John Gulley

Moved to Missouri Twp Ouachita Co. Arkansas about 1846-47 from Conecuh Co. Ala

John Gulley, the youngest son of William Gulley, Sr. and Bethany Hinnant, was born in Duplin County NC where
he spent his childhood and early manhood. Shortly after his nineteenth birthday he became a substantial land
owner. In a deed dated 22 April 1807 William Gully of Duplin County gave to his son John Gully 363 acres
"where he the said William now lives." Note that the name is Gully in this deed. We think John, like his father,
spelled his surname without the "e." But as explained in William Gulley, Sr. notes, John's sons all changed to
On the 13th of Feb. 1809 John Gulley, age 20, and Nancy Bizzell, age 17, were married in Duplin County NC.
The newlyweds resided on the plantation given by his father, located in the northwest corner of Duplin County
NC. Their first child was born 20 Jan 1810. Over a span of 27 years there were 13 more -- ten boys and four
girls in all.
In 1817 or 1818 John and Nancy moved with their for children from North Carolina to Alabama. Before they
moved John sold his land in North Carolina. In a deed dated 21 Dec. 1815 he sold the 363 acres given to him by
his father in 1807, for $3085 -- a handsome sum in that day. Later, in Jan 1817, he sold 80 acres in Duplin
County to his brother-in-law, Elijah Bizzell, for $80.
How did John and family travel to Alabama? Basically he had two choices -- by land or by sea. Overland the
straight line distance is approximately 600 miles -- considerably longer if customary travel routes were followed.
The water distance was twice as far, but the travel time was less and the trip was apt to be safer and more
convenient. Numerous ships were engaged in transporting goods and passengers between many ports on the
Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf Coast. We have no evidence to prove that John traveled from Wilmington NC to
Mobile AL by ship, but it was a feasible and attractive alternate available to him, particularly since we think he
had ample funds to pay for the passage.
The family departed North Carolina after 22 Mar 1817 (when son Marshal was born in NC) and arrived in
Alabama before 25 Feb. 1819 (when daughter Elizabeth was born in AL). Hence it is very probable that John and
7 17 January 2005
Nancy were in Alabama when the 1820 Census was taken, although they have not been found in this Census. But
this particular Census is very incomplete. Alabama Census Returns 1820, published by the Alabama State
Department of Archives and History, which states in the preface: "The Department of Archives and History has
tried for years to locate the Census returns for other counties covering the period but has so far failed."
In 1830 John Gulley was living in Monroe County AL; but, because the Courthouse records of Monroe County
were destroyed by fir in 1833, we were unable to determine how long he had been living there. He moved from
Monroe County not long after 1830. On 10 Dec. 1832 John Gulley patented land in the SW1/4 of Sect 33 of Twp
13N and Range 11E, in the southeast corner of Dallas C. AL. Living in the same vicinity were John and Nancy
(Williams) Purifoy and their children. They had moved there from Pike County AL about two years earlier when
John Purifoy patented 1 Feb. 1831 land in the SE1/4 of Sect 32 of Twp 13N and Range 11E. John Purifoy's
quarter sections and John Gulley's quarter section adjoined, and were on the Dallas/Wilcox County line about 2.5
miles north of Snow Hill, AL. On 23 Aug 1835 Leroy Purifoy, son of John Purifoy, and Elizabeth Gulley,
daughter of John Gulley, were married. Six months Later there was a second wedding when their siblings, James
Haywood Gulley and Mary Ellen Purifoy were married 28 Feb. 1836.
By then John Gulley was planning to move again, this time to Conecuh County AL where he patented, 12 Apr
1836, 80 acres located in Sect 20 of Twp 3N and Range 13E. Before 1836 ended he obtained three more patents
for 280 additional acres in adjoining sections. The local of this land is the northeast corner of present-day
Escambia County about four mile south of Brooklyn, AL near the Sepulga River. At the time this area was in
Conecuh County (Escambia was not created until 1868) and Conecuh was John's county of residence in the 1840
Census. His enumeration totaled 37 persons (including 26 blacks) and it took a high degree of management to
efficiently employ this many individuals and to feed, clothe and house them. He owned much land and had a
large farming operation. His total worth was probably several times the $3165 which he had when he left North
In 1844 (perhaps earlier) John decided to move west again, this time to Arkansas. Why he decided to leave
Alabama is unknown. He was in his mid 50's, had lived in Alabama for nearly three decades and appeared to be
doing reasonably well. However, he was not by himself in this decision. A number of his neighbors in Alabama
moved to Arkansas about the same time he did. That the journey took place by water is fairly certain. Just a few
miles south of John's plantation the Sepulga River flows into the Conecuh River, which was open to boat traffic to
Pensacola, FL. A ship from Pensacola to New Orleans, and thence up the Mississippi River to the Ouachita River
and by boat up the Ouachita to Arkansas was a feasible journey. We know this because one of John's sons used
this route for visiting Alabama in the 1850's.
