This coming Tuesday – December 13 – is a big day in the history of Wilcox County as it will mark the county’s 197th official birthday.
It was on Dec. 13, 1819 (one day before Alabama was officially admitted into the Union) that Wilcox County was created by an act of the Alabama territorial general assembly. Wilcox County was formed from portions of Monroe and Dallas counties, and its borders have remained relatively unchanged since that time.
As many of you know, the county was named after Joseph M. Wilcox, a 23-year-old Army lieutenant scalped and killed by hostile Creeks on Jan. 15, 1814. Wilcox was a native of Connecticut and a War of 1812 veteran. Most sources say that two days after his death, Wilcox was buried with full military honors at Fort Claiborne, which was located in present-day Monroe County.
Once Wilcox County was formed by the territorial general assembly, one of the first orders of business was to select a site for the county seat and courthouse. Men placed on the committee to pick a place for the county courthouse included early Wilcox County pioneers William Black, John Blackman, Robert Brown, Thornton Brown, Thomas Evans, John Gamble, John Jenkins, Elijah Lumsden, William McCarrell and John Speight.
Canton Bend (sometimes called Canton Bluff) was named the first, temporary county seat in 1819 and served in that capacity until 1832. Canton Bend, which even had a post office until 1909, is located on Highway 28 between present-day Camden and Millers Ferry. In 1832, the county seat was moved to a place called Barboursville, which changed its name to the more familiar Camden in 1841.
Wilcox County has gone through a long list of changes since 1819, and one is left to wonder what one of the county’s earliest residents would think about present-day Wilcox County. For one, the county’s population is about four times what it was when it was first formed. According to the 1820 census, Wilcox County had a population of 2,917 while the 2010 census reflected that the county’s population had grown to 11,670.
Another big difference between 1819 Wilcox County and 2016 Wilcox County has to do with the Alabama River. In the early 1800s, the river was a major transportation route used by large riverboats that transported passengers and goods from Montgomery to Mobile and all points in between. Nowadays, the river is primarily used for recreation and limited commercial purposes.
Early roads were unpaved roads developed as mail routes and for transportation between farms and the river. Modern roads and bridges would have looked like something out of some kind of unimaginable fantasy to the county’s earlier pioneers. Modern automobiles would have probably also thrown them for a loop as they’d never seen anything other than horses, mules and wagons.
In the end, it should be noted that Wilcox County is just three years away from its 200th birthday, and this is really a once-in-a-lifetime event for the county’s current residents. Most of us won’t be around to see the county’s 300th birthday, so we’d be wise to enjoy being on hand for the county’s bicentennial.