Footprints of Fayette

These histories were written by members of the Fayette County Historical Commission. They first appeared in the weekly column, "Footprints of Fayette," which is published in local newspapers.

 

How Did My African-American Ancestors Get Here?

by David L. Collins, Sr.

The Trans-Atlantic slave exports were concentrated along the coast of West Africa from Senegal down to Angola.  From these locations, Portugese ships sailed across the South Atlantic Ocean to Salvador and Brazil and around the lower Americas to Peru, while European and American ships sailed up the east coast of Brazil and dropped off their cargo with stops at Salvador and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Guyana; Venezuela; Dominican Republic; Haiti; Jamaica; Cuba and along the North and South Carolina coast on the Barrier Islands. Some of the descendants of the island African Gulla slaves with their unique heritage still live in the area.  Many of my ancestors came through South Carolina and North Carolina.

Some of the slaves were originally dropped off at the Port of Santo Domingo; Port au Prince, Haiti and Havana, Cuba (a large African population exists today in Santiago, Cuba) for the sugar cane fields, and others were eventually transported to the sugar cane fields of South Carolina and Louisiana.  This process continued from 1450 to 1900.  The region of primary transport was to the Spanish Empire in Brazil, the British West Indies, French West Indies, British North America, the United States, Dutch West Indies and Europe.

Once in America, many African slaves were transported from South Carolina and North Carolina to Georgia, West Virginia, Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and possibly beyond. This is the most likely route my ancestors took to get to Fayette County, Texas as we know it today. This is the African American history you will see around the walls of the Connersville Primitive Baptist Church African Museum in Round Top, Texas, which reflects where slavery began and how my ancestors arrived in the 5th District of Round Top Texas.

HOW DID MY ANCESTORS GET TO FAYETTE COUNTY, TEXAS

Between the late 1700s and early 1800s, a number of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) purchased leagues of land in and around Round Top, Texas.  Some of these individuals included Hamilton Ledbetter, Alabama; Samuel K. Lewis, South Carolina; John R. Robson, Georgia; Mary Mott, South Carolina; Sarah Jones, Alabama; Amizah Baker; Mary Phelphs; Obediah Hudson; James Winn; William Jacks; John Townsend; Joshua Fletcher; W.F. Wade, Georgia; and Christopher H. Taylor of Eutah, Alabama, my great-grandfather’s namesake.

Because of this migration from the southern states, the slave population in Fayette County grew from 29% in 1850 to 49% in 1860.  At the same time, the German population began to really grow in the 1840s and 50s.  The Von Rosenbergs at Nassau Plantation and Joseph Biegel joined the economics of the slave trade.  As far as I can tell, these were the only two German families to own a league of land in Fayette County, Texas.  By 1860, the slave population in Fayette County totaled 3,700.  The number of African Americans increased to 5,900 by 1870.  By 1900, one-third of Fayette County’s population was African American.

As I mentioned above, Christopher H. Taylor, who was my grandfather’s namesake, owned a plantation on a league of land along Jaster Road, plus 10 acres of land north of the town hall on which the Round Top State Bank is now located, as well as the Round Top Real Estate office and two restaurants.  This is the man who was known as Kit or Kid Taylor that my grandfather remembers. He was also remembered by the ancestors of Georgia Tubbs’ Etzel family.  Mr. C.H. Taylor owned 46 slaves in the 1850s and 60s.  After the Civil War, he sold all of his holdings in Round Top, left town and moved to Eutah, Alabama. He left all of his emancipated slaves to fend for themselves.

Why he left I am not sure; however, I do believe he may be the father of my great-grandfather, John Wesley Taylor or my great-great grandfather, Wesley Taylor, Sr., because he continued his trend of fathering mulatto children when he went to Eutah, Alabama with Sarah Taylor, who was his mistress.  This will be addressed in the next chapter of my family history.

THE CIVIL WAR AND BEYOND

After the Civil War and Emancipation, almost all of WASPs moved westward, and the German and Czech settlers made a home for themselves in Fayette County; these two ethnicities are still very evident in the county today. Many of my African- American ancestors left the plantations without a place to go, but they settled in and purchased what land they could afford and scratched out a living until the late 1880’s.