John with wife Nancy and seven unmarried sons (John, Jr., Jesse, Calvin, Samuel, Harvey, Henry and Mathew),
settled in Missouri Twp, Ouachita County, Arkansas. daughter Elizabeth Purifoy and family located nearby.
Married son Marshal settled in Liberty Twp in the same county. Two other sons, William and James Haywood,
moved their families to Union Parish in northern Louisiana near the Arkansas border. We think these moves all
occurred at about the same time: i.e., between 1844 and 1847. John Gulley, his wife Nancy, their ten sons and
one married daughter are in the 1850 Census of Ouachita County AR and Union Parish, LA. Of their 14 children
only three, Hepsabeth, Mary and Nancy M., are unaccounted for in this Census.
What was it like to live in Southwest Arkansas in the mid 1800's? Conditions encountered by early settlers in this
area are described in a letter written by one Joseph M. Graham, as published in Researchin' Ouachita/Calhoun
Counties AR, Vol 9, No. 1, page 8. Note that John Gulley and Joseph Graham both moved to a rural area of
Ouachita County about the same time under conditions that were probably quite similar.
March 20th 1850 "Little Bay", Ouchiata (sic) County AR
Nearly five months have elapsed since my arrival in this state ... We pitched our tents and remained in them ...
having no houses on my place, and but 17 acres of Cleared land. We had a pretty rough time of it... I have been
my own overseer and have paid particular attention that the negroes should not be exposed to more than we could
possibly avoid until they got acclimated to this Country. They have, however, done a great deal of work, having
erected four good and comfortable negro houses, a Smoke house & Black Smith Shop, and have our dwelling
underway. We have also cleared about 130 acres of land, and in the course of Two weeks will have it ready to
plant... I am much better pleased with this Country than I anticipated, and particularly with my land location. I
am only a mile & 1/2 from Little Bay on the Ouchiata where Boats stop almost daily as they ascend and descend
8 17 January 2005
the River, which brings me within 4 days of New Orleans.
This is one of the finest Stock Countries I have ever seen. Persons here never think of feeding their hogs with
Corn and they are killed from the woods as fat and large as the Kentucky Hogs that are driven to Carolina. I have
bought about a hundred head; and the Bear, and Panther, serves to make them gentle and causes them to come up
every night. Rice, Potatoes and vegetables of every kind grow here luxuriantly. As we are near navigation every
thing of that kind that we have spare, we can find ready sale for on the Steam Boats.
Henry arrived here about two months since ... He has purchased a house & lot in the town of Camden (at the head
of navigation on the Ouchiata, a business place & containing about 2500 inhabitants) and opened a Drug Store
...Say to Mother that I have some $300 subscribed to build a Baptist Church in our neighborhood. That we hope
to have the Church completed in about six months, and that we would be pleased if she would send us a minister.
We have not a Church now where they have regular service within 20 miles of us. And it is a rare thing to hear a
In April and July 1844 John Gulley patented 560 acres in Sections 6 and 7 of Twp 14S and Range 19W, which
land is on the Ouachita/Nevada county line on the south side of Highway 4 running between Camden and Hope.
Five years later, in July 1849 he patented 120 acres in Sect 27 of Twp 12S and Range 20W, a location about eight
miles north and three miles west of his initial holdings. Each year or two thereafter he added additional acreage
in the same area. In Aug. 1860 he obtained his 18th patent by which time he had patented 1520 acres of Arkansas
land. By 1861 he had consolidated his plantation into one contiguous tract of 1400 acres, and he also owned
other acreage in tracts several miles to the east. When John died in 1865 he owned 2466 acres -- nearly four
square miles.
