Francis Bartow Lloyd (1861-1897) is remembered primarily for Sketches of Country Life: Humor, Wisdom, and Pathos from the “Sage of Rocky Creek,” a posthumous collection of his syndicated newspaper columns depicting rural life and featuring his alter-ego Rufus Sanders. Lloyd was a politician, a talented newspaperman, and an accomplished orator who spoke all over the South. Lloyd was murdered at age 36 in a case that drew media attention from across the state.
Francis Bartow Lloyd Lloyd was born on August 12, 1861, near present-day Mount Willing in Lowndes County, to Cary Chappelle Lloyd, a minister, and Sue Lee Lloyd; he had at least one sister and two brothers. His grandfather, Benjamin Lloyd, is known for his compilation The Primitive Hymns, a collection of sacred music published in 1841 that is still in use today among Primitive Baptist congregations. Lloyd was raised on a farm in Butler County, and his early education at neighborhood schools often was interrupted by seasonal farm work. His only uninterrupted formal education was a year at the Greenville Academy in Greenville. In 1881, Lloyd studied law under J. C. Richardson in Greenville, but he quickly shifted his attentions to writing
In 1882, Lloyd moved to Selma, Dallas County, to work as a reporter for the Morning Times and soon became city editor. While living in Selma, Lloyd, a skilled orator, created a sensation with a speech to the Medical Association of the State of Alabama; many of his friends cited that speech as the event that led to his involvement in politics. In 1886, he took a job as a reporter at the Montgomery Advertiser, again moving up quickly to the position of city editor. That same year, Lloyd married Lily Carter, with whom he had four children. In 1890, Lloyd was elected state representative for Montgomery County for the 1890-91 session.
George Morrison Also in 1890, Lloyd published a sketch in the Advertiser featuring the character Rufus Sanders. The character is in the “local color” literary tradition prevalent during Lloyd’s time and represents the regional and vernacular culture of the rural South. Sanders, whose physical appearance Lloyd based on a Montgomery farmer named George Morrison, is a short and paunchy older man who is described as living with his wife, known as “Mother,” in the Rocky Creek community of Butler County. Through Sanders, Lloyd explores his favorite subjects: politics, farming, hard work, drunkenness (he calls homemade whisky “sperits-of-cats-a-fighting”), horse swapping and racing, rural social traditions, and religion. Lloyd regularly includes tales of wisdom from Sanders’s Aunt Nancy Newton, yarns about good friends Andy Lucas and Blev Scroggins, and moral cautions through the character of Lige Runnels, a man whom Sanders does not like. According to Benjamin Buford Williams in his book A Literary History of Alabama: The Nineteenth Century, Sanders resembles other characters in American literature, in particular Johnson Jones Hooper‘s Simon Suggs, but he is not a mere imitation of any of them.
Francis Bartow Lloyd Sporadic at first, the Sanders tales of homespun country life resonated with readers, and Lloyd was given a regular syndicated column on August 16, 1891. Published in newspapers throughout the South, Lloyd’s sketches brought him a measure of financial security. He was able to purchase a 122-acre farm located four and a half miles from Greenville and continued to write his column from there. In 1892, he travelled to Texas to promote the column. In 1894, he announced his candidacy for the position of Alabama Secretary of State at the state Democratic Convention, running on a platform of opposition to the Populist movement that had gained traction in the county. Although he was defeated in his effort at the state convention of 1894, Lloyd planned to run again in 1898. He also continued to speak throughout Alabama during this time.
Lloyd’s life was cut short when he was murdered on August 25, 1897, by John A. Gafford, who accused Lloyd of a licentious relationship with Gafford’s sister. Lloyd’s death was reported in newspapers across the state. Gafford never denied killing Lloyd, and his first trial resulted in a guilty verdict and death sentence. The decision was appealed to Alabama’s Supreme Court and resulted in a verdict of not guilty because of self-defense after evidence showed that a revolver was found near Lloyd’s body at the time of the murder.
After Lloyd’s death, his wife, father, and a family friend gathered his Rufus Sanders columns for publication. The resulting book was sold by subscription and apparently did not sell well enough to support the widow and children. Within a year of Lloyd’s death, his wife advertised their property for sale in the Greenville Advocate.
Lloyd created a notable literary output during his brief lifetime. Although comparisons between Hooper’s Simon Suggs and Rufus Sanders can be made, the character of Rufus Sanders is of a more congenial sort than Hooper’s trickster. He is the old, homespun uncle who has lived to see Alabama change from a wild frontier to a more ordered society after Reconstruction. Through those experiences, Sanders guides his readers in the rights and wrongs of life as he sees them.
Figh, Margaret Gillis. “Bartow Lloyd, Humorist and Philosopher of the Back Country.” Alabama Review 2 (April 1952): 83-99.
Lloyd, Francis Bartow. Sketches of Country Life: Humor, Wisdom, and Pathos from the “Sage of Rocky Creek.” Birmingham, Ala.: Press of Roberts and Son, 1898.
Williams, Benjamin Buford. A Literary History of Alabama: The Nineteenth Century. Rutherford, N.J.: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1979.