The following contains some of the data that I researched while writing & documenting the Judge Thomas Minott Peters historical marker for the Lawrence County Historical Commission. The historical marker is located in front of the Lawrence County Board of Education building, a short distance from Moulton lot # 88, where Peters lived. Peters was an incredible man of many talents, a noted scientist who discovered "Peters Filmy Fern" in neigboring Winston County, school founder & educator, lawyer, newspaper publisher, linguist, AL Supreme Court Chief Justice, "the Father of Civil Rights In Alabama," etc., etc. His wife's first cousin, President James Knox Polk, is known to have visited the family several times in Lawrence County.
Lemuel Peters born July 21, 1772, Richmond, Cheshire County, New Hampshire,(1) and after having moved with his family, first to Tennessee, then to Alabama, and after the death of his wife there, to Texas in December, 1835, died in 1838 in Lawrence County, Alabama, on a trip which was to have taken him on a visit to New England. His ancestors were early English immigrants to Massachusetts and Plymouth Colonies. His own parents and ancestors in the previous three or four generations had held firmly to Baptist and Quaker beliefs. He married Sarah Minott, April 17,1798, in Putney, Windham County, Vermont. In 1805, he moved with his wife and three small children and two of his wife's unmarried brothers to Clarksville, Montgomery County, Tennessee, where six additional children were born and one, an infant son, died. In addition, one of his brothers-in-law was killed and the other died. In 1819 , the family moved to Alabama, where two more sons were born. Col. James Edmonds Saunders, a chronicler of those early years in Alabama, states that Lemuel Peters' ancestors were "a people of great stoutness and resolution."(2)
Mother: Sarah Minott, born September 3, 1778, Putney, Windham County, Vermont,(3) after moving from New Hampshire to Tennessee, in 1805, and to Alabama, in 1819, and after having borne eleven children, ten of whom survived her, died in 1833, in Lawrence County, Alabama. Her ancestors were from some of the earliest and most distinguished English immigrants to Massachusetts and Plymouth Colonies, including at least one family that came on the Mayflower. Most of them had been active for generations in public affairs and in the Congregational Church in Massachusetts and Vermont. Col. Saunders says of her, "She was unusually well educated, and intelligent, and very fond of reading. . . . . . In their house were books and papers for their children to read and this accounts for the fact that every son in the family was well educated and belonged to a profession. . . . . . Their home was one of hospitality where ministers of all denominations, especially the Presbyterian, were welcome."(2)
Born: December 10, 1810, Clarksville, Montgomery County, Tennessee. (4)
Died: June 14, 1888, Moulton, Lawrence County, Alabama. (4)
Married: June 26, 1838, Moulton, Lawrence County, Alabama. (4)
Spouse: Naomi Sophia Leetch, born September 20, 1820, near Moulton, Lawrence County, Alabama; [17 when married] died June 18, 1880, Moulton, Lawrence County, Alabama, daughter of William and Naomi (Knox) Leetch, and first cousin of President James Knox Polk. (5,6)
Children of Thomas M. Peters: (5,7,8)
1) Sarah Naomi Peters, born July 27, 1839; died July 14, 1863, unmarried
2) William Lemuel Peters, born March 23, 1842; died "during the holidays" (App. Christmas/New Years, 1906-7, see item below). Married Annie A. Hall, in Tate County, MS, lived in Moulton at one time, since "infant granddaughter" is buried with Thomas and Naomi Peters in Old Moulton Cemetery, but lived also in Winston County, AL, where he owned a mill "14 miles due south of Moulton." Also lived with his wife and family in MS.
3) Martha Leigh Peters, born December 18, 1844; died after 1911, unmarried
4) Anna Maria Peters, born March 18, 1846; died 1895-1907, unmarried
5) Mary Minott Peters, born March 11, 1850, died 1895-1907, unmarried
6) Lucy Alice Peters, born April 23, 1853; died after 1911, unmarried
More on William L. Peters:
Wm. Peters is building a mansion close to his mill, 14 miles south of town. Sensible, Billy.