The site of John Gulley's plantation was NE Nevada County (Ouachita County in his day) about four miles SW of
Bluff City, AR. It can be pinpointed by the extant Gulley Family Cemetery near the center of the plantation. This
land is currently owned by International Paper Company, which uses it to grow tree seedlings in several fields
surrounding the cemetery -- the same fields John Gulley cultivated 140 years ago.
Like the author of the preceding letter, John was able to benefit from the good transportation afforded by the
Ouachita River. His plantation was about 16 miles from Camden ("head of navigation on the Ouachita"} and
only half that far from waterways above Camden classified as intermittently navigable.
The Ouachita County courthouse records were destroyed by fire in 1875. However, tax appraisal records
prepared by the County and submitted to the State have been preserved, and from these we obtain insight into
John's financial condition. In 1858 his assets totaled $24,343, a considerable fortune considering that one nickel
then would buy more than a dollar bill today. John doubtless sustained heavy financial loss from the Civil War,
but the most traumatic loss for him and Nancy was to their family. Four of their sons enlisted in the Confederate
Army, and two died in service. Three grandsons also died in service. And the war was barely over when John
died, 12 Oct. 1865, at age 77. John no doubt wrote a will, but it has been lost due to the Ouachita County
Courthouse fire mentioned earlier.
Leroy Purifoy, a son-in-law, was Administrator of John Gulley's Estate, and may have been the Testamentary
Executor. By 1867 Leroy had distributed the other assets but had not made disposition of 2446 acres of John's
land. The average value of this land was $1.26 per acre compared to $3 per acre in 1858 and 1861. Following
his father's death Samuel Luther Gulley moved back to the family home from Union County AR, and took over
the operation of the family farm (the Civil War had reduced it from a plantation to a farm).
In 1870, on June 26th, the mother Nancy Bizzell Gulley died, one month short of her 79th birthday. Interment
was in the Gulley Family Cemetery beside her husband. Both her grave and his were marked by tombstones
molded from concrete. Later these were replaced with carved stone markers, but parts of the original markers are
still extant. In this cemetery there are 28 inscribed burials, ten with surname Gulley, eight with Purifoy and six
with Epperson. The Gulley and Purifoy burials are descendants, or spouses of descendants, of John and Nancy
Gulley, and the Epperson burials may be. The last burial in this cemetery was in 1918, after which the cemetery
was unattended for forty or fifty years and become overgrown with vegetation. John B. Gulley of Prescott, AR,
writes about it in a letter addressed to Pau John dated 21 June 1986:
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I find it very interesting in acknowledging receipt of your letter concerning your search for the Gulley records
regarding John and Nancy Gulley. You have information, it seems that they were buried about five miles
southwest of Bluff City. OK, that is correct as far as I know, but have you actually visited the "GULLEY
CEMETERY"? If not, let me tell you a little of the history of which I am familiar, (and of course that might be
just a small part of it) and we can start from there.... my part of the story begins about ten or twelve years ago
when I made up my mind to do a little research on the subject, and began trying to locate the GULLEY
CEMETERY. Now that turned out to be a little more than I had expected, because nobody seemed to know the
exact spot because it had totally grown up down there in those woods, and I made two or three trips down hunting
for it before I finally located it. Then to my despair I found a bad sight. First let me explain the reason for this
condition; it seems that back in those days a lot people would set out a cedar tree at the head of a grave because a
lot of them were not able to buy headstones. Well, these old cedar trees had grown into maturity and had turned
into a real good grade of cedar saw logs. Well, some guy, (some sorry thief) had gone in there and stole the cedar
timber and in doing so had cut trees down over the monuments and breaking up a lot of them, but also left the
whole thing in a shape that made it hard to even locate. But finally I did. At that time I was in the saw-business,
(I retired in 1977) so I took a part of my mill crew down there and cleaned it up and straightened up a lot of the
monuments, and since then I have studied them a little to some extent, but as I have already said, I am not so sure
about my great grandparents, but can give you quite a bit about my grandfather (SAMUEL LUTHER
GULLEY).... the Gulley farm wound up finally in the hands of my uncle John's three daughters ... some time later
on they sold the land to INTERNATIONAL PAPER CO. with a provision of the sale that International Paper
would build a fence around the cemetery and maintain it from now on. So now International Paper has built some
houses down there for their employees and the "OLD GULLEY PLACE" is now a pine tree nursery, and it is
looking more modern every day....