Whence all those Inges

The Inaugural Inge

In the mid-18th century, Ben Franklin was flying his famous kite, and the first shots of the French and Indian War were launched over land disputes in the Ohio region. Colonial Americans, mainly farmers or industrial workers, were estimated to number 1.2 million residents – about the same as the Birmingham Metro area population today. In what would become a significant event for the Mobile Bay area, Richard Inge, was born in King and Queen County, Va., in 1754, the first recorded birth of an ancestor of the Alabama Inges.

Little is known about Richard’s childhood. His parents died when he was an infant, and strangers raised him. He enlisted in the military at age 15, just as the American Colonists  began to resist in earnest the British authorities. Fortunately, for every Inge you’ve ever met, he survived his service during the Revolutionary War. He gained some notoriety when he declined a pension, saying that he refused to accept anything for services rendered to his country.

In the early 1800s, as word spread of the fertile lands of central Alabama, planters flocked to the Black Belt. Alabama’s population jumped from a mere 9, 000 in 1810 to 309, 000 in 1830, the year the Indian Removal Act also hastened settlement.

Richard eventually left the eastern U.S. – he had relocated to Granville County, N.C. – embarking on a two-month trek to the wilds of Alabama, which was barely a state then. He settled in Tuscaloosa, where he became a planter and pioneer citizen. “He sat in a dignified and erect manner reading, ” according to a letter written by Mary S. Hogan, relating her mother’s recollections of Richard. “He wore long black silk hose and slippers with silver buckles upon them and knee pants. He always wore white crimped ruffles down his shirt front and similar ruffles fell over his delicate white hands.”

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In New Town, Tuscaloosa, he lived in a two-story house with a cellar, a mansard roof and dormer windows. Fire destroyed the home in 1931.

A Fascinating Journey

Richard proved to be as fertile as the Alabama soil, fathering 14 children; the men became doctors, lawyers or planters, and the women all seemed to marry doctors, lawyers or planters.

The third of Richard’s large brood, Richard Jr., was born in 1790. He was educated in Virginia and North Carolina, and became a doctor. In 1812, he married Elizabeth Bullock, who was also the product of a rather prosperous and large family.

In 1819, two years prior to his father’s move, Dr. Richard Inge Jr., set out for the Alabama Black Belt. His oldest child, William Bullock, a precocious, determined 4-year-old, hid on the large, two-wheeled chaise, among his father’s personal effects.

As Dr. Inge left, the family realized that young William had secretly joined him. Their frantic waves and shouts were misinterpreted as well wishes for safe travels. It was not until some time later that William was discovered. Richard decided to bring his stowaway son with him to Alabama. He had some North Carolina mountaineers fashion a chair from hickory wood, and cleared out a space in the wagon for the ride. The chair remains in the Inge family’s possession today. 

At about the same time the Inges were making their trips south, the federal government was approving the establishment of a “seminary of learning” to be located in the Alabama territory. In 1827, Tuscaloosa – then the state capitol – was chosen as the home of the “University of the State of Alabama.” All the college needed was buildings and students.

During the school’s formative years, William Bullock, then a teenager, was living in Greene County, Ala., located just southwest of Tuscaloosa. Zebulon Montgomery Pike Inge (Z.M.P.), one of William Bullock’s sons who eventually moved to Mobile, details the circumstances of his father’s enrollment in a letter to Dean C.H. Barnwell of the University of Alabama:

Top: William Bullock's home on the Tombigbee River was named “Nutbush, ” after his great-grandfather Richard Bullock's North Carolina Plantation. Above: The recent college graduate journeyed on a steamboat to Mobile.

January 6, 1910

“My father, Wm. B. Inge, was an AB and AM graduate of the University of Alabama and according to the traditions of our family was the very first student to matriculate in the University,  though his name does not, I believe, head the register. It seems that just before the organization of the University there was some local movement to encourage the establishment of the University at that place and I think many of the prominent citizens were called on to subscribe funds to this end. My grandfather was called on to subscribe,  when called on by committee, he told them that he was financially unable to subscribe any money, but that he had a son just ready to enter college and would send him. The committee remarked that students would be as necessary for the success of the University as money and took my father’s name as a student. And this became the instance of his matriculation.”

The University of Alabama opened its doors in 1831, with a campus that included seven buildings: two faculty houses, two dormitories, the laboratory, the Rotunda and the hotel, now known as the Gorgas House. The initial class consisted of 52 students, the first of which, it could be argued, was 15-year-old William Bullock Inge.

With a degree from the university in hand, William’s next order of business was to travel down to Mobile and study law with one of its leading firms. In the winter of 1835, he boarded a steamer on the Black Warrior River and headed south, in what would be the first steps of a surely brilliant legal career.