(Moulton Advertiser 22 Aug 1873)
We regret to learn of the death of W. L. Peters which occured [sic] during the holidays at his home in Mississippi. He was born and raised in Moulton, was a man we all loved, and we keenly feel our loss. We extend condolences to his family, and also his two sisters at this place. May God comfort and bless them in their sorrow. (Moulton Advertiser 24 Jan 1907)
Mr. W.L. Peters, of Winston, spent a few days with us during the week. We are glad to announce to our people that his mill is now in running order and lovers of good bread would do well to make a note of this. He is also prepared to fill orders for lumber on the shortest possible notice. Send along that advertisement Steve and we will whistle with you.
(Moulton Advertiser 31 Jan 1873)
W. L. Peters, of Winston County, will appear before his fellow citizens next fall for a seat in the Lower House of the Alabama Legislature. Great injustice was done him in the last election which caused his defeat; but he is a man of patriotism and fidelity to his country, and is willing to serve his people in any capacity.
(Moulton Advertiser 19 Apr 1872 )
Education: LaGrange College, Franklin (now Colbert) County, Alabama (4)
University of Alabama, A. B. 1834 (4,9)
University of Alabama, A. M. 1845 (4,9)
The Texas State Archives contain a letter written November 4, 1836, to Washington D. Miller, a former colleague at the University of Alabama, who later became secretary to Sam Houston, in which he refers to Miller's disagreement with the "politics" of his paper. He indicates in the letter that he preferred the Whig candidate, Hugh White, to the Democrat, Van Buren. (10)
1844 Left the Whig Party, to which he had continued to belong, over the question of the annexation of Texas. (4) Since the Whigs nominated Henry Clay, who had opposed annexation and the Democrats nomiated James Knox Polk, who favored annexation, one assumes that Thomas Minott Peters favored annexation. There was evidently at this time in Lawrence County a strong feeling for annexation. Page Smith in Volume IV of his People's History series states that "A gathering of citizens in Lawrence County, Alabama, resolved that 'the possession of Texas is infinitely more important to us of this section of the Union than a longer connection and friendship with the Northern States, and if we have to yield either it cannot and shall not be Texas.' "(12) Two related issues might also have caused Thomas M. Peters to take this view. One, his brothers and sisters had all moved by this time to Texas; and, second, James Knox Polk, from Tennessee, was the first cousin of his wife, Naomi S. Peters.
1845 Elected Representative for Lawrence County, Alabama General Assembly.(4)
"Mr. Peters took his seat in the House for the first time, in 1845, was a Whig, entirely self-possessed, sensible, and fond of taking part in the debates as they occurred."(13)
1847 Elected Senator for Lawrence and Walker Counties, Alabama General Assembly. (4) "In 1847, he was elected to the Senate from Lawrence and Walker, and in this body preserved his character for speech making, as well as that for general intelligence. He was rather a strong man intellectually, though he was a little impatient when a leading rank was not accorded him."(14)
1849- "After serving through his term in the Senate, Mr. Peters remained in private life, in the practice of law, ....."(14)
1860 "In 1860, on the Union issue, he supported Stephen A. Douglas and during the secession contest proved himself to be an ardent and uncompromising friend of the Union."(4) This he demonstrated in an article published in the Moulton Democrat and quoted by Col. Saunders.
