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This article is published with the kind permission of the author.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. writes about the three men who share a unique place in Alabama history.

Three individuals: Israel Pickens, John Gayle and Thomas Seay have progressed from being citizens of Greensboro to becoming Governor of the State of Alabama. Each uniquely affected the political, economic and social position of the state. From Israel Pickens in the formative years to Thomas Seay in the years after Reconstruction, each contributed to the peculiarity of this Deep South state. Individually, these men influenced the state positively and negatively. But each man possessed the common characteristic of claiming Greensboro as his residence at some point in his life.

 

Greensboro History

Greensboro, Alabama, is 90 miles southwest of Birmingham, 35 miles south of Tuscaloosa and 90 miles northwest of Montgomery. Greensboro, located in the area known as the Black Belt, currently hails as the "Catfish capital of Alabama." Greensboro is situated in the north-central portion of Hale County, Alabama, in latitude 32(42' north, longitude 87(35' west, and at an elevation of 220 feet above sea level. The average temperature is 64( and the annual precipitation averages approximately 50 inches. The population of Greensboro in 1860 was estimated at 1600; in 1870 it was 1760; in 1880, 1834; in 1890, 1759; in 1900, 2416; and in 1990, 3248.

There is considerable French influence in and around Greensboro. Several homes were built by people of French descent and there are several families still in the area that are of French descent. The region one mile west of Greensboro was the eastern side of the ruined Vine and Olive Colony granted to French Bonapartist exiles in 1817. In relation to modern towns and landmarks, the lower part of the grant was in the premium segment of the Black Belt, known then and now as the Canebreak. Today, Highway 80 between Demopolis and Faunsdale forms the southern perimeter of the grant. The Black Belt, despite its rich and fertile soil, is unfavorable to many plants. The rich soil and the severe climate strained the grapes and olives. Neither of these crops prospered well for the French. Six miles west of Greensboro, near Sawyerville, there is a tract still known as the French Woods. Just east of the French Woods there is an old burial ground with only two of the graves bearing inscriptions. These two graves are of French people from the area. In Greensboro, one of the old French homes still stands in good condition. It is known as the Noel-Ramsey House (sometimes called the Old French House). This home was built in 1821 by Thomas Noel, a Frenchman from Santo Domingo. Noel was a French refugee who, fleeing the West Indies after an insurrection in the early 1800s, eventually joined the ill-fated Vine and Olive Colony near Demopolis. He was disappointed by the Colony's bad fortune there and Noel and his family moved to New Troy (Greensboro) around 1820.

Greensboro was incorporated on December 24, 1823, by act of the Legislature of Alabama. This Black Belt town grew as swiftly as a boom town, with settlers, ministers, professional men and aspiring planters. Although the soil was not conducive to grapes and olives, it was ideal for cotton and this fact would affect the politics and economy for the first hundred years of the state's existence. The great cotton plantations encompassing Greensboro were developed in the 1830s and Greensboro had a cotton gin at this time. Massive plantations were located to the north, west and south of the town. During the period of time from 1830 to the commencement of the Civil War, Greensboro was the marketing center for these cotton plantations. The Black Warrior River (located about ten miles from Greensboro) was the major mode of transportation for bringing merchandise and supplies in and out of the area. Landings and ports on the Black Warrior River used by the cotton plantations of the Greensboro area included East Port Landing, Erie (near present day Lock 6) and Millwood. Many impressive structures were constructed in and around Greensboro in the 1850s during the zenith of the Greek revival craze.

Life in the bustling, burgeoning town was, of course, altered by the Civil War, with a considerable number of men enlisting to serve the Confederacy. Colonel Allen C. Jones organized a company of men called the Greensboro Guards. The Guards departed to fight in the war in May 1861. When the Union soldiers converged on this section of Alabama near the conclusion of the war, Greensboro was fortunately by-passed. There was no industry essential to the Confederacy here. Thus, though the economy was wounded, the town and its buildings were spared.

A period of inactivity set in after the war and, though Greensboro became the county seat when Hale County was created in 1867, the town's progression was stunted and lethargic. Reconstruction had its adverse effect, and for almost twenty years, very few buildings were constructed in Greensboro. In the 1880s, prosperity began to reestablish Greensboro. Numerous new stores and houses were built. In the latter part of the decade, the "Birmingham Boom" took a great deal of affluence from the town. Some investors "lost their shirts" and another sedentary period of delayed progress set in. In the 1890s, Greensboro recovered from the economic predicament and many of the commercial buildings in present downtown were raised during that time.

In August 1897, Yellow Fever visited Greensboro and, before it departed with the frost on November 18th, it claimed the lives of more than a dozen people. Many people during this time attempted to leave the area but discovered they were hemmed in on all sides--all places having quarantined against Greensboro. Business was almost nonexistent during the months of October and November. Yellow Fever was caused by mosquitoes and the area around Greensboro, especially to the west and the north, had many creeks and lowland. This provided excellent breeding areas for mosquitoes. The deathly disease was, at times, prevalent around cities and towns along the Gulf Coast. Yellow Fever also hit Cahaba earlier when it was the capital of the state of Alabama.