Boyle Phillips Humphrey, A Vintage Vignette

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Boyle Phillips Humphrey
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
October 25, 2010

The Madison Humphreys descend from colonial Virginia plantation owners. The Humprheys included a Director of the Bank of Madison, a founder of the Madison Male and Female Academy, and a trustee for the establishment of Madison High School in 1895. Madison's James Alexander Humphrey, reportedly the builder of the original Roundhouse, was the father of seven sons, including storeowner William Benford Humphrey, who lived at 23 Front Street. This address was where Thomas J. Clay in 1857 built the second store in Madison. Part of that house served as the first post office, located along Buttermilk Alley. It home to Madison’s Police Chief Arthur V. Kay in the 1950s and 60s. Chief Kay had a city-supplied police car, but he couldn’t drive. Others drove it for him whenever he needed to chase evildoers. The historic house is for sale today. When William Benford Humphrey and his wife Nancy Parham lived there, his store was not in the house. It was at 112 Main Street, the location which later became West Station Antiques, then Hale Fire Glass.

William Benford Humphrey's grandfather was Boyle Phillips Humphrey, who married Susannah Harvey Sneed. In 1875 Serena Sneed purchased one lot from T. S. Clay (brother of T. J. Clay) and another from J. W. Wingo. These lots adjoined Boyle Humphrey’s lot along the south side of Mill Road from Church Street to Sturdivant Street today. Serena was the mother-in-law of Boyle's son Herman D. Humphrey. In the 1880 census, deputy sheriff Herman Humphrey and his wife Virginia and Serena Sneed were all living in a house on Holmes Street in Huntsville. Boyle died in 1881, and his wife Susannah died in 1877 according to the obituary at the time in the Huntsville Advocate newspaper. The family bible record and her tombstone both show the year as 1875 rather than 1877, but the newspaper would not have published the death notice two years after her passing. The confusion of dates and names was not unusual in records for the family, going back to Boyle's own name. He was listed in the 1850 census as Robert, and some records simply show him as Bob. Still, there is absolutely no doubt that Robert Humphrey of 1850 in Madison County was indeed the Boyle listed in later censuses and recorded on a shared tombstone in the Madison City Cemetery with Susannah.

Boyle's mother was Sarah Blankenship, 1779-1863). His ancestry passed through his father David Humphrey (1769-1857) to Joshua and Ann Humphrey of Richmond, Virginia. David came to Madison County in 1816 by way of Tennessee from Virginia. David and Sarah (“Sally”) had eight children – sons Crawford W., Boyle, Edmund D., William D., James H., and John M., plus daughters Didama A. and Belinda L. Humphrey. Didama married Charles Waite Strong in 1828. In 1822 Belinda married George Darwin, becoming the mother of Sidney S., Didama B., and Mary B. Darwin. It was a member of the Darwin family of Madison County (John Tyler Darwin) who in 1977 moved the historic Cooper-Lea house (“Harris House”) to 104 Metaire Lane in Madison from the arsenal. When David Humphrey died in 1857, the probate of his estate showed that he owned 1,770 acres of land and 59 slaves. His land was in several parcels in the areas near Gladstone, Moores Mill, Riverton, Bell Factory, and north of Winchester Road but east of Highway 231. He owned a large number of sheep, with few cattle. Sons William and Boyle were administrators of David's estate.

Boyle and Susannah had children Sophia, Mary, Alexander, Diana Virginia, Sally, Julia, Herman D., and John W. Humphrey. Herman was listed in the 1870 census as a school teacher at age 19. The 1850 census showed Boyle's Virginia-born mother-in-law, Sophia Sneed, at age 72 living with his family. His daughter Sophia was listed as a seamstress in later census records until 1880 when she married Adolphus Kenner, a doctor born in Maryland of German immigrants. Boyle himself was a farmer in the early census records, but the 1880 listing showed him as a carpenter, as was his son James Alexander. Boyle is also known to have performed several marriages in the 1870s.

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