1861-65 "When the Ordinance of Secession was finally passed Mr. Peters, with those among us who agreed with him in sentiment, acquiesced, as a want of harmony in action among us would have produced the most deplorable consequences. He remained in private life until the close of the war, when in the marshaling of parties, under the reconstruction policy of Congress he allied himself with the Republican Party, and was elected a delegate to form a new State Constitution. He was a nominee of the same party for a seat on the Bench of the Supreme Court, was elected, and served a term as one of its judges. His becoming a member of that party, at the time when the strata of society was turned topsy- turvy -- when the solid men of the South were disenfranchised, and when the State was virtually under bayonet rule, was very distasteful to his friends; and his motives were frequently attacked. But from my experience for a half century I have become very slow in ascribing to men who have shown integrity in their private lives improper motive in their public conduct. A political question is often a polygon -- a figure of many sides and angles. Every man must decide it according to his own tastes and conscience -- and the proper test of his freedom from all improper motives is not so much the acceptance of the office as the uprightness and impartiality with which he discharges his functions."(2) "During the War of Secession, he went into the Federal lines."(4) "He bitterly opposed dis-Union, and went into the Federal lines during the war."(14)
1863 In the war damage claim, Mrs. Peters states, "My son was in the rebel Army, under General P. D. Roddy. It was cavalry service, ..... ." (15)
1866-1868 Postmaster of Moulton. "Thomas M. Peters, 6 February 1866;" Replaced by Beverly DeGraffenreid, 16 November 1868. (16)
1867 Member from Lawrence County of the post-war Alabama Constitutional Convention. "..... Mr. Peters remained in private life, in the practice of law, until the reorganization of the parties under the reconstruction policy of Congress, when he allied himself with the Republican, or Radical, party; and through the influence of the bayonet, or during the bayonet rule, he was elected a delegate to the Convention to form the Constitution under which the people of Alabama are now living."(14)
1867 "On that date, the paper [Then called The Moulton Democrat] was leased to the Republican Party for six months and they changed the name to The Union on October 7, 1867. Some weeks later, a tabloid size paper appeared under the title The Union, published by T. M. Peters and J. S. Leach. It was published under an agreement with [DeWitt] White until the Constitutional Convention had finished its work, it was announced. ...... White said he had been forced to suspend publication and lease it to Peters and Leach ..... . He did express hope of resuming publication of The Advertiser when the 'great Sirocco of sectional vindictiveness and proscription shall have passed.' After six months, his hopes were realized and he resumed publication of the paper and again changed the name to The Moulton Advertiser."(16)
"....... who later under bayonet rule suspended it and turned the plant over to the late Chief Justice Peters, who was a generous Republican and claimed not a cent for his editorial service. He was a caustic writer and it often made us sick to print some of his blistering articles on leaders of the Lost Cause. He called his paper, The Union, but when reconstruction was completed and when, Judge Peters took his place on the Supreme Bench, he gallantly restored the printing plant to its rightful owners and the publication of The Moulton Advertiser was again resumed."(17)
1868-74 Elected Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama by the Republican Party.
"He was the nominee of the Radical party for a seat upon the Bench of the Supreme Court, and under the rule then predominating, obtained it, and now sits upon the Bench from which the law has been expounded in other days by such men as Goldthwaite, Collier, Ormond, Chilton, Dargan, and others of equal merit."(14)
1873-74 Served as Chief Justice Supreme Court of Alabama.1 "At one time he was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama and I have heard it said that his opinions are more extensively quoted by lawyers in trial cases than any other man who wore the ermine on that exalted bench." (8)
1875-1888 "Since Judge Peters left the bench he has devoted himself to the practice of his profession, and training of his children, who are said by those who are judges, to have been well educated. He has been uniformly a patron of education, and has served for many years as president of the Board of Trustees of the Female Academy at Moulton. On account of some botanic discoveries he has been elected a member of the American Scientific Association."(10)
