Martin V. Bridges (1845-1881), Artist-Photographer

As teen in late 1970s I began researching my paternal grandmother’s Loy family. Our line is from Martin Loy’s (to America 1741) son Henry’s son John Henry Loy who migrated from North Carolina to Tennessee, then to pioneer Madison County, Alabama and lastly to pioneer Effingham County, Illinois. Although at one time John Henry and many of his cousins spent their young adulthood in Madison County, Alabama (and neighboring counties as they were formed), his cousin George Loy, Jr., son of his uncle George, was the only cousin who remained in Alabama for the remainder of his life.

When I began researching George Jr.’s family, not much was known about him. But finding online records such as historical newspapers, vital record images, and old public domain county histories, I’ve learned much more about George Jr., his wife Barsheba, and their three sons and three daughters.

Their youngest daughter Tabitha and husband William P. Bridges were parents of Martin V. Bridges. Although William’s brother and this brother’s son were also named Martin Bridges, they had middle initial B. And the 1860 census enumerator listed William and Tabitha’s son with middle initial “B.” instead of “V.” furthering the confusion! It’s easy to confuse all three if birth years aren’t consulted.

Despite online family trees with Tabitha’s children in existence, information on Martin V. is still as scant as it was in mid-20th century genealogists’ family group charts. The last anyone knew on Martin V. Bridges after the 1860 Marshall County, Alabama census enumeration with parents, was his 9 November 1868 marriage to Rutha J. Young in this same county. Note: After clicking marriage date link, while viewing license at the FamilySearch site, clicking advance for the next two images will show more papers related to it. The marriage bondsmen were listed as Martin V. Bridges (the groom) and M.B. Bridges, who could be either Martin V.’s uncle or cousin by same name.

Despite oodles of search options the past few years, I still have yet to find Martin V. and Rutha in any 1870 census. However, I did find them in the 1880 Village of Chickasaw, Colbert County, Alabama census. On 11 June 1880 they were enumerated ten years younger than they actually were: M. V. Bridges 25 born AL, father born NC and mother born TN, R. J. Bridges (wife) 24 born AL, father born TN and mother born AL. [Martin’s parents were actually born SC and AL.] Though unemployed 2 months during the census year, M. V.’s occupation was “artest” [artist].

No, Martin V. wasn’t a budding Di Vinci or Renoir. This was a term used in those days that added an artistic flair to plain old photography, as I covered in a previous post. (Somewhat on the order of how coffee houses or sandwich shops push their “hand-crafted” drinks or sandwiches. Uh, until robots start doing the job, all of these are made by hand, anyway, no matter how advertised!) But I suppose photographers back in the day needed the “artist” prestige to increase business. Today, with digital cameras even on our phones, we take photos hardly thinking about technical processes going into it. However, photography in those days was a mixture of science (including chemistry) and art, as you can tell by this 1881 book on photography, Wilson’s Photographics. And the source of the two images of this post.

1880s photography dark room

During this era, newspapers had fun making photographer jokes. Editors often poked fun at the never failing way photographers instructed confused patrons to pose with a “calm, pleasant expression of countenance.” This phrase must have been an ingrained cardinal rule for all photographers to say; having learned it as they studied to become a photographer, whether through photography schools or self-study books. There were more jokes.

Such as…

  • the Friday, 22 August 1873 The Livingston Journal (Livingston, AL): — A photographer requests that his sign — “Taken from life” — should be his epitaph.
  • the Thursday, 19 July 1877 Greenville Advocate (Greenville, AL): A New York photographer shot himself to get more sky-light.
  • the Thursday, 12 September 1878 The Troy Messenger (Troy, AL): The old lady who was told by the photographer to “look at that spot on the wall,” after walking over to it, said she couldn’t see it without her “specs.”
  • Or, the Thursday, 14 October 1875 The Southern Plantation (Montgomery, AL): When a Nevada photographer wants to make a good picture, he puts the sitter in place, pulls out a navy revolver, cocks it, levels it at the man’s head, and says, “Now, jist you sit perfectly still, and don’t move a hair; put on a calm, pleasant expression of countenance, and look right into the muzzle of this revolver, or I’ll blow the top of your head off. My reputation as an artist is at stake, and I don’t want no nonsense about this picture.”

That last was an overly recycled joke. I first saw shortened form in an 1871 Athens, AL paper, where it was an Ohio photographer. By 1875 it was a Nevada photographer circulating in papers nationwide. By 1897 it was an Alaska photographer, while in 1890s U.K. the story still circulated as Nevada photographer. But in 1881 the Preston, England newspaper interwove the story with another article, making it appear this happened in the U.K.

1880s Portrait Camera

If you try to find the village of Chickasaw in a modern Colbert County map, it won’t be there. According to the AL Home Town Locator, this village was inundated by Pickwick Dam when the TVA came in. Yes, the same TVA that inundated Loyston, TN close to the same time. The TVA website tells of the adjoining Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee counties in this area that were affected, with families having to relocate and graves being reinterred.

Sometime between the June 1880 census and 1881, Martin apparently began living in Iuka, Tishomingo County, Mississippi, which borders Colbert County, Alabama. Or, at least Iuka was his residence at time of his death.

The following was in the Thursday, 19 May 1881 The Moulton Advertiser (Moulton, Alabama) pg. 2:

Mr. Bridges, a photographer, was run over and killed by a freight train, near Dixon, on the 9th inst.