While in Mobile, William sent letters home, praising the Port City and all her offerings. Conspicuously absent, however, was any reference to his budding career, or law in general. In fact, rumors circulating to Greene County hinted that there was a popular, young, unencumbered man by the name of Inge making his way in Mobile society.

Sometime just after the Mardi Gras season – funny how that happens – William sent word that he was heading back to his parents’ home on the next boat upriver.

The doctor and family were waiting at the dock, eager to hear about his travels and law career. Looking south, they would have seen the stacks’ exhaust long before the steamship rounded the bite of the bend. The stacks for cotton-carrying ships reached high in the air, shielding the cash crop from any sparks that could cause a fire. A flurry of activity would have surrounded the ship as it nestled in the banks, with the deckhands – called “roustabouts” – clearing the mooring lines and extending the gangplank.

William stood tall on the deck. He’d obviously upgraded his wardrobe. There were an endless number of hands tending his new, expensive luggage. His father respected his sturdy, determined son, yet he was skeptical of how he came about these fine things – even the most outstanding young lawyer couldn’t earn that much that fast, could he?

According to family lore, on William’s initial trip south to Mobile, the steamship carried three wealthy planters and their cotton – a lot of cotton. They intended to sell their load in Mobile and remain through the social season.

Somewhere between Demopolis and the Port City, a poker game was struck. (This was a regular occurrence on these trips.) The old-timers probably set out to teach the  college boy a lesson. But the cards aligned with William. It would have been fun to see the planters mope as William and their cotton debarked in Mobile, while they, with their empty pockets, stayed aboard for the return trip home.

William retired from his law career before it ever started, instead becoming a gentleman farmer in Greene County. 

The Four Sons

William Bullock Inge married Elizabeth Brock Herndon in 1839, and their crop would consist of 11 children. The four sons who lived to maturity were above, left to right: Z.M.P. “Zeb, ” Harry Tutweiler, William Bullock Jr. and Richard. Their father’s fondness for Mobile was not lost on them, as three of the sons eventually moved to the Port City, and William Jr. often visited. 

William Bullock Jr. was a planter, a Democratic state senator and represented the 32nd senatorial district in the state constitutional convention of 1901. He was known to have a ready smile and forceful personality that served him well in his political career. He died in 1917, due to injuries sustained after his horse threw him from his buggy. His oldest two sons, William III and Dr. James Tunstall, spent their adult lives in Mobile.

After receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia, Richard went on to study medicine at the University of New York. He opened a practice in Greensboro, in central Alabama, where he stayed until he moved to Mobile in 1896. A reserved man, he had a dry sense of humor and devoted much time and effort to charitable endeavors. He and his family lived in one of the area’s finest houses on Government Street near Broad.

Zeb, after graduating law school at the University of Virginia, relocated to Mobile in 1876. A legislator and gifted orator. he  often was invited to speak at various social functions and enjoyed membership in several societies. In 1885, he became trustee for the Mobile County Bondholders.

The youngest brother, Harry, was a distinguished physician and is recognized as Mobile’s first trained surgeon. Like his brothers, he reveled in an active social calendar. According to a 1948 Press-Register article, Harry brought the first automobile to Mobile in 1902, “a ‘steamer’ [that] ran only after fire heated its innards.”

Tragically, Richard, Zeb and Harry all died within a five-month period, from December of 1920 to the following May.

The brothers were the first generation of Inges to make Mobile a permanent home, leaving an inveterate imprint on the area. Currently, there are well over 100 descendants residing in Mobile and Baldwin counties. In keeping with the family customs, most have achieved professional success and are members of several social organizations.

More Inges in History

• Samuel W. Inge barely edged his cousin, William M. Murphy, in a Congressional bid in 1847. After North Carolina Congressman Edward Stanly made disparaging remarks about the South, Inge challenged him to a duel. Neither was seriously injured.

• Col. William Murphy Inge, a lawyer, legislator and Civil War veteran, married Florida Augusta Evans, cousin of noted Mobilian Augusta Evans Wilson.

• William Bullock (the grandfather of Elizabeth Bullock Inge) married Elizabeth Taylor, whose father, Col. John Taylor, was of the same family as President Zachary Taylor.
• Col. Taylor was also related to President James Madison, through the Penn family.

• Armistead Inge Selden, Jr.,  a former Greensboro High School valedictorian, enjoyed a long political career, first in the Alabama House of Representatives, then as an eight-term U.S. Congressman, and finally as the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Western Samoa.

• Judge Harry Toulmin, William Bullock Inge’s wife’s grandfather, was the first United States Judge in Alabama, and helped write the state’s constitution.

Much of the information for this article was obtained from the book, “The Herndon and Inge Families, ” an exhaustively researched and detailed history written by George B. Inge.

Stephen Potts

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