Ol' Blue, Robert Thompson, A Vintage Vignette

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Ol' Blue, Robert Thompson
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
February 16, 2009

I grew up near the Mississippi River where Catahoula hog dogs and blue tick hounds were used for hunting. Sometimes a special hound would be nicknamed “Old Blue”. When I moved to the Huntsville area for the first time in 1970, one of the local television news stories told of the retirement of “Ol` Blue”, which I assumed would be a widely esteemed hunting dog. As the story progressed, it was obvious that the Huntsville “Ol` Blue” was an aging police car. Now, almost 40 years later, I find that there was a much earlier “Ol` Blue” in the pioneer days of Huntsville, long before automobiles, and this one was not a dog either.

The pioneer “Ol` Blue” got that nickname from his practice of always carrying his funds around with him in blue denim bags. He was a merchant of considerable means, having been born in Amelia County, Virginia, about 1754. He was the son and grandson of older Robert Thompsons of Virginia. His grandfather was an affluent goldsmith as well as a planter. While in Virginia “Ol` Blue” fought in the American Revolutionary War and married his cousin, Sarah Watkins. She was the only daughter of James and Martha (Thompson) Watkins, progenitors of other members of the Watkins family who moved to Madison County, including some who later lived in the town of Madison. The Thompson family moved from Virginia to Petersburg, Georgia, after the war. In Georgia Robert entered into merchandising with his sister’s husband, Samuel Watkins.

Robert and Sarah (Watkins) Thompson must have been a very attractive couple because their only children, three daughters, married into the upper echelons of society. Sophia Thompson married Dr. James Manning, who came to Petersburg with his brother Daniel from New Jersey before moving to Madison County, Alabama. Pamelia Thompson married Virginian Thomas Bibb. They initially lived in Huntsville and moved later to Limestone County, where they built in 1826 the mansion named Belle Manor that became the namesake of the community of Belle Mina. Eliza Thompson was the first of three wives of Dr. Waddy Tate, whom she married in 1808 in Petersburg. Tate was also of pioneer Virginia heritage, and he married the second time in 1818, so Eliza must have died before that date, after bearing him two sons and two daughters, who all died by the mid-1800s.

However, generations of other descendants of “Ol’ Blue” continued to intermarry with the most prominent families of north Alabama. Sophia’s daughter Sarah Sophia Manning married General Bartley M. Lowe of Huntsville. Their daughter Sophie Lowe married Colonel Nicholas Davis Jr., son of the Virginian senior Nicholas Davis who was a state senator and served in the War of 1812. He was a candidate for Governor of Alabama in 1831 and is buried at his homesite along Nick Davis Road in Limestone County. Another daughter, Susan Lowe, married Clinton Davis, a brother of Col. Davis. A son of Bartley and Sarah (Manning) Lowe, Robert, married Mattie Holding, whose second husband was prominent attorney and legislator Sidney Fletcher (brother of Madison’s Dr. Richard Matthew Fletcher).

Other Lowe children attained high public and military positions, as described in the book “Early Settlers of Alabama” by Col. James E. Saunders, who was himself descended from this line. In fact, the book reveals that there were several more interlinks of the Manning, Thompson, and Watkins lines in the area, plus two Manning marriages to daughters of Dr. William Weeden of Huntsville’s Weeden House Museum. Additionally, Burton, Withers, and Farley ancestors of pioneers of this area were connected by various associations with the Thompsons in Virginia. In 1809 when “Ol` Blue” moved his family, with sons-in-law, from Georgia to purchase vast lands in northern Alabama, he apparently drew along with them many related and associated families from their home state of Virginia. “Ol` Blue” passed away in 1829 at the age of 75 in the Belle Mina home of his son-in-law Thomas Bibb, second governor of the state. Even in his passing, Robert Thompson was surrounded by wealth and the highest levels of social standing, a truly prestigious son of the Old South.

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