"In his later years, a Spiritualist from Tennessee converted him to Spiritualism. Judge Peters would relate to friends stories of conversations he had had with departed relatives he had had at seances held at Memphis, Tennessee. He would also place bowls of food, for departed spirits, in rooms on the second floor of his home in Moulton. The legends that developed, from the lights, noises, etc. that were seen and heard late at night from the Peters' home rivaled the ghost stories about the haunted "Rocky Hill" Castle near Courtland."(18)
Descriptions of Thomas Minott Peters:
"I suppose he was the most scholarly man that ever lived there [Moulton]; a great historian, a linguist, a florist, and a naturalist. He was always studying, always investigating. He was more in love with nature than any other man I have ever known. In his travels into the mountain, which he frequently made, he would bring often specimens he had found. ........ He was never too busy to talk to anybody, however wise, however ignorant, rich or poor, who wished to converse with him. ....... Tho' a great and strong man, as the world views greatness and power, he possessed a tender and compassionate heart, one that throbbed with love for all mankind and that compassionate feeling even reached out into the animal kingdom where he spoke for those creatures who can not speak for themselves. We have been in halls with him where the neighbors met to pay the last sad tributes to departed brothers and there is where his true greatness blazed out in its grandeur and sublimity. In speaking or reading on such occasions his feelings were overcome and he would breakdown in tears." (8)
"Mr. Peters devoted himself to his profession, and not only became a good lawyer, but a man of general literary and scientific culture." . . . . . "His becoming a member of that [Republican] party, at the time when the strata of society was turned topsy-turvy -- when the solid men of the South were disenchranchised, and when the State was virtually under bayonet rule, was very distasteful to his friends; and his motives were frequently attacked. But from my experience for a half century I [Col. Saunders] have become very slow in ascribing to men who have shown integrity in their private lives improper motive in their public conduct." (2)
"Hushed be every ['political thought or excitement' were crossed out and overwritten with] 'legal or equitable contest, or forensic display', while the bell tolls our loss. Cease all criticism in the presence of death, for we are not faultless! We will remember only the virtues of our deceased brother! He was a man of learning, industrious, energetic, hightoned, and honorable, affectionate and gentle to his family, and to his friends. He encouraged and assisted young men in their professional life. He was charitable to the poor, and polite to all. This is the summary of his life, and character, as impressed upon our memory and our hearts."(19)
"For the past fifty years, Judge Peters has been prominent before the people of Alabama, and has filled many positions of trust with signal ability. At the bar, he stood among the foremost advocates of the state, and was regardrd by his brethren as one of the most learned in his profession. ....... His mental organization and great learning eminently qualified him for the bench, and many of his decisions, while a member of the Supreme Court, will stand unchallenged upon our statute books as long as Government stands."(20)
"[Judge Peters] was an enthusiastic worker in behalf of education, served for many decades as president of the local school boards and brought to Moulton such educators as Professor Freeman, Dr. Shackelford, Tobey, Lattimore and Lynch. ....... Judge Peters was instrumental in the opening of two splendid schools -- the Male Academy for boys and Moulton Female Institute."(18)
Descriptions of Naomi Sophia (Leetch) Peters:
"Mrs. Peters was a typical woman of the South. She was perfectly reserved and her home was her kingdom where she ruled as a queen to make her husband and children happy." (8)
"Naomi Sophia Leetch, a young lady of much beauty, very modest and amiable, a great favorite with all her acquaintances. This elegant woman died only a few months ago." (2)
Description of the Peters Daughters:
"No man ever raised a more lovely set of girls than his daughters were ....... . Such young ladies as the Peters girls are hard to find."(8)
Description of the Peters Son:
"....... his son, William, was kindhearted, cheerful, gay, and always had a word of cheer for you." (8)
(1) Town Records of Richmond, Cheshire County, New Hampshire; Bassett, William, History of Richmond, New Hampshire.
(2) Saunders, Col. James Edmonds, Early Settlers of Alabama. (New Orleans: L. Graham & Sons, 1899. p. 75, pp. 110-12.)
(3) Vital Records, Putney, Windham County, Vermont.
(4) Owen, Thomas McAdory, History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, Volume IV, page 1349. (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1921.)
(5) William Leetch Bible, in the possession (1985) of Jane Shelton of Moulton, Alabama, and published in Valley Leaves, March, 1985. Present location of the Bible unknown, copies extant at the Lawrence County (AL) Archives.
(6) Southern Advocate, Huntsville, Ala., 23 Jun 1880.
