Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Wilcox County man had hand in one of state's most unusual place names

Today – July 11 – marks the 175th anniversary of the birth of a Wilcox County man who had a hand in the creation of one of the most unusual place names in all of Alabama.

It was on July 11, 1843 that Jack Murray Williams was born in Plantersville in Dallas County, and he eventually grew up to become a postmaster in Wilcox County. In fact, he was the first postmaster in the community that we now call “Awin,” and he was instrumental in how that community got its name. For those of you who have never been to Awin, it’s located in the extreme southeastern corner of Wilcox County, a short drive down State Highway 10 from Pine Apple.

The community’s first post office was established in 1881, and Williams was appointed to serve as its first postmaster. Among his first duties, Williams was tasked with giving the post office an official name, and he proceeded to ask people of the community what name they preferred. Exactly how Williams went about doing this is unclear, but he apparently compiled a list of several suitable names.

According to “Place Names in Alabama” by Virginia O. Foscue, Williams, after asking for suggestions for a name for the post office, wrote “A win” beside the name on the list that the majority of residents favored. Williams sent his list to federal postal officials who were to give the post office its official name, but they apparently became confused and took Williams’s “A win” comment to be the chosen name. The rest, as they say, is history.

Reading between the lines, Williams had apparently collected a list of several names for the post office, and it would be interesting to know what those other potential names were. Also, it would be interesting to know what people called that area before they called it “Awin.” So much time has passed that the answers to those questions are likely lost to history, but it would be interesting to know nonetheless.

One thing that is known is that Williams had already lived a full and interesting life prior to becoming postmaster at Awin. According to the 1907 census of living Confederate veterans in Alabama, Williams traveled to Montgomery on Sept. 10, 1862 and enlisted as a 19-year-old infantry private in the Brooks Light Infantry, which later became known as Co. A of the 20th Alabama Infantry Regiment. Williams later ended up at Vicksburg and was captured by Union forces on July 4, 1863 when Confederates surrendered the besieged city to Union General Ulysses S. Grant.

Like most Confederates captured at Vicksburg, Williams was paroled, but that didn’t stop him from reenlisting in his old unit, Co. A of the 20th Alabama Infantry, about three weeks later in Demopolis. 

Williams’s luck ran out again on Dec. 10, 1864 when he was captured by Union forces at Nashville, Tenn. From there, he was transported to Camp Chase, a prisoner of war camp in Ohio, where he remained until the close of the war in 1865.

In the end, the post office at Awin eventually closed in 1906, and Williams passed away a number of years later, on July 25, 1923, at the ripe old age of 80. He is buried in the Awin Community Cemetery. His grave is a simple one, bearing his name, date of birth, date of death and an inscription that reads, “A faithful husband, a loving father, a true Christian.”

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