John Birdwell is one of my heroes and ancestors. John Birdwell led a very storied life. He is the son of George Birdwell and Mary L Looney Birdwell. His father was a Revolutionary War Patriot. He is likely one of yours, too, if your surnames include Allen, Looney, Harmon, Isbell, Murray, Birdwell, Gregory, Sparks, Lenz, and a myriad of others.
The featured image is where John Birdwell’s property was located in Mississippi Territory, later Madison County, Alabama. He owned property in Tennessee, and in the counties of Madison, Lawrence, Franklin County, and Fayette County, Alabama. He also owned property in Texas, Rusk County and possibly Nacogdoches County.
John Birdwell was born in the Bent of the James River (sound familiar Peebles family?) on 24 Sep 1770. He lived and owned property in the states of Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas. He died at Mt Enterprise, Rusk County, Texas on 16 Feb 1854 at the home of his son, Allen Birdwell. The account of his death is tragic.
The Birdwell descendants are eligible to join:
- First Families of Tennessee
- First Families of Alabama
- Daughters of the Republic of Texas
- Sons of the Republic of Texas
- Daughters of the American Revolution (#A098196)
- Sons of the American Revolution
- Colonial Dames of the XVII Century
He first came to Texas in 1838 by some accounts  , while one reference gives a date as early as 1835, he did not move permanently until 1842 after the death of his wife, Mary Allen Birdwell. His son, Col. Allen B. Birdwell, wrote in his own notebook ledger that he moved to Texas in 1842 and that his father John Birdwell lived with him in Nacogdoches County. John Birdwell was still living in Allen Birdwell’s household in Rusk County in the 1850 census. The Handbook Of Texas by the Texas State Historical Association, says: “Allen Birdwell’s father John may have moved to Nacogdoches County, Texas, in 1838, and Allen and his wife Lucinda (Ross) followed by 1842.” 
John Birdwell was in Houston on July 8, 1838, when he wrote a letter of recommendation for George Nixon which is preserved in the George Antonio Nixon manuscripts collection at the University of Texas Arlington 
A family history states that John Birdwell moved to Nacogdoches County in 1838 and “lived at Old North Church two years,” then moved twelve miles to Mt. Enterprise in what became Rusk County when Rusk was formed from part of Nacogdoches.
John Birdwell signed his will Jan. 24, 1854, and it was entered in Probate Court April 27, 1854.Will is provided as image in this narrative.
John Birdwell died Feb. 16, 1854. The estate included $1,400 cash and included slaves and possibly other property since Col. Allen B. Birdwell posted a $4,000 bond with the Rusk County Probate Court to serve as administrator of his father’s estate, a considerable bond in those days.
FIRST FAMILIES OF TENNESSEE Descendants of John and Mary Birdwell are eligible for membership in the First Families of Tennessee, First Families of Alabama, the Sons of the Republic of Texas, and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
1770 John Birdwell and Mary Allen grew up in Sullivan County, N.C., which later became Sullivan County, Tennessee. They married and lived there several years before moving to Alabama.
1781 John Birdwell (born 1770 Virginia, died 1854 Texas) and wife Mary Allen… in 1781 were in Sullivan County, North Carolina (now Tennessee), 1809 Madison County, Alabama; 1819 Lawrence County, Alabama.
FIRST FAMILIES OF ALABAMA 1805 The Birdwells settled in Madison County, Alabama in 1805, where they were charter members of the Enon Baptist Church which later became First Baptist Church of Huntsville. John Birdwell was the first clerk. (Alabama Historical Society marker in Marshall County lists their daughter “Sarah Birdwell Isbell, one of the earliest settlers of Madison County, 1805.” His son Allen Birdwell stated in his ledger that his parents took him to Alabama in 1805, when he was three years old).
1808 “Birdwell Family Tree” by Velma Stovey Schonder, p. 59: “JHB thinks that JB was living in Madison Co., AL by 1808. He was one of the organizers and first clerk of The First Baptist Church in Huntsville, AL. …The church minutes for 6-1-1811 state that the church authorized Brethren Watkins, Pruet Brock, Birdwell and Powell to view a place for a meeting house (Dale Langston, from microfilm notes at Madison Co. Library Heritage Room, Huntsville). “JB is on the 1809 census Madison Co. Al/Ms Territory, p.7, with 2 males under 21, 1 male over 21, 6 females under 21 and 1 female over 21. According to JHB his last 4 children were born there, while his first 4 children married there.” Page 23 (different version, p.72): “John Birdwell…moved Tx 1838.”
1809 Enon Baptist Church Records (Huntsville, Madison County, Alabama), Sept. (2?), 1809:
1809 September (1st?) Saturday 1809. 1st The Church Met & after Prayer proceeded to Business– …5th The Church Appoints Brother Birdwell to Write the Association Letter & Bring the same to next meeting–
1810 Enon Baptist Church Records, Sept. 1, 1810: September 1st Saturday–1810 The Church met and after proceeded to business– 1st Opened a door for the reception of member– 2nd the church took up a reference from last meeting and laid it over till next meeting– 3rd The Church agree to delegate Bros. Hellums, Childress and Birdwell to The Association.
1818 Madison Co. DB E, p. 133 #500: item 500: dated 8-18-1818 Grantor, John & Mary Birdwell Grantee, George Oglethorpe Gilmer For the sum of $3300 Ind. SW/4 Sec. 18-2-E lying east of Briar Fork of Flint River, & 10 Ac. in 3/2 & 10 a. N/2 NW4 sec. 17-2-1E. Proven 11-3-1818 & DR (Pope) (Note: 10 a. in S/2) purchased by Birdwell from Joseph Powell. Witnessed by: Lewis B. Taliaferro, Jacob Pruett, and Levi Isbell.
