Elisha K. French, A Vintage Vignette

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Elisha K. French
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
July 11, 2011

The French Mill area of Limestone County lies between Mooresville Road and Cambridge Lane. It is along Highway 72 about four miles east of Interstate 65 and just over 5 miles west of the Madison County line. Bethel Church, just west of McCulley Mill Road, is on the north side of the highway, along French's Mill Creek. That creek was initially known as the Meat House Branch of Piney Creek, according to Axford and Edwards' book THE LURE AND LORE OF LIMESTONE COUNTY. The name was attributed to the practice of Indian hunters temporarily storing their freshly killed game meat in the spring that was the source of the branch in the days before white settlers displaced the Chickasaw from the area.

The French family history in the area goes back to Benjamin French (1764-1847). Benjamin was born in Virginia, where he enlisted to fight in the American Revolution. He lived for a time in North Carolina and in Kentucky before coming to Limestone County in 1808, while it was still Indian territory. In 1784 Benjamin married Sally Turner, daughter of Henry and Anne Kimbrough Turner, in Caswell County, North Carolina. Upon moving to Limestone County the family settled initially along Limestone Creek, but in 1830 Benjamin moved across the Elk River. Before his death he moved to what is now the area between Lexington and Rogersville in Lauderdale County. By his first wife, Sally Turner, who died in 1822, Benjamin's eleven known children were Mary (“Polly”), Jessie, Amos, Samuel, Benjamin, Jerry, Milly, Sallie, Ann, Jane, and Frances French. Jesse was born in North Carolina in 1786, but he was living in Jackson County, Alabama, at the time of the 1850 census. Jerry died in Lawrence County, Alabama. Amos was born in North Carolina in 1787 and died in Limestone County on the 4th of July, 1869. After the passing of his first wife, the senior Benjamin married Catherine Shoemaker, who died at age 78 in 1855.

Amos evidently came to the area of Limestone and French Creeks in 1808 with his father in 1808. The Indians burned his cabin as Amos fled with his family toward Huntsville, but he returned soon afterward, and the Indians ceded the land in 1816. Amos married Elizabeth Sanderson in Kentucky in 1807. They had children named Henry, Mary, John, Elisha Kimble French. Elisha (1817-1887) married Angeline Vaughan in 1841. Angeline had a sister named Martha who married Elijah Bailey and had son James E. H. Bailey, a blacksmith and initial co-purchaser of Lot 16 along Front Street at Buttermilk Alley in Madison today. James Bailey was a partner in the lot ownership with John W. Cosby, who operated a brick kiln to supply the bricks for houses and shops in early Madison. Cosby was a cousin of George Washington Martin, first lot owner and storekeeper in Madison.

When Elijah Bailey died, Martha married Hezekiah Bradley Cartwright, a son of early area pioneer John Cartwright. John lived just northeast of Triana until his old age, when he moved to the family holdings near the junction of Palmer Road with County Line Road, where Palmer Park is located today. Hezekiah and Martha had several children who figured prominently in the history of Madison. These included Orrie, who married John Lipscomb (first public school educator in Madison); Mattie, who married Madison merchant Arthur Holding Lewis (a son of Triana's Meriwether A. Lewis, a cousin of the same-named explorer of Lewis & Clark fame); Josephine, who married R. W. Parham; Ida, who married Dr. J. E. Westmoreland; and Dr. Oscar Bradley Cartwright.

Because of the culture of those days plus the Vaughan, Cartwright, Bailey, and French family connections it can be logically assumed that these Madison pioneer families may have traveled along the old Huntsville-Athens Pike (now Highway 72) and visited the Elisha and Angeline Vaughan French family in nearby Limestone County just beyond Shoal Ford across Limestone Creek. Elisha was the proprietor of the mill along the Meat House Branch that became known as French's Mill Creek. The mill was located at Highway 72 and Mooresville Road, an area closely linked to many of the historic families of the town of Madison.

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