Willing to be Little

Men were in great demand throughout the South following the Civil War and there was a distinct shortage. Willis Lee Scott could have parlayed his brief career as a First Lieutenant for the Confederacy into something greater, but perhaps the cost had been too high. In 1862, a near-fatal infection of typhoid fever had permanently damaged his liver and kidneys. Grief over the loss of his brother William to the same illness had dimmed his spirit. Willis returned diminished to his farm in Calhoun County, Alabama. Perhaps he sought in the straightforward life of a farmer what Ralph Waldo Emerson touched upon in 1841: “A great man is always willing to be little.”

Men were in demand not only for leadership positions, but as suitors. Many a young woman feared becoming a spinster due to the lack of eligible men to marry. When word got around Calhoun County that young Lieutenant Scott was back from Virginia, he was likely seen as a suitable suitor despite his wounds. Maybe even because of them.

Margaret Nunnelly came a-callin’ on Willis. Perhaps they’d known each other before the war and she was visiting her friend. Perhaps she was looking for news on her brothers Nathan and Thomas Nunnelly who had both served in Company I with Willis. Perhaps she knew what she wanted and she wanted Willis. However their relationship started, it culminated in their marriage on 18 October 1864. Willis was 28, Margaret was 19.

Willis Lee Scott & Margaret A Nunnelly Marriage, 1864.

In virtue of a License from the Judge of the Court of Probate of Said County, I have this day celebrated the rites of Matrimony… between Willis L. Scott and Margaret A. Nunnelly. Given under my hand this 18th day of October A.D. 1864.

Early in 1865, the couple learned that Margaret was pregnant. Their son John Willis Lee Scott was born on a chilly autumn Sunday, 12 November 1865.

The senior Willis died at some point during 1865, probably due to the organ damage he suffered from typhoid. His Find a Grave memorial states Willis died in the spring, before the birth of his son. This is supported by a family precedence. When Willis’ brother William died in 1862 before the birth of his son, the boy was named John followed by his father’s full name. Willis’ son was similarly christened.

In 1866, Alabama conducted its own state census. This census would be significant because it would show exactly how the state’s population fared during the years of the bloody rebellion. The numbers were terrible. The census contained the names of 8,957 soldiers killed in battle, 13,534 who later died of disease or wounds, and 2,629 disabled for life, for a total of 25,120 Alabama casualties.

Alabama’s census was less detailed than the Federal census. The state census listed only the head of household by name along with the number of people in the household by age groups. Margaret was enumerated in fractional township 15, range 12 east, Calhoun County, as M. A. Scott, with one male in the household under 10 (her son) and one female over 20 (herself). Margaret as head of household with no male of legal age supports the notion that Willis had definitely died before the 1866 census.

Margaret Scott, as M. A. Scott, on the 1866 Alabama Census.
Her father-in-law Jesse Scott’s household was recorded above her entry.

Shortly after the state census, Cleburne County was formed from territory in Calhoun, Randolph, and Talladega counties. The Scotts were under the jurisdiction of the new county.

Margaret was then a young widow with an infant, which was worse than being single. She needed to remarry and quickly chose Francis Little, her late husband’s step-nephew. Francis had been too young to fight in the war but by then had come of age. They were married sometime in 1867 or early ’68, probably in Cleburne County, though no record has been found. He was 21, she was 22.

Willis died without a will, so his estate would be settled in the probate court of Cleburne County. On Monday, 9 March 1868, P. G. McCaghren was appointed as guardian for Lee Scott, as Margaret’s son was being called. John Wigginton was appointed as administrator of the estate upon the application of Willis’ brother John Henry Scott. The Scott brothers had served under Captain Wigginton during the war. Wigginton’s post-war career included a stint on the committee that organized Cleburne County and an appointment as justice of the peace in the same.

Willis’ estate was appraised by William R. Brown, Richard Anderson and P. G. McCaghren in the amount of $319.10, about $5,793 in 2020 dollars, and reported to Administrator Wigginton on Monday, 23 March 1868.

On Monday, 4 May 1868, Margaret Little personally appeared before the probate court to petition for a widow’s dower equal to “one third part of certain tracts or parcels of land lying in the County of Cleburne and known as the West half of the South west quarter of section Nine of Township fifteen of Range Twelve East in the Coosa land District containing seventy six and a half acres more or less…” or about 25 ½ acres. A. D. Chandler, the probate judge, issued a writ of admeasurement of dower to the county sheriff commanding him to summon “five discreete freeholders who shall be connected to the parties neither by blood or marriage and entirely disinterested…” to set the metes and bounds of the dower.

The five allegedly disinterested men were William R. Brown, Amos Barnett, William Barnett, John C. Hooper, and S. C. King. William Brown did have a minor family tie to the Scotts. His daughter Sarah married John Henry Scott the previous year.

William Brown reported the results of the freeholders’ survey to Judge Chandler on Friday, 22 May 1868. Five days later, Judge Chandler awarded to Margaret a dower of “Eighteen acres more or less bounded as follows commencing at the South East corner of west half SW 1/4 Sec 9 Town 15 Range 12 and running 68 rods N, 42 rods W, 64 rods S, 44 rods E.” If Willis’ land was truly 76 ½ acres as reported to the court on 4 May, a dower of one third of that should have been 25 ½ acres. Eighteen is one third of 54. What happened to the other 22 ½ acres?

Francis Little in the 1870 Federal Census for Cleburne County, Alabama.

In 1870, the United States conducted the first Federal census since the war. The family of Francis Little was enumerated in township 14, range 12, Cleburne County. Francis was once again using the Scott surname (he’d used it before while being raised by his stepfather William Thomas Scott). Francis Scott, age 23, white farmer married to Margaret, age 24, son John (Willis and Margaret’s son), age 4, daughter Margaret (Francis and Margaret’s daughter), age 1. The value of their estate was $400, about $7,871 in 2020 dollars. Neither Francis nor the senior Margaret could read or write.

Francis and Margaret would go on to raise nine children together.

Francis Little, who lost his parents to war and grief, who married his step-uncle’s widow, and who was raising his step-cousin as his own child. The war broke apart unions, destroyed some pieces, and the surviving bits were forged by familial bonds into something new and different. In this way, houses ceased to be divided.

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