Hezekiah J. Balch, A Vintage Vignette

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Hezekiah J. Balch
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
July 28, 2010

There are many people who have lived in Madison and the surrounding area that had nationally famous names. Sometimes only the surname suggested possible links to the famous persons. Other times, the complete names fit. For example, Madison historically included members of the Doolittle family, but no Harold James Doolittle, who was the Lt. Col. that led the first retaliatory air raid on Japan in 1942 with 16 B-25 bombers launched from an aircraft carrier. Still, the name is rare, so there may well have been a link. Some of the other nationally well-known surnames that have appeared in Madison's history include Bibb, Lanier, Martin, Washington, and Halsey. Local history has also included men named Howard Hughes, Meriwether A. Lewis, and Henry Clay – but not those who brought national fame to the names, even though there could have been linkages. Local name awareness recognition might be associated with the Ben Porter Real Estate Company in Huntsville relative to Benjamin F. Porter, the 1912 proprietor of Madison Drug Company, Huntsville's C. T. Garvin Feed and Seed Store (he was born and raised in Monrovia), and Lewter's Hardware Store in Huntsville versus the Madison Lewter's Grocery Store that was on Main Street.

Most are not aware of the historical prominence of some local names. One case in point is Hezekiah J. Balch. Previous Vintage Vignettes have provided glimpses into local Balch family history, but as usual, there is much more to the story. The history of the Balch family is documented in a number of sources. John Balch of Somerset County, England, came to America in 1623 and lived in what is now Beverly, Massachusetts. In 1636 he built at that site the oldest still-standing wood frame house in America. Local Balch genealogy has been traced back to John Balch born in 1635 in Bridgewater, Somerset Co., England. He came to Maryland and was progenitor of several prominent members of the surname. Henry Hezekiah Balch lived in Huntsville in the 1950s and was American Consul General in Dublin, Ireland, in the 1930s. Another descendant of John was credited as author of the 1775 Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence – first such declaration in the world and thought by some to have been a model for the declaration written a year later in Philadelphia by Thomas Jefferson. While there is current controversy about the document, it has long been referenced in Balch family documents as being primarily penned by the Reverend Hezekiah J. Balch, a Presbyterian minister of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. On-line resources provide considerable arguments for and against the authenticity of the document.

Our local Hezekiah J. Balch, another descendant of the John Balch of Maryland, was born in 1811 in Tennessee and died here in 1873. He lived in what is now the Kelly Springs area of Monrovia and married Tabitha Vaughn, sister of George Washington Vaughn. Tabitha and George were children of Micajah Vaughn, a signer of the 1819 (first) Alabama Constitution. Hezekiah Balch was a charter member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church and its first Sunday School Superintendent. He and Tabitha have the second and third earliest death dates of tombstones in the church's cemetery. In 1868 Hezekiah sold two acres of land for $10 to “African Baptist Church” trustees for a place of worship. That land today would be bounded on the south by King Road (about a quarter mile north of Old Monrovia Road) and on the east by Indian Creek Road. One of the sons of Hezekiah and Tabitha, Samuel, was a rural mail carrier and lived in the town of Madison in the early 1900s. The reconstructed pioneer village at Burritt on the Mountain has both a house and a church connected to Samuel Balch. The Baptist church building that was located initially at College Street and Sullivan Street was constructed in 1884. Samuel Balch was a deacon of the church in the 1880s. It was moved to the Burritt village on Monte Sano and rededicated in 1981. The Burritt village also has the circa 1887 house of Samuel Balch, which contained the Post Office for the community of Nebo around today's intersection of Wall-Triana Highway and Capshaw Road.

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