Between the 1830s and 1850s, Elizabeth Dale, was married and widowed, six times. When Elizabeth’s neighbor, Abner Tate, claimed the men had been poisoned, he learned that questioning Elizabeth could cost you your life.
Elizabeth Evans Dale was born in Worcester County, Maryland on October 28, 1795. The third of ten children born to Adam and Polly Dale.
Adam Dale was an aristocrat and respected war veteran who is best known as the founder of Liberty, Tennessee, the oldest town in DeKalb County.
In 1829, Dale would moved his family to Columbia Tennessee where he and his wife Polly would remain until 1850 when they went to Hazel Green, Alabama, to live with their daughter, Elizabeth.
Within one year, Adam Dale died. His death would become part of the legend and questions surrounding Elizabeth Dale’s life.
Elizabeth’s status as a member of a wealthy family meant she wanted for nothing. By the time she was 18, she was considered quite a catch with her long auburn hair, creamy complexion and dark brown eyes. Many men desired her attention and affection. 20 year old Baptist preacher, Samuel Gibbons, who would profess his love and marry 18 year old Elizabeth on November 19, 1812. In early July 1830, the 37 year old reverend became ill and died.
During her mourning period, Elizabeth stayed with family in Columbia, Tennessee. Here, she met plantation owner Philip Flanagan. The two would marry on October 3rd, 1831 but their union would be short lived. Five months after the wedding , Flanagan was struck down by what family and friends called a strange illness. He died on March 14th of 1832.
Elizabeth would once again stay with family during her mourning period. Alexander Jefferies, a 60 year old widower, took a liking to 38 old year old Elizabeth and she took a liking to his money.
Jefferies was a wealthy man, a plantation owner with land in Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. His cotton plantation in Hazel Green was known for the large log house he built on an Indian Mound. The sacred mound of hazel green became the foundation of his home because Jefferies wanted the home elevated. This allowed him to look out over his property from inside his house. His choice, and the events that unfolded on the land, left many wondering if the home and plantation were cursed.
Alexander Jeffries married Elizabeth on November 6th 1833. They moved to the Hazel Green plantation home where they would have two children. Their son William Alexander, born in 1834, and daughter Mary Elizabeth, born in 1837.
On September 14th 1838, Alexander Jefferies, was found dead near a barn on the plantation. His cause of death remains unknown, but his obituary mentioned a strange illness that caused his body to swell and his nails to appear yellow. Signs that point to arsenic poisoning. Jefferies was buried the day he died, laid to rest in the cemetery on the grounds of the plantation in Hazel Green.
Jefferies left the plantation to Elizabeth. For all that’s been said of her fine breeding, charm and beauty, she did not show these traits on the plantation. She was known to terrorize her slaves who saw a different side of the Widow of Hazel Green. They had their own suspicions that the men she married weren’t dying of natural causes.
Less than a year after Alexander Jefferies died, Elizabeth married Robert High, on May 15, 1839. High had served in the Alabama state legislature which was part of Elizabeth’s attraction to him. Marrying a wealthy politician meant entertaining wealthy and respected friends and colleagues of her new husband. The perfect excuse to spend Robert High’s money when she redecorated the mansion.
Less than three years into their marriage, Robert High became ill and dies of a “mysterious illness” in April of 1842.
It seemed death surrounded Elizabeth and neighbors wondered if her daughter paid the price for her mother’s darkness. On August 13, 1844, just three months before her seventh birthday, Elizabeth’s only daughter, Mary Elizabeth died and would be laid to rest in the growing cemetery on the plantation.
On March 16, 1846, 51 year old Elizabeth, married wealthy merchant, Absolom Brown. Elizabeth was excited that her husband wanted to invest in the expansion of the L shaped mansion on the plantation. When expansion was completed, the home had a total of eight bedrooms and two grand staircases. It was known as one of the grandest homes in the county. But Absolom Brown would not enjoy all the parties and grand affairs that Elizabeth would host in the home. Brown died of unknown illness in 1847.
