Daniel Wallace, A Vintage Vignette

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Daniel Wallace
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
May 9, 2010

After several years of researching pioneer land ownership of the western part of Madison County, recently I was startled to see several listings in the deed index for parcels sold by Daniel Wallace to many of the Madison town pioneers. I had never before noticed anyone named Daniel Wallace associated with Madison’s early days. Furthermore, James Clemens was the original landowner who subdivided part of his holdings into what became the town of Madison. There was no Daniel Wallace who purchased any of the Clemens land to later be in a position to sell it to early Madison settlers. Yet, Volume 1 of the Madison County General Index to Real Property (land) listed eight deed recordings as sales by Daniel Wallace to known Madison pioneers for land in the immediate area of the town in the period of 1869 through 1876. The recipients of land from Wallace included Isaac F. Deloney, Elijah M. Fitz, George Washington Martin, William R. Johnston, Samuel A. Pepper, John D. Tanner, and Thomas J. Clay. Johnston was even the first Mayor of Madison at the time of the recording of the sale by Wallace, while George W. Martin was Madison’s first lot owner, first merchant, and lifetime resident of the area.

Adding to the enigma was the fact that the reverse index showed no land purchases whatsoever by Daniel Wallace, nor was he listed as ever acquiring land directly from the government. That left the question of how Daniel Wallace came into possession of Clemens’ land to sell to the Madison pioneers. More specifically, who was Daniel Wallace?

I began investigating with an examination of the census records to see where Daniel Wallace lived during the last half of the 1800s. Strangely, there was no Daniel Wallace in Madison County’s census records of 1850 or 1860. There was one in 1870, but he was listed as a Black male, age 50, born in Virginia. That one was not listed in the 1880 census, but there was a Black male age 12 (born in Alabama) listed in a household in the Hazel Green area. This younger Daniel Wallace was likewise listed in the later census records of the county as he matured. No other entries were found for a Daniel Wallace in the old census records for Madison County, indicating that the land seller must have died in the late 1870s, before the 1880 census was taken, if indeed the Black man was the seller of the land to Madison pioneers.

My next step in the investigation was to check the actual deed recordings listed in the index for any clues to the identity of Daniel or the process by which he obtained the land for the sales. Since he was never listed as actually purchasing the lands, it was doubly puzzling that a Black man would be listed as the seller of the parcels in the index. Of course, it occurred to me that perhaps Daniel was a former slave of James Clemens who may have been given the land when he was freed, especially since Clemens was already known to have freed some of his slaves before his own death in 1860.

All of the property deeds in question turned out to actually be sales by the administrators of the Clemens estate, which was probated for 17 years and involved far more than the eight transactions with Madison pioneers. The deed recordings referenced Case Number 689 in Chancery Court Record Book J (1877), with minutes documented in 200 pages. Daniel Wallace and others were listed as defendants in a suit brought by Clemens’ administrators William Weeden and Robert S. Spragins. In court minutes, it was disclosed that Daniel Wallace and the others were former Clemens slaves claiming that their labors amassed his wealth. After emancipation and during the “Reconstruction” period, Daniel and the others must have appropriated some of the property. The court apparently ruled against Wallace and the others, because the administrators were subsequently ordered by the Chancery Court to sell Clemens land for settlement of the estate’s debts and to divide any residual assets among his heirs.

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