|First White House|
In this day of trying to change our history to make it more acceptable I thought this would be a good time to tell the story. It has all the components of what any history contains, some good and some not so good parts. You can take it as a whole or only focus on those components that make you comfortable.
If you visit downtown Montgomery one of the places on any Tourist Map is the First White House of the Confederacy. The house was built in the 1830s and shortly before the original seven States, that had been first to secede, formed a Provisional Confederate Congress it had been bought by Edmund Harrison of Lowndes County Alabama. Colonel Harrison as he was called was the 2nd husband of Elizabeth C. Ware. Elizabeth's mother, Judith Anthony, had been married first to William Green in Georgia and after he died, she married Robert Alexander Ware and moved to Montgomery, Alabama in 1822. So Elizabeth was the step-sister of my distant Green family cousins.
|Exchange Hotel 1961|
The house was leased for $5,000 a year fully furnished with servants. Unfortunately by the time Jefferson Davis and his wife moved in, on April 14, 1861 the weather in Montgomery was already hot with a "record breaking heat wave" so on May 20, 1861 the Provisional Confederate Congress decided to move the Confederate Capitol to Richmond, Virginia. Harrison sold the house three months later for $20,000 to Willis Calloway.
The fact that the First White House is one of the more revered places in Montgomery is strange since it was only used by Jefferson Davis for five weeks. In fact Davis camped out at the Exchange Hotel in Montgomery for almost twice as long. Unfortunately the old hotel was torn down in 1973 to make way for a new office building. This was three years before the old White House was renovated and opened as a tourist attraction.
Colonel Harrison could easily afford to lease the house with servants because he was one of the larger slave owners in the area. I found a family history blog page trying to trace some of his former slaves.
On the 1850 census Harrison is listed as owning 71 slaves and on the 1860 census the number had grown to 79.
|Cowles Mansion in Montgomery|
|1860 Slave Census - Elizabeth Cowles|
Elizabeth's first husband, Thomas Meriwether Cowles, was listed with 112 slaves in 1850 and owned not only a large plantation but a mansion in Montgomery on River Street. Today both the house and the street no longer exist.
According to the History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, published in 1921, when President Millard Fillmore visited Montgomery in 1854 he spent the day at the Cowles Plantation. After Cowles died in 1857 his estate was divided between wife Elizabeth and his two siblings, so on the 1860 census she was only listed with 22 slaves.
So if you want to just conclude this was a terrible family who made their money on the backs of slaves, kidnapped from their home country and forced to a life of horrors, you should stop reading now.
The other side of the story, and the family, are those who after the Civil War used their money, reputation and risked their lives to do good for the former slaves.
Elizabeth Ware's niece, Augusta Knox Walker was born in a mansion in downtown Montgomery, the first floor occupied by Yankee Army Officers, in 1871. Her grandfather, Henry Tabb Walker was from Memphis and had organized the 2nd Regiment Confederate Infantry among the Irish Immigrants in Memphis and fought at Shiloh with his 17 year old son Hal. The grandfather fell ill soon after with Typhoid and Dysentery and went home to Memphis to die. His son, the father of Knoxie Walker, joined on as aide to Confederate Calvary General Frank Crawford Armstrong for the rest of the war.
|William Burns Patterson|
Knoxie Walker's future husband was also in Alabama about 80 miles from Montgomery. His father, William Burns Patterson, an Immigrant, from Tullibody Scotland moved to Alabama during the Reconstruction years and settled first in Hale County, Alabama. He started teaching former slaves, now working for the railroad, how to read and write. He started a school in 1871 and called it Tullibody Academy in Greensboro, Alabama.
In 1878 he moved to Marion, Alabama to run the American Missionary Association's Lincoln School. In 1873 the Alabama legislature provided funds and renamed it the Normal College for Negroes. This was the first State sponsored college for blacks and quickly became known as a "Teachers College."
The campus of the school in Marion was burned by vigilantes in 1880. The Alabama legislature in 1887 allocated $10,000 to build a new campus for the Normal College in Montgomery. The school was renamed Alabama State University in 1969 and today has over 5,500 students.
|Tullibody Hall Montgomery Normal College - 1906|
Will Patterson continued as the head of the school after it moved to Montgomery and served for a total of 37 years.
He also started a nursery business, called Rosemont Gardens, growing flowers in the back yard. Several years after the move to Montgomery he and his wife awoke in the middle of the night to find a cross burning outside their small frame shotgun house and a note giving them 24 hours to leave town. The next night the vigilantes returned to find him sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch. As they came closer to the house they also found five Confederate veterans from Montgomery sitting on the porch in back of Will Patterson, with their rifles across their laps. That was the end of his problems with vigilantes.
The Patterson family sent roses to the five former Confederates every year on their birthdays for as long as they lived, as a sign of gratitude for the way they helped save the school.
So there are a lot of memories of Confederates today. You'll find celebrations in many small towns and folks dressed in period costumes. You won't see most of these on the news and if they are talked about, it won't be kindly. But there are many sides to the story of what happened and sometimes we need to open our minds to the other side, from what makes us feel comfortable.