Biography of William Skinner

Lawyer, Planter and Delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1867

William Skinner, lawyer, planter and delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1867 from Franklin County, was born probably in 1809, at or near Lexington, Kentucky. Died, September 17, 1874, at his home about two and a half miles northwest of Russellville on the Waterloo Road, where John Thurston, colored, now resides. The place of his burial is in the old Sadler cemetery in North Russellville.

We have not been able to get very much information concerning his early life or his ancestry. He was a near relative of Theophilus Skinner, the distinguished Baptist minister of early Franklin history, but unlike his kinsman, William Skinner was a Universalist. He was also a brother of Mrs. Enoch McNatt and of Cordy Skinner who was Probate Judge of Franklin County before the Civil War. The Skinner family were early settlers of Russell’s Valley and were related to some of Franklin’s most prominent families.

According to Dr. Thomas M. Owen’s history, Mr. Skinner read law in a Mississippi College. He returned to Franklin County to practice his profession and was a well known lawyer before the county seat was changed from Russellville to Frankfort. For some time he was associated with Judge R. S. Watkins in the practice of law. Prior to the Civil War, both Skinner and Watkins were Whigs in politics.

When the rupture between the North and South came, Mr. Skinner took sides with the Union. It is said that he became the focus of the anti-confederate sentiment in Franklin County. He was a delegate from Franklin County to the famous Constitutional Convention of 1867, and was also Chancellor of the First District, Northern Division of Alabama, from 1868 until 1873.

When a young man, Mr. Skinner was married to Miss Elizabeth Farned, member of a prominent Franklin County family. Two children were born to them, but both died when quite young. Mrs. Skinner died many years before her husband. She, too, is buried in the Sadler cemetery.

It appears that William Skinner became rather unpopular with some of the people of Franklin County during the Civil War, and reconstruction days. Of course, this was only natural since the majority of the people of Franklin County were in sympathy with the Southern cause. But he was not the kind of man who catered to public opinion. Nor do we believe he did things for opposition. Believing the South to be in the wrong he would not take sides with her. As we see it, a man can do no braver thing than stand for what he believes is right, regardless of public opinion.

No doubt he possessed some grave faults, but he was certainly not the only Franklin County lawyer who did. We are told that he never tried to conceal his short comings from the outside world. People who lived near him assert that he was a “good neighbor.”

One thing he did caused much local comment. He willed his home to Martha, a servant. She is yet living (1927) and is perhaps the oldest living person in Franklin County. Many slave owners of the South gave a few acres of land to a worthy and faithful servant, but it was certainly a most rare thing for one to will a servant his entire estate.

However, he was not neglectful of his relatives as is shown by the fact that he took several of his brother’s orphan children into his home and cared for them.

Besides being a planter and lawyer, Mr. Skinner had other interest. It appears that he was a most intellectual man. He was also a fine violinist of the old school.

These were the children of Cordy Skinner, who married a Miss Sargent: Cordy Skinner had several children and William Skinner did not rear all of them. A daughter, Margaret, lived, so we are told, with relatives in Mississippi. Temple Skinner, son of Cordy Skinner, was a printer in Nashville. Rufe, William, Mollie, the other children, lived with their uncle, William Skinner. Rufe taught school in Franklin County just after the Civil War, and also was a lawyer. He has been dead for many years. Mollie Skinner was the first wife of W. D. Bowen, widely known citizen of Franklin County.


Source: Source: James, R. L. Distinguished Men, Women and Families of Franklin County, Alabama. Russellville, Ala., Private Publication, 1928. 111 p.

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