Luke Matthews, A Vintage Vignette

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Luke Matthews
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
September 3, 2010

The 1860 census lists Luke Matthews and his family in the “Madison Station” area of Madison County. Their neighbors included Isham J. Fennell and Thomas J. Clay, both of whom have been the subject of previous Vintage Vignettes. In the 1850 census, Luke is more difficult to find. He is listed on as “Suth Matheus” due to sloppy handwriting of the census enumerator. However, the names and ages of his wife and children confirm the family's entry. In that year their nearby neighbors included the George Steele family and the Henry Halsey family, while William Halsey was a young child. These families are known to have been living in Huntsville, not the Madison area. Moreover, in 1870 the census again shows the Matthews family living in Huntsville. The reason for their 1860 residence location most likely is related to my first encounter with the name here.

While I was researching early landowners of Redstone Arsenal properties as a volunteer for the Army several years ago, James Manning was a subject of interest. From 1809 to 1818 he acquired well over 2,000 acres of now-arsenal land. After building in 1815 one of Huntsville's largest mansions (“The Grove”, which was near today's intersection of Gallatin Street with Lowe Avenue), Manning died in 1841 at age 71. However, in 1837 he had given two of his sons (Peyton T. and George Felix) 2,138 acres of land nearest today's arsenal Gate 9. That land was sold by the sons to their brother-in-law, General Bartley M. Lowe, in 1844. Lowe got the mansion in Huntsville through his wife's bequest and became the namesake of Lowe Avenue. Lowe in turn sold parts of Manning's arsenal lands in 1845 to Thomas W. White, namesake of Whitesburg. One week later, White sold it to Luke Matthews, whose family kept it for about 50 years. That particular parcel contains what today is known as Matthews Cave, though it was well known before the land was owned by Matthews.

Apparently, the Matthews family moved sometime after the 1850 census from Huntsville to the land near Gate 9. This was several years after acquiring the parcel, but before the 1860 census found them there in the old Manning mansion. However, the winds of war were brewing. Very likely that was what drove them back into Huntsville, to live on McClung Avenue after the outbreak of the Civil War. In fact, their land became one of the contested areas during the occupation by Federal troops, as Confederate forces frequently executed raids north of the river and west of Huntsville. Since Luke Matthews was born in 1796 in Virginia, he was too old to be involved in the fighting. He would have wanted the security afforded by the town environment rather than staying on his farm. He passed away in Huntsville in 1875, outliving his wife Lucy Ann Spottswood by about a year. She was born in Virginia in 1816, twenty years his junior. She was in fact Luke's second wife. His first wife was Judith Peete, a daughter of Benjamin and Ann Blunt Peete. Judith died January 6, 1842, from a fall down the stairs of the Matthews' brick two-story plantation house, “Cotton Hill”, located between Tanner Crossroads and Burgreen Gin along Brown's Ferry Road. That location is along Piney Creek, one mile west of “Peete's Corner” at Mooresville Road and Brown's Ferry Road. The house was built in 1832 in the northwest corner of the intersection of that road with Cambridge Lane.

Luke and Judith married in 1826 and had four children. Their daughter Maria married Dr. Albert Erskine of Huntsville. Luke had eight more children by Lucy Spottswood, whom he married shortly after Judith's death. Lucy was a direct descendant of colonial governor Alexander Spottswood of Virginia, with ancestry linked to George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Matthews continued ownership of the plantation at Cotton Hill until 1873, when it was sold to Judge John McClellan of Lincoln County, Tennessee. McClellan's wife Elizabeth was a daughter of Elijah Hussey of Madison. She had a brother Stephen, whose widow married William Parham, the contracted original builder of the Cotton Hill plantation house.

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