1818 1818, Aug. 18 – Madison County, Alabama; John Birdwell and wife Mary deeded land to George. Oglethorpe Gilmer. Witnesses: Lewis B. Taliaferro, Jacob Pruitt, Levi Isbell. Levi Isbell was John and Mary Birdwell’s son-in-law.
1819 In January 1819 John and Mary Birdwell moved to Lawrence County, Alabama where they purchased large tracts of land and were also founders of this church,Birdwell Springs Baptist Church, which later changed its name to Enon Baptist Primitive Baptist Church. They were both established within the Mississippi Territory since Alabama was still a part of the native american nation and not yet a state.
The First 200 Years of the First Baptist Church of Huntsville [Alabama] gives the origin of that Enon Church as several years earlier: “All of Enon’s very first members were squatters since the government’s Nashville land office, which handled the sale of Madison County lands, did not even open for business in the Madison County area until August 1810, more than a year after Enon was established.
Page 3: “After having met in private homes for two years, the church in June 1811 appointed a committee —- William Watkins, Jack Prewit, Isaac Brock, John Birdwell, and Joseph Powell –‘to view a place for a meeting house.’ That led to the start of construction of a log building on the western bank of the Brier Fork of Flint River, a few hundred yards north of the present terminal of the North Huntsville Executive Airport. The small building, exact location unknown, was close to the river bank…, affording a convenient place for baptismal services. For some reason, perhaps a shortage of funds, construction was halted short of completion. Almost two years later, Feb. 6, 1813, a new committee was named, consisting mostly of the first group plus William Hellums, to complete the work, and while there was apparently no fanfare to herald its conclusion, the structure was finished and in 1815 did accommodate the second annual meeting of the Flint River Association. …”with regard to the squatter hypothesis, it is interesting to note that the providers of Enon’s one-acre lot, John Birdwell and Joseph Powell, did not themselves receive title to their jointly-held property until April 1814, the church construction having begun on their proffered land three years earlier. But things were ‘looser,’ less formal in those days.”
“A History of Early Settlement: Madison County Before Statehood,” The Huntsville Historical Review (2008) by the Huntsville-Madison County Historical Society provides this information of the church and its: “The closest meetinghouse was Enon Baptist Church on the Briar Fork of the Flint Reiver. Established in 1809, one of its three founders, and its first pastor, was a preacher who lived and owned two pieces of property in the region, John Canterbury. There is no evidence that he was a slaveholder, but the second Enon pastor, Richard Shackelford, was a major landowner who at his death had more than a dozen slaves. He was called as a pastor in 1815 and served until his death in 1823. Enon’s first meetinghouse was a lot building constructed in 1813 on the Briar Fork. (This is on land of the present Madison County Executive Airport.) “Joseph Powell and John Birdwell, charter members of the Enon Church, jointly owned the land adjacent to land owned by both Canterbury and Shackelford. The church building had been erected and in use for a year before Powell and Birdwell themselves received title to the property that they had provided to the church.”
1819 1st Saturday January 1819 (Jan.2) “John Birdwell and Mary his wife” were granted letter of dismissal from the Enon Church in Madison County on the first Saturday in January, Jan. 2, 1819. (ref., First Baptist Church Minutes, James K. Harrison, First Baptist Church History Committee.)
They moved to Lawrence County near Moulton and established a new church.
1819 “F.W. Helmbold, Curator of the Society, in his historical presentation, revealed the fact that the Enon church was constituted originally as Birdwell Springs Baptist Church on the third Monday in June (June 21), 1819.”
1820 The 1820 Federal Census Record reads: Lawrence County, AL.
- John Birdwell & wife over 21,
- 3 sons under 21,
- 6 daughters under 21.
The 1820 Federal Census Record in Franklin County, Alabama has John Birdwell listed there as well. He owned property in many places.
The 1820 Federal Census Record for Giles County, Tennessee lists a John Birdwell, but this one is John Birdwell’s nephew John (son of Robert) and family His nephew was probably the John Birdwell in Giles County, Tennessee.
1820 John Birdwell was assigned by an act of the Alabama legislature to review the Flint River in Cotaco County (later Morgan) Alabama, from its junction with the Tennessee to its main fork, to see if it was navigable.
3 Dec 1820 “On December 6, 1820, an act of the Alabama Legislature was approved which designated David Parker, Jonathan Burleson, and John Birdwell, or any two of them, to make a careful “review” of Flint River, from its mouth to the main fork therein, and report the practicability of its navigation, the distance examined, and the expense necessary to improve the river for navigation. On the 20th of December an act was approved to incorporate the Flint River Navigation Co. The incorporators were Fleming Jordan, George Taylor, James McCartney, John Sprowl, Stephen Pond, John P. Brown, John Grayson, Dial Perry, David Walker, Ebenezer Byram, Stephen McBroom, William Derrick, and David Cobb, and they were authorized to improve the navigation of the Flint River in Madison County, from Capt. Scott’s Mills to the Tennessee River. Section 2 of the act provided a penalty of $3 for each day a tree cut or felled into the stream so as to obstruct navigation was allowed to remain, the proceeds of such fine to be applied to the improvement of the river.” The Act is quoted in Alabama Genealogical Quarterly, vol. 1, p.216, and also the Alabama Genealogical Society, Inc., Magazine (1976) vol. 18, issue 1-4, p.38.
Owen, op. cit., p. 595: “It does not appear that much, if any, work was done under either of these acts. In any event, there was none of sufficient permanence to affect the navigation or other characteristics of the stream at the present time. References.—Acts, 1820.
