- Alabama Founders: Fourteen Political and Military Leaders Who Shaped the State by Herbert James Lewis
Herbert James Lewis has produced an excellent resource for scholars and students of early Alabama history. This thirteen-chapter collection of fourteen biographies provides insight into the motivations and actions of many of the men responsible for guiding a sparsely settled frontier territory to statehood. Though the work is not exhaustive in scope, Lewis skillfully provides the important details of each man's contribution as a "founding father" of Alabama (p. 1). In addition, Lewis acknowledges that he did not include every individual who aided in the establishment of Alabama and that exclusion from this book does not diminish one's contribution. The author states that he merely intends to highlight the very key figures involved.
In his analysis of Alabama's founding fathers, Lewis groups these biographies into three distinct categories, though he does not present them in any particular order. The first group includes individuals notable for their role in clearing the territory for white settlement, men such as Samuel Dale and General John Coffee. These men participated in military incursions against the Native American population. The second group consists of men who served in the territorial legislature. These leaders were responsible for bringing government and law and order to the rough-and-tumble frontier settlements. Lewis particularly notes the contributions of Judge Harry Toulmin and Reuben Saffold, among others. The final group of biographies details the actions of men who worked to achieve statehood by playing an active role in the constitutional convention of 1819. These important politicians, such as Charles Tait, LeRoy Pope, and the brothers William Wyatt Bibb and Thomas Bibb, navigated the path from territory to statehood.
One of the more interesting aspects of Lewis's work entails the close-knit relationships among all the leaders under analysis. Virtually to a man, Lewis's founders were part of the "Broad River Group" who immigrated to the Alabama Territory from Georgia in the early nineteenth century (p. 1). Lewis also traces the connections of some of these men to their origins in Virginia. Though Lewis [End Page 675] does not explain why these men left Georgia with their families, each member of the Broad River Group worked to carve out a new life in the Alabama Territory and then used his power and influence to solidify his position. It is little wonder, then, that these individuals became integral to the founding of the state. Statehood cemented their already impressive economic and political power even more firmly in their respective communities.
Alabama Founders: Fourteen Political and Military Leaders Who Shaped the State is a strong addition to the literature of the history of the state. Lewis's use of archival sources and extensive bibliography of secondary sources place these fourteen founders in the proper context of Alabama history. This work is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the Yellowhammer State.