And from the Friday, 20 May 1881 The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, AL) pg. 4 and reprinted in the Tuesday, 24 May 1881 The Weekly Advertiser (Montgomery, AL) pg. 3:

Tuscumbia Democrat: On Monday night, the freight train ran over and killed a man, on Buzzard Roost Bridge, a few miles below Dickson. The body was knocked from the bridge into the creek below, and was not recovered till Tuesday morning, when we learn that it was recognized as a Mr. Bridges, of Iuka, who is a photographer, and was on his way to Decatur having just received a telegram, telling him of the illness of his family.

As Rutha should have been living with him in Iuka, it makes me wonder about the telegram “telling him of the illness of his family.” As no one yet has the death date of his mother Tabitha (Loy) Bridges, just that she died between 1880-1900 census, could this have been about the time she was dying? Although Decatur was in Morgan County, it may have been the closest railroad or connecting point to Marshall County at that time.

The place Martin died, “a few miles below Dickson,” is another place no longer on the map. The name has several variations: Dixon, Dickson, Dixon Station, Dickson Station, Dixon’s Station, and Dickson’s Station. Both Google (b/w page version) and Internet Archive (color page version) have copies of “Lippincott’s Gazetteer of the World,” which was published in 1880, the year before Martin’s death. According to it, Dickson was “a post-village of Colbert co., Ala., on the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, 34 miles E.S.E of Corinth. It has 2 stores, a lime-kiln, and a limestone-quarry.”

Then a new break in the story came which is repeated in several papers, including the Tuesday, 31 May 1881 The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, AL) pg. 1, and the Friday, 3 June 1881 The Southern Signal (Prattville, AL) pg. 3. This version is from the Prattville paper:

It now appears that Mr. Bridges, who was thought to have been killed by the cars at Buzzard Roost bridge, as was reported in the Tuscumbia Democrat a few issues back, was murdered by two men, a white man and a negro, who placed his body on the track to avoid suspicion; some money and other articles, known to have belonged to deceased, were found in their possession. They were arrested; and are in jail to await an investigation.

Although I was unable to locate any follow-up news articles regarding the investigation and any sentencing, I have found what seems to be Martin’s grave at Find a Grave. It’s in Margerum, in Colbert Co., AL. Although it’s listed under Martha V. Bridges, the death date is exactly the same, along with birth date (31 March 1845) that matches Martin’s age at death. As the original memorial contributor obtained this “Martha” information from a cemetery survey someone else had made in 2002, I was able to locate contact info for this 2002 surveyor and awaiting to hear back from him. As the previous link indicates, many grave stones were illegible. So it would be easy to mistake “Martin” as “Martha.” I’ve come across this for other Loy descendants in census databases where index transcribed “Martha” but, viewing actual image, it clearly shows “Martin.” I’ve only been researching all this in the past 24 hours, finding Martin’s newspaper accounts and grave info. But it’s so obvious this is Martin, I’ll be requesting this memorial to be transferred to me, so I can correct the name and update it with Martin’s info. [Update: After being transferred to me, I was able to update the memorial for Martin V. Bridges with the correct information.]

After Martin’s death, his widow Rutha married #2 on 5 March 1885, in Marshall Co., AL, to widower Thomas Spencer. There were no children by this marriage, either. But the 1900 census, after Rutha became widowed again, shows her with her widowed step-daughter Eliza F. Wallis (spelled Elizza here) and step-grandson Thomas Davis. One notable item is that the birth years and ages don’t match for a June 1900 enumeration. “Elizza’s” might be correct if she’d already had her birthday, as she’s shown with a June 1856 birth and age 44. Rutha (listed as “Ruth”) is shown with October 1846 birth and age 54. Her gravestone shows birth 26 October 1845, making age 54 correct here, not having birthday yet until October. Likewise, Thomas Davis is shown with October 1886 birth and age 14, which he wouldn’t be until that October. Perhaps, like Rutha, his birth year was one year before what enumerator listed. His full name was James Thomas Davis, according to his grandfather Thomas Spencer’s will, where widow Ruth Spencer was also named.

Four years prior, Rutha was mentioned regarding her newspaper subscription renewal in the Thursday, 23 April 1896 The Guntersville Democrat (Guntersville, AL) pg. 3:

A pleasant note of renewal comes from a former Marshall county citizen, Mrs. Ruth Spencer, now of Riverton, Colbert county. She has many acquaintances in this vicinity and is glad to read of their doings in Marshall’s newspapers.

Then in the Friday, 9 August 1901 The Leighton News (Leighton, AL) pg. 4:

Tom Davis has gone to Florence to work which leaves his grand mother, Mrs. Ruth Spencer, quite lonely, she being a widow.

Rutha remarried again to husband #3 on 25 May 1902, in Tuscumbia, Cobert Co., AL, to Matthew Lambert, another widower with grown children.

From Friday, 6 June 1902 The Leighton News (Leighton, AL) pg. 4:

South Florence.

Well, Mr. Editor, we have had two marriages since I wrote you last. Mr. Mathew [sic] Lambert and Mrs. Ruth Spencer, unknown to anyone, went to the court house last Sunday week and were happily married; while yesterday Mr. James Williams and Miss Willie McClanahan, of Sheffield, came out and were married by Esquire Murdock; both couples run-a-ways. What do you think of that for South Florence?

Matthew Lambert survived Rutha. Seemingly due to the fact Rutha’s step-grandson had surname Davis, Rutha’s Find a Grave memorial and some online trees (neither with sources) give her maiden name as “Davis” and omit any marriage prior to Spencer. No source is given for her marriage to Spencer, which would have shown bride’s name as Ruth Bridges.

For this reason, and that Martin V. Bridges’ life has been hidden from other researchers, I decided to write this post concerning my recent findings.

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