1819 “Enon Church. This church is situated in Lawrence county, ten miles east of Moulton. It was originally called Birdwell’s Spring Church. It was one of the constituent members of the association. It was organized in July, 1819, on nine members, whose names are as follows: Stephen Penn, Mary Penn, John Birdwell, Mary Birdwell, Ezekiel Thomas, Jenny Thomas, George Keys, Elizabeth Keys, and Sarah Simpson.”
They left this church for a few years and helped organize Hopewell Church near Danville.
Page 169: “Hopewell Church, Morgan County. This church was received into the association in July 1825. It was constituted on the first Saturday in December, 1824. The presbytery was Elders Featherstone, Walden, Stephen Penn and John Birdwell. …We suppose it is the place where the church house now stands, about two and one-half miles east of Danville.”
SOME EARLY ALABAMA CHURCHES (ESTABLISHED BEFORE 1870) (1973) by Mabel Ponder Wilson, Dorothy Youngblood Woodyerd, Rosa Lee Busby, Daughters of the American Revolution Alabama Society, p. 95: “Organized in 1819, this church was first known as Birdwell’s Spring Church. The nine organizing members were Stephen Penn,…John and Mary Birdwell….”
Page 130: “Hopewell Baptist Church (located two and one-half miles east of Danville) Hopewell Baptist Church was constituted… l824, with the Presbytery composed of Elders Featherstone, Walden, Stephen Penn, and John Birdwell.”
‘LIFE AND LEGEND OF LAWRENCE COUNTY, ALABAMA’, by Dorothy Gentry (Tuscaloosa, 1962): “Enon, originally called Birdwell’s Spring Church, located ten miles east of Moulton was organized in July, 1819 on nine members, whose names were Stephen Penn, Mary Penn, John Birdwell, Mary Birdwell, Ezekiel Thomas, Jenny Thomas, George Keys, Elizabeth Keys and Sarah Simpson.”
1823 In October 1823, one William Birdwell (1766-1823), age 57, was executed at Moulton, Lawrence Co., AL. for the murder of Mr. Rhea. Thought to be the son of John Birdwell’s older brother Robert Birdwell (1751-1815) of Giles County, Tennessee. The two had had a dispute 10 years before.
1824 The Morgan Baptist Association: “One of the oldest churches in Morgan County, Hopewell was organized on the first Saturday in December 1824. It is mentioned in Hosea Holcombe’s 1840 A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists of Alabama. The presbytery was composed of Elders John Birdwell, Stephen Penn, Walden, and Featherstone. Charter members were Barkley Ballard, Polly Ballard, William Johnson, Sarah McDowell, Martha Rodgers, James Simmons, Stacy Simmons, Elizabeth Simmons, Polly Simmons, Solomon Simmons, Mary Simmons, Nicholas Gillentine Sr., Jane Gillentine, Richard L. Gillentine Jr., Martha Gillentine. Annie Gillentine, Gideon Spalden, and Nancy Spalden.” The first deacon was Nicholas Gillentine and the first clerk was William Johnson. The first recorded pastor was Henry W. Hodges in 1827. The church was located on land deeded to the church by William Johnson, “near the well of Brother Simmons” about two and one-half miles east of Danville, eight tenths of a mile south of what is now Highway 36, between Hartselle and Danville. The church was received into the Muscle Shoals Association in July, 1825.”
1828 Lexington (KY) REPORTER, July 23, 1828, p.1 contains a letter John Harris of Moulton, Lawrence Co, AL., to Andrew Jackson on the character of his late father John Harris, Justice of the Peace of Lawrence County. Column 1 cites “John Birdwell, Esq.” among those vouching for him. Column 5 is signed by John Birdwell, Allen Birdwell, and others.
John Birdwell received letter of dismission from Enon in 1842 when his wife Mary died and he moved to Texas. He was known to have visited Texas already by 1838 and probably made several other trips between Texas and Alabama.
Alabama Genealogical Society, Inc. magazine, Volume 21, Issue 1-2 (1958), (reissue? 1989) p. 24: “The First Meeting House. On Saturday, June 1, 1811, the church appointed the following committee ‘to view a place for a meeting house’: …John Birdwell and Joseph Powell.” p. 25: “…west bank of the Brier Fork of the Flint River, on a triangular piece of land about one acre in size. It was in the Northwest Quarter of Section 17, Township 2, Range 1 East of the prime meridian. This entire section (160) acres) was patented (or deeded) by the United States of America to John Birdwell and Joseph Powell…” p.26: “John Birdwell was the son of George Birdwell and Mary. John Birdwell was born in 1770 in Virginia. He married Mary Allen in Tennessee. Some of his children were born there. He moved to Mississippi Territory, Huntsville Meridian about 1805. According to the minutes of Huntsville First Baptist Church, his last Sunday as clerk was January 2, 1819. From there he moved to Lawrence County Alabama where he donated land and helped form the Birdwell Springs Baptist. About 1836 he moved to Fayette County, Alabama, then into Walker County, Alabama. Around 1845, after the death of his wife, he moved with his son, Col. Allen Birdwell, to Rusk County, Texas, where he died in March 1854. He has many descendants in Texas.”
FOOTPRINTS (Ft. Worth Genealogical Society, 1979), vol. 23-23, p. 107 says John Birdwell moved to Rusk Co, Texas in 1845.
His will is published in Alabama Genealogical Society Magazine (Birmingham, AL: 1985), Vol. 19, Issue 1. (Reissue 1989?)
