John C. Grayson


John C. Grayson

Introduction to the Graysons

 Seth Peace, who was in charge of surveying territories during the early years of the United States, sent a team of surveyors to present-day Madison County, Alabama in 1807. Thomas Freeman was the chief surveyor of that team and his assistant was John Clan Grayson. The job of the survey team was to measure out and mark the boundaries of a new county of the Mississippi Territory that would be known as the Madison County. That county was first a part of the Mississippi Territory until 1817, at which time it became a part of the Alabama Territory, and in 1819, it became a part of the state of Alabama.


     The survey was completed in 1808 and it can be said that Thomas Freeman and John Clan Grayson were the fathers of the new Madison County. It was during the survey that John Clan Grayson fell in love with a valley or cove he was surveying and when he was communicating with his wife and children who were waiting for him in east Tennessee, he told them that he was surveying "The Big Cove." After completing the survey in 1808, Mr. Grayson went to east Tennessee and brought his family to The Big Cove, and he became The Father of Big Cove and his wife, Sarah "Sally" Carter Grayson, became Big Cove's First Lady. The story of the Graysons that will be presented today gives a biographical sketch of a very determined family who made this community a good place for settlers to live. Another good name that the Graysons can be called is 'The Pioneers of Big Cove."

By William Sibley



John Clan Grayson, Father of Madison County

Earlier this year I was honored by the Drake family of this community by being invited to make a talk at their annual family reunion on Monte Sano Mountain. Today, I am honored again by being invited to make a talk at your Grayson Family Reunion.

John Clan Grayson, who I have been told by a Grayson descendent, was actually named John Cullen Grayson, was born Aug. 19,1770 in Fencastle County, Virginia. His future wife, Sarah, also known as "Sally" Carter, was born June 2,1776 in Montgomery County, Virginia. Later, those two counties merged into Montgomery County. John's parents were John and Barbara Grayson. Sarah's parents were George and Mary Carter.

John and Sarah were married on Oct. 23,1792, with Richard Whitt officiating at the wedding. The Graysons lived near future President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, who served as this country's president from 1801-1809.

The United States was a young country during the early married years of the Graysons, and during the administrations of President Thomas Jefferson. New lands were added to the United States, including the Louisiana Purchase, which almost doubled the size of the United States. Also, there were those lands, known as territories, which belonged to the United States, but had not met requirements for statehood.. One such area was that of the Mississippi Territory which was ceded to the United States in 1802. Treaties were made with the Chickasaw Indians in 1805 and with the Cherokee Indians in 1807, and in that same year. Congress made appropriations to carry those treaties into effect, authorizing the surveying of the lands of the Mississippi Territory.

In 1807, John Clan Grayson was a young man, only 37 years old, but thoroughly schooled in the skill of land surveying. He learned that jobs would be open in the territories for people who were trained in his skills. Seth Pease of Washington County, Virginia was in charge of surveys in those territories and he sent a team of surveyors to present-day Madison County, Alabama, led by chief surveyor, Thomas Freeman, and his assistant, John Clan Grayson. James Madison had been elected President of the United States in 1808, but his term of office had not    begun at the time the survey was completed on what would become Madison County, Alabama. The job of the survey team was to mark the boundaries of Madison County, Alabama of the Mississippi Territory.

At the time John Clan Grayson accepted his new job, he and Sarah already had a large family, possibly eight children. Those children were George, Mary Polly," twins John and William, John Cullen, Robert, Charles and Jackson. Charles, who was born in 1801, died as a child and the twins died in 1806. Notice that two of the children were named John. It appears that the Graysons had at least five surviving children when John accepted his new job.

Can you imagine Sarah's reaction when John said, "I'm going on a long trip that will take me to a place called Alabama.” Sarah probably asked, "Where is Alabama and what will you be doing there and will you be taking the children and me with you?"

Sarah was probably shocked when John replied, "No, Honey. You and the children will move to east Tennessee and wait until my job of surveying the land that will be called Madison County, Alabama of the Mississippi Territory is completed. Then, I will come for you and the children."

