Tuesday, February 5, 2013

150-year-old Prattville Mystery Solved

Along with the Sesquicentennial of the War Between the States, there is another sesquicentennial (one hundred fiftieth anniversary) occurring in February that has caused at least two heritage groups in Prattville to do some research to solve a riddle for those interested in Prattville’s history.
One hundred fifty years ago this winter, Prattville was abuzz with talk about the elopement of the only child of the founder of the town, 18-year-old Ellen Pratt, who had run away with Henry DeBardeleben, a 22-year-old Confederate veteran and also a ward of Daniel Pratt, in whose home he had lived and in whose employ he had been since he was 16 years of age.  The fact that the daughter of the most important man in Prattville had run away to marry, seemingly without her parents’ permission, no doubt surprised many and outraged members of her family, among them Merrill Pratt, adopted nephew of Daniel, who when he heard the news wrote home to his wife that he “‘never was more astonished in my life”, calling Henry “treacherous and ungrateful”.  These sentiments were shared by most other members of the Pratt family, though Daniel and Esther took the pair in when they returned to Prattville in March, after having married on February 4th.
·       Possible influence on H F:  H F Debardeleben's ancestor, Arthur Franz Ferdinand von Bardeleben was a Hessian officer and the son of Baron Anton Adolph von Bardeleben of Kattenbruch, Hesse Kassel.  He resigned his commission in 1780 in order to remain in America and marry Christina Gausse, another German immigrant with whom he started a family at the plantation he purchased called Sans Souci in Charleston neck (now a subdivision in urban Charleston).  He relocated after about three years to lands near Bellville, on the Congaree River south of Columbia, SC and that is where he lived until his death. His children who came to Alabama were the sons and daughters of Margaret Sowerhaver, his second wife.
     He subsequently changed his surname from von Bardeleben to De Bardeleben[1] There is correspondence extant in the Tennessee archives to Judge John Overton, Andrew Jackson's presidential campaign manager, that bears the signature, Arthur Franz Ferdinand de Bardeleben in his own handwriting.  It is probable that he changed his name from von Bardeleben to de Bardeleben because Germans were not particularly popular at that time in South Carolina. Many of them were tories who had fought on the King's side because they had received land grants from George III prior to the War and were concerned that of they British prevailed and they had joined the patriots, their land might be forfeited. (information regarding Arthur Franz Ferdinand von Bardeleben courtesy of Duncan T. Black)
·       H F DeBardeleben's mother, Mary Ann Fairchild DeBardeleben, was from upstate New York and may have been a distant relative of Daniel Pratt.  Everyone else who lived in the house--Merrill Pratt, Daniel's nephew; Edith Kingusbury, Esther's mother; Julia Bill, a cousin--was related to him or his wife Esther.[2]
·       H F became a ward of Daniel Pratt when he was 16, his own father having died when he was 13 and after serving as a baker's apprentice in Montgomery for three years, where he lived with his mother and two other siblings.[3]
·       Henry and Ellen were reported to be together at a funeral at Indian Hill in Prattville, in November 1862, as though they are a couple.[4]
·       Merrill Pratt believed that the mulatto servant, Eliza, was a bad influence on Ellen and may have encouraged the elopement.[5]
·       Henry and Ellen ran away to get married in Troup County, Georgia, where they were married at the First Methodist Church in LaGrange by Armanus Wright, Minister of the Gospel.  The probate judge ("ordinary") who issued their marriage license was Samuel Curtwright.  They came home in March and were received back home by Daniel and Esther Pratt, but shunned for a time by other members of the Pratt family.[6][7][8]
·       By 30 March 1863, Merrill had reconciled with Henry, who went to see him, and has decided to receive the couple back into the family.[9]

·       The War "considerably abbreviated the normal courtship period and lessened parental influence".  H F and Ellen were not the only couple to marry hastily or without parental permission.[1]
·      There was a story published almost 50 years later in the Tuscaloosa News (12 Dec 1910) that Daniel Pratt had unknowingly advised H F to elope with Ellen, after being told by H F that he was in love with a wealthy girl and was afraid her father would not accept him.  According to this fanciful story, said to be from the DeBardeleben family, Pratt had told H F to just "steal her away".  This would not have been characteristic of Daniel Pratt, but Ellen was their only child to survive to adulthood and so may have been indulged beyond what she otherwise would have been.  Merrill complained to wife Julia that "she has had her own way too long".[2]
Note:  This material was developed by members of the Autauga Genealogical Society.  Prattville Dragoon D Tyrone Crowley initiated the question, Robert Hodge made the discovery that the marriage occurred outside Alabama, and Ginger Jones found the book in which the marriage was recorded.  Tyrone Crowley's distant cousin, Sandra Parker Stratford, found and transmitted to us the actual record of the marriage.


[1] Evans, Curt.  The Conquest of Labor, p. 231.
[2] Letter from Merrill Pratt to wife Julia, 18 Feb 1863.



[1] Mississippi Quarterly, Winter 97/98, Vol. 51 Issue 1, p. 15.
[2] Evans, Curt.  The Conquest of Labor, pp. 103-104.
[3] Mississippi Quarterly, ibid.
[4] Letter from Julia to husband Merrill Pratt,  Nov. 30th 1862, Pratt Family Letters.
[5] Letter from Merrill Pratt to wife Julia, 18 Feb 1863.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Evans, Curt.  The Conquest of Labor, p. 114.
[8] Troup County, Georgia, marriage records:  Drawer No. 156, Box No. 8, Marriages 1852-1865, Book D, Source No. SLC, RHS 3149-50, or http://cdm.sos.state.ga.us:8888/cdm4/countyfilm.php, "Troup".
[9] Letter from Merrill Pratt to wife Julia, 30 Mar 1863.

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