Isbell Country: Genealogy of an Isbell Family by Odessa Morrow Isbell (2000), pp. 11, 19-20: “John Birdwell was in Alabama by 1805; settling north of Huntsville in 1805. He owned land in Sullivan Co., Tennessee and kept two homes so he could homestead Alabama property. He came to Texas in 1842-43 with son Col. Allen Birdwell. …”
1842 George W. Birdwell administered the estate of Robert Bell estate in 1842 in Rusk County, Texas (one book states incorrectly it was John Birdwell). Robert Bell (27 May 1797 TN-13 June 1842 Rusk Co, Tx) was former sheriff of Cherokee County, Alabama. His wife Belinda Scott (b.4 Jun 1795 TN d. 1842) also died in 1842 not long after her husband.
Some Mallorys and Bells (Greenville, Tx.: 1950) by James Robert Mallory, pp. 21-22: “Robert Bell…sent down to Cherokee County, Alabama, for John Birdwell, who was County Judge when Robert Bell was Sheriff.” (Correction: Robert Bell was sheriff of Cherokee County when John Birdwell’s nephew George, son of Joseph Birdwell, was county judge there.) Page 22: “The three families, Bell, Gray and Birdwell came out to Texas together, arriving in 1839. Bell’s headright joined that of Houston….” The author recites his grandfather’s descriptions of Sam Houston visiting the Bell home when he was a young boy. p.26: “John Birdwell, who had come to Texas with Robert and Belinda Bell and had been very close to the Bell family since their days in Alabama, was made Administrator of the Estate of Bell, at Bell’s dying request. Creditors immediately asked for an accounting and Birdwell auctioned off the farm and all the personal belongings of the family for benefit of the creditors.” p.27: “Birdwell, who had taken a headright and then bought up several more from disgruntled settlers, saw that it was impracticable for the Howeths to try to take care of all these children, so he ordered that the two boys, James, fifteen, and William, eleven, be bound out to Robert Gray, who had married Cynthia Scott, a sister of Belinda Scott Bell.”
1854 Birdwell family records show that John Birdwell died Feb. 16, 1854, at age 83 years, 4 months, 23 days, in the home of his son, Col. Allen Birdwell, and was buried in the family cemetery on the site. A fairly large number of the Birdwell family was buried in the cemetery, along with some related families and a number of slaves. After the farm had passed out of the Birdwell family, the later owners rather callously plowed the cemetery under. Trees marking some of the graves were cut down, while the gravestones were thrown into a ditch and covered. A partial list of those known to be buried there was supplied by Mrs. Bohannon of Mt. Enterprise, and a descendant of the Birdwell family, and printed. Some burials were recorded in the Birdwell family bible and appear in the book The Mitchells of Linn Flat by Gwenneth Mitchell, including the notation that John Birdwell’s grave is there.
Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Texas, 1854-1857, by A.S. Ruthven, Grand Secretary and Past Grand Master, vol. II (1857), p.242: Mount Enterprise Lodge, No. 60. p.243: Past Masters. Master Masons. …Allen Birdwell, John Birdwell
The Mitchells of Linn Flat, by Gwenneth Aenone Marshall Mitchell (Austin, 1981), refers to the Birdwell Cemetery on pp. 174, 202, 214 and 215. Page 174: John Birdwell, his grandson John C. Birdwell, and John A. Birdwell Jr. were buried in a row, side by side, “at the Birdwell family burying ground on the Allen Birdwell place, not far from the family residence near Orton Creek,” three miles from Mt. Enterprise. On p. 202: “The cemetery has been abandoned for some years and pine trees grew over it. Some twenty years ago the ground was smoothed over and seeded in range grass.” From Gwenneth Aenone Marshall Mitchell (posted 10-29-1999 on Birdwell List, on Rootsweb.com): “Rusk Co., Texas History by the Rusk Co. Historical Society, 1982: page 112: John Birdwell, “old great-grandpap”, John C., his grandson, and John Birdwell (Old Uncle John) are all 3 buried in a row side by side. John C. in the middle, Grandpap on the southside, and Uncle John on the north side. Lucinda Ross Birdwell was most likely the first buried there.
1809 census shows 2 sons and 6 daughters born 1788-1809.
1820 The Federal Census record for Lawrence County, Alabama shows:
- John Birdwell & wife over 21
- 3 sons under 21, 6 daughters under 21
1830 Federal Census for Lawrence County, Alabama shows:
- John Birdwell & wife,
- 1 son (John),
- 2 daughters 15-19 (Lucinda & Ann),
- 1 dau 5-9 (Talitha).
1840 census shows all children gone from home.
The combined censuses of 1809, 1820 and 1830 show these children:
- 1 m b1788-1809 Moses 1796
- 1 m 1788-1809 Allen 1802
- 1 f Nancy 1795
- 2 f Eliz 1797
- 3 f Sarah 1799
- 4 f ?Mary Polly c1800-1804?
- 5 f Susan c1805-7
- 6 f Jane 1807
- 1 male 15-19 (1811-1815) John 1814
- 1 f 15-19 (1811-1815) Lucinda 1812
- 1 f 15-19 (1811-1815) Ann 1813
- 1 f 5-9 (1821-1825) Talitha 1821
Children of John Birdwell and Mary Allen:
- 1 Nancy Birdwell b Nov. 3, 1795 married James S. Romine
- 2 Moses Birdwell b 1796 married .1815 Sarah Duncan
- 3 Elizabeth Birdwell b Dec.31, 1797 (Jan. 1, 1800?) married 1813 James Isbell
- 4 Sarah H. Birdwell b Feb 14, 1799 married Levi Isbell
- 5 Allen B. Birdwell b Mar 22, 1802
- 6 ? Mary/Polly Birdwell c1800-5 (on some lists), (died young?)*
- 7 Jane Birdwell 1806- m. Samuel Neal (Jane Birdwell m. 10/27/1825 Samuel Neal (10/29/1825 recorded Lawrence Co. Marriage Book 1A, p.226; Gandrud, p.27); lived there 1830 w/ 1 son under 5. Lived in Panola Co., MS in 1850.
