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Wallace Family

     The Wallace family of the Lagoon Community in Gulf Shores emigrated from Great Britain sometime in the second half of the 1600's. The Robert Wallace family eventually settled on Portsmouth Island, North Carolina.

     In 1823, several of Robert Wallace's descendants left North Carolina by wagon train and headed west. In 1861, John E. Wallace and his son, Allen L., purchased 606 acres of land in southern Baldwin County from Elisha Nelson. The land, between Oyster Bay and the Little Lagoon, was often referred to as Black Jack Ridge. Allen paid for his share of the land with gold, and John paid his share in Confederate States of America currency.

     After the Civil War, Elisha Nelson challenged the legality of the purchase. Nelson had instructed his attorney not to accept Confederate currency for the purchase, which the attorney ignored. The judge in the case ruled that Confederate money was legal tender at the time of the purchase, and the sale was valid.

     Allen Wallace died within months after arriving in Baldwin County, leaving his wife, Anna, to raise their ten children. One of these children, George, enlisted as a soldier in the Confederate army. When George left to join the army, he took the family's only horse, leaving his family with no means to plow their garden. John Wallace never settled in the Lagoon Community, moving his family to the Fish River area of Baldwin County.

William Star and Alice Virginia Callaway Wallace with daughter Aleye.

     There were several marriages between the Wallace and Callaway families in the community. Two of the more interesting marriages occurred when Wallace siblings married Callaway siblings in a double wedding ceremony. William Star Wallace married Alice Virginia Callaway while Clement Callaway married Mary Wallace. The offspring of these two marriages became the nucleus of the community. William Star Wallace willed a piece of property on the Lagoon to his heirs, allegedly never to be sold. This "Wallace Heirs" property ensures the family will always have a piece of property on the water in the community.

     There were few residents in the community, so the Wallace's were self-sustaining. Fishing eventually became the major commercial activity of the family. The fishing was done almost exclusively in the Little Lagoon. At least part of the reason the Lagoon was fished so much was that until the 1920's, when Calvin Callaway bought the community's first inboard motor, boats were powered either by oars, poles and/or sails.

     The family built boats and used nets for catching fish, usually mullet. Gill nets were the primary nets used by the early fishermen. Later, seine nets were used. Seine fishing is a lost art that has not been employed widely since the early 1960's. A crew of six to eight men would usually employ two boats and two barges with a long net, usually 2,500 feet or more. The net would be stretched between the boats. Most of the net would be pulled in by winches on the barges. Then several men pulled the net to the beach by a process called "fisting". All fish encircled by the nets would go into the "bag" in the middle of the net and be loaded into one of the barges or boats.

     After being caught in the nets, fish were kept alive in a floating "car" until the boats reached "Wallace Landing". Fish were then transferred by a wagon, pulled by "Roscoe" the horse, to Oyster Bay. Fish were then loaded into another boat and taken to Bon Secour and transferred to a boat that would take the fish to market in Mobile. Transporting the fish was a laborious process, that was eventually made easier with the availability of trucks by the 1930's.

     There were no permanent churches in the Lagoon area, and services were held by circuit riders in the home of William Star Wallace until 1919 when the Lagoon Baptist Church was founded with several members of the Wallace family as charter members.

     Entertainment was scarce in the community. Most social activity consisted of church picnics and socials. Dances were sometimes held with music played by residents playing fiddles, harmonicas and accordions. Sam Wallace attended one such dance one night in the early 1900's on Plash Island, then called West Bon Secour, north of the Lagoon community in Oyster Bay. On his way home, he was walking through the wooded area between the Lagoon community and Oyster Bay. The night was unusually dark. There were no outdoor lights or flashlights, and there was no moonlight. Sam came upon an unseen bobcat that let out a scream. Sam was so startled, he swore his hair stood straight up, knocking his hat off. He put his hands in his pockets so he would not lose his money and ran all the way home.

     By the late 1940's, deep sea shrimping replaced fishing as the main industry for the family. Several Wallace family members owned and operated their own deep-sea trawlers, hiring other family as crew. During the 1960's and 1970's virtually every family had some connection with deep sea trawling. By the 1980's however, foreign competition and government regulations, forced most family members to phase out their shrimping interests. Presently, few family members make their living from the water.

     The descendants of Samuel Wallace constitute the vast majority of Wallace family members in the Lagoon community currently. Of Samuel's 11 children, 7 still live in the community, along with 9 of his grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren. Henrietta Wallace Nelson is the only Wallace in the community who is not a descendant of "Uncle Sam".

     The Lagoon community has always been a family community. Children are within sight of grandmothers, aunts, cousins and other related family. The family enjoys getting together several times a year for food, games and fellowship. The highlight of these gatherings, on July 4 each year, is when between 150 and 200 relatives from Baldwin County and beyond gather on William Star Wallace's "Wallace Heirs" property to celebrate God, country and family.

     Written 2001 for The Baldwin County Heritage Book.
Submitted by: W.H. "Buddy" Wallace and W. Clayton Wallace, 2460 Wallace Circle, Gulf Shores, AL 36542
Sources: Wallace land abstracts, The Gilgoes of Portsmouth Island and related families by James Edward White, III, and interviews with older natives.