James Manning, A Vintage Vignette

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James Manning
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
November 6, 2007

In its May 15 issue 166 years ago and 16 years before Madison was founded an obituary in THE DEMOCRAT, a Huntsville newspaper, noted the passing at age 70 of Doctor James Manning on May 3, 1841. Only the most prominent citizens had obituaries in those days. Doctor Manning definitely fit the criteria. While he didn’t live long enough to see Madison as a town, he lived in the area and knew its earliest residents. Manning was born in New Jersey but resided the last 30 years of his life in Madison County. His primary home was immediately west of that of Bartholomew Jordan, along Brown’s Ferry Road, on a section of the trail that today is known as Interstate 565. Back then, Brown’s Ferry Road ran from Leeman’s Ferry Road to the west across Limestone County to the Tennessee River where Brown’s Ferry operated. Part of that road is now called Bob Wallace Avenue, and another part is called Old Madison Pike, which name came into use after the town of Madison was established.

Among his many holdings, Manning owned over 2,000 acres of land south of Old Madison Pike in the southern end of Research Park plus the northern portion of the arsenal, including part of the airfield, across Rideout Road east to the hospital. He likewise obtained in 1821 from Sugars Turner’s two sons, John and Simon, 4 square miles along Memorial Parkway, with today’s Redstone Road running through it. He also had holdings in Marengo County and Mobile County. In Col. James Saunders’ 1899 book “Early Settlers of Alabama”, Manning is described as “a man of great worth and modesty.” He was a member of the Methodist Church, probably attending Jordan’s Chapel on land of his neighbor to the east.

In 1837 Manning and his wife Sophia Thompson deeded land to two of their 5 sons, George Felix and Peyton T. Manning. Portions of the Manning land had already been passed to their son-in-law, General Bartley M. Lowe, who was commander of the militia in the 1836 Indian Wars, as well as being President of the Bank of Huntsville until 1844. Lowe, Executor of Manning’s estate, later sold portions of the arsenal area land to Thos. W. White (the Whitesburg family). White in turn sold it to Luke Matthews from Limestone County, and the parcel became known to Army as Matthews land. This is how Matthews Cave, which runs from the arsenal partly under I565, got its name.

Sophie Thompson Manning had a sister, Eliza, who married the prominent Waddy Tate, a founder of Triana. Another sister, Pamelia, married Thomas Bibb, 1st President of the Alabama Senate and 2nd Governor of the state, living in Montgomery and Belle Mina of Limestone County. The Mannings and Thompsons are intermarried throughout American history to the Watkins, Bassett, Taliaferro, and Patton families of this area. Back in Virginia the families are connected to those of Patrick Henry and two signers of the Declaration of Independence (Benjamin Harrison, Governor of Virginia, and Richard Bassett, Governor of Delaware) and to Dr. William Drummond, Duke of Perthshire, Scotland.

Locally, Peyton Manning’s wife was Sarah, a daughter of William Weeden, for whom Weeden Mountain on the arsenal is named. Another Weeden daughter, Elizabeth, married William Manning, brother of Peyton and Felix. Eventually, Peyton’s family of 7 children all moved to Texas. Felix married Sarah Millwater and moved his family to Aberdeen, Mississippi. Reverend Turner Saunders (ancestor of the author of the book referenced above), married “Widow Millwater”, mother of Felix’s wife. The widow’s maiden name was Henrietta Weeden. Her other daughter married Robert Payne and moved to Aberdeen. Through Turner Saunders’ sister-in-law he was connected to Dolly Payne, the wife of President James Madison, namesake of our county. Arthur F. Hopkins was a witness to the Manning will, and a grandmother of Hopkins was a Jefferson, relative of President Thomas Jefferson. Another witness to Manning’s will was Samuel Peete, whose family connects to the Luke Matthews family, with a cemetery just west of Madison. The old families of this area all seem to be interconnected.

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