Tales of Tuscaloosa: “Chickens went to roost, and the cows came home” Featured

Left: An artist’s concept of the Eclipse of 1834. According to NASA, the path of totality passed over West Alabama and darkness covered a swath from below Tuscaloosa to above Jasper and was centered over Fayette County where Powell lived at that time. Right: Ezekiel Abner Powell opposed secession from the Union and advocated an early end to the Civil War. Left: An artist’s concept of the Eclipse of 1834. According to NASA, the path of totality passed over West Alabama and darkness covered a swath from below Tuscaloosa to above Jasper and was centered over Fayette County where Powell lived at that time. Right: Ezekiel Abner Powell opposed secession from the Union and advocated an early end to the Civil War.

It was a cool clear autumn day, but as noon approached, the sunlight dimmed. A little past one it became totally dark, the stars shone brightly, “chickens went to roost, and the cows came home.” The darkness lasted about two minutes before the sun began to gradually reappear. Seventeen-year-old E. A. Powell stood in awe as he witnessed the total eclipse of November 30, 1834.  

Ezekiel Abner Powell was born in South Carolina on May 17, 1817, the third of 12 children. After financial collapse, his family traveled nearly 500 miles to Alabama in a borrowed wagon. Following a year of farming rented land near Selma, they moved to Fayette County and eventually to Northport. 

He first witnessed an election at age 14 and developed a lifelong fascination for politics. He became an attorney and earned distinction in the practice of probate, land title, civil, and criminal law, attending courts in Tuscaloosa, Fayette, Walker, Blount, and other Alabama counties. At various times he was elected Tax Assessor, State Representative, and State Senator. He acted as enumerator for the Tuscaloosa County Federal Census of 1850. He also served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1875. In 1865, he defeated the venerable Robert Jemison for a seat in the Alabama Senate. Politically, Powell was a Whig until the party’s disintegration prior to the Civil War. Later, he became a Democrat but, in his memoirs, he always expressed sentiment for the “grand old” Whig party. 

Fearing disastrous consequences, he strongly opposed secession in 1861 but acquiesced after Alabama withdrew. Early in the Civil War, he served briefly as Captain of the Tuscaloosa Guards, a militia unit created to guard Union prisoners captured at Bull Run and Shiloh. Later, as a wartime state senator, Powell urged an early resolution to the conflict and defeated a measure to conscript “men of 60 or boys of 16” for the state militia. 

From 1886 to 1889, Powell’s memoirs, Fifty-Five Years in West Alabama, were serialized in 47 chapters published in the Tuskaloosa Gazette, a weekly newspaper. Much of Powell’s writing concerned politicians and political campaigns. Additionally, there were detailed descriptions based upon his personal observations of the rowdy Kentuck settlement (early Northport) and other towns, early settlers, camp meetings, preachers, wildlife, unusual weather, celestial phenomena, the Flush Times, the financial Crash of 1837, the removal of the capital from Tuscaloosa to Montgomery, notable court cases, the Know-Nothing Party, the Secession Convention of 1861, and Reconstruction.

Powell supported several social reforms. In addition to opposing the war, he was an adamant proponent of the temperance movement. In his memoirs, he often lamented the loss of people to “the old story” and deplored violence – especially when induced by alcohol. He also was an early advocate for protection of a woman’s assets from seizure for her husband’s debts and a proponent of improved bankruptcy laws. Late in life, he became a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (now known as the United Methodist Church). 

The last known chapter of Powell’s memoirs was published in September 1889. Two years later, Powell gave a “touching” farewell address to the Fayette County Chancery Court. His health failed rapidly, and he died at Northport on September 1, 1892. He had lived for over 52 years in Tuscaloosa County, where he and his wife Amanda Lee raised seven children. Eulogies and resolutions of respect appeared in numerous newspapers. 

Note to readers: 

The author has transcribed all 47 chapters of Powell’s memoirs from the original Tuskaloosa Gazette columns. Free downloads in Microsoft Word of Fifty-Five Years in West Alabama are available. If you would like a copy, please email the author at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

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Druid City Living (DCL) is Tuscaloosa, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.

 

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