the graveyard recognized as a historical site by the State of Alabama. Stay tuned for updates.