No Drunkards Allowed

 

Austin Colony Map

Austin Colony Map

 

Who were these original settlers of Austin’s Colony? When I visited Washington County a couple years ago, a found a book titled Austin’s Old Three Hundred that listed short biographies of most of these families. Here are a number of anecdotes from the book.

“To become a member of Austin’s original colony, someone had to swear to the settler’s good character. Austin’s rules of the colony provided that ‘no frontiersman who has no other occupation than that of hunter will be received—no drunkard, no gambler, no profane swearer, no idler.'”

Some arrived flush, others did not:

“In Texas in 1823 dress material or any kind of cloth sold for seven to ten dollars a yard, a cake of soap was a dollar and a quarter, buttons were a dollar a dozen, men’s socks were a dollar and a quarter a pair, and silk handkerchiefs were two dollars each.  Few Texians could afford these things.”

“In his twentieth year, Jesse [Burnam} wrote, I married an orphan girl, named Temperance Baker, I made rails for a jack-leg blacksmith and had him make me three knives and three forks and I put handles on them. My wife sold the stockings she was married in made by her own hands, for a set of plates. I traded a small piece of land and then we were ready for housekeeping. We used gourds for cups.”

“[Col. Jared Ellison} Groce set out for Texas in the fall of 1821 with a hundred slaves as well as cattle, sheep, hogs, horses, and a caravan of fifty wagons. He was granted ten leagues of land by the Mexican government in 1824 ‘on account of the property ha has brought with him.’ . . . The first cotton in Texas was raised there and the first bale ginned in 1826. … Grace was the wealthiest of the Old Three Hundred and lived in a splendid home. In 1827 his daughter Sarah Ann graduated from a finishing school in New York. Servants bemoaned the fact the china was cracked and broken from the trip to Texas. A houseguest, Mr. White, who was a silversmith provided a solution. Mr. Groce had a large collection of Mexican silver dollars, which Mr. White converted to bowls, cups, and plates.” When Sarah married, the remaining silver dollars were converted to knives, forks and spoons by a New York silversmith.

Settler's Cabin, Washington County

Settler’s Cabin, Washington County

There were dangers, even before the War with Mexico, known in Texas as the War for Independence:

“The Dyers settled on Irons Creek, near San Felipe. After they had a frightening encounter with Indians, the Dyers moved to present Ford Bend County. Dyer became manager of the Stafford Plantation in 1833.

“In the winter of 1826-27, when Elisha Flowers, his three-year-old son Romulus and neighbor Charles Cavanah went hunting together, Karankawa Indians massacred their families. . . . Polly Flowers, her infant daughter, and Cavanah’s wife and daughter were killed in the last recorded Indian raid in Matagorda County.

The Hollands were originally from Canada, came to Texas from Ohio and settled atop a hill overlookinig Ten Mile Creek in Washington County. “Francis served in the First Company militia, later was elected comisario on December 13, 1830, then a delegate from present Washington County to the Convention of 1833 at San Felipe. The cholera epidemic . . . took the life of Francis and Margaret Holland. Their son William, a lifelong invalid, died shortly after them.” Another son, Frank Holland was killed by Indians.

“Mary Crownover Rabb write that when she was in her first house in Texas, Andrew Rabb made a spinning wheel for her. She was very pleased and got to work making clothes for her family. She would pick cotton with her fingers and spin ‘600 thread around the reel every day,’ When she was lonely and frightened, ‘I kept my new spinning wheel whisling [sic] all day and a good part of the night for while the wheel was rowering [sic] it would keep me from hearing the Indians walking around hunting mischieaf [sic].'”

Through Austin, the Mexican government invited these colonists in hopes of settling this new territory but, as we now know, relations became more and more strained.  By 1835 the situation had reached the breaking point.

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Surprise . . . Research!

Washington County barns and wildflowers

Washington County barns and wildflowers

When I started research for my novel, Here We Stand, four years ago, I never imagined where it would lead me or how much I would learn.  Or how much fun delving into the past would be.

The beginning of the story takes place in 1854, in Washington County, East Texas, along the Brazos River. If you are like me, having never been to Texas at the time, I pictured Texas from the movies I had seen and books I had read which generally take place in West Texas. You know, those dry, cactus-clad expanses where Comanches roam and banditos come riding down upon you out of the dust. Oh, and the longhorns.

Longhorns do exist in East Texas, but so do wildflower and oak-covered hills, meandering streams and hundreds of songbirds.  In fact, East Texas is more like its neighbor, Louisiana, than West Texas, which I discovered when I spent a couple weeks near Brenham and Washington-on-the-Brazos two springs ago.  May is the best time because the bluebonnets and other wildflowers are blooming everywhere: in the fields, along the highways and side roads, wherever the sun kisses the ground.  Often the blue is mixed with yellow or white daisies or red paintbrush.

Washington County pond  and bluebonnets near Brenham

Washington County pond and bluebonnets near Brenham

What those original settlers must have imagined when they first saw this land!  Stephen F. Austin had to do a good bit of wrangling with Mexican Commissioner General Juan Antonio Padilla to allow the first colonists.  Texas was still Mexican territory at the time, and any land grants had to come under the 1823 Imperial Colonization Law of Mexico.

The Law stated that each colonist could receive 177 acres for farmers and 4,428 acres for stock raisers, or both for those who professed to do both stock raising and farming. The land must be cultivated within two years from date of title or be forfeited. There were disputes, of course, over the most fertile land and over Austin’s collection of fees for surveying and obtaining titles. Yet this was the first organized colony of immigrants who were allowed to govern themselves under regulations set down by Austin, who also oversaw the quality of settlers and served as intermediary with Mexican authorities.

Most of the settlers were from Louisiana, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia. Many of them were younger sons of plantation owners who did not inherit. They sought the free land and a new economic beginning. The land was fertile, but keeping it, making something of it, was not easy. A number of colonists forfeited their titles for noncompliance. Others fought through the hard years and the war with Mexico. But that is another story.