President Andrew Jackson’s Signature found in Chilton County
By Elisabeth Altamirano-Smith/ Community Columnist
Nestled in the old part of Jemison sits a postcard of a worthy white church with a bell tower. Formerly known as Jemison United Methodist until 1996, and known as the Jemison Wedding Chapel after 2011, the church has been a major cornerstone and landmark for the city of Jemison for over 100 years. George Howard purchased the church in the summer of 1996 from the United Methodist Council in Selma. Howard was born in the Victorian house next door to the church in 1943 and still maintains the family home, so he had interest in the property.
“When the church was initially being put up for sale, I was afraid the wrong people were going to buy it and it being so close to my house I have fond memories of growing up here and listening to the music coming from the building on Sunday mornings,” said Howard. “I wanted to make sure that whoever owned it maintained the integrity of the building because of its importance to the neighborhood.”
Howard and his wife, Carolyn, purchased the church and renovated it, adding a new roof, refinishing the wood floors, adding carpet and cleaning the bell tower (which still houses the original brass bell that once warned the community of news).
During their renovation, Howard asked an appraiser to come for a termite inspection. During the inspection, Howard crawled in the crawl space of the church and found a collection of old stored items including tables, chairs and a box of documents that had long been forgotten. After further inspection and research, Howard realized that one of the documents was an original land grant on velum paper signed by President Andrew Jackson in 1831.
A land grant is an award of land to a recipient with the requirement that a public purpose is served through the grant. Land grant maps were frequently used by land speculators to advertise railroad lands for sale to the public. A large amount of Alabama land became available for purchase shortly after the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which precipitated the Trail of Tears that removed Native-Americans from their homes. However, most Natives of Chilton County east of the Coosa River had left prior to that time.
The land grant found by Howard reads:
“Whereas, Isaac Littleton of Bibb County has deposited in the General Land Office of the United States certificate of the Register of the Land Office at Cahaba whereby it appears that full payment has been made by the said Isaac Littleton according to the provisions of the act of Congress of the 24th of April, 1820, entitled “An act making further provision for the sale of Public lands for the west half of the south west quarter of section eleven in township twenty-two, range fourteen.”
The document is signed by Andrew Jackson. Congress passed a law in 1833 (two years later) that required land grants to be signed by the president’s secretary (or a designated person). Issues of granting land would eventually haunt Jackson, because of the excessive speculation and abuses associated with it during his two terms, which resulted in “Jackson’s Specie Circular” in 1837. The circular required government agencies to accept only gold and silver for payment for public lands. Prior to the circular, land purchasers had bought land with depreciating paper money. The circular ended land speculation, but inflationary conditions at the end of Jackson’s presidency brought on the economic panic that struck shortly before his term ended.
The Jackson land description which was originally named as being in Bibb County is placed in modern day Chilton County in the Double Bridges community, which was for 85.5 acres; modern day County Road 77 in Clanton (the road that connects Bell Lane Road to Collins Chapel Road and runs behind the Peach Water Tower). However, it is unknown how the Double Bridges land grant found its way to Jemison United Methodist Church. Other documents that Howard found include other Jemison deeds and local history.
Not much is known about the document purchaser, Isaac Littleton. Tax records show that he was a wealthy land owner during the 1800’s and owned several hundred acres throughout Chilton County.
Chilton County Historian, Derric Scott, located a copy of the original land grant that was for the Jemison United Methodist property. According to Scott, in 1837, Mr. Weston R. Gales of North Carolina and the Huntsville-Meridian railroad purchased that section of Old Town Jemison. Although the railroad wasn’t built in Jemison until after the Civil War, Huntsville purchased land for decades in order to acquire the needed land for trains to pass through. Likewise, the town of Jemison was not built and incorporated until after the completion of the railroad. The Langston family purchased the land from Gales by 1872 and helped develop the city of Jemison for the following decades.
As for plans for the Andrew Jackson document, Howard would eventually like to see the document on display and secured at a local museum or with a historical society.