2019 Inductees to Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame
by Rachael Conrad
Milly Francis and Nelle Harper Lee are the 2019 inductees to the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame. The two remarkable women were installed during ceremonies and a luncheon today (3/7/2019) at Judson College in Marion, Alabama.
The Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame is at A. Howard Bean Hall at Judson College. It was established in 1970 to honor the state’s most outstanding women and to help visitors learn about their contributions to both Alabama and the nation. To be inducted, a woman must be from or affiliated with the state and be selected by unanimous vote of the board of directors. They must also be deceased at least two years.
Milly Francis was born on the Alabama River in around 1803. She was the daughter of Josiah and Polly Francis and grew up in the Alabama-Coushatta towns just downstream from today’s Montgomery, Alabama. Josiah Francis (Hillis Hadjo) was a prominent Red Stick prophet or religious leader during the Creek War of 1817-1818, the War of 1812 and the First Seminole War of 1817-1818.
Forced to flee Alabama after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Milly and her family traveled first to the British Fort at Prospect Bluff on Florida’s Apalachicola River and then to Francis Town on the Wakulla River near St. Marks, Florida. She and her sister were playing by the river one day in 1818 when they heard war cries coming from their village.
The two young women rushed up into Francis Town to find that two of the Prophet’s warriors had brought in a prisoner of war. He was Duncan McCrimmon (often misspelled
Milly described what happened next in an interview many years later with Lt. Col. Ethan Allen Hitchcock of the U.S. Army:
Seeing the young man and thinking it a “pity” he should be killed she went to her father and urged that it was a pity, etc. The father said, go to the men who have the right over the young man’s life. She went to them and began to plead. One of them said he should die for that, he had had two sisters killed. She told him that to kill a white man would not bring back his sisters and that he was but a boy and had not the “head” of a man to guide him – (the meaning of this was that he was not old enough to have engaged in the war upon his own judgment). Milly prevailed on the condition that the lad should have his head shaved and live with the Indians. [Journal of Ethan Allen Hitchcock, January 27, 1842]
McCrimmon was soon after turned over to Spanish officers at the fort of San Marcos de Apalache and eventually returned home to become a member of the Georgia State Legislature. He proposed marriage to Milly as a show of his gratitude, but she declined his offer pointing out that she acted from mercy alone.
The story of Milly Francis spread from the Florida wilderness to the great cities of the United States and Europe. She was called the “Creek Pocahontas” and many female babies of the 19th century were named in her honor. Her act of mercy ignited a fierce debate as many white Americans had not previously believed that Native Americans were capable of human emotions.
Milly returned to Alabama and lived at Tuckabatchee where she married and had eight children. She survived the tortures of the Trail of Tears in 1836-1837 and lived near today’s Muskogee, Oklahoma, until she died from tuberculosis in 1848. Congress approved a pension and special medal of honor for her in 1844. She knew of these honors but did not receive them before her death.
Historian Dale Cox penned a biography of this remarkable woman in 2013. It is available here in both book and Kindle e-book formats: Milly Francis: The Life & Times of the Creek Pocahontas.
Click play to see Cox discuss Milly Francis during an appearance at San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in St. Marks, Florida:
Nelle Harper Lee, better known as Harper Lee, is best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
She was born in Monroeville, Alabama, on April 28, 1926, and later attended both Huntington College and The University of Alabama. She was admitted to The University of Alabama School of Law during her junior year but left school six months before graduation to pursue a career in writing.
Lee moved to New York and achieved fame beyond her wildest expectations in 1960 with the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. The beloved novel has been published in more than forty languages and has sold more than forty million copies worldwide. It is regarded as one of the greatest novels of all time and is the most widely read book dealing with race in America.
Nelle Harper Lee received six honorary doctorates and was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2007 and the National Medal of Arts by President Barack H. Obama in 2010.
Lee found fame not entirely to her liking and eventually returned home to Monroeville to live out her life surrounded by family and friends.
See President Obama name Harper Lee a recipient of the National Medal of Arts: