Saturday, June 20, 2015

The 'History of Jay Villa Plantation' by Hermie Dees

Rev. Alexander Travis's grave.
(In the June 17, 1982 edition of The Evergreen Courant readers found the following historical news item titled “History of Jay Villa Plantation” by Hermie Dees. You’ll find the complete article below, and while the editor’s introduction indicates that this was the first installment in a series of articles about the Jay Villa plantation, I was unable to locate any additional installments in any later editions of The Courant. Enjoy.)

“The History of Jay Villa Plantation” by Hermie Dees

(Editor’s Note: The Courant is indebted to Mrs. Howard A. (Hermie) Dees for the history of Jay Villa Plantation, which begins this week. Mr. and Mrs. Dees live in historic “The Travis House,” and have welcomed thousands of visitors who came over the years to view this historic, antebellum home. “The Travis House” was built around 1840 by James Travis, son of the Rev. Alexander Travis, pioneer settler and Baptist minister of Conecuh County. Architect and builder of this historic home was Ezra Plumb, noted in various historical accounts as the premier architect/builder of this area in the pre-1850s. If you can write a history or memories (factual, please) of your community and are willing to let The Courant publish same, it will be appreciated by readers of this newspaper and by The Courant. Typewritten copy, double-spaced, would be preferred, but is not necessary.)

Jay Villa Plantation is located on the Old Evergreen and Castleberry Highway about six miles south of Evergreen, Ala.

Visitors to Jay Villa will be seeing a place of rich historical significance. The area around the Jay Villa home was originally settled by the Warrens – believed to be the great-grandparents of the late President Warren G. Harding. William B. Travis, hero of the Alamo, also lived in the same area in the 1820s.

The plantation is now owned by the family of the late Thomas Edward McMillan of Brewton, Ala. It was purchased by Mr. McMillan in the early 1940s and is made up of several original plantations. These include the Jay Plantation, Warren Plantation and portions of the Yarbrough, Lawrence and Crosby land tracts. Mr. McMillan named his place “Jay Villa” after the old Jayville area.

David Jay settled in Conecuh County about 1819. He operated a mill on Jay’s Mill Creek and later became a private banker and very wealthy landowner. He gave an original land grant and a lovely two-story home to his son, the Rev. Andrew Jay, upon his marriage to Caroline Ashley, daughter of Capt. Wilson Ashley. The home was burned years later during a political fight between the Populists and Democrats. It was located across the road from the old Jayville Commissary which is still standing today in the eastern part of Jay Villa Plantation. Rev. Jay gave the name “Jayville” to the territory surrounding his home.

Rev. Jay held several county offices and represented Conecuh County in the legislature for two terms. After retiring from the political arena, he was ordained to the Baptist ministry and, following the death of Rev. Alexander Travis, he became pastor of Old Beulah Baptist Church.

Rev. Alexander Travis came to Alabama in 1817 from South Carolina and later settled in Conecuh County on land that is now part of Jay Villa. Rev. Travis, an ordained Baptist minister and a cotton farmer, founded five churches, including Old Beulah Church which was near his home. This church, established in 1818, had a membership of 180 in 1840 and was served by Rev. Travis for 35 years. The first church building burned and was rebuilt. Then in 1904 it was given to colored people who tore the building down and moved it to a more favorable location called New Beulah. Rev. Travis’ final resting place is marked by a prominent marble shaft placed at the pulpit end of the first church building. Recounted on the shaft is his birth in Edgefield District, South Carolina on Aug. 23, 1790 and his death in 1852.

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