Lawyer and Delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1861
Richard Sharp Watkins, delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1861, or the secession convention, came to Alabama from Abingdon, Virginia, in the early days of the state’s history. He located at Tuscumbia and later at Russellville where he continued to practice law. He was born November 26, 1815, and died at Russellville, December 5, 1881.
We are not informed as to his childhood or boyhood life. Nor are we informed of much concerning his ancestry. Mrs. Lutie Allen of Russellville, a daughter of Judge Watkins, says that he was not related to the well known Watkins family of Lawrence County. Mrs. Allen tells us that his father was Walker Watkins, and that he lived to a very old age. He died in Knoxville, Tennessee, where most of his near relatives lived. Judge Watkins’ mother was a Miss Harriet Jemayne. Robert, a brother of Judge Watkins, came to Russellville after the Judge had located there and attended school under John Wyatt Harris.
After locating at Russellville Judge Watkins bought a beautiful country estate on the Russellville and Moulton road and built an imposing residence, set in a grove of majestic trees. This home was “just over the hill,” east of Russellville towards Payne’s Creek. Later, iron was mined all around this place, and in the early part of 1897, just after the death of Mrs. Watkins, the old imposing edifice was destroyed by fire.
Judge Watkins was very prominent in legal affairs. For some time he was associated with William Skinner in the practice of law, and like Skinner, he was a Wig.
In 1843, he was elected to fill out the unexpired term of H. C. Jones, who was Probate Judge of Franklin County. Mr. Jones having resigned, Judge Watkins remained in this office until 1849 when he, too, resigned and was followed in office by Richard F. Blocker.
When the secession convention was called at Montgomery in 1861, Richard Sharp Watkins of Russellville and John A. Steele of Tuscumbia represented Franklin County. Strange to say, both of them were opposed to the ordinance of secession. Both Watkins and Steele served on the famous committee of thirteen at that memorable convention. It is also interesting to note that H. C. Jones, who represented Lauderdale County at this convention (who was a brother-in-law of Judge Watkins), was also opposed to the ordinance and refused to vote for it.
Mr. Watkins also represented Franklin County in the lower house of the State Legislature in 1849-50, ’51, ’52, ’53, ’54. The reader should keep in mind that all these duties Judge Watkins performed before Franklin County was divided. Mrs. Allen says that he was also a revenue officer for some time, having sixteen counties under his supervision, and was Chancellor 1873-74. He was a member of the Masonic order.
When a young man he was married to Miss Amelia Jones, daughter of William Stratton and Ann Harris (Cox) Jones. The following children were born to Judge and Mrs. Watkins:
Annie Rivers, married Joe Allen; Walker, died in infancy; William Henry, died when fourteen; Harriet Jemayne, died when nineteen; Evie Jones, married Dr. Lewis Deprez; Martha Bolling, never married; Mariah Louise, married E. T. Allen; R. S. , Jr., a physician, who lives at Columbus, Georgia; Amelia Harris, married “Dode” Sevier; Mary Lynn, married J. H. Walston; Minnie Leigh, married J. C. Stanley.
Source: “Distinguished Men, Women and Families of Franklin Co., Alabama,” by R. L. James, pub. cir. 1927-1929, pages 77-78.