WILLIAM JOHN MERRILL, farmer of Beat No. 8, was born within one mile of
where he now resides at Leon, in a little log house with a dirt floor and other
appurtenances to match. The date of his birth was February 17, 1830. He is a son
of William and Susan (McDade) Merrill. The former was a native of Georgia, in
which state he was raised with but a limited education. When a young man he came
to Montgomery county, Ala., where he married and afterward removed to Montezuma,
the old county seat of Covington county. Here he lived a few years and then
removed to and settled in the woods where Leon now is, when the woods were
filled with Indians and all kinds of wild beasts, but containing very few white
people. Here Mr. Merrill improved a farm and lived many years. In an early day
he was engaged in merchandising, and beside this line of business he handled
considerable cotton. He was the first merchant at Leon. Mrs. Merrill died at
Leon November 2, 1875. She was born probably in Montgomery county, and was
raised principally at Mt. Meigs. Mr. Merrill died in Polk county, Tex. He was a
man of great perseverance and industry, accumulated considerable property, but
was unfortunate in business transactions. His father, Robert Merrill, was
probably born in Maryland, whence he removed to Georgia, and later to Montgomery
county, Ala., where he died. In his youth he for some years followed the sea.
The subject of this sketch was the third of a family of five sons and two
daughters, viz.: Sarah, deceased wife of Aaron Feagin; Mary E., widow of James
E. Taylor of Texas; William J.; Robert R., of Limestone county, Tex., who served
in the Confederate army from that state; James T., who served in the First
Alabama cavalry in the western army all through the war, and was once wounded;
Jacob P., who was a private soldier in the Thirty-seventh Alabama infantry
nearly all through the war, was once wounded and has since died; Henry J., also
deceased. William J. Merrill began life on the farm, suffering the privations
incident to pioneer days, the nearest market being Montgomery, sixty-five miles
away, and occasionally he would go to Milton, Fla., ninety miles away. The woods
then were full of wild animals, deer being especially plentiful. January 24,
1850, he married Sarah, daughter of Jesse and Mary Handley, who died in
Covington county. Mrs. Merrill was born in Dale county, Ala., and is the mother
of thirteen children, three of whom died young. Those living are as follows:
Mary A., wife of W. L. Benson; Viola, wife of Riley Odin; Laura A., wife of A.
E. Cannon; Beulah E.; Jessie E.; James C.; John F.; Henry J., Robert B., and
Joseph P. With the exception of two years, one before and one after his
marriage, when he lived in Wilcox county, Mr. Merrill has lived all his life in
the neighborhood of his birth, and since 1861 on his present farm near Leon.
Here he has 640 acres of good land. At one time he owned about 1,000 acres, but
sold off a portion because he thought he had too much. He began with nothing,
working one year for the first horse he ever owned. He has done a great deal of
hard work and is one of the most widely known men in the county, as well as one
of its most respected citizens. In 1862 he volunteered to serve the Confederate
cause, but was not accepted, a substitute going instead, in the Thirty-seventh
Alabama infantry and serving two years. In 1864, however, he joined company F,
First Alabama cavalry, and began operations in South Carolina, his first battle
being in Barnwell district, February 2, 1865. The next day he was detailed to
service in South and North Carolina, but he afterward rejoined his company and
served therewith until the close of the war. On April 26, he left for home.
Since then he has pursued the paths of peace, not having sought office,
preferring the life of a private citizen. While he has never been a politician
he has always been ready to support his party.

from "Memorial Record of Alabama", Vol. I, p. 786-788
Published by
Brant & Fuller (1893)
Madison, WI