- 8 Susan Birdwell 1807- married Joel S Watkins
- 9 John Alexander Birdwell 1812-1871
- 10 Lucinda Birdwell 1809-1811 married James M. Vaught
- 11 Ann Birdwell Feb. 15, 1813-1868 married James B. Fowler
- 12 Son bc1816 (1810-20) on 1820 census, d 1820-30*
- 13 Talitha R. Birdwell June 18, 1821 married James Smyley Wright
- It is possible that one of the married daughters and her husband (Romine or Isbell?) was living with them in the 1820 census and there was no son who died young. However, both James Romine and Levi Isbell were born well before 1800 and do not fit the 1810-20 age bracket.
Some lists of children online include these:
- 1 Mary Birdwell 1800-1888 m1 John McCormack,2Josiah Phelps. This Mary was the daughter of John, son of Robert Birdwell
- 2 George William Birdwell 1811-1831, some lists show him as another son, and some say died at Moulton, Lawrence Co., AL. (confusing him with Moses?), but he was not in the household in the 1830 census.
- 3 Matilda Birdwell Jan 20, 1816-d 1895 Bristol, Ellis Co, Tx is on some lists as another daughter, but note that Talitha R. Birdwell’s name is incorrectly transcribed as Matilda by some researchers. The Matilda Birdwell of Bristol, Tx. was the daughter of John Birdwell of Giles Co., Tn.; granddaughter of Robert and Ellen (Sanford) Birdwell, Robert being the brother of John Birdwell who married Mary Allen. Matilda married in Giles CO., TN. 12 Dec 1834 Neal C. Dever (1802-1878).
- 4 Judge Thomas Gaines Birdwell b1804 Giles Co, TN was not a son. He was a son of John Birdwell’s nephew John (son of Robert), and a brother of Mary and Matilda above. Interestingly, his son Thomas J. Birdwell’s daughter Pearl married John William Culver, son of Susannah (Culver) Isbell Culver, widow of Zach Isbell, son of Elizabeth Birdwell Isbell Conway.
- 5 William McElree Birdwell 1837-1906 was a grandson (son of John A.), rather than a son as some lists incorrectly show.
1912 “For My Children: Memoir of Rev. George Preston Birdwell” (1912): “My grandfather, John Birdwell,…died at my father’s house near Mt. Enterprise, Texas, at the age of 84 years. He was never sick in his life, never had a chill nor a fever. There were nine boys in the family, and all died between the ages of 84 and 90. My father, Colonel Allen Birdwell, was born in West Tennessee…moved with his parents to North Alabama and settled about one mile from Raleville in Lawrence County…. In 1838 he came to Texas to look at the country. He was well pleased and in 1841, he moved to Texas. He settled first near Old North Church in Nacogdoches County. I think he made two crops there before he bought his home, three miles south of Mt. Enterprise, in Rusk County. This was all Nacogdoches County then, in Rusk County. This was all Nacogdoches County then….”
Family links: Parents:
- George Birdwell (1721 – 1780)
- Mary Birdwell (1742 – 1811)
- Mary Allen Birdwell (1780 – 1840)
- Nancy Birdwell Romine (1795 – 1885)
- Moses Birdwell (1796 – 1832)
- Sarah H. Birdwell Isbell (1799 – 1876)
- Elizabeth Birdwell Isbell Conway (1800 – 1872)
- Allen B. Birdwell (1802 – 1893)
- Susan Birdwell Watkins (1809 – 1888)
- Lucinda Birdwell Vaught (1811 – 1873)
- John Alexander Birdwell (1812 – 1871)
- Ann Birdwell Fowler (1813 – 1868)
- Talitha R. Birdwell Wright (1821 – 1905)
- Robert Birdwell (1745 – 1815)
- George Birdwell (1760 – 1816)
- Benjamin Birdwell (1765 – 1840)
- Moses Birdwell (1769 – 1848)
- John Birdwell (1770 – 1854)
- William Birdwell (1772 – ____)
- Find A Grave Memorial# 50518424
- Find A Grave Memorial# 50518424
- Find A Grave Memorial# 50518424
- The Mitchells of Linn Flat by Gwenneth A.M. Mitchell, pp. 184, 201
- Col. Allen B. Birdwell Journal
- Jennifer Eckel, “BIRDWELL, ALLEN,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2015. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association
- Special Collections, George Nixon Collection, Box GA122, Document 00189
- Rusk County Deed Book N-O (1860), p. 367
- FOOTPRINTS, vol. 23-24 (Ft. Worth: Fort Worth Genealogical Society, 1979), p. 107:
- Madison County, Alabama Deed Books A-E, 1810-1819, by Dorothy Scott Johnson (1976)
- Madison County, Alabama Deed Book E Page 133
- The First 200 Years of the First Baptist Church of Huntsville by Joseph M. Jones, p. 2
- The First 200 Years of the First Baptist Church of Huntsville by Joseph M. Jones, p. 2
- A History of Early Settlement: Madison County Before Statehood, The Huntsville Historical Review (2008) by the Huntsville-Madison County Historical Society, p. 69
- “A Dream Come True, The Story of Madison County and Incidentally of Alabama and the United States, Vol. 1, James Record. (Huntsville: Hicklin County, 1970), pp. 39-40.
