John Pope, son of Leroy Pope
February 6, 2015
By Kelly Sowell, Elmwood Historian
Leroy Pope is considered to be the father of Huntsville, Alabama. Born in Virginia, Leroy moved to Petersburg, Georgia in 1790 and became a tobacco planter. In 1809 he purchased a large tract of land in Madison County, Mississippi Territory, which is now Alabama. This land included the highly sought after Big Spring. Pioneer John Hunt had already settled in the area and built a log cabin about 1805 but could not afford to purchase the land. Leroy planned a regular pattern of streets around the Big Spring and named his town Twickenham, after the home town of his distant relative Alexander Pope, the famous English poet. Because of anti-British sentiment during the time period, the town was renamed “Huntsville” to honor pioneer John Hunt. Leroy successfully petitioned the territorial legislature to select his city as the seat of Madison County’s government. He continued to be a successful planter, was active in the early government, and was named commissioner for Planters’ and Merchants’ Bank of Huntsville, Alabama’s first bank.
Leroy Pope’s son, John Pope, studied law at Yale University then practiced law in Georgia. In 1817 John married Louisa Rembert, the daughter of a wealthy planter. The two settled down and John became a planter as well. They were married for 20 years and had five children. Louisa died in 1837 and by 1840 he was living near Memphis with his children and his new wife, Elizabeth Hemphill Jones. John owned a 930 acre plantation 5 miles northeast of the city, along Raleigh Road, which he named “The Oaks.” According to the 1840 census, he owned 56 slaves. He primarily grew cotton and employed innovative yet practical methods to increase the quality and quantity of his crops. He was one of the most successful and reputable men in the cotton business. John’s success was internationally recognized when his fine bale of cotton was awarded a prize medal at London’s Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851. There were a total of 10 medals awarded, one of which can be seen at the Brooks Museum of Art.
Confederate Congress prohibited the sale of cotton to the North in November 1861. John Pope’s plantation held approximately $20,000 worth of cotton when the city of Memphis fell to Union forces in June 1862. In an effort to keep his cotton from ending up in enemy hands John, like so many other planters, burned all of it. He didn’t live to see the end of the Civil War though. He died March 28, 1865. John Pope is buried in the Chapel Hill section of Elmwood, along with three of his children. His wives and other children are buried at Raleigh Cemetery. Leroy Pope, is buried at Maple Hill Cemetery in Huntsville, Alabama.