Baldwin: Law, medicine and exceptional pottery - The Randolph Leader: Columns

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Baldwin: Law, medicine and exceptional pottery

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Posted: Wednesday, September 16, 2009 12:00 am

John Reaves and his brother, Stephen, got there early. Bacon Level was still the wild frontier in 1828. The brothers intended on studying law at Hickory Flat, but first, trees had to be felled and a cabin built.

Stephen got restless and moved "out west" to a territory described as "all care-free people who are fond of dancing and little inclined to work… and women who have rather loose ideas of morality and skillful in the art of seduction…" The territory became the Republic of Texas in 1836. John's 18-year-old son, William, joined the 1st Alabama Regiment of Volunteers in '46 and "went west" to fight in the Mexican War. He caught the fever and died two years later.

John Reaves remained in Bacon Level and, after finishing his law studies, moved back to Hancock County, Ga. for a short while. But Randolph County called to him, and in 1847 Reaves was a lawyer in Wedowee and a member of the Baptist Church. He was elected as a Democrat to represent Randolph County in the General Assembly 1851-1852, and was Clerk of the Circuit Court or Master in Chancery almost continuously from 1847 until his death in '87. Reaves was described as "a gentleman and a Christian." He "was faithful, reliable and just…" The editor of The Randolph Toiler stated that "he spent many a day with Reaves in the sport of hunting and fishing."

Bacon Level molded men in not only the art of law but also medicine. Daniel Groove Crowder came from 17th century Virginia blood. As a young boy, his family migrated through the Carolinas and eventually settled in the frontier. As the family traversed over Jackson's Trace in the 1830s, the roads were lined with ruts like grooves on corduroy. The Mississippi Territory, which became Alabama, quickly gave way to settlement and the plow. Twelve year-old Daniel sat on the back of the wagon loaded with quilts, children and sorghum syrup.

As a young man, he chose the field of medicine and practiced in Bacon Level all of his life. Crowder, called a mineral doctor, was sought in the middle of the night for the arrival of new babies as well as cantankerous folds and calves. Folks brought their kin who'd been struck by snakes, lightning and insanity. Sometimes a home remedy of boiling turpentine cooled a fever as the victim inhaled the vapors. Spring tonics were popular and could be made of all sorts of concoctions, such as, the bark from a red oak tree, then boil it and drink it. Or, wash sassafras roots, cover, simmer and serve hot—all worked like castor oil! Sometimes a simple swig of "grog" would suffice the ailment. Grog is a mixture of liquor, water, and chamomile. This was the physician's purest panacea.

When the War Between the States broke out, Crowder's neighbor, Thomas J. Jarrell, joined up with the 3rd Alabama Infantry, Co. K., known as the "Walker Guards." In 1862, Jarrell fought his way across screaming battlefields while also receiving multiple letters written by Dr. Daniel Crowder. In the letters, Crowder begged his brother-in-law to "quit and come home." In a letter dated, May 7, 1862, Crowder wrote of sickness, a poor wheat crop, and "…Mr. Stephens wants you to come home to attend to his mill. He will soon lose all customers unless you come to it…"

But Bacon Level not only produced men of law and medicine. Another group arrived in the mid 1830s, and they kept coming! Some historians believe they first came with a primary focus on the early gold rush in Randolph County. Nevertheless, they eventually built their homes and their trade in the southeastern portion of the county. And there they raised their families and perfected their art. They were master craftsmen. They were talented and driven. The rugged men cussed, smoked and spit, but they gently used their hands to create the most delicate pottery ever produced in East Alabama.

The potters created "jugtowns" primarily in four areas: Rock Mills, Bacon Level, and Cedric in Randolph County, and Hickory Flat just across the line in Chambers County. The sparkling streams of Gus Creek and Wehadkee Creek provided the water, but the soil provided the main ingredient.

As the demand for pottery expanded to regional areas in the 1850s, wagon trains of pottery were sent to Columbus from Randolph County. Three to ten wagons made up the delivery system, which called for a three-day round trip. When the Atlanta, West Point, & Montgomery Railway came, the trip was reduced to a day's journey.