- The Alabama Baptist Historian (1970), p.20
- History of Morgan County, Alabama by Knox, p. 54
- History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, published 1921 by Thomas McAdory Owen and Marie Bankhead Owen page 595
- Betts, Early history of Huntsville, by Betts, 1916, pp. 33, 70
- History of the Muscle Shoals Baptist Association by Rev. Josephus Shackelford, 1891, p. 165
- Find A Grave Memorial# 50518424
- Birdwell Family, East Texas Families, pp.233-34, 279-80
Joseph Manuel was born in 1912 in Town Creek, Lawrence County, Alabama. He passed away in Memphis, Tennessee 15 Jul 1959.
Joe Manuel was born in rural Alabama. He moved to the Arkansas delta with his family as a young boy and was raised on farms in the area until he was a teenager. His family were sharecroppers. When he was a teenager, he left home and started his career in show business by joining a carnival. A vaudeville comedian by the name of Dave Perkins took Joe under his wing and taught him the art of entertaining an audience. Joe learned to play the guitar and sing. In the early thirties, Joe was performing on radio stations in the Arkansas Delta country. By 1933 Joe had moved to Memphis and was broadcasting on W.N.B.R. Later the station was bought by the Memphis Press Scimitar and the call letters changed to W.M.P.S. The station also became the Memphis affillate of the Blue Network, which was the forerunner of A.B.C.
For a period of time Joe Manuel’s broadcasts were carried on the Blue Network – Prior to World War 2. In the middle forties, Joe moved to Dallas Texas and began broadcasting on a radio station there. The station’s call letters are unknown because so much time has passed, but the station made Joe an offer he couldn’t refuse. After a short period of time, because of family matters, he returned to Memphis. He was immediately hired by W.H.B.Q., where he stayed until 1950.
Freddie Burns, a historian of WHBQ and a former radio star of that era, relates this story: “When WHBQ changed owners in the middle forties, they increased their power from 500 watts to 5000 watts. Since the station was at the lower end of the band (56 on the dial), it had a much stronger signal than had it been on the higher end of the band … say 1000, 1250 or 1400.”
At this time, WHBQ moved Joe’s broadcast to the 5:30 am slot. His show would be broadcast between 5:30 and 6:00 am daily. When Joe’s show was moved to this time slot, it became one of the most popular radio programs in the south at that time. What happened was the farmers around the countryside would get up around 4:00 to 4:30 am to do their chores and come in to eat breakfast about 5:30. They would turn their radios to 56 on the dial and listen to Joe’s broadcast with their families while they ate their breakfast.
This show built up a tremendous listener following. Joe received fan mail from Georgia, Louisiana, the panhandle of Florida, Illinois, Kentucky and points east and west. That 5000 watt station was blasting out all over the south. There were not that many radio stations the time, and being that early in the morning and being that low on the band, they had tremendous coverage. During this time WHBQ ran a promotional event to promote their shows. They would send out pictures of the radio stars if the listeners would write in and request them. Freddie Burns says that during this event WHBQ was receiving over a thousand letters a day for Joe’s pictures. Sometimes Joe would take his band out for personal appearances and they would draw huge crowds.
During this period, the people who handled the advertising for the Holsum Bread Company approached Joe about writing a commercial jingle. Joe wrote and recorded “Holsum Bread Boogie.” a full length song which the advertisers condensed into a commercial. The jingle became so popular in Southern Illinois that the Holsum Bread Company brought Joe and his band up to Anna Illinois to do a show. He walked on stage in front of 11,000 people. It was a tremendous crowd for a country music singer in the forties.
Television came to Memphis in 1948 and the popularity of the radio shows, in general, faded quickly. Joe did not make the transition to television and ceased broadcasting his show in 1950. He stayed out of broadcasting for about two years, then moved across the river to KWEM in West Memphis, Arkansas and started doing a daily radio broadcast on this station. He stayed with this station off and on until his death in 1959.
Jimmy Rodgers was a hero of Joe’s and his influences can be heard in some of Joe’s music, particularly “Alimony Blues.” which Joe wrote and introduced on his radio broadcast around 1940. It became his most requested song. Joe was renowned as an accomplished yodeler and was the inventor of the Four Triple Swiss yodel.
In 1950, because of the vast amount of talent in Memphis, Joe convinced the idea of a stage show similar to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. He wanted to bring this talent to the attention of the public. Out of this idea was born the Saturday Night Jamboree at the old Goodwyn Institute Auditorium at Third and Madison. The Saturday Night Jamboree ran for two years (1953-54), and a lot of young Memphis musicians made some of their first public appearances on this show.
A unique thing about this was – that the young players and singers that appeared were going into the recording studios that had recently sprung up all over town. The artists were experimenting with their new found sounds. This sound combined country, blues and gospel. The world would soon call it “rockabilly.” Some of these singers and musicians would go on to become legends in the music industry.
Joe’s stage presence was strong and he knew how to entertain an audience. Whether he walked out on stage with his band or with just his guitar, his ability to hold an audience is still talked about today by old timers in the music business. Joe’s medium was live radio, therefore, there is very little recorded material today with his voice on it.
If Joe left a legacy, it was the inspiration that he gave to the young musicians of that era to do the best that they could do when they walked up to this microphone and the spotlight fell upon their shoulders.
Recently the State of Arkansas erected an historical marker in front of the building in West Memphis, that housed the k.w.e.m. studios until 1955. The Marker is dedicated to k.w.e.m. radio for the period 1949-1955. There is a picture of Joe and his band on the front of the Marker.
