The Progressive Era has some of the best readers around. If you want to know something, just ask the question. Chances are, one of the newspaper’s readers will know the answer.
A month or so ago, I wrote about the Fatama community and mentioned that the book “Place Names in Alabama” by Virginia O. Foscue said that the origin of that community’s name was unknown. That book, which is usually very reliable, said that the name “Fatama” might be a variation of “Fatima,” which is the name of a village with a religious shrine in Portugal. As it turns out, the origin of the community’s name has a much simpler explanation.
Not long after that column ran in the paper, Gladys Mason was kind enough to send me a copy of a book on the history of Enon Baptist Church. This church is located in the heart of Fatama, and the book on its history was prepared to celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary in 2003. For those of you who haven’t read it, this book is one of the best church histories I’ve ever encountered, and its authors are to be commended.
In the opening pages of this book, it quickly clears up the mystery behind how Fatama got its name. “Fatama was for many years the only post office in the (Mims Beat) and was named for the wife of Captain (John J.) Mims, who was Mrs. Fatama Mims, also buried in the Enon Cemetery.” In other words, the community was named after the wife of one of the community’s most prominent citizens.
A few weeks after the Fatama column ran in the paper, I wrote about a visit that I’d made to Gastonburg. In that column, I mentioned that, according to “Place Names in Alabama,” Gastonburg was first known as “Paris,” probably for the French city. When the Southern Railroad reached this area in 1887 the name was changed to Gastonburg in honor of the Gaston family, who were early settlers of the area.
A few days after that column was published in the newspaper, Marty Pickett sent me some additional information that shed more light on why this area might have first been called Paris. According to her research, what we now call Gastonburg was first settled by David Finis Gaston, whose great-grandmother was Mary Gaston de Foix of France. Her father, William Gaston de Foix of France, was a “zealous adherent of the Huguenot Cause and sought refuge in Scotland and subsequently transferred to Ireland.”
The Huguenots were French Protestants who were severely persecuted by French Catholics in the 1500s and 1600s. Many Huguenots were forced to convert to Catholicism during this time or flee the country as refugees. The first Huguenots to settle in present-day America did so in 1562 when they colonized Parris Island, South Carolina.
In the end, big thanks to Gladys Mason and Marty Pickett for sharing their historical insights with me. I receive a fair amount of e-mail from readers of The Progressive Era each week, and it’s nice to pass along what they have to say when I get the chance. I especially enjoy hearing old ghost stories, folk tales and local legends from Wilcox County’s past, so if you’d like to share anything along those lines, please let me hear from you.