The Vagabond: Josiah D. White

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By Danny Crownover

The Vagabond recently came across an interesting article written Nov. 9, 1948 by local historian Will I. Martin on Josiah Dennis White (pictured at right), one of Turkeytown’s early settlers.

“One of the finest and most useful citizens Etowah County ever had was Josiah Dennis White, a downeast Yankee from Vermont who lived for many years in Turkeytown, [located] just northeast of the City of Gadsden. White owned a 600-acre farm in the vicinity of Gaston High School. He was perhaps the first real dairyman in Etowah County.

“White was born in Williamstown, Vermont on June 24, 1815. He died in Turkeytown on Aug. 18, 1896. His first wife was Miss Evaline S. Martyn of Vermont. They were married on Aug. 2, 1838. She died in 1866.

“Josiah White grew up in Williamstown as an expert machinist. In his early years he formed a partnership with a friend to operate a machine shop that made various kinds of machinery. White amassed a fortune of about $75,000, which was considered a sizeable one in those days. But as the threat of war between the states became increasingly menacing and his business began to lose money, White pulled up stakes, came south and located in Alabama.

“When the Civil War came, White sided with the South and accepted employment in an ammunition factory in the southern part of Alabama, probably the Selma arsenal. He made guns and the like, and his services were worth a great deal to the Confederacy.

“After the death of his first wife in 1866, White came to Etowah County to collect $500 that he had loaned to a friend to buy 600 acres of land in Turkeytown. While conferring with his friend about a settlement, White boarded with the family of Aunt Peggy Cowan. The Cowan family was one of the most prominent in the county and northeast Alabama.

“White soon fell in love with Aunt Peggy’s daughter, Fanny Louise. They were married on Oct. 11, 1869. White eventually settled the debt owed by his friend by taking over the 600 acres of land. In a few years, White collected 8 to 20 cows, while Fanny Louise made a grade of butter that was unexcelled anywhere.

“Josiah White was of Puritan heritage and often spoke of the strict way in which children were raised in Vermont. No cooking was done on Sunday, and about all a boy or girl could do was to sit around with the old folks and be careful not to smile too much. He is buried at Turkeytown United Methodist Church Cemetery.

“Back in the 1880s, the Martin & Phillips store contracted to buy Fanny Louise’s entire output of butter at 25 cents a pound all year round, regardless of the market price. That was back when butter sold for 10 cents a pound. The Whites kept their product cool and firm in a nearby spring branch. This writer, then a small boy, weighed the butter as he worked in his father’s store after school and on Saturdays. He learned to have a high regard for Mr. and Mrs. White, because they were a highly cultured couple and among the best of people.

“When Josiah White was a boy, he was a member of the Silver Cornet Brass Band at Williamstown, Vermont, playing the flute. He spoke of accompanying the band to Massachusetts to play for a celebration of the anniversary of that state’s admission into the union. White was said to have been a fine musician.

“His flute eventually became the possession of his granddaughter, Fanny Lou Erwin, who lived with her father, Wallace Erwin, at the old White house. Erwin eventually bought 200 acres of land from White, his father-in-law. He tore down the old log home and built a fine house.

“Erwin had married White’s daughter, Eva Lou. The couple had two children, Fannie Lou and Eldred, who was a chemist for the great steel mills of the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company in Birmingham.

“Fannie Lou had some pewter plates that were used in the early New England days, as well as a cedar chest in which the family valuables were buried during the Revolutionary War. In a steel vault, she kept a complete silver dinner set made from Mexican money. She had an old brass candlestick that featured a sliding gadget in its side used to push up the candle as it burned down. She had a Courier-Journal sewing machine that was distributed by the great Louisville, Kentucky newspaper of that name.

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