Matthew R. W. Albritton, a pioneer farmer of eastern Hillsborough County, Florida, was a man whose family is remembered today mainly for the tragic 1920 fence cutting shoot-out at Brewster.
Thomas Albritton, father of Matthew, was born in Pitt County, North Carolina in 1776, and in childhood moved with his parents, John and Averilla (Atherton) Albritton, to Effingham County, Georgia and became a resident of Bulloch County when it was created in 1796. After marrying Mary "Polly" Strickland ca. 1805, they lived for a time in Laurens County where on July 22, 1809 they by letter united with Popular Springs Baptist Church, but Thomas was expelled for fighting on November 7, 1812.
Thomas was a farmer, but fighting was in his blood. While in Bulloch County, he had been commissioned a lieutenant in the militia in August 1808. Removing to Bryan County about 1818, he in 1823 served as second lieutenant in the militia and was the county sheriff 1824-26. In 1838, now in Ware County, he served as a private in Capt. James Walker's Company, which was raised to repel the Indians. From 1841-45 he was a justice of the peace.
Polly Albritton died ca. 1824, and Thomas later married Rhoda Strickland Parker, a cousin of Polly. They had eight children. In Pierce County, Georgia, Thomas died in 1865.
Matthew Richard William Albritton, youngest of seven children of Thomas and Polly, was born December 25, 1822, Bryan County, Georgia. In Ware County in 1840, he served in the militia company of Capt. James Jones, who became his father- in-law, when, about 1849 in Ware County, he married Civility Jones, born March 13, 1833, daughter of Capt. Jones and his wife, Sarah (Mizell) Jones.
After marriage, Matthew and Civility lived several years in Camden County, Georgia. On August 26, 1853, Capt. Jones was killed by being hacked to death with a hoe by a slave named George, who was owned by a neighbor, James Griffin, who had loaned the slave to Jones. Named co-administrator of the estate with Civility's brother-in-law, James Knox, Matthew returned to Ware County. The creation of Pierce County from Ware in 1857 made the Albrittons citizens of it. Matthew served as a justice of the peace of the Inferior Court of Pierce County from 1861-65.
After the Civil War, the family migrated to eastern Hillsborough County, Florida where Matthew continued to farm. On July 22, 1871, Matthew and Civility were among the charter members of the Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Church, located at Old Chicora.
Matthew R. W. Albritton died October 13, 1885. Civility Albritton died December 21, 1918. (Jack Albritton cites Oct. 13, 1913, but cemetery records have Dec. 21, 1918.) Matthew R. W. and Civility Albritton are buried in the Bethlehem Primitive Church Graveyard.
According to historian Park DeVane, in 1919 the American Agricultural Chemical Company in Brewster fenced in a large tract of land to raise blooded cattle. The local cattlemen, accustomed to the open range, naturally took offense at the phosphate company's actions and countered by cutting several miles of fence in early January 1920 and again later the same month.
On the night of January 29, 1920, Polk County Sheriff John Logan and his deputies staked out the area, about five miles south of Brewster. Alerted by placing their ears to the fence, two deputies detected the cutters, confronted them and a gunfight ensued. Andrew J. "Shann" Albritton and Thomas W. "Tinker" Albritton and Tinker's brother-in-law, Niram Alderman, were killed while Jasper Albritton, their nephew, was captured.
On December 2, 1976, Matthew Lane Albritton, a great-grandson of Matthew R. W. Albritton, recounted his version of the tragic aftermath:
"On the 29th day of January, 1920, Andrew J. (Shann) and Thomas W. (Tinker) Albritton, along with a neighbor, Niram Alderman, were killed while cutting fence in southwest Polk County. Up until that point in history, this was all open range, and the only fences were those erected by the farmers to keep the cattle and hogs out of their fields. Many of the facts of the events leading up to and ending with the slaying of these three men are lost to time, bias and rumor. It is difficult, if not impossible, to separate fact from fiction.
"I recall as a youngster of hearing mention of the Double A Cattle Company (AACC) erecting a barbed wire fence on an east-west line along what is now known as Albritton road up to a point just east of the Shann and Owen Albritton property, then southward to Payne's Creek. This not only severely limited the growing range of the local cattle but also cut them off from the Payne's Creek water in time of drought. The local cattlemen attempted to eliminate the fence and cut it in various places at various times.
