- The Annotated Pickett's History of Alabama: And Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi, from the Earliest Period by Albert James Pickett
In 1851 Albert James Pickett, a gentleman planter residing near Montgomery, Alabama, published his two-volume History of Alabama, and Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi, from the Earliest Period, the first major history of the state. As a child, Pickett had moved to Alabama in 1818 from North Carolina. Educated in private academies, he later trained as a lawyer but never practiced. Instead, he became a wealthy planter and a significant slaveholder through marriage. A staunch Democrat, Pickett commented in speeches and in print on Alabama politics but never ran for office. In 1846 Pickett decided to write a history of the state and spent several years collecting sources, interviewing people, and purchasing an extensive library. He remarked that it had been "the hardest work of my life" (p. 9). Pickett did not work in a vacuum but corresponded with other southern writers and historians, particularly William Gilmore Simms and Charles Gayerré, while crafting his narrative.
Starting with the Hernando de Soto expedition and ending with Alabama's first constitutional convention, Pickett used the Romantic narrative style to cover the Native American cultures, European empires, and American settlers that contested one another for control of the territory. He had his book printed in Charleston, South Carolina, and it went through three editions in 1851. Numerous antebellum journals and papers reviewed the book quite favorably. After Pickett died in 1858, his book continued to influence writers of Alabama history, particularly due to his use of eyewitness accounts from early-nineteenth-century settlers and Indian traders. Modern scholars, especially Frank Owsley Jr., Philip D. Beidler, and Johanna Nicol Shields, have provided insightful commentary on Pickett's work in the context of Alabama's intellectual history. Pickett's work, therefore, endures.
James P. Pate has produced an extremely useful modern edition of Pickett's History of Alabama, ensuring that the work will continue to shape knowledge of both the state and the antebellum context in which Pickett lived and wrote. Pate's introduction covers Pickett's biography, referencing his personal papers housed at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. Pate also covers the creation [End Page 692] and contemporary reception of the book as well as current scholarly appraisals of it. His annotations are the most impressive and helpful feature of the volume. Pate employs the notes to discuss Pickett's judgments and uses of source material as well as to identify modern scholarship on the Old Southwest that validates or challenges Pickett's claims. Pate's knowledge of both the primary and secondary source literature is extensive, and the layout allows readers to move easily back and forth between Pickett's text and Pate's annotations. Pickett's History of Alabama has long been criticized for its sprawling nature and its countless anecdotes used to enliven the story. But, thankfully, Pate has made Pickett's grand narrative accessible to modern readers and useful for scholars of Alabama history and the history of the Old Southwest.