Sarah Orrick Chilton Pickett, A Vintage Vignette

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Sarah Orrick Chilton Pickett
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
January 16, 2007

During my research into the pioneer families of Madison, some have asked which of the pioneers would I most like to meet in person, if that were possible. The answer is simple. It would be Sarah Orrick Chilton Pickett. I first encountered her when walking through the old section of the Madison City Cemetery on Mill Road near Hughes Road. Her tombstone is near the center of that part of the cemetery, but it is very plain and small, as well as old. It has no dates on it, but subsequent research revealed much more about her. She was born in 1793 and died in 1865. The only thing that caught my attention that first day was the name of her son, as also named the adjacent tombstone -- Steptoe Pickett (Junior).

In 1811, Sarah Chilton married Steptoe Pickett (1790 – 1843) at Currioman Plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia. They moved to southeastern Limestone County (Alabama) around 1821, living near the Blackwells and the Colliers along the river between Mooresville and Triana. Sarah’s husband Steptoe was educated at William & Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia, before going on to Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. Steptoe Sr. lived from 1790 to 1843, and he was a son of Col. Martin Pickett and Ann Blackwell of Paradise Plantation in Fauquier County, Virginia.

Sarah and Steptoe Pickett had 13 children. Among them were the following:

Richard Orrick Pickett (1814-1898), who commanded the 10th Alabama Cavalry under General Roddy. This was one of the units that defended the northern Alabama area during the last phases of the Civil War. Richard's house on Seminary Street in Florence is still standing, according to Chris Edwards and Faye Axford in their book “The Lure and Lore of Limestone County” (1978).

Steptoe Jr., buried beside Sarah in the Madison City Cemetery. He lived from 1816 to 1884. His first wife was Frances Ward, and she died in 1850, just over one year after their marriage and only two months before her 21st birthday. She is buried in the old Triana City Cemetery with a large and impressive obelisk to mark the grave. The monument indicates that the family had great wealth before the Civil War, as opposed to Sarah’s simple tombstone, which indicates the financial hardships of life in the South after the war. The second wife of Steptoe Jr. was Eugenia Sale. She was a daughter of Captain Dudley Sale, who served as Quartermaster of Company F of the 9th Alabama Infantry during the Civil War. This unit was made up of mostly local troops from this area.

The 5th child of Steptoe Sr. & Sarah O. Pickett was Felicia. There is a Felicia Pickett buried near Sarah in the Madison cemetery, but she is a granddaughter, not Sarah’s daughter who married Governor Reuben Chapman. Sarah’s daughter Felicia lived to have children of her own, surviving through the Civil War. Governor Chapman and his wife are buried in Maple Hill Cemetery in Huntsville, along with several other governors of the state.

The 7th child of Steptoe Sr. & Sarah was Dr. John Scott Pickett (1823 - 1887). He married Martha Blackwell, daughter of William Henry Blackwell and Eliza Collier.

The 9th child of Steptoe Sr. & Sarah was Dr. William Henry Pickett (1826 - 1890). He studied at Yale University and graduated as a physician from the University of Louisiana in 1848. He married Amy Raines Collier, daughter of Edward Collier.

The 11th child of Steptoe Sr. & Sarah was Sarah Virginia Pickett, who married Samuel Blackwell, a son of Henry Blackwell and Eliza Collier, whose brother Henry Watkins Collier was a Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and Governor of the state.

The 13th child of Steptoe Sr. & Sarah was Anna Corbin Pickett (1836 - 1909). She married Thomas Bibb, who was the 3rd child of Thomas Bibb Sr., the 2nd Governor of Alabama and brother of the William Bibb who was the 1st Governor of the state. The Bibb family lived in the nearby mansion that Thomas Bibb Sr. built in 1826 at Belle Mina, near Mooresville. The community of Belle Mina took its name from the name of the mansion, “Belle Manor" -- meaning “Beautiful House”.

While the Pickett family itself was quite prominent in early Alabama, the intermarriages with the Blackwell and the Collier families assured that the most influential people of the region visited in the Pickett homes and that the Picketts attended the grand parties that these families held on the local plantations, including the governor’s mansion at Belle Mina.  The Collier plantation along the river was called Myrtle Grove, and all of these families came from Virginia around 1818 to 1820.  Their children and connection by marriage of these families included some famous folks, such as William Walker ("Man of Destiny" who became a President of the country of Nicaragua), and Mary Harrison Dent (who was a close relative of Julia Dent, wife of President Ulysses S. Grant, who fought on the "other side" during the Civil War).  They also had an intermarriage with the local Withers family, whose daughter Susannah married Clement Comer Clay.  Clement Comer Clay owned a plantation where the airport is today, and he became the 8th Governor of Alabama and namesake of the recently destroyed Clement Comer Clay bridge where Highway 231 crosses the Tennessee River.  Clement and Susannah are buried in Maple Hill Cemetery in Huntsville also -- in a plot near where Governor Reuben Chapman and his wife Felicia Pickett are buried.

Considering that the governors and their sons had pretty much their choice of fair maidens for wives, and that Sarah O. Chilton Pickett produced three daughters linked into governors’ families, she must have been a beautiful woman herself. Furthermore, she would have great stories of the old plantation life and balls in the mansions, balanced by tales of life during and immediately after the Civil War, especially with respect to interfaces with General U. S. Grant and his in-laws in the South. Sarah would have to be one of the most interesting characters to live in early Madison.

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