The Nails of Madison, A Vintage Vignette

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The Nails of Madison
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
January 18, 2010

It takes a lot of nails to make a village, and Madison had more than one “Nail” in the early days. Sometimes they were listed as “Nale”. One record has the name as “Neal”, but the majority spellings were “Nail” through the years here. When I was helping a co-worker with genealogical research in the 1990s, some of the spellings in nearby counties were “Nayle”, so there was apparently a variety of Nails around. The name always caught my attention while exploring the “old days” of the area because I have met descendants of the Nails here. In particular, Hiram K. and George W. Nail are names that cropped up frequently while I was looking into the history of the Camper, Landers, Beadle, and Rodman families of Madison.

One of the oddities that I noticed in association with the Nail families had to do with the “gun barrel corner” as a marker for some land deeds and surveys in the area. Back in the 1800s someone apparently used an old ruined gun barrel as a metal stake to mark the southwest corner of Section 35 in Township 3, Range 2 West. That corner is located off Eastview Drive between the northern end of Metaire Lane near Celia Drive and south of Southwood Drive in Heatherwood. In that same area, the early land records frequently excluded from deeds a quarter acre along the southern edge of Section 35. The reason for the exclusion was never mentioned in the deeds, but usually such a small portion was reserved for a family cemetery. Today there is no known cemetery in that location, but it could have been used for that purpose by the Nale family in the 1800s.

The first known Nail reference in Madison County was for land purchased by Nicholas Nail in 1821, when he obtained a parcel in Section 30 of Township 2, Range 2 East, just northeast of Bell Factory along Maysville Road. Madison area land purchases by the Nail families occurred primarily in the 1880s to the 1920s. Their lands were mostly along Slaughter Road and Indian Creek, from the site of today's Madison Academy northward to the Creekwood and Heatherwood developments. Their neighbors included Robert Isaac Camper, William Lanford and Dr. John Slaughter. In fact, it was Matthew “Neal” that was recorded as purchasing 160 acres being the west half of the southeast quarter and the west half of the northwest quarter of Section 2, Township 4, Range 2 West in 1830. That adjoins the location of the Lanford-Slaughter house that still stands today, having been initially constructed in the 1850s by William Lanford.

Precise genealogical details of the family are elusive in Madison County records, but it appears from postings that the local Nail families descended from Matthew G. Nail (1755-1835). This early Matthew was a soldier in the Georgia Militia during the American Revolutionary War. He was a son of Nicholas Nail, 1702-1756, and a brother of Thomas J. Nail. Surveyor field notes show that there was a Thomas J. Nail who in 1830 surveyed a parcel for “Canterbury and Farley” in Section 11 of Township 4, Range 2 West, along Indian Creek and Slaughter Road. However, the surveyor was likely the Thomas J. who was a son of Matthew G. Nail. Matthew and his wife Catherine Swagerty had other children named Elizabeth, Lucinda, Luvina, Mary, Nancy, Nicholas, Patsy, James, Hiram K., George W., and Matthew B. Nail. James lived from 1786 to 1873, while George Washington Nail lived from 1809 to 1870. The descendants of these children of Matthew included Isaac N. Nail, who lived in Limestone County, and may have been the son of Hiram. George W. Nail lost a court battle with Joshua H. Beadle, who then was awarded some of the land in Section 2, Township 4, Range 2 West that Matthew “Neal” (Nail) had purchased from the government in 1830. Beadle's award excluded 40 acres of the land where George W. Nail lived at the time. The Nails of Madison's history were interwoven with the area's pioneer families in more ways than marriage.

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