Pettus Pioneers, A Vintage Vignette
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
March 14, 2009
In 1895 when the Madison Training School was chartered, its first principal was W. N. Benson, who had been teaching in the “Rep” community. That community was located at the junction of Kelly Springs Road with Jeff Road. The name came from the initials of Richard E. Pettus. The Pettus family lands in Madison County included tracts along Nick Davis Road on the north, south to Mt. Zion Road and Blake Bottom Road, and west almost to Old Railroad Bed Road. Today’s Pettus Road runs basically through the middle of the family holdings.
Many of the family stayed in Madison County. Some moved into Limestone County. The community of Pettusville grew up around the Pettusville Hotel, constructed by Dr. Thomas Coleman Pettus around 1847 at a chalybeate spring. Pettusville is west of Interstate Highway 65 and northeast of Elkmont. Thomas in 1844 married Mary Catherine Fowlkes of Madison County, and his brother Joseph Cluverius Pettus married Catherine’s sister Permelia. They were daughters of Ransom Fowlkes. Another brother of Thomas and Joseph was Richard Elliot Pettus, but there were at least two Richard E. Pettuses in Madison County history. A later one, Richard Emmett Pettus, was son of William Rowlett Pettus. The younger Richard (born about 1854) was President of the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce in 1898, when he offered to the Secretary of War the establishment of a military camp in the town or on Monte Sano for troops with yellow fever who were headed for service in the Spanish-American War. His offer was refused by 1901 in a letter stating that Congress would not make appropriations for an Army post in the South, thereby dashing hopes for an Army post at Huntsville until many years later.
The book “Lure and Lore of Limestone County” states that William Rowlett Pettus was a son of David Pettus and Elizabeth Boswell, as were another David, Samuel, Joseph Cluverius, and Thomas Coleman Pettus – all living in Madison or Limestone County for a time. Census records plus data provided by family descendant and researcher Dovie Reiff of Huntsville show that there was a William Boswell Pettus who was a son of David and Elizabeth Boswell Pettus. Accordingly, it may be that William Rowlett Pettus was a son of David’s brother, Thomas, who married Elizabeth Rowlett. David’s sister Elizabeth married Matthew Rowlett. David’s father was David Walker Pettus, who married Ann Whitworth, a daughter of Thomas Whitworth who according to Dovie was a grandfather of Rowland Whitworth. Rowland appears in the 1830 census of Madison County at age 60-70. He may well have been the father of Daniel, patriarch of the Madison Whitworth families.
No Pettus appeared in the 1809 census here, but land records from 1810-1818 show John, William, George, and Freeman Pettus in this area. Dovie reported that David Walker Pettus was a son of Virginian Thomas Pettus (1712-1780). Genealogical web postings by Betsy Blackburn track Thomas’ ancestry to 1657 in Norfolk, England. David Walker Pettus had a son, John (1787-1822), who married Alice Taylor Winston and came to Alabama. John’s sons included John Jones Pettus and Edmund Winston Pettus. They lived in Limestone County for a time. John Jones Pettus moved to Mississippi, where he became a two-term governor of that state, serving a very short replacement term in 1854 and an elected term in 1859-1863. He was Mississippi’s governor when the Civil War began. John’s brother Edmund Winston Pettus moved southward through Alabama, eventually living in Dallas County at Selma. He served as judge of the seventh judicial circuit in 1855. He also served as a U. S. Senator and distinguished himself in the Civil War. He was captured three times, rising in rank through the war years to become a Confederate brigadier general. Of course, most of today’s citizens recognize the name only in relation to the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, where a brutal clash occurred during the 1965 civil rights march toward Montgomery, helping to crystallize the nation’s attitude toward ending segregation. From ancestral service in the American Revolution and all of its generations in this country, the Pettus line has attained remarkable accomplishments through history.