"Somehow, the sheriff determined where the cutting would occur on that particular night, and deputies were laying in wait. What happens next mostly depends on who is telling the story. Some say the deputies opened fire without warning, killing three unarmed men. Others say the fence cutters were armed, and the deputies had to fire. Jasper Albritton [born 1877], Uncle Doc's son, is said to have been there and escaped by falling to his hands and knees and crawling through the grass and palmettos for over a mile. I've often wished I'd asked him what really happened, but he's dead and gone now as most likely are all the deputies involved."
"I can add very little to the fence cutting story. This happened five years before I was born.
"One of my uncles, Leo Albritton, recently told me that after the funeral, several close relatives and neighbors made a trip to Bartow to bring Jasper home. Jasper had been tracked down and arrested after the ambush. They were armed with rifles and intended to offer bail if possible. If they couldn't make bail, their intention was to bring Jasper home.
"Jasper was released to them, and no charges were ever filed against him. He spent the rest of his working days taking care of T. W. (Tinker Tom) Albritton's crippled son, and his cattle and farm.
"Incidentally, AACC was American Agricultural Chemical Company. It was not a cattle company. They were phosphate producers."
Ginger Sweat on November 1, 2004 e-mailed:
“I just read your article on Matthew R. W. Albritton. My great grandfather was Andrew "Shan" Albritton, who was shot while cutting fence. Just for the record, my grandmother, Myra Albritton Keene, always said that she would never forget the bullet hole in her daddy's back. As was the custom back then, Shan's body (along with the bodies of the other men) were brought back to Shan's home, placed on the porch, and prepared for burial.
“My grandmother always felt that one of the neighbors had tipped off the sheriff. Our family also feels that since Shan was shot in the back, he was either running or was shot in cold blood. A couple of the men were caught in the barbed wire fence and were left hanging there, indicating that they also were probably not shooting back.
“According to my grandmother, the men were cutting the fence because their cattle were unable to reach their watering hole (as mentioned in your article). Substantiated in your article is also the fact that it was a phosphate company, not a cattle company, that had put up the barbed wire.
"“My grandmother lived to be 99 years of age; she died in 1995, but her stories still live on with us. We just wish we had her back sometimes to ask all those questions we failed to ask while she was living.
"Thank you for your fair treatment of the "fence cutting" Albrittons."
Issue of Matthew and Civility (Jones) Albritton:
1. Sarah "Sallie" Albritton, born September 19, 1850; died November 22, 1930; married Clayborn Taylor (1842-1911).
2. James Noey "Doc" Albritton, born March 30, 1853; died January 12, 1930; married (1) Elizabeth Hutchinson (1857-97), Dec. 9, 1875; (2) Lizzie Duke (1853-1927).
3. Perry Matthew Albritton, born December 21, 1855; died January 20, 1936; married Zary J. Taylor (1857-94), May 5, 1887.
4. Owen Harley Albritton, born December 29, 1857; died July 4, 1936; married Mary "Mollie" Hutchinson (1859-1928).
5. Thomas W. "Tinker" Albritton, born March 16, 1860; died January 29, 1920; married (1) on Oct. 5, 1881 in Polk Co., Roxyan Alderman (1864-98), daughter of Timothy and Zilpha Louisa (Lastinger) Alderman; (2) Rena Mizell (1879-1948).
6. Civility Albritton, born May 6, 1863(?); married in Polk Co. on Oct. 12, 1879, Michael Alderman, son of Timothy and Zilpha Louisa (Lastinger) Alderman.
7. Andrew Jackson "Shann" Albritton, born April 15, 1865(?); died January 29, 1920; married on December 21, 1892, Civil Victoria Lastinger (1872-1920).
8. Jesse Arthur Albritton, born April 4, 1867; died December 13, 1943; married Lillian A. Whidden (1875-1949), Feb. 16, 1893.
9. Rebecca Jane Albritton, born January 19, 1870; died February 20, 1943; married March 17, 1887 in Polk Co., George H. Gill.
References: Jack J. Albritton, Albrittons, 1982; Ray R. Albritton; cemetery records of Bethlehem Cemetery, courtesy of Richard Livingston; Jim Bob Tinsley, Florida Cow Hunter, The Life and Times of Bone Mizell, pp. 73-74; Ginger Sweat, November 1, 2004.
This profile was published in The Herald-Advocate (Wauchula, Fla.), March 12, 1992.
February 03, 2001, November 8, 2004. Music is "Lovely Molly."