The past is the present for future generations who do not know their history

The first merchant in Franklin County…

The King: Cotton

Way Down Yonder in the Land of Cotton

was Bryce Alexander Wilson.

We learn this wonderful little tidbit from the past in the pages of  Annals of Northwest Alabama.  William H Key, Sr. writes thusly:

Bryce Wilson, Franklin’s first Merchant

Into this valley in 1820 came a young man from Scotland. He had come to America two years before, but had remained in Nashville. He no doubt heard Andy Jackson’s old soldiers talk of Northwest Alabama and planned to settle there. He was in the mercantile business sin Nashville. His name was Bryce Wilson, and he was my great grandfather. I have some of the old records from his store _ the first in the Russellville area _ which give an idea of how people had to do business in the early days. He was a stickler for making records of each transaction. When he wrote a business letter, he made a copy of it in a large ledger. I have one of the old ledgers, and the entries or letters written in it are most interesting. As an example of his transactions, let’s say he would buy the cotton crop of James M. Kirk and store it in a warehouse at Tuscumbia landing. He would write Messrs. Van Husen & Downs, the warehouse operators, to ship, say, sixty bales of cotton to Fern & Donnigan of New Orleans, by the ‘first good steam boat having neither flot or keel boat in tow, and pay no more than $1.50 pre bale freight.” He would then write Fern & Donnigan at New Orleans, advising them to be on the lookout for this shipment and to sell it, when the market was right. Fern & Donnigan would do so and give him credit on their books. They, no doubt, could have mailed him a check for the cotton, as there were banks in New Orleans, but he had no way of cashing a check in Russellville, for there was no bank in the area. After some appreciable amount from cotton sales has accumulated on the books of Fern & Donnigan to his credit he would write the company to mail a check to Sitter & So, in Philadelphia, for, say, $5,000. He would then advise Sitter & Co., of that fact and they would credit his account with say, $2,000, and with the balance pay various other Philadelphia firms from whom he had bought merchandise for his store.

Once a year Bryce would make a trip to Philadelphia to buy merchandise, having it hauled overland to Pittsburg, then down the Ohio River to Paducah, then up the Tennessee to Eastport, and overland to Russellville, Of course, by the time ladies’’ dresses reached Russellville from Philadelphia by this land and tedious rout, they were out of style in Philadelphia. However, I doubt if the ladies in Franklin County knew that, and they were no doubt just as happy without the knowledge. Thus was business conducted in Franklin County, during the early days.

I have always lived in Franklin County have always been glad that I have. I have always been glad that Franklin County is a part of Alabama, for Alabama is a great state. I think that when the Creator made the world. He was especially proud of that part of what is Alabama; that He smiled upon it, and blessed it lavishly. He gave it wide prairies, mighty rivers, and majestic mountains, bulging with treasures for man to appropriate and enjoy. He spread across Alabama’s brow the mighty Tennessee River, as if He had crowned her with a band of silver. He adorned her breast with precious stones of coal, iron ore, and limestone. Around her waist he placed a girdle of shining steel. Her skirts are woven from the pure white cotton from the fields of the Black Belt, fringed at the hem with the green of Wire Grass. And thus she sits in queenly splendour, her feet     in the Gulf.

Yes, God has been good to Alabama, and may she and her people be forever grateful for, and deserving of, the manifold blessings that He has so lavishly bestowed upon her.

Source: Annals of Northwest Alabama: Volume II: Early Days of Franklin County – Bryce Wilson, Franklin’s first Merchant by William H Key, Sr.*

*William H Key, Sr. Is a lawyer at Russellville and Representative of the 7th Congressional District and on the Board of Trustees at the University of Alabama.

Bryce Alexander Wilson gave a lot to the Shoals area, more specifically to Russellville and Franklin County. He was meticulous in everything he did business wise. He even gave his son and namesake in the War of Northern Aggression.


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