Eldred Rawlins, A Vintage Vignette
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
December 1, 2009
Eldred Rawlins (also documented as “Rawlings”, but examples of his signature omit the “g”) was one of our most enigmatic pioneers. In early county records he appears as a prominent and sterling character. Conversely, other records indicate that on occasion he must have become somewhat of a deadbeat debtor or scoundrel. The truth probably lies between the two extremes, for only he walked in his shoes. The circumstances behind events in his life as revealed by historical public records are left for conjecture and imagination.
Eldred appears in 1818 records of the county as purchasing 320 acres of government land in the western portion of today’s Redstone Arsenal. His land was near or among the parcels owned by Elijah Boardman, Isaac Inman, Richard Lipscomb, Dr. John Hertzler, John and Absalom Looney, Richard Holding, Harrison Owen, and others of the “early days”. Eldred extended his holdings through dozens of private acquisitions and sales. Additionally, on August 11, 1821, he married Mary Ann Lanier, a daughter of prominent Madison County pioneer Isaac Lanier (1767-1827). Ann died at age 19 on the 15th of January, 1823, and her burial is marked with an unusual table tombstone in the “Rawlings-Lanier Cemetery” on Redstone Arsenal. That cemetery would more properly be named as simply another of the arsenal’s Lanier cemeteries, because there are no known burials of a Rawlins there other than Ann’s surname from her marriage of only 17 months. Ownership of the land around the cemetery was by Isaac and his wife Mary J. Lanier, and several members of that family are almost certainly buried there.
Mary Ann Lanier Rawlins apparently died in childbirth, producing a daughter, Mary Ann Eliza Rawlins. Eliza was given to her maternal grandmother, Mary Dickson Lanier, during her infancy. The probate of Ann’s estate showed that in 1832 Eldred was granted guardianship of his daughter. Yet, by 1840 guardianship of Eliza was transferred to her uncle Clement G. Lanier at her own request. Census and other records provide information that Eliza married William G. Love in 1843, living in Autauga County with her husband and her grandmother thereafter. Eliza’s father Eldred remarried before 1830 to a woman named Sarah, with whom he had several more children in Limestone County.
Eldred was listed among the prominent pioneers of Madison County in Judge Thomas J. Taylor’s book. His early career included being cashier of the Planters and Merchants Bank of Huntsville as well as owner of a plantation of over 900 acres. Yet, Eldred was named as defendant in numerous lawsuits for defaulting on debts in 1827, 1829, 1830, 1831, and 1832. More such lawsuits were filed against him in 1839. That was the year when he lost his plantation of pre-arsenal land due to default on loans from several banks and personal debts to more than a dozen men. Even though he had defaulted on a loan where his “bond securities” were co-signed by Thomas McCrary, James J. Pleasants, and William J. Martin, these same men after settling that debt were among those who allowed Eldred to remain on his repossessed plantation for the year 1840.
In the 1850s Mary Ann Eliza Rawlins Love filed suit against her stepmother Sarah for failure to make final settlement of Eldred’s estate and for Eldred’s failure to ever settle Eliza’s inheritance from her mother and her grandfather. Apparently Eldred had died intestate by 1857 while “removed from the State of Alabama”. His widow Sarah and her children remained in Limestone County. However, no record was ever found in Madison County files that a final settlement was reached, possibly due to events of the Civil War.
One can only wonder if Eldred got into financial trouble at the bank where he was cashier or if the crops failed several years on his plantation. Likewise, it is not clear whether he abandoned his second wife and their children or if he met an untimely death on the road due to accident or revenge during his travels. After all these years, one would expect that the truth would come out, but if it has in this regard, it is unknown in Madison County records.