The Hattery and the Mormon who never crossed the plains


In 1868, three years after the Civil War, Gadsden’s first industry came about in the form of a hat factory. The hattery, as it became known, was  established by Allen Gaylor near Noccalula Falls. He brought his family from Tennessee and came into this area to start his trade.

The hattery was located near the present-day Kiwanis Building on the old road leading to the hotel, cottages and the Elliott Pavilion.

After buying wool from a local carder, the Gaylors assembled and finely chopped the material with a sharp axe. The wool was then piled on a long table, where the cord of a large hickory bow stretched lengthwise was struck with a stick as it buried in the wool. The vibration separated the fibers into small threads.

All the wool was then soaked in lye and pressed into a compact mass. The next step was to mold the wool into various shapes of hats. The Gaylors then wove their own hatbands and made their own dyes. The hats usually weighed one and one-fourth pounds dry and five pounds when wet.

The wet hats were even used as weapons, and one man went to the state legislature wearing one. Politicians in those days spoke admiringly about the “Wool Hat Boys,” for most of them were poor farmers or back woodsmen and could vote. The family also made coonskin caps and top hats from beaver hides. 

The hattery was in operation until the 1880’s, when machine-made hats finally captured the market.

The Gaylors are believed to originally be French Huguenots, a Protestant people that fled France during days of great religious persecution. The Huguenots immigrated into England, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, as well as the English colonies in Massachusetts, New York, and South Carolina as early as the 1600’s.

Allen Gaylor came from Campbell County, Tenn., where the family had moved to from Virginia around 1821-22. Some of these early families intermarried into the Hatmaker family. As the reader can guess, they were all hat makers, including the early Gaylors.

Sometimes between 1836 and 1839, Allen Gayler (who spelt his name as “Gayler”) moved to the Etowah County area. He was born about October 1808 in Warrenton, Fauquier County, Va. He died on Aug. 8, 1885. He and his fourth wife, Lucy Tho-mas Oliver, are buried at the Fairview Cemetery on Lookout Mountain, but neither have tombstones.

The following article talks about Nicholas William Miller as being one of the missionaries who converted John The Baptist Gayler:

“It was always told in the family that Della Melvina Miller was born just before or while her father, Nicholas William Miller, was on his mission to the southern states for the Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints. Note that Grandpa John The Baptist Gayler met the Mormon Elders in 1893, and that Della Melvina Miller was born in 1892.”

Source for the following article is from The Improvement Era, July 1943, Vol. 46, No. 7, page 408. The article reads as follows: 

“Grandpa Gayler, Pioneer – the story of a Mormon pioneer who never crossed the plains but who blazed trails for the Gospel at home. By Jack Northman Anderson of the Southern States Mission.

“John The Baptist Gayler stopped twirling his cane for a moment and attempted to balance it on his thumb. 

‘Yes suh,’ he reflected, ‘many is the time I’ve sat and held a gun while the elders preached.’

“Delighted by his own remark, Grandpa Gayler burst into a half-cough, half-chuckle that convulsed his lanky frame. His bushy white beard protruding from his face at an angle – which lengthened his chin several inches – bobbed merrily.

“Presently Grandpa Gayler settled back in the battered rocker and began another story of the early days… fidgeting idly with his cane as he talked. Here was an unusual character. I knew that after I heard him tell his first story.

“To the casual passer-by who saw Grandpa Gayler lounging on the porch, he looked like any other superannuated southern farmer. But Grandpa Gayler was different. You could tell that. His conversation was alive with wit and rich with philosophy, reflecting a full, contented life. 

“In spite of the wrinkles that creased his face and the slight stoop that bent his back, Grandpa Gayler was not mired in the rut of old age. It was evident from his sense of humor and the mischievous twinkle in his eve that he had managed to maintain a fresh perspective on life.

“Grandpa Gayler – as he is affectionately known to more than 500 missionaries who have shared his hospitality – never crossed the plains. While other converts were trekking to Utah, he stayed at home and blazed trails for the gospel in a hostile land.

“Grandpa Gayler’s farm was an oasis for early missionaries who found refuge within his gates from persecution. It was not uncommon in those days for a pair of harassed elders to stumble upon his porch, gasping for water that had been refused them everywhere else along the way. Often they quenched their thirst while Brother Gayler held an angry mob at bay with a shotgun.

“The oldest living convert in Alabama, John the Baptist Gayler was born Aug. 14, 1858, in Cherokee (now Etowah) County, Ala., where he has resided all his life. When his father Allen Gayler announced that he would be called John, a hired worker who was a devout Baptist hit upon a brilliant idea. If John was to be the name anyhow, he reasoned, it might as well be John the Baptist in honor of the great Biblical character.

