Friday, July 10, 2015

The Way They Went

[T]hese settlers formed the most intimate friendly social union ever known among the same number of persons; how exceedingly active they were in business; economical in their expenditures; honest in their business dealings, and how they prospered beyond example.

Almost mournfully in his book, George Rockingham Gilmer reflected on the demise of the Broad River settlement—though peopled with friends and relatives he was quite comfortable in portraying in as realistic a light as possible, situated in a position he unapologetically lavished with praise.

In the introduction to Sketches of Some of the First Settlers of Upper Georgia, it was noted the author
hopes that though now scattered widely apart through the southern and southwestern States, his book may unite them together once more in the kind feelings of kinsfolk.

Whatever led to the domino effect of one family after another choosing to leave their Georgian paradise behind—and note here, this decision was not one arrived at, understandably following the turmoil of the war in the 1860s, but well before the 1850 census records—one by one, many of my Taliaferro family had edged westward through Georgia, then across the Chattahoochee River into Alabama.

Some of them may have eyed this move as a shrewd investor's move, as the federal government was offering large tracts of land for sale in the newly-opened territory. Though following not many years after the original emigration from Virginia to the Broad River settlement in Georgia, this next move may have been made in relatively modern comfort, thanks to the progressive development in Georgia of a thorough network of rail lines between the 1830s and the 1850s.

Since I have, as one of my research goals, the outlining of the descendants of each of my maternal ancestral lines—thus my focus on surnames like Taliaferro, Harvie, Gilmer and Meriwether—I began to see a pattern as one family after another seemed to disappear from Georgia census records and re-appear in the rolls of Alabama cities like Montgomery.

Seeing the considerable emphasis placed by author Gilmer upon the industry and prosperity of the social milieu in the Broad River settlement, it was easy to recognize echoes of those characteristics in the next generation in their own selected residences. It would be interesting to examine the social networks formed in the next generation by these families of the Broad River settlement—not only from the genealogical aspect of their intermarriages, but from a sociological viewpoint, as well.

Though not in a particularly flattering way, that very point was picked up by a book in the 1970s, examining the socio-political underpinnings of their apparently elite, cohesive subculture. The book had coined the term, "Broad River Group," to refer to the Alabama settlers emigrating from that Broad River settlement of former Virginians who had, only a generation prior to this, claimed their new homes in Georgia.

One reviewer of that book later rehearsed the very migratory history of the Taliaferros, et al, that I've already mentioned, and described the "Broad River Group" as
an alliance of relatives and friends who dominated Alabama politics in the territorial and early statehood period.

It is not surprising to learn that the families of this group were considered to have been the early movers and shakers who established both Huntsville and Montgomery as two of Alabama's financial and business centers. As I had, independently, followed the family history of these lines, from the 1850s onward, it was quite obvious that these were people who had experienced a great deal of success.

All this was not without the turmoil that so often accompanies political maneuvers. As an entity, the Broad River Group of Alabama saw its demise with the loss of key candidates and rejection of unpopular policies, even in the state's formative territorial days. Whether my Taliaferros and Meriwethers were in the thick of these battles, I haven't yet uncovered—though I can certainly see that, as individuals, they had a fair number of successful attorneys, judges, and physicians in their ranks.

Examining whatever personal and business qualities had been bred into them during their earlier years in the families' residence back at the Broad River settlement in Georgia would be an interesting study. These traits likely stood them in good stead, even after moving to the recently-opened "frontiers" of the lands that were to become the states we now know as Alabama and Mississippi.

Above: "In the Arbour," 1882 oil on canvas by Polish artist Aleksander Gierymski; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. With Doctors and Lawyers among the group they should have left more of a trail to follow say than a farmer:)

    1. Oh, definitely! The Alabama group did. There is quite a bit to find in old genealogy books on this group. As for the other branch, well, it's not as easy...

  2. It's getting harder and harder to visualize all the movement by railroad.

    1. Well, you certainly seem to have extensive knowledge of some of those many routes, Iggy. But admittedly, I'm always happy to stumble upon a map of some of the old routes--some of which became non-existent after the devastation of the war.


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