The German families generally did all of their own work on their farms and had no need for slaves before the Civil War or for help after emancipation.  Many of my ancestors continued to scratch out a living on their small farms and worked for others as sharecroppers.  Beginning in the 1880s to 1900s, they moved north to Lee County and purchased land to raise their families and make a life for themselves.  Many of them still live in the area on the land they purchased in the 1880s and 1890s.

GROWING UP IN LEE COUNTY

As a child growing up in Lee County, my grandfather used to talk about Fayette County all of the time, especially about Ledbetter and Carmine, Texas, including E.P. Stuermer and his cotton gin.  He also talked about a Kit or Kid Taylor in Round Top, Texas.  At the time, I thought nothing of if.  As I grew older, I would ask him lots of questions and took notes until he died in 1980. After he passed, and I was out of college and raising a family, I began a concentrated effort to trace my family history.

IN SEARCH OF HISTORY

During my travel with work, I visited historical sites and libraries in every state in the United States except Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Alaska and Maine.  I also visited all of the cities along the east coast of Mexico, because some of my family fled to Mexico to avoid slavery. Other countries/cities I visited include: Jamaica; Haiti; Dominican Republic; Salvador; Rio de Janeiro; Sao Palo,  Brazil; Peru; Lagos, Nigeria; London; Sweden; Paris, France; Frankfurt, Germany; Rome, Italy; Athens, Greece; Cairo, Egypt; Toronto and Quebec, Canada; and Saudia Arabia.  Many of these countries provided clues to my family history.  Also many of my ancestors fought in World War I & II and made their mark overseas, although some did not return to America.

ROUND TOP (FAYETTE COUNTY), TEXAS

After many years of research around the world, Lee County and Fayette County, I was researching the 1880 Census in the Clayton Library in Houston and found all of the people my grandfather used to talk about.  What was amazing about this is that they all filled out the 1880 Census in the 5th District of Round, Top, Texas.  I was absolutely shocked.

The names included Thomas Henry Monroe Huff and Sarah A. Jackson from North Carolina and Virginia, Thomas Rivers and Chanie Maxwell, Texas and Georgia, Whales Clemons and Sarah Kellough, Virginia; Matthew Rivers, Sr. and Sabry Daws, Texas and Alabama, Willie “Will” Little and Narcisse Nunn, Ledbetter, Texas, Elijah Griffin, Georgia, Richard Collins and Mandy Clemons, Texas, Roland Estes and Jennifer V. Kerr, Texas, Wesley Taylor and Martha Jane Crenshaw, Alabama and Tennessee, John Wesley Taylor and Katie Rivers, Texas and George Collins, and Malinda Dobbins, Alabama and South Carolina.  There were over 24 names of African American families who lived in the 5th District of Round, Top.  This is when I really began extensive search of the Round Top, Texas areas, looking for links to my ancestral family.  My research led me to Georgia Tubbs, Herbert L. Diers, my association with the Round Top Historical Association, the Connersville Primitive Baptist Church, its move to the Woods Annex in Round Top in 2002 and ultimately its renovation and development into an African American Museum, which was addressed in a previous article.  I had came full-circle back to my roots. 

Sources:
Census records for 1860, 1870, & 1880, 1900 & 1910 from Clayton Library in Houston, Texas
Deed Records, Fayette County, Texas County Clerk
Personal Research & Family History
Herbert L. Diers & Georgia Etzel-Tubbs of Round Top, Texas

 

Theodore Sylvester Boone

by Connie Sneed

Preacher, author, orator, teacher, and historian were all titles held by one man: Theodore Sylvester Boone. Boone’s work—especially the work he did for King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit—will forever be remembered.

Theodore Sylvester Boone, black attorney, pastor, author, and editor, was born in Winchester, Texas, on December 28, 1896, the son of Alexander and Lillian (Chaney) Boone. Winchester, named for Winchester, TN, is on a line of the Southern Pacific Railroad twenty miles Northwest of La Grange in Fayette County, Texas.

He attended Terrell High School in Terrell, Texas, and a series of universities including Prairie View A&M and Bishop College in Texas. From 1918 to 1920 he studied at Des Moines University and the University of Iowa. In 1921 he wrote a book entitled Paramount Facts in Race Development. The next year he attended the University of Chicago and the Chicago Law School and published Laws of Trusts and Trustees. He practiced law in Indianapolis, Indiana, and was admitted to the Supreme and the United States district courts of that state.