(7) Moulton, Alabama, Tax List, 1895, has assessments for the four living daughters, but not the son. He was apparently already in MS.
(8) Character Sketch of Judge T. M. Peters, by Professor Charles Gibson Lynch, the Moulton Advertiser, 15 Feb 1911.
(9) Palmer, _______, Register of Officers and Students of the University of Alabama
(10) Letter from Thomas Minott Peters to his former colleague at the University, Washington D. Miller, dated 4 Nov 1836, the original of which is to be found in the Texas State Archives.
(11) Deed of Relinquishment, filed by Thomas Minott Peters, 25 Jun 1838, Lawrence County, Alabama, Court.
(12) Smith, Page, A People's History, Volume IV, The Nation Comes of Age, A People's History of the Ante-bellum Years. (McGraw-Hill, 1981. pp. 204-5.)
(13) Garrett, _______, Public Men in Alabama
(14) Brewer, _______, Alabama -- Her History, Resources, War Record and Public Men, 1540-1872
(15) Southern Claims Commission, Disallowed Claims, Office 177, Claim No. 1458, Naomi S. Peters, microfilm in Research Room, National Archives, Washington, D. C.
(16) Gentry, Dorothy, Life and Legend of Lawrence County Alabama. (Tuscaloosa: Nottingham-SWS, Inc.) pp. 53, 59. (17) White, Jourd, Editor, in The Moulton Advertiser, 19 Jan 1916, quoted in the article, "Our Old Paper."
(18) Kelsoe, Mignonette Warren, "Evolution of Tutelage in Lawrence County, Alabama," Old Lawrence Reminiscences, Lawrence County Historical Commission, Vol. 3, No. 4, p. 121-2.
(19) Obituary of Thomas Minott Peters given to members of the Alabama Bar.
(20) Moulton Advertiser 28 Jun 1888.
(21) Moulton Advertiser 24 Jun 1880
Obituaries Of THOMAS MINOTT PETERS:
"Death of Hon. T. M. Peters. The death of this distinguished citizen occurred at his home, in Moulton, at 2 o'clock on the morning of the 14th, instant, in the 78th year of his age, of paralysis.
For the past fifty years, Judge Peters has been prominent before the people of Alabama, and has filled many positions of trust with signal ability.
At the bar, he stood among the foremost advocates of the state, and was regard by his brethren as one of the most learned in his profession.
He has represented Lawrence County, in the House, and this Senatorial District in the Senate, of the General Assembly of Alabama.
In 1866, he was elected an Associate Justice of the Supreme Bench of Alabama, where on the resignation of Judge Peck, he was made Chief Justice of that Court.
His mental organization and great learning eminently qualified him for the bench, and many of his decisions, while a member of the Supreme Court, will stand unchallenged upon our statute books as long as Government stands.
Tribute of Respect from Moulton Lodge, No. 6, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, also, of which he was a member. Also one from Moulton Royal Arch Chapter."
(Moulton Advertiser 28 Jun 1888)
"GENTLEMEN OF THE BAR: We again meet to deplore the death of an esteemed, and eminent brother, the Hon. Thomas M. Peters. After a long and painful illness which he bore with patience and fortitude, he died on the 14th of June 1888, in the 78th year of his age. Judge Peters graduated at the University of Alabama, and for the last fifty years he has been a prominent man in the state of Alabama. His practice was large, extending over many of the counties of the state and in other states. He was once elected, and served as a member of the Legislature of Alabama; he was afterwards elected Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the state, appointed Chief Justice upon the resignation of Judge Peck, and afterwards returned home, and resumed the practice of law with success, until he was afflicted with the disease which deprived us, and his family, of this friendship and society.
He was a member of Lodge No. 6 of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, and of the Moulton Royal Arch Chapter, No. 81. Each of these associations have adopted resolutions commendatory of his life and character, and today, we his brothers of the bar meet to express our admiration for his many virtues, and our high regard for his life and our sad regret at this death.