The potters created mostly utilitarian pieces such as pitchers for water, syrup and milk. Demijohns held whiskey. Nighttime potties were made, as were jugs, churns and meat containers. On the artistic side, vases were made of all sorts of sizes and design. Because most people in the mid-19th century had very little cash money, the potters traded their wares for produce, eggs, butter, milk, meal and syrup.

Joey Brackner, author of Alabama Folk Pottery, writing about the potters of Randolph County, states, "This area comprised the most well-known historic pottery region in Alabama and was home to many of the South's premier pottery-making families at one time or another." University of Alabama geologist, Michael Tuomey, declared in 1858 "When Randolph [County] has a railroad communication with the rest of the world, the discovery of porcelain clay in the county will be properly appreciated, and …may one day become the seat of a great porcelain manufactory."

Cicero Demosthenes Hudson fought the Creeks during the Indian Wars of 1836. Most Creek Indians were removed from Randolph County by 1837. Hudson wasn't the first potter to the region but did settle in Hickory Flat and crafted his trade for many years. The Hudson family also studied and taught law. The Rushton family settled and worked in Cedric. Bacon Level became home to several pottery families. Mapp, Faulkner, and McPhearson were talented potters. Greenberry Morton also worked in Bacon Level but eventually moved to Perry County, Ga. One of the most popular of the Bacon Level potters was Zachariah T. Ussery. He built his home and lived on present-day County Road 16.

Rock Mills was home to John Lehman, an immigrant from Germany around 1860. Jesse Weathers used his artistic nature to make jugs sporting decorative snake figures. One is located in the Atlanta High Museum of Art. Boggs family members still live in Rock Mills as well as members of the Pounds family. Three Pittman brothers and John Barnes also lived and worked in Rock Mills.

These families of long ago were rugged and hard working. They grew their food in the earth, and created their handiwork from the earth. Just as Isaiah stated, "We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand…" The potters of Randolph County celebrated the earth and their craft every time they removed a piece of art from the kiln, and admired the gift God had given through the work of their hands.

Join the celebration of these potters and their craft this Saturday, Sept. 19, in Rock Mills on Highway 22, at the old Rock Store. Frank Foster will give demonstrations on the pottery wheel. The old Wehadkee Mill will also be open.

(On June 28, 2009, the Daniel Auction Company, of Sylvester, Georgia auctioned a churn made by James Andrew "Jim" Boggs of Rock Mills. It bore the incised mark "JA Boggs Rock Mills, Ala." The churn sold for $2860.)

Sources:

Eugenia Smith Frost, Thesis paper for Auburn University, 1932, p.22, 93.

Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 029, Number 4, "A Trip to Texas in 1828", Jose Maria Sanchez Laredo, World Wide Web, www.tshaonline.org, accessed September 7, 2009.

Census Records, United States of America, 1850, 1860, 1970, 1980.

Historical Records of Randolph County, Alabama 1832 - 1900, Compiled by Marilyn Davis Barefield, 1985, p. 29.

Alabama Heritage magazine, Number 79, Winter 2006, University of Alabama Press, p. 37.

Cracklin Cornbread and Asfidity: Folk Recipes and Remedies, compiled by Jack and Olivia Solomon, University of Alabama Press, 1979, p. 152 - 163.

Auburn University Special Collections and Archives, The Crowder Papers 1847 -1865, 47 items in one file belonging to Dr. Daniel G. Crowder, letters written from D. G. Crowder to J.T. Jarrell, 12 December 1862, p.1, 2.

Rock Mills Pottery, author unknown, located at the Randolph County Historical Museum, Roanoke, Alabama, p.1,2,3.

Alabama Folk Pottery, Joey Brackner, University of Alabama Press, 2006, p.101.

The Holy Bible, New International Version, Isaiah 64:8.

World Wide Web, website of Daniel Auction Company, http://www.danielauctioncompany.com">www.danielauctioncompany.com, accessed September 7, 2009.

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