“Old Man Gayler was impressed. So the new baby became John the Baptist Gayler – a name that peculiarly fitted his later role as a forerunner of Mormonism in Alabama.

“Religious at heart but dissatisfied with the teachings of the local denominations, John Gayler grew up without joining any church. It was not until 15 years after his marriage to Margaret Elizabeth Reynolds in 1878 that Gayler first encountered Mormonism.

“On a September day in 1893, Gayler greeted two elders – N.W. Miller of Manassa, Colo., and B.F. LeBaren of Mesa, Ariz., – at his door. Gayler had been warned by his neighbors that the Mormons were coming, but in spite of all that Gayler had heard against them, he could not force himself to be unfriendly.

“Gayler shook hands with Elder Miller, and with the same grasp pulled him inside. 

“At his point the lean, white bearded old man beamed with pride. ‘The first words I ever spoke to a Mormon elder were, ‘Come in.’ He burst into another chuckle. Before those first missionaries continued on their way, they explained the Articles of Faith and left three tracts. John Gayler and his wife (Margaret) were immediately interested and stayed up until late in the night reading. The next morning they decided to become Mormons. 

“Five months elapsed, however, before the Gaylers could contact the elders and take the initial step. Finally, on March 13, 1894, they were baptized into the Church by Elder Miller. The Gaylers had been Mormons less than one day when word got around that the missionaries were in town.

“As dusk settled upon the Gayler farm, a crowd of scowling, muttering neighbors were seen approaching the house. They carried whips of leather thongs. Brother Gayler met them at the gate. 

‘We came to talk to the Mormon elders,’ they announced. Gayler could see that they meant business.But Brother Gayler also meant business. 

‘You can come in and talk to them, but it won’t be healthy if you try anything else,’ he warned as they filed in. Gayler sat with a gun on his lap to enforce his warning.

“For several years, those neighbors refused to have anything to do with him. Later, several of them joined the Mormon Church. In addition to those he converted, Grandpa Gayler proudly boasts that he has raised ‘three generations of Mormons.’

“Now living are one daughter, 11 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, all enrolled in the Gadsden Branch.

“A hatter by trade, Bro-ther Gayler made hats by hand until the advent of the machine. He then reverted to farming, which occupied his working hours until two years ago, when failing health confined him to the house. 

“When he was active, Gayler always delighted in mingling with the crowds in town on Saturday afternoons and talking religion with all who would listen.

Now that he is unable to wander the streets, Gayler’s old cronies often visit him at his home to bring up a new argument in their favor. But Grandpa Gayler has an answer for everything. Always alert and witty, he can wiggle out of a dilemma with ease, usually by quoting scripture, which he does faster than most listeners can follow. 

‘If they can’t keep up with me,’ he pointed out with a chuckle, ‘they can’t tell when I make a mistake.’

“One old timer asked him why it was necessary for a person to join the Mormon Church as long as he lived a good Christian life.

“Grandpa Gayler thought a moment, pushing his weather-beaten hat back on his head and scratching his straggly, white hair with a bony finger.

‘The only ones who were saved from the flood,’ he said at last, ‘were those who got on board the ark.’ After this story, he looked up at me earnestly.

‘Son,’ he declared, ‘life wouldn’t be worth livin’ without the Church. It’s the one thing that gives me satisfaction in my old age. I know it’s true, and I have known it ever since the day those first elders visited me forty-nine years ago.’

He then paused, and the twinkle crept back in his eye. 

‘The gospel is like a feast,’ he said. ‘It is laid out on the table for you. All you gotta do is he’p yourself.”

The Gaylor/Gayler genealogy is as follows:

Allen’s father was Jessie E Gayler, Sr. a hatmaker who was born Aug 6, 1877, in Campbell, Tenn., and died Aug. 8, 1936, also in Campbell.

Allen’s grandfather was Thomas Gayler Jr., a hat maker born Oct. 8, 1856, in Campbell, and died Sept.2, 1931 in Jacksboro.

Allen’s great-grandfather was Thomas Gayler Sr., a hat maker born Nov. 8, 1808, in Virginia and died Feb. 7, 1889, in Campbell, Tenn. Thomas arrived in Campbell County in 1823. Thomas Gaylor owned much land and was weal-thy by the day’s standards.

Allen’s great-great-grandfather was Jesse Gayler who was born about 1782. Genealogists have debated that it was in North Carolina or Surrey, England. Jesse died before 1830 in Campbell County, Tenn. 

Allen Gayler’s son becomes a Mormon and was the first person to not to head west. 

John the Baptist Gayler was born on Aug. 14, 1858, in Etowah County and died on Nov. 23, 1945, in Gadsden. He married Margaret Elizabeth Reynolds on Oct. 3, 1878, in Etowah County. Both are buried in Fairview Cemetery on Lookout Mountain.

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