Edward C. Betts, A Vintage Vignette

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Edward C. Betts
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
May 13, 2007

The Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll this year included enactment of Virginia Betts, grandmother of Judge Advocate General Edward C. Betts, who organized the Nuremburg War Trials after World War 2. The general never lived in Madison, but his grandparents did, as did his great grandparents. Virginian Charles Edward Betts was among the first to settle in the Madison area, buying his land on the first day of legal purchase, February 2, 1818, which was 39 years before the town itself was established. The Betts land included today’s location of the Madison Public Library and the Kroger shopping center, running roughly from Brown’s Ferry Road to Gillespie Road, between Hughes Road and Wall-Triana Highway. Charles had married Martha Cousins Chambers, sister of U. S. Senator Henry Chambers, for whom Chambers County is named. Charles’ son Edward Chambers Betts was born in 1820 on this pre-Madison plantation, and he went on to become judge of the county court, a trustee of the University of Alabama, and an Alabama legislator for several terms, plus Alabama’s first Commissioner of Agriculture, according to Owens’ HISTORY OF ALABAMA, Volume 4.

The senior Edward Betts was educated at the University of Virginia and traveled abroad before entering the practice of law. He married Virginia Augusta Swope, a descendant of the Early family that included General Jubal Early and Bishop John Early, descendants from Carbri Lifichar, a King of Ireland born in 225 A. D. Edward retired to his father’s plantation for a time, but during the Civil War he was arrested, along with Dr. Fletcher and James Harvey Pride, by the occupying Union forces as a spy. They were thought to have facilitated the Confederate attack on Madison Station in May of 1864 and were under threat of hanging. A recently-transferred commander of the Union troops that had been stationed in the area came back to intervene and had the men released before the threatened hanging. Edward eventually settled in Huntsville to live out his days.

The second-born child of Edward and Virginia was named Tancred Betts. Tancred was born in Huntsville in 1861. He graduated from the University of Alabama in 1881 and passed the bar exam in 1886. He became the county attorney in 1898, and was appointed judge of law and equity court in 1907. Tancred served as a trustee of Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn University), where he married Maude Minor Brown in 1888. They had two children – Sallie LeRoy Betts, who married attorney James Harvey Pride (a grandson of the man of the same name from Madison’s Civil War days), and Edward Chambers Betts, whose legal career began with education at the University of Alabama and continued throughout his Army career to involve him in setting up the Nuremburg trials.

The 1930 census (latest publicly available) showed that Tancred Betts had died, while attorney Edward Betts and his wife Pleasant were living in Washington DC, with children born in the Philippine Islands and in Georgia. However, in the 1920 census, the family of attorneys was intact, with Tancred living at 509 Franklin Street in Huntsville. Next door at 507 Franklin was the household of James H. Pride and his wife Sallie Betts Pride, while at 505 Franklin was the household of Edward Chambers Betts and his wife Pleasant. All three men were listed as attorneys, probably in practice together. The 1930 census indicates that the street numbers may have been changed, because James H. Pride was still living with Sallie, but at 608 Franklin, with some of the same neighbors as in 1920. However, the widow of Tancred Betts was still living on Franklin Street, but at street number 607. In any event, the generations of the Betts families of Madison and Huntsville were keystones in the legal profession of the area and literally of the world after WW2, with ties to both Auburn University and the University of Alabama. They have represented their state and its educational institutions well through the years.

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