Brown’s burial happened quickly. The night he died, Elizabeth woke up a few slaves and ordered them to immediately bury Brown in the plantation cemetery. They later described Brown’s body as being bloated and very swollen with his tongue having turned thick and black.
Slaves, along with friends and family or Elisabeth and Absolom Brown, noted that Elizabeth showed no emotion or even a hint of sadness that she was now a widow for the fifth time.
She seemed to only focus on finding the next wealthy man she could marry. On May 11th, 1848, Elizabeth married Willis Routt. Willis was seven years younger than the now 53 year old Elizabeth.
By 1850, Elizabeth’s aging parents, Adam and Polly Dale, were living with the Routts in their grand mansion in Hazel Green.
In the spring of 1851, Adam Dale exchanged letters with a family member who had asked for a record of his war service and details about the family. Dale wrote extensively of his war time service and every detail he could remember about his family. These letters became a treasured record for the family. Later that year, on October 14th 1851, 83 year old Adam Dale died in Elizabeth’s home.
Following his burial in the family cemetery on the plantation, his widow, Polly, returned to Columbia, Tennessee to live in the home of her daughter and son in law, Mr. & Mrs. Vaught.
Polly, made the decision to leave the plantation, due to the trouble that surrounded her daughter. It’s said that Elizabeth’s life and the darkness surrounding her made her mother feel unsettled and unsure of what was happening in Elizabeth’s home. Her daughter’s treatment of the enslaved men and women on the plantation, along with the sudden and mysterious deaths of her husbands, led Polly to separate herself from Elizabeth.
Years later, Polly would request that Adam Dale’s body be moved from the plantation cemetery and buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Columbia, Tennessee. Polly did not like that Adam was buried on the plantation in Hazel Green because she felt things seemed off with his sudden death. She was also inclined to believe that the deaths of Elizabeth’s husbands, and their swift burials, pointed to something unnatural happening at Hazel Green. Including the funeral of Elizabeth’s sixth husband, Willis Routt, who died two months after Adam Dale, passing from this world on December 16th, 1851.
Another quick illness and hasty burial of a husband at Hazel Green.
Was Elizabeth a killer? Or was she living on cursed land?
Polly was a part of a growing group of people who suspected Elizabeth was a murderer. The first person to come forward and publicly accuse Elizabeth was her neighbor, Abner Tate, who claimed she had poisoned her six husbands and was a danger to any man who came near.
Authorities started asking questions but the investigation was held up when Abner Tate learned first hand that Men who crossed Elizabeth Routt did so at their own risk.
On Tuesday, May 9, 1854, The Daily Dispatch printed an announcement of the attempted assassination of Abner Tate, writing that on May 6th, “Mr. Tate, was standing on his porch when he was fired upon by someone, only a few feet away.”
This attempt on his life, and ongoing dispute with Elizabeth Routt, would lead to one of the most complicated court cases in Madison County history.
Tate had seen the man show tried to kill him. It was a man named Jacob, who happened to be one of Elizabeth Routt’s slaves. Newspapers reported that Jacob confessed to the crime and was found guilty and sentenced to hang after his trial in March of 1855. When he confessed, he made it clear that Mrs. Routt ordered him to do it because she was tired of Tate stirring up trouble.
When authorities once again turned to Elizabeth to question her about the attempted murder of Abner Tate, her lover, DH Bingham, decided to do something to help her.
Bingham started a rumor that Abner Tate was a murderer. That Tate had ordered one of his slaves, a man named George, to help him kill and dispose of the bodies of two men who had gone missing more than a decade earlier.
Tate and his slave would stand trial for the murders but were found not guilty and set free by the court.
Abner Tate and Elizabeth Routt were both dealing with the fall out of being accused of murder. Tate responded by publishing a pamphelt called, “The Defense of Abner Tate Against Charges of Murder.” In it, he laid out why he was innocent of murder. Why D. H. Bingham had accused him. And, as Tate put it, he revealed the true character of Elizabeth Routt.
Abner Tate had a sharp tongue and did not hold back when he wrote that D.H. Bingham had fallen under the spell of Mrs. Routt whose bridal chamber was “a charnel house with six grinning skeletons hanging about“.