From innocent infancy to vigourous manhood to decrepid age, the scenes of life in all their varying shades point inevitably and surely to decay and death! The bright and loving eye and rosey cheeks of youth pass away and assume care's deep furrows in manhood's prime; then the languid eye of the student in repose, wearied over life's struggle, and then in action we have
illustrated the stern resolve and bright expression of the eye, illumined by mental contest in defense of the innocent or denunciation of the guilty one, then in regular course, the sallow cheek appears, the cautious step comes tott'ring on in sad decrepitude, and then comes death.
Such is life and such is the fate of us all, if life shall be extended. It has been truly said that as soon as we commence to live, we commence to die. It is death's path we tread, whether we will or not; whether asleep or awake onweard we go, until we reach the brink of the stream of death, and over it we go and fall and die, and all that live must tread the same path, and experience the like fall. Alas! those who live in the masqurade (sic) of State, fill legislative postions, or wear the judicial robes, -- the rich, the poor, or the great -- those who repose on silken couches of ease, the hale and hearty laborer, and artisan, surrounded with only rude comforts -- the beautiful Belle, society delight, charming all with the melody of her voice and the grace of her deportment; and the pure and devoted sister of Charity nursing the sick, and the poor, winning our admiration by her self denial and tenderness, each and all must pass away, and die, and mix and mingle with the incongruos heap, in undistinguished fellowship under the ground.
It has been said that happy hours may be our own, when we are surrounded by those we love, but that happy days are never known. In the morning we may be bright and cheerful, but ere the day passes away, and night comes, pain may banish sleep. It may be our own troubles, and who is without them, or some dear friend's distress that will dispell joy, and cause sorrow and sadness. Alas such has been the case with us, brothers of the bar! We have been sadly bereaved! So many of our distinguished and loved members of the bar have passed the "river and are resting in the shade." We have passed resolutions of condolence, and shed dears of sorrow for them. Again another brother has left us, "another link is broken."
Hushed be every ['political thought or excitement' were crossed out and overwritten with] 'legal or equitable contest, or forensic display', while the bell tolls our loss. Cease all criticism in the presence of death, for we are not faultless! We will remember only the virtues of our deceased brother! He was a man of learning, industrious, energetic, hightoned, and honorable, affectionate and gentle to his family, and to his friends. He encouraged and assisted young men in their professional life. He was charitable to the poor, and polite to all. This is the summary of his life, and character, as impressed upon our memory and our hearts.
Who will be the next victim of that insatiate "archer", death.
' We know when moons shall wane
When summer bird from far shall cross the sea
When autumn's hue shall tinge the golden grain
But who shall teach us when to look for thee!' "
Source: Obituary of Thomas Minott Peters given to members of the Alabama Bar, obtained at the Alabama Department of History and Archives [ADHA].
OBITUARIES FOR NAOMI SOPHIA (LEETCH) PETERS
"Died, on the night of Thursday, the 18th day of June, 1880, at her home in this place, Mrs.
Naomi Sophia Peters, wife of Hon. Thomas M. Peters. The deceased, at the time of her death, was in the 60th year of her age, and the 42nd year of her married life; and she had been a resident citizen of this place for 37 years, since March 1845. She leaves a husband and five children surviving her to mourn her sad and irreparable loss."(20)
Source: Moulton Advertiser 24 Jun 1880
"Died the 17th instant at her husband's in Moulton (Lawrence County). Mrs. Naomi Sophia Peters, wife of Judge Thomas Minott Peters of that place. The deceased was born in Lawrence County and was the daughter of William and Naomi Leetch. Her mother was the aunt of President Polk. Educated at celebrated school Southmayd in Huntsville. Married June 26, 1838, in her 18th year, to Thomas M. Peters, then a young lawyer, but afterwards Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama. Presbyterian. Died in her 60th year. Left a husband and 5 children." (21)
Source: Southern Advocate (Huntsville, Al) 23 Jun 1880
I have a ton more material on Peters.
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