With all of the preliminaries out of the way, it appears that the survey team arrived in present-day Madison County, Alabama in 1807 and came to the present-day Big Cove community immediately, and constructed a bunk-house near what is now the Grayson Family Cemetery on Old Big Cove Road's east side, a few hundred yards north of Terry-Drake Road. That bunk-house served as the home of the survey team while they completed their survey of this community.

When communicating with his family in east Tennessee, Mr. Grayson reported that he was surveying a large valley, which he called 'The Big Cove.” That name stuck, and today this community is more than two-hundred years old.

The survey was completed in 1808, and Mr. Grayson promptly left The Big Cove for east Tennessee to move his family to this community. On his trip from Tennessee to The Big Cove, Mr. Grayson brought several pack horses that were loaded with tools and implements and bridge-building equipment. Also, some slaves accompanied the Graysons on the trip to their new home.

Later in the 1800s, Grayson's Ferry would be a crossing point between The Big Cove and Owen's (Owens) Cross Roads. During the middle 1800s, Samuel Green, a Big Cove resident, was overseer of Madison County Road No. 81, described as "the 12-mile Post Road to Grayson's Ferry/.” Madison County Road No. 82 was described as "the route from Grayson's Ferry to Vienna.” Vienna was a contemporary name for New Hope.. Also, in the vicinity of Grayson's Ferry is a natural land formation known as Grayson's Island, an uninhabited land.

As the Grayson family and others who were accompanying them were traveling to their new home, there is no doubt that they saw fewer and fewer people. Surely, the children asked repeatedly, "Are we there yet?” Also, one can imagine how excited Mr. Grayson was when they came within sight of the bunk-house and the family could see their new home. The children were excited for sure, but probably were disappointed that they did not see any neighbors, and therefore saw no children. It was probably at that time that the children learned, "We are the only family here.”

The family settled into their new home in 1808 as Big Cove's first family. John Clan Grayson had been a resident of the community in 1807 and was, therefore. Big Cove's first permanent resident. Soon, other families settled into The Big Cove in 1808, including my direct ancestors, the Wrights and Childresses, and possibly the McGahas who were here during that era.

Mr. John Clan Grayson was the Father of Big Cove and his wife, Sarah Carter Grayson, was Big Cove's First Lady. As the Father of Big Cove, Mr. Grayson began immediately to take leadership roles to make Big Cove an inviting place for other families who had been living in the colonies. From 1809 to 1815, Mr. and Mrs. Grayson entered seven tracts of land in Big Cove. Their children entered much land in Big Cove in the 1820s and 1830s.

In 1810, Mr. Grayson began serving Big Cove as a Justice of the Peace, and performed numerous marriages of Big Cove's earliest settlers. Also, in 1810, Mr. Grayson was appointed a Captain in the Mississippi Territorial Militia and was promoted to Major in that group in 1813. In 1812, the Mississippi Territorial Legislature chartered the Green Academy for boys, which the HUNTSVILLE DEMOCRAT described as "a very handsome school located east of Huntsville.” John Clan Grayson served on the first board of trustees for that school.

In 1813, Mr. Grayson served on a Madison County grand jury. Also, in that same year, future President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, and   David Crockett, stopped in the Huntsville area on their way to fight in the Indian Wars at Horseshoe Bend. Some of the Grayson sons were students at Green Academy at that time, and some Grayson descendents are convinced that those boys were recruited by Messrs. Jackson and Crockett.

Mr. Grayson served on several juries in Madison County and one of those juries involved a murder case. As is the case of most leaders, Mr. Grayson himself appeared in Madison County courts both as a plaintiff and as a defendant. In 1812, Bennett Claugh was charged with stealing a brindle steer valued at $10.00 that was the property of Mr. Grayson. The sheriff was ordered to bring Mr. Claugh to justice, but the man could not be found. In 1815, John Gandy sued Mr. Grayson for assault. Mr. Gandy claimed that Mr. Grayson committed assault and battery on him on Nov. 13,1814, beating and wounding him. A jury found Mr. Grayson not guilty. It is thought that Mr. Grayson probably had to use his military authority in some way in dealing with Mr. Claugh.  In 1817, the Graysons were among the Big Covians who saw Alabama become a territory and in 1819, they saw Alabama become a state.

