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Leah Rawls Atkins praises Mary Ann Neeley’s Works of Matthew Blue, Montgomery’s First Historian

The Works of Matthew Blue, Montgomery's First Historian, by Mary Ann Neeley

This review originally appeared in The Alabama Review: A Quarterly Journal of Alabama History, July 2011, Vol. 64, No. 3. Review by Leah Rawls Atkins, Auburn University.

The Works of Matthew Blue: Montgomery’s First Historian. Edited by Mary Ann Neeley. Montgomery: NewSouth Books, 2010. xvi, 459 pp. $45.00. ISBN 978-1-58838-031-9.

Anyone researching a nineteenth-century Alabama topic that touches Montgomery must consult Matthew Blue. Before the appearance of Mary Ann Neeley’s edition of Blue’s works, this was difficult because copies were rare and fragile. Finding who or what you were interested in without a comprehensive index, understanding all the facts and events, knowing the family and political interrelations of the people whom Blue mentioned were impossible for most researchers. Significant nuances were surely missed by those of us not familiar with the history and people of Montgomery.

Neeley’s book places this history in easy reach with an index and copious annotations and notes. Blue’s text is in boldface type, and Neeley’s annotations follow in regular type. Her notes are placed by appropriate paragraphs on the outside margin of her book, which makes the scholarship easily accessible to the reader. Neeley, now retired, was the longtime director of the capital city’s living history museum, Old Alabama Town. She spent her life studying Montgomery, its people, and events. Taking more than a decade to complete the book, Neeley used numerous primary sources, especially the Blue family papers in the Alabma Department of Archives and History.

Matthew Blue was born in a log cabin on September 24, 1824, on the hill where the Alabama capitol now stands. He died in Montgomery on December 20, 1884. In his lifetime, Blue was a mail clerk, the city’s postmaster, the publisher and part-owner of the Montgomery Advertiser, a columnist for the Montgomery Daily Post, a coroner, and secretary of the state senate. Most of all, he knew everyone, was a keen observer of people and events, and he had a sense of the importance of recorded history.

Blue wrote an early history of Montgomery and compiled a list of events in the city, both included in the 1878 City Directory of Montgomery. His essay on church history was published in 1851, and his early study of the organization of the city’s churches was privately printed in 1878. Blue’s history and genealogy of the Blue family appeared in 1886, two years after Blue died. These works, along with the unpublished diary of Ellen Blue, are included in Neeley’s work. One strength of the book is the copious illustrations and photographs, which are fully explained in captions. The large number of names and the easy index will be an asset for genealogical and family researchers.

Blue’s descriptions of many historical events in Montgomery have been the authority for much that has made its way into modern articles and books — General Lafayette’s entrance into Montgomery on April 3, 1825, and his reception “on the hill upon which the State Capitol now stands”; the fire on December 14, 1849, that destroyed the first capitol building in Montgomery; the city as capitol of the Confederacy and Montgomery during the Confederate period.

Neeley’s edited and annotated volume of Blue’s works should be in major research libraries in the nation and included in most of Alabama’s public and academic collections. Collectors of Alabamiana will welcome this volume.

The Works of Matthew Blue, Montgomery’s First Historian, by Mary Ann Neeley, is available direct from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite book retailer.