Tate spoke of the rumored forthcoming marriage of Bingham and Mrs. Routt and referenced Bingham’s involvement in the destruction of his reputation. Abner Tate wrote the following of Bingham:
“I say for money, because I cannot believe, even in him, any amorous passion mingled with his feverish anxiety to get possession of the hand of Elizabeth Routt. He knew her past history. He knew that she offered herself as a reward to him only on the condition that he accomplished a murder. If he succeeded, every time her lips touched his, desire must have fled in horror, as if from the cold, clammy taste of a putrid corpse…”
Elizabeth Routt was filled with rage when she read Abner’s pamphlet. She responded with a $50,000 defamation of character lawsuit.
The lawsuit dragged on for years, but there would be no decision in the case because Eizabeth Routt left Alabama.
Elizabeth sold the Hazel Green plantation and mansion to local planter, Levi Donaldson in 1855.
Legend said she disappeared and was never heard from again. But we do know where Elizabeth headed next.
Back in July 1838, Elizabeth’s third husband, Alexander Jeffries, purchased property and land in Marshall County, Mississippi. When Elizabeth left Hazel Green, she was accompanied by her son, William, and a few of their enslaved men and women. They traveled to Marshall County where lived in the home on the property.
Census records from Marshall County Mississipp’s Chulahoma Post Office show Elizabeth was living in the home in 1860, along with her son William and her daughter-in-law, Sallie Moore Jeffries.
Elizabeth Dale Gibbons Flanagan Jefferies High Brown Routt died in Marshall County, Mississippi on May 7th, 1866.
Levi Donaldson lived in the old Hazel Green home, known as the Routt mansion, until his death there in 1874. The home remained in the family until 1902 and had several owners, was even turned into apartments until the 1960s when it was abandoned and fell into disrepair.
The once glorious mansion that had been built to showcase wealth, became a popular spot for vandals and some unsavory activities until a fire destroyed the home in 1968.
Decades later, all that remains of the old home atop an indian mound in Hazel Green, is a trace of the foundation and a few steps. And The old plantation graveyard nearby with its broken head stones and unmarked graves of the men who called Elizabeth Dale wife. Men, who some believe were betrayed by her when she allegedly poisoned them with arsenic and sent them to their final resting place.
The graveyard and remains of the home, just one mile east of hazel green, continue to be the subject of stories told around bonfires on those cool nights when summer has faded and crisp fall air moves in.
Someone will bring up elizabeth’s name and the tales of screams heard in the graveyard. The spirits of those buried within the sacred indian mound from centuries ago. The unmarked graves of Elizabeth’s husbands. Apparitions of a child wandering alone in the dark, calling out for the woman who ensured this place would be enveloped in darkness for an eternity: the widow of hazel green.
Elizabeth High-Brown-Routt: Hazel Green’s First Serial Killer, Memories of Madison County.
Elizabeth Evans Dale. Huntsville History Collection
Federal Writers Project (2013). The WPA Guide to Alabama: The Camellia State. Retrieved from http://books.google.com
“Attempt to Convict Based On The Testimony Of A Monomaniac”. Nashville Daily Patriot. [volume], January 22, 1856, Image 2
“Dead Husbands Tell No Tales“. Okay, Listen Here. 27 October 2010
“Elizabeth Routt: Did She Murder Her Six Husbands Or Was She a Victim of Misfortune?” Huntsville Times. 26 February 1976
Carrington, Virgil. True Tales of Old Madison County, (1992). Johnson Historical Publications
Plantation by Audionautix; Anguish, Ambient, Osuary 1, Ossuary 6, Evening Fall Harp, Dreams Become Real, Drone in D by Kevin MacLeod; I Am A Man Who Will Fight -Chris Zabriskie; Gloomy Night – Marwan Nimra Licensed under Creative Commons.
One Mile East of Hazel Green by Shane Adkins, from performance at Von Braun Center, Huntsville Alabama on June 7th, 2014 as part of Jim Parker‘s Songwriter Series