Ask McGehee: Was Mobile’s Stocking Street named to identify it as part of the red light district?

Black and white illustration of John Stocking
John Stocking served as mayor of Mobile from 1831 to 1834, receiving 288 votes to his competitor’s 192. The new mayor would play a minor part in the story of Mobile’s first masking society.

Stocking Street in the Leinkauf District was actually named for John Stocking, who served as Mobile’s mayor from 1831 to 1834. The city’s Tenderloin District was located in an entirely different part of town, and the street names had no connection with the activities there.

John Stocking was born in New York state in 1797. Just when he moved to Alabama is unclear, but his 1823 marriage to Keziah Beard took place at Blakeley in Baldwin County. Blakeley had been founded by a Connecticut native in 1813 and by 1823 was a boom town competing with Mobile for business. Stocking could well have been one of thousands of young men looking to make their fortune in what was considered a new frontier.

Blakeley’s proximity to the swamps of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta spelled its doom. Horrendous bouts of yellow fever decimated the population, and Blakeley was ultimately a ghost town. The Stockings, like countless others, had moved to Mobile where records show their third child was born in 1827.

There is no indication of John Stocking’s profession. In 1831, however, he ran against French-born druggist Basil Meslier for mayor and won. The vote count is a vivid reminder of just how small Mobile was at the time; Stocking received 288 votes to Meslier’s 192.

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A Gracious Host

Early on the morning of January 1, 1832, Mobile’s new mayor and his family were awakened by a group of drunken revelers outside their home. Cotton broker Michael Kraft had rung in the New Year down at a cafe on the corner of Conti and Water streets. He and his friends were making their way home when Kraft stumbled into a display of rakes and cowbells in front of Partridge’s Hardware Store.

While loudly singing and clanging those cowbells, the rake-shaking band landed in front of the mayor’s home on St. Emanuel Street. Surely, all the men knew one another in a town so small, and what other Mobilian would they want to visit but the new mayor?

Not only did John Stocking welcome the throng into his home, but legend has it he toasted the group, which was dubbed the Cowbellion de Rakin Society. The following year, they repeated their parade but began wearing masks and then elaborate costumes. Next came decorated wagons, and Mobile would become forever known as the Mother of Mystics.

Unfortunately John Stocking did not live to see Mobile’s tradition of masked parades grow. He died at the age of just 38 in 1835. There is speculation that his death was due to a cholera outbreak, but no one knows for certain.

With Extraordinary Pomp

Newspapers from Charleston to Philadelphia reported the death and subsequent funeral of Mobile’s mayor. “The funeral in Mobile of John Stocking, mayor of that city, was made with extraordinary pomp, expressive of the high estimations in which the deceased had been held as a man and a magistrate.” He is buried in an unmarked grave in Church Street Graveyard.

John Stocking left a widow and five young children and, as the newspapers reported, “no property.” A group of friends started a fund for their benefit, and it soon exceeded $4,000. In terms of today’s dollars, that would exceed $126,000. Obviously, this young mayor had been extremely popular.

As Mobile enters another Carnival season, it seems very fitting to set the record straight as for whom Stocking Street was named.

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