Boone married Ruby Beatrice Alexander in December 1921. In 1924 he attended Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, Arkansas, and later that year began serving as pastor of Eighth Street Baptist Church in Temple, Texas.

As an author, Boone published many books and was included in "Who's Who Among North American Authors." His accomplishments also received him recognition in "Who's Who in Colored America" and "Who's Who in the Midwest." He was also the editor-in-chief of the Western Star, a black Baptist church publication, and wrote another book, "Race Migration, Its Cause and Cure" (1924).

He was the secretary of the Texas delegation to the National Baptist Convention in 1924 and 1925. In 1926, Boone wrote History of Negro Baptists in Texas and edited Flaming Sword, a monthly magazine published in Indianapolis. Boone was a Republican, a Mason, and a member of Kappa Alpha Psi and the Odd Fellows. He moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he pastored a church, and died on May 23, 1973. Julia McGee, who served as the daycare director from 1979 to 1981, recalls Boone as having great influence on the church. At his funeral, McGee was asked to sing the song "My Work is Done."  

Indeed, his work may have been done, but Boone’s memory lives on for those who knew him.

References:
The Rev. Boone's legacy
Texas Online Handbook

 

The Catley Family of Fayette County, Texas

by David L. Collins, Sr.

The northwestern area of Fayette County was exposed to the outside world by the old Houston-Bastrop Road, part of the Gotcher Trace, which went through the area later known as Winchester.  People began traveling on the road by stagecoach and stopping for an overnight stay at an inn on Cunningham’s Prairie.

Winchester, located about twenty miles from La Grange, soon became attractive to colonists with land grants, Anglo plantation and slave owners, pioneers looking for cheap land and German merchants.  It was originally settled in circa 1832 by John Ingram, who moved to a section of land in the John F. Berry league, known as Ingram’s Prairie.   The town proper, initially comprised of nine blocks, was laid out in circa 1851 and was supposedly named for Winchester, Tennessee, which may have been the birthplace of one of the early settlers.

Cotton and later the arrival of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad in 1888 contributed to the boom of Winchester.  In 1889, in anticipation of tremendous growth, 52 new city blocks were laid out eastward toward the railroad and adjacent to Winchester’s original nine blocks, which were thereafter identified as “Old Town Winchester”, with the 52 new city blocks designated as “New Town Winchester”.  The town had a multitude of businesses all providing for the needs of the increasing population, not only in town, but for those in the surrounding rural areas as well.  At one time, it was estimated that 4,000 to 6,000 bales of cotton were shipped out in a year with as many as 24 trains passing through the town daily. However, due to a number of factors throughout its history, the growth of Winchester fell short of the projected numbers.  

James and Irene CatleyWith all of the plantations unable to continue without slave labor after Emancipation, the area became a magnet for those interested in tenant farming because of the availability of good farm land. This was the enticement for many African Americans to move there, most of whom were emancipated slaves who initially did not have money to buy their own land.

One of the African Americans who moved to the Winchester area was James Catley, who was born on March 4, 1833 in Columbus, Lowndes County, Mississippi.  After Emancipation, he married Irene Thompson. Their first child, Jack Thompson, was born in circa 1866 in Mississippi.

Based on the census records that show that a daughter named Harriet was born in 1869 in Texas, James and Irene apparently had followed others from Mississippi to the Winchester area before her birth. Harriet must have died in early childhood, because nothing more has been documented on her. The Catleys lived on the Robert Taylor farm where they pursued a life of tenant farming and continued to increase their family with the births of three more sons.  Samuel was born on October 18, 1871, followed by Joe, born on February 28, 1875, and Milton, born on February 18, 1878.

The Catleys moved to Precinct 1 west of La Grange before the birth of Horace Greely, who was born on August 25, 1882. Their family continued to grow with the births of their only daughter, Delia D., born on August 4, 1884, and then three more sons, Benjamin Harrison on November 8, 1888; Edward Manton on August 1, 1889; and a son Thomas, who was born on February 11, 1891. All five of these children are listed as being born in La Grange; however, Precinct 1 included not only La Grange, but also some outlying areas as well, which would have included the farm where they actually lived.   

