Jacobs Family, A Vintage Vignette

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Jacobs Family
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
December 30, 2008

In the 1970s when I was a young engineer with Boeing, I often traveled to Seattle to coordinate special project work with an older man named Don Jacobs. Most of our discussions were about work on the project, but occasionally we went to lunch together and focused upon social topics. Don became an esteemed friend, but I never thought to ask about his childhood or family matters. As years past we lost touch with one another. When I began to investigate the Jacobs family cemetery on Redstone Arsenal, that activity again led me to think of Don. I may never know if he was in fact related to the Jacobs family pioneers of arsenal lands, but I like to think that he was. It is pleasing to believe that I may have restored connection via Don’s ancestors after all these years.

The Army designates the Jacobs family cemetery as the Jordan – Jacobs Cemetery on the arsenal. Few tombstones are there, but one has the name Elle Jacobs. The name at first was a “red herring” for me, as it appeared to be for a female. However, after considerable checking of old public records, it was found that Elle was a man. His 1918 World War 1 draft registration card shows that he was born in 1882 and employed by Jack Clift on a farm in Madison. In 1919 Elle Jacobs sued the Alabama Power Company for causing an accident with their “electric street railway”. He had hitched a horse to a carriage and was going into Huntsville via Clinton Avenue when the new electric streetcar spooked the animal. The horse bolted and ran into a fence, injuring itself. The carriage was damaged, and Elle was injured. He sued for $1000 on each point. The court’s decision went against Elle, as it found that the horse was “high spirited” and “not a gentle mare”. The court further found that there was “no malicious intent to cause injury”. Considering the fact that he had “failed to control his horse” and that Elle was a Mulatto, as viewed in those days, he may have been lucky that he was not found to be liable for fence repairs, court costs, and opposing attorney fees.

Elle was part of a clan of about 30 free Mulattoes who came to Madison County in the very early 1800s. From the 1830 census, their progenitors appear to have been Burwell, Isaac, John, and Mary Jacobs, who all came from South Carolina as “free people of color” long before the Civil War. Their ancestors in South Carolina may well have fought in the American Revolutionary War to win their freedom, but that is not yet known.

It is known that Isaac settled in the New Hope area, living beside John Lemley, who connects to my Lemley ancestors from Fairfield District, South Carolina, where they lived very near John Cannamore. Cannamore is a variant spelling of Kennamer, and John Lemley married a daughter of Hans Kennamer, who settled in Marshall County not far from New Hope around 1800. Burwell and the rest of the Jacobs families settled land on the southern portion of the arsenal, living near Hughey Smith and Dr. William Simpson. Burwell’s mother Fanny, born in 1778, came with the clan. The 1850 census shows that Rebecca Jacobs had living in her household several children of her own, including an Isaac Jacobs that was the father of Elle. Mulatto Rebecca also had within her home a white woman, Mary Austin, and her four children. Mary was a daughter of plantation owner Hughey Smith and the widow of Pleasant Austin, also white. Pleasant was a son of Thomas Austin, whose widow married a white man named Joseph Jacobs. The close-knit relationships of the races in pre-Civil War days that would lead a free Mulatto female head of household to host a wealthy white widow and her children are rarely portrayed in today’s media. Such relationships are further described in Beverly Curry’s book “The People Who Lived on the Land That Is Now Redstone Arsenal”, privately published in 2006 and available for review at the Huntsville library.

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