Thomas Bibb, A Vintage Vignette
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
December 8, 2008
Thomas Bibb is generally associated with the stately mansion “Belle Manor”, his home in Limestone County, which became the supposed name origin of Belle Mina, the community that grew up around it. However, he also had residency in Madison County, with strong involvement in Huntsville, Triana, and other areas. In 1819 and 1820 Huntsville was the capitol of the new state of Alabama, and Thomas Bibb was a very prominent resident, along with his brother Dr. William Wyatt Bibb, who was the first governor. By rules of succession per the original state constitution, as President of the Alabama Senate in Huntsville in July of 1820 Thomas Bibb became the second governor of the state. That occurred when his brother died after only a few months in office, having been thrown from his horse during a thunderstorm. Yet, this prominent second governor was initially a “squatter” in the state. That is not to say that he was ever a poor man, but rather that he was an aggressive person in the pursuit of choice parcels of land in northern Alabama.
As detailed in the section that I wrote for the new book “A History of Early Settlement: Madison County Before Statehood, 1808-1819”, compiled by the Huntsville-Madison County Historical Society for a bicentennial observance, Bibb owned several parcels of land in Madison County. In fact, he lived out his last years in Huntsville. However, in 1817 he was one of 197 signers of a petition from the “Sims Settlement”, which included Bibb’s holdings where Belle Manor was later built in 1826. That petition was from squatters on Indian lands, requesting that the U. S. Government not displace them from parcels west of the Chickasaw Indian Boundary Line. The boundary line ran from Hobbs Island through Ardmore, with a portion of it lying along what today is part of Slaughter Road. It is not known whether or not Bibb himself was actually displaced when Federal troops on several occasions did in fact remove the squatters that they found on Indian land, forcing them back into Madison County and Huntsville by burning their houses and crops.
Thomas Bibb was born in Virginia in 1782. In 1789, his father William moved the family, including Thomas’ brother William Wyatt Bibb, to Petersburg in Elbert County, Georgia. Thomas and William Wyatt Bibb came to Huntsville with Leroy Pope (the “Father of Huntsville”) in 1808. Petersburg was a common hold-over place for several years as many pioneers moved westward from the eastern coastal states. However, it was largely abandoned as Huntsville, Madison County, and points west swelled with population.
During the period of 1809-1819 Thomas Bibb purchased land immediately west of today’s Meridianville, along Patterson Lane and Monroe Road. Bibb's parcels likewise included land on the east side of Wade Mountain, where Mount Charron Estates is located today. Moreover, he had land at the halfway point of a line between Harvest and Meridianville, just east of Quarter Mountain, along Carter's Gin Road and north of Burwell Road. He owned several lots in Huntsville and in the areas of today's UAH and Butler High School. In 1818 Thomas Bibb in conjunction with four other trustees (William Acklen, Waddy Tate, Henry Chambers, and William J. Adair) established the town of Triana by purchasing land where Indian Creek joins the Tennessee River. Triana was the second town incorporated in Madison County by an act of the state legislature in 1819. Triana was reported in James Record’s book “A Dream Come True” (Volume 2, 1978) to be the only town in America named in honor of the first sailor to spot land of the new world from one of Columbus' ships. It was also in 1819 that Thomas Bibb became a trustee of the Florence – Cypress Land Company. That same year he was one of the “Committee of 15” selected from among the 44 delegates to the Alabama Constitutional Convention in Huntsville to draft the details of the first constitution. Perhaps no other person in Madison County or north Alabama ever reached the levels of achievement that Thomas Bibb attained as one of our earliest pioneers.