James Catley with Milton,  Edward, and BenWhat is interesting is that three of the Catley sons had names of two well-known persons in the nation and one person on a local level.  Horace Greely was the founder and editor of the New York Tribune, a politician, presidential candidate and proponent of preserving the Union.  Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States, was elected shortly before Benjamin Harrison Catley was born; President Harrison later proposed voting rights for African Americans.  Edward Manton, a Fayette County resident, was a survivor of the Dawson Expedition and an investor in the proposed, but never-established, town of Colorado City on the west side of the Colorado River. One wonders how the Catleys were informed enough about these Anglo men to name their sons after them and why?

It is quite possible that after the Jim Catley family moved from the Winchester area in circa 1882, they lived on land owned by Edward Manton that was located in Precinct 1 off of the old Plum Road west of La Grange or on another nearby farm. The Catleys may have named their seventh son in honor of Manton which accounts for one name choice.  The reasons for their choosing the names Horace Greely and Benjamin Harrison is unknown.

By 1900, Jim and Irene Catley had moved again and were enumerated in Precinct 5 closer to Plum, Texas. School records show that Jim Catley was a trustee in 1903 for the Pleasant Grove School for colored children that was located somewhere near their tenant farm in the Plum area, which proves his interest in having his children educated. All of the Catley children attended a primary school for a number of years. A freedmen’s colony named Pleasant Grove had been established west of Winchester in Bastrop County, so perhaps Jim Catley was also a founder of the Pleasant Grove School and was instrumental in choosing its name based on his previous knowledge of the freedmen’s colony.  

Census records indicate that Jim and Irene Catley left Fayette County by 1910 and moved to live with their son, Samuel, and his wife, Katherine Dobbins of Winchester, who were living in San Antonio, Los Angeles County, California.  Jim, who was 77 at the time, and his wife were moving around the country and living with or visiting their children, who were all grown and married and rearing their own families away from their rural origins. This was a typical pattern for African Americans who were seeking better lives with greater financial security in urban settings.  Samuel and Katherine Catley moved away from Fayette County after the birth of their oldest son in 1897, first living in San Antonio, Texas and then in California, where Samuel worked at a cement plant.

Jim and Irene were living in Beaumont, Texas with their daughter, Delia, and husband, Clemons Hughes, when Irene Thompson-Catley passed away on December 16, 1917 at age 70. She was buried in Beaumont.  Their sons, Ben and Horace Catley, also lived in Beaumont for a few years.  Horace eventually moved to Houston, where he worked for a wholesale grocery business and then as a family butler.  Ben, who was first living with his sister, Delia, worked in a packing company in Beaumont prior to his marriage.  Later he worked in a saw mill owned by the Kirby Lumber Company. Eventually, he moved to Youngstown, Mahoning County, Ohio, where he worked as a laborer in a steel mill along with his brothers, Milton, Edward and Thomas, who all moved there in search of more lucrative jobs. Edward later moved to Henderson County, Kentucky.  Delia and her husband also moved to Youngstown in circa 1921 taking her father, Jim, with them. Delia’s husband, Clemons, joined his brothers-in-law, who were all working in steel mills.  Jim Catley was living with one of his children in Youngstown when he died on March 15, 1927 at age 94, a remarkable age for a male at that time.

By 1930, Thomas Catley was married, living in Oakland, California and working at another steel mill, most probably the Bethlehem Steel Mill in nearby Richmond.  By 1942, he was working as a longshoreman. 

Jack Thompson Catley, the oldest son, died in 1912 in Texas, probably in the Plum area, where he was living in 1910.  He was the last remaining Catley living in Fayette County.  Joe Catley, his younger brother, was a tenant farmer in Ashley County, Arkansas in 1910.  By 1912, Joe was living in Houston, where he married Elvira Jackson and was working in a Southern Pacific railroad shop. He died of complications of influenza in Houston in 1918 at age 43. 

For some reason, Delia Catley later stated that her birth year was 1891 instead of 1884, but based on school and census records, she was born between the births of Horace and Benjamin.

James Catley lived a long life and gave his family a good start in life, first in Winchester and then in other areas of Fayette County.  Most of his children migrated all across America to make lives for themselves. In addition to the above-mentioned locales, members of the Catley family also lived in Smithville, Bastrop and Austin, Texas, as well as venturing to the previously-mentioned  states. The images of James and Irene Catley’s growing family indicate that they reared a great and beautiful family who continued to preserve their legacy, which included a great work ethic and love for one another. 

