Steptoe Pickett, A Vintage Vignette
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
February 27, 2010
A very useful reference book in the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library’s Heritage Room is entitled “Marriage, Death, and Legal Notices from Early Alabama Newspapers, 1819-1893” by Pauline Jones Gandrud. An excerpt from the Southern Advocate newspaper revealed that on March 17, 1850, “Mrs. Mary Frances Pickett, wife of Mr. Steptoe Pickett of Limestone County and only sister of John J. Ward” died in her 21st year of age. John and Mary Frances were children of Francis Everett Ward. Marriage records of Madison County show that she was licensed to marry Steptoe January 16, 1849. She died just about a year afterward. A notice taken from the Memphis Eagle newspaper states that on September 25, 1851, “Frank Ward Pickett, only child of the late Mrs. Mary Frances Pickett, wife of Steptoe Pickett” died at the age of 18 months and 8 days. He is commemorated on his mother’s tombstone in the Triana City Cemetery. His age at death reveals that his mother died in childbirth.
A similar notice in the Memphis Eagle on January 8, 1851, stated “Died at 3 o’clock on the morning of 24th, Miss Maria F. Pickett, second daughter of Mrs. Ann F. Pickett of this city. Accidentally came in contact with flame of candle and was burned to death.” Ann was not likely a second wife of Steptoe, considering the timing and number of Ann’s children. Steptoe married Eugenia Sale (1834-1907) here in September 1855. She was a granddaughter of Dudley Sale, born 1782 in Virginia. In 1873 a notice in the Huntsville Advocate stated “Died on Wednesday August 27, Felicia Pickett, daughter of Major Steptoe Pickett at home at Madison Station from inadvertently swallowing a glass bead. She was about 12 years of age and a bright and interesting child.” The Huntsville Weekly Independence of August 31, 1882, printed “Died, Mr. Steptoe Pickett, one of our best known citizens at Madison, Tuesday, August 29th in his 66th year. For many years he has been a respectable citizen of this county.” Also, the Mercury Advocate printed on January 27, 1892, the notice “Died Sunday last at the residence of his uncle, Mr. John S. Nance, Adams Avenue, Henry S. Pickett, aged about 23, second son of Mr. Steptoe Pickett, a resident of Madison till his death. He was a loving son, a source of comfort and joy to his widowed mother.”
Madison’s Steptoe Pickett was a “junior”. His father was a schoolmate of President James Buchanan and a cousin to “Light Horse” Harry Lee (9th Governor of Virginia and father of Robert E. Lee), Chief Justice John Marshall, and General George E. Pickett (of “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg). Steptoe and his wife Sarah Orrick Chilton Pickett lived near their Collier and Blackwell relatives at Myrtle Grove plantation between Triana and Mooresville. They had three daughters linked to families of Governors of Alabama. As their fifth child turned 16, Felicia Steptoe Pickett married Governor Reuben Chapman when he was 39. She thus became a very young First Lady of Alabama. Felicia and Reuben’s son Steptoe Pickett Chapman is listed among the “Fallen Heroes” of the War Between the States in the posting on the east wall of the courthouse first floor. The eleventh child of Steptoe and Sarah was Sarah Virginia Pickett, who married Samuel Blackwell, a son of William Henry Blackwell and Eliza Collier. Eliza’s brother was Henry Watkins Collier, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and Governor of the state. The thirteenth child of Steptoe and Sarah was Anna Corbin Pickett (1836-1909). She married Thomas Bibb, third child of Governor Thomas Bibb from Belle Mina.
Steptoe Sr. was a son of Colonel Martin Pickett and his wife Ann Blackwell of Paradise Plantation, Fauquier County, Virginia. Martin represented his county at the conventions of 1776 and 1788, when Virginia was declared independent of British rule and when the 1787 constitution was ratified. He served in both the French & Indian War and the American Revolutionary War. His wife Ann was a daughter of Joseph Blackwell (1715-1787), who was a lieutenant in the Revolutionary War. Joseph’s wife was Lucy Steptoe, daughter of Captain John Steptoe, thereby establishing the name in their Pickett descendants’ lines.