A Reckless Race
The Alstons of Halifax North Carolina, Georgia and Florida

One of my Hawkins lines married into the Alston Family. Although the following article is not my direct line, I found it interesting none the less.

From the Dubuque Herald, March 23, 1879


The Violent Careers of Some of the Georgia Alstons

The First Families of Georgia – A Feud with the Ingrams – A Sister Molding Bullets to Avenge Her Brother’s Death – The Murder of Gen. Reed – A Definition of the “Code”

Augusta Ga. • Chronicle and Sentinel

ATLANTA. Ga. March 12 - It is with faltering pen and uncertain fingers that I come to write of “Bob” Alston – dead!

Bob Alston came of a princely stock. His ancestors settled in Halifax, N.C. nearly a century ago. They were imperious, dauntless people, of enormous wealth, lavish habits and a stirring traditions. They were of a stubborn strain of fighters, dominating over everything and brooking no contention. They were known over the country as a gentle, but reckless race, and came to be called the “Halifax” Alstons. Many a time have I heard Alston tell, in his bright and frank way, of the tradition of these people – how they traveled from one of their estates to another in almost regal state – with the old King George coach and four and an army of sable attendants; how his grandmother used to carry her own sheets and pillows and loaf sugar with her everywhere she went and of how, in her mettlesome days, racing with her husband over the countryside, she would put $100 on a cock fight and follow the fox hounds where none but the Alstons dared ride. Or of how his grandfather (Note: this would be Robert West Alston 1781-1859) offered his estates to Jefferson, when war was declared, and drank rye coffee to his death because he drank it during the war; of how honest Willis Alston, his granduncle (Note: this would be Willis Congress Alston 1769 - 1837) had to confront the whole state of Carolina because of his assaults upon a defaulting state treasurer, and of the lordly way in which these two brothers fought and frolicked alternately with the gentry from Virginia to Georgia.

The elder of these “Halifax” Alstons, the grandfather of Bob Alston, came to Georgia with his family and bought the “Shoulderbone lands” now owned in part by David Dickson. He had by this time lavished much of his wealth, but was still immensely rich. He had three sons – Willis (Bob’s father), Augustus, and Gideon. Each of these men came to a violent death. Willis Alston became involved in a feud with the Ingrams, of Hancock county, a very brave and honorable family.


Several recontres took place between them, and their feud was the reigning sensation of that section of the state for months. Col. Alston always went armed with a “yager” – a funnel shaped gun, deadly and heavy. He had, however, several pairs of fine dueling pistols. One night a general engagement was expected and the dueling pistols were all out in a room for inspection. Young Gideon Alston was at home on vacation from the university of Georgia, where he had just risen sophomore. I have heard Col. Mark Johnston say that he was the handsomest and most winning boy he ever knew, and a boy of great brilliancy. There was also in the house a young Castilian names Pepin that Willis Alston had picked up when he was in Nashville paying his suit to Miss Trimble, who afterward married Gen. Sam. Houston. Col Alston saw this friendless boy and adopted him. He was a great favorite with the family. He and Gideon on this night left the room with some pistols to try them. In a few moments Pepin came back and announced that he had shot Gideon through mistake, and killed him. Pepin was given a place in the navy, and was drowned in one of the tropical seas. It is notable of this Alston-Ingram feud that a dramatization of it was written and published. The MS was discovered, without signature or clue, in the hat of a lady, who was fearless and widowed. She published it. Had the authors been known they would have in all probability been killed.


