James Titus (1775-1843) was an elected senator in both the Mississippi and Alabama territorial legislatures and was instrumental in preparing these territories for statehood, in 1817 and 1819, respectively. For a time, he was the lone member of the Alabama Senate and assumed all of its duties. He later served as a senator in the Republic of Texas legislature before its admission as a state in 1845. More broadly, Titus also embodied the spirit of the frontier settler in the half-century following the American Revolutionary War. From his childhood until his death, Titus and his family were among the first to settle newly opened frontiers as the United States expanded south and west across the continent.
James Titus was born on December 10, 1775, in Botetourt County, in the British colony of Virginia, to Ebenezer Titus and Rachel Mathews Bowen Titus. In 1780, Ebenezer Titus moved the family to a 320-acre tract of land he received as compensation for his service in the Continental Army. The Titus tract was located along the Cumberland River in the southwestern frontier near Fort Nashborough (present-day Nashville). James Titus spent his formative years in Nashborough, where the Titus family initially lived in a log cabin that was later replaced with a brick house.
In 1795, James Titus married Rebecca Buchanan, with whom he had five children, three of whom reached adulthood. After Rebecca Titus died in 1808, Titus married Nancy Holmes Edmondson, with whom he had seven additional children. Reminiscent of his family’s move three decades prior, Titus relocated his family in 1809 to land he purchased on the frontier in the Mississippi Territory. Titus was appointed a captain in the 7th Mississippi Territory Regiment in 1810 and by 1814 was serving as a member of the territory’s Senate (known as the Legislative Council at the time), later serving as its last president.
In 1817, Congress created the Alabama Territory from the eastern half of the Mississippi Territory and appointed the 13 members of the Mississippi Territorial Legislature (three from the Senate and 10 from the House) who resided within the newly created territory to the Alabama Territorial Legislature. When Alabama’s new legislature convened at St. Stephens in January 1818, however, James Titus was the lone senator in attendance; one of the new senators, Robert Beatty, had resigned and the second, Joseph Carson, had died. By all accounts, Titus took his responsibilities seriously. He called the Senate to order, called the roll, organized the Senate, nominated and elected himself as presiding officer, voted on all bills, and at the end of the day, made the motion to adjourn. He was, in essence, a one-man Senate.
The Territorial Legislature’s second and final session was held from November 2-21, 1818, with 16 or so counties represented by 20 individuals. Titus retained his position as president of the Senate. By early 1819, the Alabama Territory had doubled the required 60,000 free residents necessary to apply for statehood. Titus, as president of the Senate, and John Williams Walker, speaker of the House, petitioned Congress to grant Alabama statehood. Pres. James Monroe signed an act on March 2, 1819, enabling the territory’s residents to form a constitution and state government, requirements that would allow the territory to petition Congress for admission as a state. Two months later, in May, residents elected 44 delegates from 22 counties for a constitutional convention held from July 5 through August 2 in Huntsville, Madison County. The convention unanimously adopted a constitution on July 30 that was formally signed on August 2. Pres. Monroe signed into law a resolution admitting Alabama into the Union on December 14, 1819.
Following his tenure in the Territorial Legislature, Titus remained in Madison County until the death of Nancy Titus in 1822, after which he returned to Tennessee. There, Titus married Rebecca Edmondson, Nancy’s sister. In 1832, while employed by the United States to assist in the removal of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians from Alabama to land in what is now present-day Oklahoma, James Titus and his son Andrew Jackson “Jack” Titus passed through Red River County in the Republic of Texas.
In 1837, Jack Titus moved with his wife and children to Red River County, making him the third generation of Titus men to relocate his family to the frontier. James Titus followed with his wife and young children two years later and was elected to serve as a senator in the Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1842, a position he held until his death.
Titus died on November 21, 1843, and was buried in Savannah Cemetery near his home in Red River County, Texas. The first Texas state legislature renamed the location Titus County in honor of the contributions made to the state by James and Jack Titus.