I have been fortunate to meet and know one of Jim and Irene’s descendents, Della Catley-Franklin, who is my neighbor. Our daughters were in the same graduation class at Willowridge High School, Fort Bend County, Texas in 1992.  We live on a vast planet; however, in many ways it’s a small world!

Photo caption: James and Irene Thompson Catley
Photo caption: James Catley, front center, with sons, Milton, Edward and Ben; both courtesy of David Collins, Sr.
Sources:
Ancestry.com
Della Catley-Franklin oral history
Fayette County School Records
U.S. Census 1870-1940
“Winchester, Texas”. Fayette County, Texas Heritage, Vol. 1; Curtis Media, 1996

 

If A Tree Could Talk, What Would It Say?

The Charles Clemons Story

By David L. Collins, Sr. 

Concrete on Charles Clemons' placeThis is a follow-up story on Whales Clemons -“The Untold Story" that previously appeared in this column.  If you recall from that story, Axel Meerscheidt and Whales Clemons swapped Whales' 195 acres of land in Fayette County for Meerscheidt’s 395 acres of land in Lee County, Texas.  This transaction was consummated in the late 1880s, and in 1900, Whales Clemons and his family had transitioned to Lee County, where their descendants live today.  Charlie, aka Charles Clemons, the oldest son of Whales and Sarah Clemons did not leave Fayette County, Texas.  Instead he made his homestead on the original 30 acres owned by Whales Clemons at the corner of Rauch Road and Laird Road on the northwest corner of the intersection of these two roads.

On this corner, there is an oak tree that is at least 250 years old.  This tree has a perfect circular tree canopy, with large canopy limbs growing outward and curving down to the ground and providing support to the main tree trunk.  The canopy of this magnificent tree is about 80 to 100 feet in diameter and is a haven and cover of what my Grandmother would call Poke Salad, which is what I called wild mustard greens.  The underneath of the canopy is covered with them.

My Grandmother used to cut the leaves when they were young and boil the poison out of them and then simmer them in a little bacon grease and onions, and once cooked, she would serve them with hardboiled eggs on top.  It’s a great dish, and I still cook them today.

Also underneath the old oak and next to the trunk is some kind of concrete monument or marker that could have historical significance.  The way the structure is built, one could sit on the lower structure and rest his back on the taller structure.  It is perfect chair for reminiscing.

Just west of the oak tree about 50 feet away is an old house, which I assume was the homestead of Whales Clemons and Sarah Kellough-Clemons until they moved to Lee County.  The old house is leaning; however the interior structure is in good shape and could be repaired and preserved.  I have had extensive discussions with Mr. Frank Drescher, the current owner of the 30 acre tract, and he is thinking about what to do with it.  The previous owner stored hay inside the house.

We have not been able to determine when Charles Clemons moved into the house; however, if Whales moved to Lee County in the mid-1890s, Charles may have moved in at that time.  If this is the case, then the house is at least 100 years old or older.  A review of the old survey/abstract maps kept by the late County Surveyor Mr. Gau, Charles Clemons divided the 30 acre tract into two tracts. The north half was deeded to his son Dee Clemons in 1935, and the south half to a Martha Waul in 1930.  Martha Waul sold her half to Frank Rauch in 1935.

Charles Clemons also owned 110 acres directly across Rauch Road from the 30 acre tract.  The chain of title went from Charles Clemons to Martha Clemons in 1925, to Martha Waul (108 acres) in 1935, to Ollie Clemons (Charles Clemons' oldest son) in 1937.  Ollie Clemons sold his 108 acres to Frank E. Rauch in 1945.  Prior to this transaction, Martha Waul sold the two acre remaining corner tract to Frank E. Rauch in 1937.  This 2 acre tract was intended for a church that never came to fruition.  All of these transactions were put into place by Charles Clemons prior to his death in 1919, and his wife continued to live on the estate until 1945.

Charles Clemons was born in March of 1862 and married Martha Brown with their first child, Ollie Clemons, being born in 3/1891.  Other children included Dee (8/1892), Birdie (4/1893), Nettie (6/1895), Emma (12/1898), Carrie or Clara (1901), with adopted children, Frances Brown (1884) and Gertrude Brown (1886).

