Saturday, December 17, 2016

Wife of early Alabama governor buried in old Claiborne, Alabama cemetery

Arthur Pendleton Bagby
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Wife of Alabama’s governor buried at Claiborne in 1820s” was originally published in the Dec. 16, 1971 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

The wind sighed through the tall pines that grow among the headstones in the old Claiborne Cemetery. The only sound was the falling leaves from the bay trees that grow along the upper edge of what was known as the North Gorge, when Claiborne was a busy town beside the river. Leaves and pine needles covered the ground as though a huge blanket of brown and gold had been spread over the graves, ever so gently. The last rays of the setting sun cast its fingers among the markers as the evening shadows slowly began to creep eastward as if a giant curtain was being drawn at the close of some great opera.

I had come, as on other occasions, to visit this spot and wander among the headstones and try to visualize from the inscriptions and epitaphs chiseled in the granite slabs the characteristics and personalities of the people buried here.

Claiborne Cemetery is unique, due to the fact that almost everyone buried there was under 50 years of age at the time of death. Almost all the victims of the dreaded yellow fever and smallpox that nearly wiped out the town of Claiborne in the early 1800s.

As I moved among the markers, I saw the destruction that vandals had left in their wake on several of the larger headstones. I wondered what thoughts went through their twisted minds as they scratched their names and ugly slogans across the markers that told tragic stories of the victims sleeping beneath them. I noticed, too, that the vandals had removed the cover from the crypt that covered the final resting place of one of Alabama’s first ladies. As I lifted and set into place the heavy marble cover, I thought of the circumstances that brought this beautiful young lady to her lonely grave on the hill beside the river.

Emily N. Bagby was the wife of Authur P. Bagby, governor of Alabama during the 1820s. Emily died while visiting friends at Claiborne, on the 28th day of May, 1825. At that time, the capital of Alabama was at Cahaba. Due to the high waters from the Alabama River, the town of Cahaba was evacuated. The state’s first lady came down the river to stay until the high waters receded. She contracted yellow fever during that visit and died. She was 21 years old at the time of her death.

It was during the next year, partly because of the flooding conditions, that the capital was moved from Cahaba to Tuscaloosa. With the capital went Governor Bagby, leaving behind his beautiful young wife to sleep forever on Claiborne’s hill.

The shadows had lengthened, twilight was giving way to darkness. As I turned to go, the passages of the One Hundred and Third Psalm came to mind. It, as always with the Scriptures, fitted the occasion perfectly:

“As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.

“For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know if no more.”

So it was, with the people buried here. The wind had passed, and it was gone. Remembered only by the Almighty himself.


(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County in June 1964 (some sources say 1961) and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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