Shortly after this time the Alstons moved to Tallahassee, where they at once became very prominent on account of their wealth, bravery, and talent. They were an unusually handsome and athletic race – being without exception six feet or over, well proportioned and accomplished. Willis Alston once carried a load of 800 pounds dead weight on his shoulders in Tallahassee for a wager. In Tallahassee was started the feud between the Alstons and Gen. Reed. Gen. Leigh Reed was a young man who had distinguished himself in the Indian wars in Florida, and who stood very high in public estimation – Brave, genial, brilliant, he had a most auspicious career ahead of him. He was the leader of one of the parties in Florida and Col Augustus Alston lead the other. They became involved in a difficulty. Bob Alston says because of an article that had appeared in a paper reflecting on Gov. Call. At any rate the trouble resulted in a meeting in which Augustus Alston was killed. The facts seem to be that as the men turned to fire, Col. Alston’s yager went off before he had aimed it, the hair trigger having yielded to an involuntary pressure. Gen Reed aimed deliberately, fired and Col. Alston fell with a fearful wound torn through him. The Alstons always asserted that Gen. Reed should have held his fire, but Reed’s friends claim that the duel was a fair one and that Reed went into the duel with “yagers” knowing that it was a duel to the death and only took his just chances. In any event, however, the sister of Augustus Alston was almost maddened at the death of her brother. She took the lead from the dead body, and molding it into bullets sent them to Col. Willis Alston telling him to hurry home and avenge his brother’s death. It was very well understood that when Willis Alston came there would be trouble.


On the night of the meeting of the legislature Gen. Reed was elected speaker. After the adjournment the members had assembled in Brown’s Hotel to enjoy the usual dinner given by the speaker to his friends. While the banquet was at its merriest there was a slight commotion in the further end of the hall. Pushing aside the crowd gathered about the door, a tall figure wrapped in a long cloak stepped hastily toward the table. Although the face was hidden by a slouched hat, the tall and striking figure was known to the crowd. “There’s Alston! Alston!” they shouted. At this point Col. Alston threw the cloak back and disclosed his features. Without an instant of hesitation Reed arose and drew his pistol and fired at Alston, tearing two fingers off of his right hand, in which he was holding a bowie knife. Alston never hesitated at this, but charged like a wild boar on Reed. They were pulled apart after a struggle in which Reed was cut and Alston somewhat injured. Some months afterward Gen. Reed was walking down the street with a friend, when he was attacked by Col. Willis Alston. He received the contents of a shotgun and as he turned to confront his assailant received the other load in his face. He dropped mortally wounded. Co. Alston’s friends claimed that he had notified Reed that he would kill him on sight. Reed’s friends claim that he had received no such notification. At any rate, Col. Alston was imprisoned. He managed to get off to Texas, it is said, at a sacrifice of over $30,000 in property and money. He settled in Texas, near Brazonia. After he had been there fro some time he heard that a Dr. Steward had been discussing his killing of Reed in uncomplimentary terms. He wrote down the remarks and a short time afterward met Dr. Stewart on the prairie. He presented the letter, and asked Dr. Stewart if he had made the remarks he was credited with there. While Dr. Stewart was examining the letter, he drew his pistol and fired on Col. Alston. The shot entered his bowels. In the meantime Dr. Stewart had dismounted getting his horse between himself and Alston. Alston advanced, and after being terribly mutilated, so much so that his bowels protruded, he killed Stewart – pouring a load of buckshot through his head. He was taken to jail, and while there wrote his last letter on earth. It was addressed to Col. Tom Howard. It was confident, hopeful, and defiant. After writing this letter he took his fiddle and commenced playing all gashed and torn as he was. William, his faithful body servant, shortly afterward entered the jail, having a coil of rope wound around his body under his clothes. While they were preparing for the master’s escape, a noise was heard outside. It was a crowd breaking into the jail to take the prisoner out and kill him. The mob pressed through the doors but the dauntless hero never quailed. He sat there fiddling in lordly contempt of pain and death, looking upon his inhuman assailants with unblanched face. They dragged him out, swinging him in a blanket which they knotted at the ends. There muffled up from the light of day, but with the old fearlessness blazin in his heart, and the old dauntless smile playing on his lips, his body riddled with a shower of lynchers’ bullets, the last of the Halifax Alstons died. A lionlike race they were, their gentle blood flaming into passion at the slightest insult – generous of life and gold alike – fitter in their imperious habits and princely ways for the days of chivalry and a realm of barons than for our prosaic days and our commonplace land.


