Old Cahawba: Linking past and present through ‘Cahaba Descendants’

Published 12:30 am Sunday, June 7, 2009

OLD CAHAWBA — This ghost town became a historical fact as early as 1540 when Hernando DeSoto recorded passing Casiste, a Native American village in the same location. Nearly 200 years later, Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville marked the site on his map and called it Caba. The following year, in 1733, the Marquis deCrenay named the site Capo on the map he drew of the area.

By the end of the first decade of the 19th century, the site had become a thriving Native American village. And the year after the formation of the Alabama Territory, the Legislature formed Dallas County with Cahawba as its seat of government. In 1819, just a year later, the territory entered the Union with Cahawba as its seat of government until 1825, after the Alabama Legislature moved the capital to Tuscaloosa.

Essential to the history of the state, various efforts have kept this ghost town alive. From the 1921 monument to mark the site of the first state capital placed by the Alabama Centennial Commission to the employment of archaeologist Linda Derry in 1986 as site director of Cahawba Archaeological Park by the Alabama Historic Commission.

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Now the Cahawba Foundation Inc. has established a membership organization under its wing, working jointly with the Alabama Historical Commission, known as Cahaba Descendants.

“Every eligible descendant has information, perhaps memorabilia, including photographs, invaluable to the history of Old Cahawba. We are eager for them to share their family history with us for inclusion to the Visitor’s Center soon to be rebuilt,” said Derry.

Among the requirements for membership: Be a direct descendent of someone who lived in Cahaba during the 19th century; or someone who served in Alabama state government when the site was the capital; or of someone on active duty in Cahaba Rifles or Lewis’ Battalion between 1861-1865; or a Union soldier held prisoner in Castle Morgan; or who had substantial connections with the town during the 19th century through business, politics or society.

Likely the most knowledgeable of those eligible is Menzo W. Driskell III, the great-great- grandson of Menzo Watson, who moved to Cahawba from Schoharie County, New York in 1856. He worked with E.H. Perine & Co., the largest trade center in Alabama. Watson became quartermaster of the Cahaba Rifles and enlisted in Gen. John T. Morgan’s cavalry regiment, the 51st Parisian Rangers, known as “Wheeler’s Favorites.”

If you’re interested in this new group, contact Linda Derry at 872-9874, or e-mail her at cahawbafamily@bellsouth.net.