As you know, there have been several marriages of Graysons to Brazeltons in Big Cove, but did you know that Henry Brazelton and his wife, Lydia Ledbetter, and their family were among the pioneer families who came to Big Cove in 1808? When Alabama achieved its statehood in 1819, Henry Brazelton's home was made a voting precinct and was among the first six voting precincts in Madison County. It was probably among the earliest voting precincts in the state of Alabama. Also, the annual Muster Day rallies were held at the Brazelton home and had started in the early 1800s and were no doubt, attended by the Graysons.

After creating the voting precinct at Henry Brazelton's home, officials discovered that the routes from the Huntsville area to Big Cove were very rough and getting voting results to the county seat was very slow. So, in 1823, a committee was appointed to mark out a route from Big Cove to the Huntsville area by way of Webster's Gap. Mr. Grayson and Mr. Brazelton served on that committee.

It was a very sad time on July 29,1826, at 5:00 P. M. when residents of Big Cove learned that their leader, Mr. Grayson died. He was only 56 years old. Mrs. Grayson, his beloved wife of 34 years, died at 9:00 P.M. on Sept. 13,1838, at the age of 62. Mr. and Mrs. Grayson were buried in the Grayson Family Cemetery on the Grayson Plantation, on the land that the couple loved as much as the O’Haras loved Tara in GONE WITH THE WIND.

The deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Grayson did not stop the influence they had on the citizens of Big Cove. The couple eventually had thirteen children, and those children married into other prominent Big Cove families.

It would be impossible to list the many accomplishments and achievements that the Graysons have had. There have been members of that family who have been leaders in the military, the ministry, attorneys, physicians, judges, delegate to the Alabama Constitutional Convention, Convict Inspector, and other areas of professional service. Also, when the swine flu epidemic of the World War I era swept through this nation. Big Cove was not spared from that awful time of uneasiness and death. Citizens of Big Cove were dying so fast that their relatives had no place to bury the victims of the flu. The Graysons very graciously allowed many of those victims to be buried in their cemetery. Those victims were not all paupers, but they were dying so fast that their relatives had no time for burial arrangements.

Civil War Captain John William Grayson is probably the best-known of the Grayson descendents. He owned a handsome plantation three miles southwest of Gurley and it was known as a grand showplace of Madison County. Many parties were held at the Grayson Springs where people would come from other states to taste the mineral waters, which were considered as very healthy for many ailments. There were parties at the Grayson home where the men and women were made to stay in separate parts of the house. When that historic Grayson home, which I remember, was destroyed by fire, Madison County lost a valuable landmark.

THE GURLEY HERALD was an excellent weekly newspaper that reported about events in and around Gurley and other satellite communities. In 1909, the newspaper printed its Special Fifteenth Anniversary Edition, in which, it gave biographical accounts of 25 men who had made Gurley a special place to live. Among those men was Captain John William Grayson. The newspaper pointed out that Mr. Grayson had four sons who were educated at the University of Alabama and a daughter who was educated at the Huntsville Female Seminary. Also, there was The Grayson School on the plantation. Mr. Grayson also served on the board of trustees at Gurley's Robert Donnell High School, a high-classed prep school where his children excelled as students. This shows that Captain Grayson continued the tradition of education set by his grandfather who had served on the board of trustees at Green Academy. On a personal note, I want to say that Captain Grayson's sister, Fannie Charlotte Grayson, who later married William Robert King, was a witness at my Grandparents Sibleys' wedding in Big Cove in 1878. Fannie Grayson's grandfather, William Wright, was a brother to my grandfather Sibley's grandmother, Jane Wright Jenkins.

 It is very difficult to know where to close a story about Big Cove's first family, but all who know anything about that family know that present-day citizens of Big Cove can be very proud that John Clan Grayson saw this place as a very good place to rear a family. His decision to stay in this community has made it possible for many other families to enjoy living here.

Thank you.