Dr. William Simpson, A Vintage Vignette
Dr. William Simpson
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
February 8, 2011
Dennis William Simpson, a 3rd-great grandson of Madison County pioneer William Simpson, has compiled extensive research into a book entitled “Descendants of Doctor William Simpson”, published in 1993. Dennis donated a copy of the book to the Heritage Room, third floor of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library.
Dr. William Simpson was a physician from Londonderry, Ireland. He was born in 1780 and attended medical school at Trinity College in Dublin. He got involved with the Protestant “United Irishmen” and was captured after an unsuccessful rebellion in 1798. He was initially sentenced to hang for accepting a Major's Commission with the United Irishmen, where his commanding officer was Thomas Emmet, older brother of Ireland's famous patriot, Robert Emmet. Simpson subsequently obtained permission to be exiled to America. He settled in Madison County by 1807. During the War of 1812, Dr. Simpson enlisted in Peter Perkins' 7th Regiment of Mississippi Militia, a company of Madison County pioneers. Perkins' unit had orders to protect supplies getting to General Andrew Jackson in campaigns against the Creek Indians, who were defeated at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in March, 1814. During that battle, Dr. Simpson treated the wounded leg of Sam Houston, who was destined to become President of the Republic of Texas before it became a state in 1845 after winning independence from Mexico in 1836.
Dr. Simpson and the 7th Regiment were ordered to go to New Orleans to face the British army after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. The battle at New Orleans occurred after a peace treaty had been signed in Europe in December of 1814. Of course, word of the treaty had not yet reached American shores in time to prevent the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. The overwhelming victory of the American forces led to General Jackson's boost into the U. S. Presidency in 1828. Dr. Simpson and Perkins' 7th Mississippi Militia had arrived a few days after the battle was fought and won, but they remained in New Orleans for a time just in case the British decided to return. In May of 1815, a week before his enlistment was over, Dr. Simpson returned to Madison County, still a part of the Mississippi Territory. He was sick with malaria, a relatively unfamiliar disease at that time. Arriving in the embryonic town of Liberty that he and two other men had founded, he lived about ten more months. He was reported to have been buried on Hobbs Island, then known as the Chickasaw Old Fields or Chickasaw Island.
Dr. Simpson was an 1811 charter member of Madison (later “Helion”) Lodge #1, first Masonic lodge in Alabama. Dr. Simpson and his wife Marguerite McAlpine were the parents of two children. Their first child was Mary Simpson, born at sea during the trip to America in 1806. Mary married George William McLeod in 1822 in Huntsville. She died in 1837 in Mardisville, Alabama. Dr. Simpson's second child was John Simpson, born 1811 near Whitesburg and Ditto's Landing. John married in 1840 Margaret Ann Dickson in Madison County. The nuptials were performed by Methodist minister John Allen, who was connected to the Jordan and Lanier families of the area. John died in 1876 at his plantation home near Triana. A year after Doctor Simpson's 1816 death, his widow married Hopkins Lacy, a former member of the Tennessee House of Representatives and a close associate of the doctor. By Hopkins Lacy, Marguerite Simpson had one additional child, Martha Jane Cocke Lacy, born 1818 at Liberty, just west of Whitesburg. Martha Jane married Dr. Albert Russell Jr. in 1835. She died in 1864 at Huntsville.
When the Army purchased the land for Redstone Arsenal, many of the people of the area were descendants of former slaves. A locally famous former slave was William Hooper Councill, who became renowned for his work in education. He was born a slave of Judge David Campbell Humphreys, whose wife, Margaret McLeod was a granddaughter of Doctor Simpson. Judge Humphreys was appointed by President Ulysses Simpson Grant to become a Supreme Court Justice for the District of Columbia. The Simpson name and connections figured prominently in Madison County history.