Julia Alabama Graham, A Vintage Vignette

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Julia Alabama Graham
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
January 12, 2011

As Julia Alabama Graham grew up in her birthplace of “Pond Beat” (now a part of Redstone Arsenal), she no doubt was aware that her father was a man of affluence for the times. However, she could not have imagined the life that she would later live as the wife of two completely different leaders of the area. She became a woman of considerable means and power in her own right. Her family's massive monument in the Rankin section of the Decatur City Cemetery attests to that fact.

Julia was born in August 1843, the fifth of seven children of Colonel James B. Graham by his second wife, Nancy Tyree Dickson. Soon after the war, in August 1866 Julia married Colonel Francis Windes, son of Enoch and Mary Ann (Ryan) Windes of Apple Grove in Morgan County. Colonel Windes served in cavalry units of the 4th Alabama during the Civil War. He was captured late in the war and spent time in a Federal prison, where he contracted tuberculosis. He died on a train in September of 1868 in Lynchburg, Virginia, as he traveled back from New York, where he had sought medical treatment. Julia became a widow at age 25 after two years of marriage to a very ill man.

Julia's widowhood ended after nine years, when she married Dr. James Cofield Mitchell Rankin, son of Thomas Campbell Rankin and Louisa Warren. Rankin was born in Tennessee in 1833. He graduated from medical school in Nashville in 1858 and began his practice with first wife (Elizabeth Rasbury) in Tennessee. They had several children, including William Quinton, Vichlorine, and Margaret, who married Watkins Bradley in Alabama. In the 1870s Dr. Rankin moved to Alabama and purchased the house of Porter Bibb on the north side of Belle Mina. The house had been built by Captain David Porter Bibb, the son of Thomas Bibb, second Governor of Alabama and owner of the mansion “Belle Manor” that became the namesake of the community of Belle Mina which formed near it. The governor's son Porter built the house that was purchased by Dr. Rankin in 1865 for his own son, also named Porter, husband of Amelia Bradley. The younger Porter's house was just a mile north of the governor's mansion, which is on the south side of Belle Mina, towards Mooresville. Dr. Rankin's practice included Decatur, Mooresville, Madison, Triana, and the Pond Beat area.

The first meeting of Dr. Rankin with Julia Alabama Graham Windes is unknown, but it is possible that she was his patient before she became his second wife in 1877. By her he had four more children – Annie Ester (1879-1956, married William Dukes), Marvin Stanley (1881-1950, married Maude Gann), James Graham (1883-1944, married Myrtle McGuire, died in Athens, Alabama), and Thomas Campbell (1885-1965, died unmarried in Atlanta, Georgia). Dr. Rankin died in his 73rd year in 1906 at Belle Mina, but Julia lived another 21 years, passing away in 1927 at the age of 83.

When Julia’s mother Nancy wrote her last will and testament before passing in 1891, the fifth article specified her primary provisions for Julia. Specifically, she gave to Julia “…eighty acres of land lying north of the eighty she got from her father’s estate, called the King place, and eighty acres lying on the Huntsville Road beginning at my woods pasture and going down to Mr. Landman’s fence. I also give her eighty acres of woodland joining the Pritchet (Prichard) farm. These lands I give to my daughter Julia A. Rankin (for) her lifetime. At her death they are to go to her children, the heirs of her body, not to be divided until the youngest child is 21 years of age.” The sixth item in the will specified that “All my cattle, mules, and horses that I may have, also money, notes, or cotton or corn, after my debts are paid, I give to my three daughters, Juriah J. Fowler, Virginia Z. Mahan, and Julia A. Rankin. This is to bring them on equal footing with their brother Joseph D. Graham.” Julia was involved in six more land purchases just in Madison County before her passing.

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