THE BEGINNING The Saturday Night Jamboree was a local stage show held every Saturday night at the Goodwyn Institute Auditorium in downtown Memphis, Tennessee in 1953-54. It was founded by Joe Manuel, a popular Hillbilly Radio Star of the 1930’s and 40’s.
A lot of young musicians around Memphis grew up listening to Manuel’s radio broadcasts and as young adults would congregate around him during their off time. Manuel recognized the talent in a lot of these young people. He realized that they they might succeed in the music business if given the opportunity. What they needed was a forum to show their talents to the public. He conceived the idea the idea of a stage show similar to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. From this idea came the Saturday Night Jamboree.
The First show consisted of Joe Manuel and his band and Marcus Van Story and his band. (Joe and Marcus were old friends). Marcus would open the show, then, after intermission, He would come back on stage (hat turned around backward, front teeth blackend, tattered clothes,etc.), Joe would play straight man, and they would do a comedy routine. Then Joe and his band would close the show
After a few weeks several of the young singers and musicians from the area started coming on the show. They were rapidly joined by others. Even entire bands began coming on the show. Soon the audience began to fill the Goodwyn Institute Auditorium. K.W.E.M. radio began broadcasting the jamboree. The show took off far beyond anything Joe Manuel expected.
Some of the Memphis area musicians who later became major artists, made some of their first public appearances on the Jamboree. Johnny and Dorsey Burnette were early performers before joining Paul Burlison to form the Rock N Roll Trio. Eddie Bond and his band came on the show. Charlie Feathers was a weekly performer. Johnny Cash was a regular the second year. He sang gospel at the time. This was before he signed with Sun Records.
Lee Adkins, Bud Deckleman, Harmonica Frank Floyd, Barbara Pittman, The Lazenby Twins, Lefty Ray Sexton, Lloyd (Arnold) McCoulough, Tommy Smith, Major Pruitt, Johnny Harrison and Larry Manuel (Joe’s son), were all regulars on the jamboree.
A very young and totally unknown Elvis Presley performed on several of the early shows in 1953.
But of more historical significance was something that was going on backstage in the dressing rooms. Every Saturday night in 1953, this was a gathering place where musicians would come together and experiment with new sounds – mixing fast country, gospel, blues and boogie woogie. Guys were bringing in new “licks” that they had developed and were teaching them to other musicians and were learning new “licks” from yet other musicians backstage. Soon these new sounds began to make their way out onto the stage of the Jamboree where they found a very receptive audience.
Within a year these musicians were going into the recording studios around town and recording these sounds. A couple of years later these sounds were given a name: “rockabilly.” The Saturday Night Jamboree was probably where the first live rockabilly was performed.
THE BUSINESS END
As the show became a success, Joe Manuel knew he would need help in the business end. Joe was a highly talent entertainer, but he was not a businessman. He approached an old and close friend, M.E. Ellis to ask his help running the business. Ellis had experience in business matters, owning a barber shop, half interest in another, and at one time was involved in the automobile business. He was both a fan and a friend of Joe’s, and had been trying for some time to become Manuel’s manager. After several discussions, the men reached a handshake agreement. Ellis would become Manuel’s manager and in return would step in and help with the business needs of the Jamboree. M.E. Ellis played a valuable role in the success of the Saturday Night Jamboree.
CLOSING DOWN THE SHOW
The show lasted for two years. At the end of 1954 the Goodwyn Institute owners informed Joe Manuel that they were closing the auditorium for a year for remodeling. Also, by the end of 1954, many of the performers had signed recording contracts, were having hit records played on the radio, and were going out on the road on Saturday nights. With no other appropriate location available to hold the Jamboree and the talent dwindling, Joe decided to close it down.
The Saturday Night Jamboree was never intended to play an important role in the launching of the Memphis rockabilly movement, but it did. It was an event that was in the right place at the time. Not only did many performers become major rockabilly recording artists, many members of the various bands became session musicians at different recording studios around the Memphis area. Many of the sounds that were born in the dressing rooms backstage at the Jamboree were making their way into the studios and would soon be heard around the world.
After closing the, Joe Manuel began a slow withdrawal from doing stage shows on the road, but continued doing radio broadcasts. He and M.E. Ellis dissolved their management agreement but maintained their close friendship until Joe’s death in 1959 (from melanoma cancer).
Joe Manuel died, never realizing the unique role he had played in the conception of rockabilly music. He did, however, know that he had proven his point, that these young musicians that he saw around Memphis, could succeed in the music business if given the opportunity.
CASES IN POINT
LEE ADKINS – Became a SUN recording artist.
JOHNNY and DORSEY BURNETTE – Teamed with Paul Burlison to from the Rock N Roll Trio, winning Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour 3 times, then becoming the Grand National Champions. They signed with CORAL Records and had a hit called, “Tear It Up.”
EDDIE BOND – Signed with MERCURY Records and had a huge hit, “Rockin’ Daddy.” Eddie became a major rockabilly recording artist of the middle and late ’50s.
JOHNNY CASH – became an American music institution.
BUD DECKLEMAN – Signed with METEOR Records and had a big country hit with “Day Dreaming.” This song gave Bud the opportunity to became a star on the Louisiana Hayride radio show.
M.E. ELLIS – Became an independent record producer, owning both the RIVERFRONT and the ERWIN labels. He produced a hit record on Kimball Coburn, “Dooby Oby Pretty Baby.” He Also produced “It’s a Little More Like Heaven Where You Are,” by an unknown singer-songwriter Hoyt Axton. The song was such a country hit in the middle ’50s that M.E. Ellis’ estate still receives royalties on it over 40 years later.
CHARLIE FEATHERS – Signed with METEOR Records and had am early rockabilly hit called “Tongue Tied Jill.” Charlie is not only regarded as a pioneer of rockabilly music, he is considered a music legend in many countries.
