George Ricks, born November 1834, a native of Liberia, West Africa was captured and sold into slavery at age 12, in Jamestown, Virginia to Abraham Ricks in 1846. Eliza Fort, born in August 1831, is said to be born in Leighton, Alabama on the Ricks Plantation. George and Eliza married in March 1856 in Colbert County Alabama. The 9th United States Census, Schedule No.1- population (Spring Valley Precinct- District 8, Colbert County, Alabama), an 1870 slave schedule listed their names as well as their children.
George and Eliza Ricks had 9 children that we can all be traced back to;
Cornelius Fort- Eliza’s son
John Ricks – 2 Decedents~ no information
Ammon Ricks – No Decedents
Lottie Ricks – No Decedents
Alexander Campbell Ricks
George Ricks, Jr
George and Eliza Ricks owned their own home and farmland free of mortgage. George was a farmer and preacher who learned how to read and write at an early age. Eliza was a homemaker who loved to cook and care for her family. George Ricks was the first black man to own property in the State of Alabama; he worked for himself. Working evenings, often by moonlight and on Saturday afternoons, he grew and sold enough cotton to purchase 53 acres of land. By 1901, he owned and operated a horse-powered cotton gin.
On the land, he built a two-room log cabin. This building originally constructed of wooden planks served for many years as both a church and school for blacks who lived in Colbert County. George Ricks was also the first black preacher in the Church of Christ in the State of Alabama. George Ricks rode mules more than a 100 miles from Alabama to Mississippi establishing congregations of the Church of Christ churches for blacks.
(The Mother Church Located on the Ricks Land)
Because of his religious crusade, many other churches have sprung up in Colbert County. These were called the “branches”. The first church established by George Ricks for blacks, is known as “The Mother Church”. “The Mother Church”- still stands today. George set aside 3 acres of land for a cemetery. The purpose of this historic cemetery was to serve as a burring ground for slaves and former slaves.
The church and schoolhouse are still located several yards from the Ricks Cemetery. By 1990, George and Eliza Ricks owned more than 400 acres and in 2002, 130 acres including the original 53 remain in the George Ricks estate. Eliza Ricks died in 1902 and George Ricks died December 25, 1908, they were married for over 44 years. To each of their children, they left a house and 50 acres of land.
The story of George Ricks is one of a man overcoming almost insurmountable odds; born a slave, died a landowner, a respected gospel preacher and citizen, admired by all. The cornerstone of the great legacy of the Ricks family was established by George and Eliza Ricks- behind every great man, there is a great woman! George Ricks, whose contributions to the State of Alabama appear in at least two books on the history of Alabama. With the help of George and Eliza’s grandson, Percy Ricks (Grant Ricks), we renew our family ties every two years from coast to coast at the family reunion. We celebrate a lineage passed down for over 150 years.