Thomas J. Owen, A Vintage Vignette

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Thomas J. Owen
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
August 26, 2008

Thomas J. Owen was an 1800s Justice of the Peace in Madison County and a notable early landowner of today’s Redstone Arsenal area. Patsy Kinney, who lives on the north shore of Lake Lady Ann (now called the Edgewater development) near some of her ancestor’s property, has documented a family chart that begins with Harrison Owen, who died in 1844. Harrison obtained land in the northwestern part of the arsenal from its original owner, Absalom Looney. Thomas Owen was a son of Harrison. Thomas was born in 1810 and died in 1878. In 1832 he married Mary C. Jamar, as mentioned in the Vintage Vignette about Richard Jamar. According to Patsy’s chart, Thomas and Mary had six children: Richard J., Maria F., Thomas J. (Jr.), George W., Louisa, and Elizabeth – all of them born between 1835 and 1849.

Richard J. Owen became a major landowner in Madison County. In 1879 it was recorded that he sold a house, steam mill and cotton gin to William Jamar. These properties were located in the Whitesburg area, between Aldrich Creek and the Tennessee River. Richard married Mary E. Grantland, a niece of Henry W. Grantland and daughter of John R. Grantland. The 1850 census shows the family of John Grantland living in the Triana area, with neighbors including Tuberville Looney, Albert Arnett, Dr. John Slaughter, James and Jane Custis, James Q. Dillard, Meriwether A. Lewis, and other recognizable pioneers of the area. More will be told of the John Grantland family history and its connections to these families in another Vintage Vignette.

Richard J. Owen’s sister, Maria F., married Henry W. Grantland, so the Owen and Grantland families are doubly intertwined. Henry Grantland first came to my attention when I explored an unmarked cemetery on the arsenal that had no tombstones. It did have two ancient boulder-covered graves, typical of the times around the 1850s for the more affluent landowners. By researching land records, it became apparent that the cemetery was probably that of Hughy Smith, first owner of the land. He died in 1857, and his land was sold to William B. Edwards, whose daughter Elizabeth married this same Henry W. Grantland in Morgan County in 1860 after Maria’s 1859 death. Through his second wife, Henry became the father of Beulah, who married Bolling Rice. Beulah and Bolling named their firstborn Henry Grantland Rice, who became the most famous sportscaster and sportswriter in America until his passing in 1954. For many years the college national football championship game was called in his honor “The Grantland Rice Bowl”. The associated trophy was “The Grantland Rice Trophy”, and its roots were here in southern Madison County of Alabama, with connections to the local Jamar and Owen families.

A few years ago it was my privilege to escort Owen descendants Greta Waggoner and Patsy Kinney (with granddaughter Sydney) to see the old homesites and the family cemetery of Richard Jamar and Thomas J. Owen on the south end of the arsenal. It is possible that the references in old records to the Green Grove Plantation and Green Grove Cemetery were addressing their lands west of McAlpine Road and south of Bayberry Road today, since that is part of the area known as the Green Grove Community now. However, the Army’s official name of a cemetery in the northwestern portion of the arsenal is Green Grove Cemetery, located east of Zierdt Road, west of Anderson Road, and south of Interstate 565. Several documents refer to the Jamar homesite near the junction of Zierdt Road with Martin Road as the Green Grove Plantation. Harrison Owen owned land along both sides of Anderson Road near the Green Grove Cemetery, so it is easy to see how some stories would confuse the locations, even though they are about eight miles apart. The fact is that the Owen and the Jamar families stayed closely interwoven not just by marriage, but also by business deals and land transactions through many years and generations here. They were all over the area, with each generation utilizing the same set of given names for both surnames, and it takes great diligence to stay focused upon which family was located at a particular point at any given time. Their heritage in this area is fascinating.

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