HARMONICA FRANK FLOYD – Although a drifter as his legend suggests, Frank made several records for SUN including “Rockin’ Chair Daddy,” which was released released three weeks before Elvis’ “That’s All Right Mama.” He is considered a legend in several countries.
JOHNNY HARRISON – Moved to Nashville and became a songwriter. He wrote the B side of several Louvin Brothers hit records.
ROBERT “DROOPY” HOWARD – Comedian in Joe Manuel’s band. Went on to be a comedian in Eddie Bond’s band and became comic relief for western movie star Sunset Carson.
THE LAZENBY TWINS – Signed with PEPPER Records and had a top forty record, “Ooh Ooh La La I Fooled You.”
LARRY MANUEL – Continued to work in the music scene around Memphis in the late ’50s. In 1959 Larry made a record for STOMPER TIME Records, “Don’t Try to Call Back Tomorrow.” It was a fairly commercial record receiving a lot of radio play and getting on the Top Forty in some areas. Larry became Memphis’ last new artist of the ’50s to actually make a record and take their band out out on the road doing shows.
LLOYD McCOULOUGH – Changed his name to Lloyd Arnold and became a big recording star in Canada, middle 1950’s.
BARBARA PITTMAN – Signed with SUN Records and had a huge hit with “Two Young Fools in Love.”
ELVIS PRESLEY – Became the most famous recording star of the second half of the Twentieth Century.
MAJOR PRUITT – Worked the music scene around Memphis and became a Disc Jockey.
LEFT RAY SEXTON – Continued to work in the music scene in Memphis with his band throughout the ’50s.
TOMMY SMITH – Signed with DACCA Records and had a big hit in the middle ’50s with a song he wrote, “I’m a Fool.”
MARCUS VAN STORY – Switched from playing guitar to bass fiddle and became a session musician at SUN Records. He played on my of their hit records. In later years, he toured the world as a member of the SUN RHYTHM SECTION.
Joe Manuel sing, Alimony Blues SUN 1954 [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NoOEXdsW84]
Larry Manuel sings, Pin Stripe Suit [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfS10eLTUn0]
- ↑ U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 Number: 412-01-3801; Issue State: Tennessee; Issue Date: Before 1951
- ↑ Memphis Saturday Night Jamboree: Joe Manuel
- ↑ Memphis, Saturday Night Jamboree:Joseph Manuel
In an article on al.com from 2013, another Isbell home was featured. This was the Roberts-Taylor-Isbell home. The article is reprinted below:
Roberts-Taylor-Isbell House ‘just full of history’
The 1854 Roberts-Taylor-Isbell House, the lovely, Greek Revival townhouse on Government Street
Historic home restored to its original state.
near the Broad Street intersection, is one of the main attractions on the Mobile Historic Homes Tour this weekend, and it’s worth the price of admission all by itself. “It’s just full of history,” Roy Isbell said.
The Isbells, who have done a great deal of the work on the house themselves, see their project as a preservation rather than a restoration. The house caught fire in 2009, but wasn’t badly damaged. “The fire is such a small part of the house’s history,” Debbie Isbell said.
Visitors will notice different wallpaper styles in every room, which was very much in style at the time it was decorated. “Every inch of the house was covered in paper,” Roy Isbell said.
To reproduce the original wallpaper in the foyer, Roy and Ray commissioned a stencil, which was copied from the 1890s wallpaper they found under the staircase, then did the walls by hand. The trompe-l’oeil border is also a reproduction from the 1850s.
“It’s not that they couldn’t afford crown molding,” Ray Isbell explained. “Paper was ‘in.’”
When the Isbells bought the house in 1994, it was filled with furniture and memorabilia from the three related families who had occupied it since it was built. The Roberts and Taylors loved to collect things, and the Isbells have set out many treasures for tourgoers to enjoy, from 1930s Shakespeare Club pamphlets in the parlor to the 1875 china in the dining room.
The Isbells have also written a history of the home for the docents to narrate during the tour. A few highlights: Joel Abbot Roberts, a local banker, built the main house in 1854, but the first house on the lot was built circa 1837 by Joel’s father, Dr. Willis Roberts of Georgia. Joel Abbot Roberts’ ledger, on display in the front parlor, shows that he paid $24 for the parlor pocket doors.
Mirabeau Lamar, president of the Republic of Texas from 1838-41, was a family friend who visited often; his portrait hangs just outside the dining room, and the Isbells have a copy of a poem he wrote in tribute to Joel Roberts’ wife, Mary, called “Flowers from the Heart.”
Four generations of the Roberts family lived here until 1897, when the home was acquired by R.V. Taylor; in turn, four generations of Taylors occupied it until 1988. The west wing was R.V. Taylor’s home office at the turn of the century when he was the mayor of Mobile. His only daughter, Helen Buck Taylor, married Captain J. Lloyd Abbot III, who counted among his ancestors Gen. Edmund Pendleton Gaines – for whom Dauphin Island’s Fort Gaines is named.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what guests on the home tour will learn about Mobile history and the Isbell House’s place in it. If you’re from Mobile, you may even discover some anecdotes about some of your relatives. The Roberts, Taylors and Isbells had quite a few cousins, including Herndons, Toulmins, Langdons, Pillans, Inges, Wallers and more.
“This house was never the grandest in Mobile,” Ray Isbell said. “But at the same time, it has so many original features to it.”
The Taylors had been quite wealthy, but were wiped out in the 1929 stock market crash, he said, and after that, couldn’t afford to do much in the way of renovations. “The true value of the house is that so little of it was changed,” he said.