Humphrey Families of Madison, A Vintage Vignette

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Humphrey Families of Madison
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
April 11, 2007

One of the most intriguing courtships in Madison occurred between Arthur Holding Lewis and Mattie Cartwright in 1873. According to letters between them, as supplied by descendants, Arthur wrote to Mattie on February 14 (Valentine’s Day) to request permission to “court” her. She replied on March 11, saying that the delay was because the issue was of great importance, and she had to deliberate the request for some time. She further stated that “However repugnant a gentleman might be to me, I consider it the highest compliment paid a lady….”. Apparently, the decision was favorable, repugnancy not withstanding, as they were married by October of that year in Limestone County. The census of 1880 shows them with a son, two daughters, and two nephews in their household. One of the daughters was Cora Mae Lewis, at age 1 in 1880. By 1898 Cora Mae married James Hermon Humphrey, thus tying together two of the more significant families of early Madison.

The various Humphrey families of Madison descend from Virginia plantation owners in colonial days, with associated surnames including Burwell, Sale, Armistead, and Lightfoot. Their subsequent Madison area linkages include Apperson, Hughes, Spencer, Parham, Lanier, Lipscomb, Bailey, Vaughan, Gray, Cain, Douglass, Darwin, and Strong family members, among others. Hermon Humphrey was a Director of the Bank of Madison, according to a 1913 special edition of the Weekly Mercury newspaper. Per research compiled by Robert E. Sparkman, Hermon was a son of James Alexander Humphrey and Mariah Posey Burwell. In 1885 James Alexander Humphrey joined with Thomas B. Hopkins, John Buchanan Floyd, and others to form the Madison Male and Female Academy that operated just west of today’s Sullivan Street, along Pension Row.

James Alexander was a brother of storeowner William Binford Humphrey, who lived at 23 Front Street, where Thomas J. Clay had built the second store in Madison, which also served as the first post office, located along Buttermilk Alley. This was the house of Madison’s Police Chief Audrey Van Kay in the 1950s and 60s. Chief Kay had the distinction of owning a city-supplied police car, but he couldn’t drive, so others had to provide that service to him whenever he needed to chase bad guys. Rodney Whatley owns and maintains the historic house today. In the early 1900s when William Binford Humphrey and his wife Nancy Parham lived at 23 Front Street, his store was not in the house. It was on Main Street, at the location now occupied by Hale Fire Glass, which was previously West Station Antiques.

The father of James Alexander and William Binford Humphrey was Boyle Phillips Humphrey, who married Susannah Harvey Sneed. In 1875 there was a Serena F. Sneed who purchased a lot from T. S. Clay and another from J. W. and Elizabeth Wingo, both of which adjoined Boyle P. Humphrey’s lot in the area from Church Street along Mill Road to Sturdivant Street today. A cousin who made his mark in Madison was Flavius J. Humphrey, who constructed the original house at 18 Arnett Street. This house was later purchased and expanded by James Henry Cain and is now owned by Stan and Jeanne Steadman. Flavius was a son of Edmund Humphrey, who lived in Meridianville and owned land north of Winchester Road and east of Memorial Parkway. Altogether, there were a number of Humphrey families in Madison through the years, and their connections with other historic families, businesses and homes were numerous. Their presence formed a large part of the fabric of the town in the past, and it remains to this day through many resident descendants.

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