There is a point upon which “Bob” Alston has been more misunderstood than upon his alleged proclivity for fighting. The bravery and dash of the old Alston blood were there, but the passion fever had been cooled out of it, and a most genial essence sent through it, cool and sparkling. His mother was a gentle woman, and gave to her sons a most admirable sweetness of disposition. Whenever the Alston fire flased in the veins, this delicious coolness put it down. I never saw Alston angry five minutes at a time in my life. It was a flash – a frown – a smile! I heard it said yesterday that he had killed two men. Nothing could be falser. He never fought a duel. He never hurt a human being. He never carried a pistol. He was an authority on the code, and adjusted, I presume more difficulties than any man in Georgia. The saddest memory of his life, as I know, was his connection with the McGrath-Tabor duel. An article appeared in the Charleston Mercury assailing Judge McGrath. Young McGrath, Alston’s friend, challenged the three editors of the paper, declining to hold the author of the article responsible, and contending that the publication was the offense. Tabor accepted. Alston loaded the pistols. At the second fire Tabor sprang in the air and fell to the earth a corpse. Alston never got over the horror of the sight. He believed in the “code,” but he believed in it as a peacemaker. He held that it settled difficulties rather than raised them. “Under the code,” said he, “street fights are impossible and murders almost so. In Charleston, with the cod in vogue, there was not a murder in twenty years. The code simply means that two gentlemen, in passion, shall leave their dispute to two gentlemen who are cool and disinterested.” His own death seems to give weight to his argument. Had his difference with Cox been left two hours, it would have been settled.

He laughed to me a few months ago when I noted him with an old enemy, “Oh, I am getting cooler now. I think I am going to break this old tradition that the Alstons must die in their boots.” There was a flavor of sadness in the remark. I know that his vague horror of a violent death overshadowed his whole life. What could have been more piteous to those who know the fire that lived in the man’s heart, and the pride that flashed through his views, than the abject way in which he tried to avoid the difficulty with Cox. How he avoided him, dodged him, expostulated, begged for peace – asked his friends to interfere and save him, and at last threw himself in the treasurer’s chair and said: “How awful it is to be hunted down by a man who is determined to kill you!” Ah – God alone knows how that proud heart was so wrung and that gentle spirit tortured when it uttered that cry! And about the last thing he did was to walk up to Cox, lay his two hands gently on his breast, and looking into his enemy’s face with that frank, winsome way of his, say: “Ed, whey should we have a difficulty? I don’t want to kill you, and you oughtn’t to want to kill me?”

When at last he saw that the fight must come, he met it grandly and like the man that he was. When Cox, with his pistol in his hand, turned to lock the door for the death struggle, how easily Alston could have killed him. But no! There he sat calmly awaiting until his assailant had turned full upon him. Then he arose deliberately, and stood nerved for the deadly shock. And he met it like a hero! He never stirred from his tracks. He stood erect, his head thrown back in the old royal way, half wheeling on his heels at each shot, to confront his enemy, who dodged and jumped from one side of the room to the other. When his pistol snapped, and he knew his life was gone, he never blanched or dodged. He turned toward Nelms, his friend, smiled, and without a frown, met his death in the old Alston way!

There was a touching thing done by Ed mercer, who always loved Alston passing well. He knew of Alston’s fear that he would die a violent death, he said, with tears in his eyes, “Poor Bob. He shall not die in his boots, “ and he tenderly pulled them off. At the bedside the scene was heartrending. The poor wife, holding her husband’s hand and calling on him in the most piteous tones. Near her kneeled Gov. Colquitt, praying aloud, his voice so broken that he could not syllable his words. Around the bed stood friends with uncovered heads and streaming eyes, while the crowd thronged outside the door eager for the slightest bit of news. On the bed, peaceful and resigned, his eyes resting fondly on his wife, or lifted now and then to some friend, lay the sufterer. Ah, surely, in God’s mercy, here was the peaceful death he had prayed for. Surely here was a peace that mocked all earthly storms – a peace that smiled at the ghastly hole in the temple and the blood stains – a legacy of peace that would enrich his son beyond all measure – a peace that “passeth understanding.”