The Charles Clemons family continued to grow, with Dee marrying Winnie (3 children), Nettie marrying Allison Ferguson (7 children), Ollie marrying Lizzie (10 children) and Emma marrying Fred Jones (6 children).  I mentioned these 4 children of Charles Clemons, because the story becomes rather intriguing as the years pass.

What Did The Old Oak Tree Tell Me?

The whisperings of the old oak tree made me recall my research…..On March 31, 1921 and based on deed records, Martha Clemons and her children Ollie, Dee, Cora, Birdie, Nettie, Emma and Carrie signed an oil and gas lease with C. H. Steinmann, Trustee of Fayette County, Texas.  This oil and gas mineral lease included four (4) tracts of land, three (3) of which  are part of the J. R. Phillips League each containing 115, 85 and 30 acres, and the remaining one containing 110 acres which was part of the J. G. Wilkinson League, all a part of the deal with C. H. Steinmann.

The tree "told" me that the negotiations became kind of testy when Carrie Clemons held out and did not agree with the lease; however, the other family member somehow overrode her.  I am not sure what happened after that

As I sat and listened to the old tree sighing in the wind, I further recalled that these land deals and oil and gas leases became very complicated, especially the 30 acres once owned by Whales Clemons.  The 30 acres of land, part of the J. R. Phillips League and purchased by Charles Clemons from J.W. Killen and wife Ida C. on December 14, 1912, the 115 acres purchased from the heirs of John Lange and the 85 acres from August Lange all in the J.R. Phillips League, completed the transactions.

During this same period of time, Charles Clemons also purchased the 110 acres in the J. G. Wilkinson League from H. B. Kaulbach of Fayette County, Texas.  If you recall in the Whales Clemons story, H. B. Kaulbach, along with W. R. Doak, were representing Axel Meerscheidt for the 195 acre/395 acre land swap.  I could feel the oak tree canopy swinging from side to side.  Was it the wind or the tree trying to tell me something?

Oil and Gas Mineral Lease

At the conclusion of my visit, my friend the old oak tree helped me remember that the deal for the 340 acre oil and gas mineral lease was completed by Martha Clemons and her children and recorded in 1921 in Fayette County, Texas.

It was agreed that the lease would remain in force for a term of five years from the signed date, and as long thereafter as oil or gas, or either of them would continue to be produced from the land by the lessee.  The lessee would deliver all of the pipeline free of cost that would connect to the wells and agreed to pay the lessor two hundred dollars each year in advance for the gas from each well where gas would be found.  The lessor would have gas free of cost for all stoves and inside lights in the principal dwelling house by making his own connections with the wells at his own expense.  The lessor would be paid two hundred dollars per year for gas produced from any oil well that would be used off premises to be paid every three months in advance.  The lease would terminate if no well was produced on or before the 31st day of March 1922.  It would also terminate if the first well was a dry hole and a second well was not commenced within twelve months from the expiration of the last rental period.  In addition, the lessee would have the right to use, free of cost, gas, oil and water produced on the said land for all operations except water from the wells of the lessor.  The lessee also agreed to bury their pipeline below plow depth and not drill any nearer than 200 feet to the house or barn without written consent of the lessor.  The lessee would also pay for damages caused to growing crops and had the right to remove all machinery and fixtures on the said premises at any time and to draw and remove casing.  The lease was agree to by the family on March 31, 1921.

As I finished this session with the old oak tree on June 9, 2014, it began to rain.  The old oak tree "told" me that we needed to finish our session and continue this story at another time, because there is much to tell, such as the many sessions under the canopy of the old oak tree between Christopher H. Steinmann (Fayette County, Texas Tax Assessor from 1897-1920), H. B. Kaulbach, agent for Axel Meerscheidt, August Lange, J.W. & Ida Killen, Frank E. Rauch, and banker, John Schuhmacher and also about what happened to Carrie Clemons, the only family member who held out on the Oil, Gas & Mineral lease, as well as the many Clemons family sessions and picnics held under the old oak tree.  Then there was my conversation with Ollivett Clemons Sheppard, the great granddaughter of Whales Clemons, granddaughter of T. H. Clemons, daughter of little Whales Clemons and great-niece of Charles Clemons.  Ollivett Clemons was born in 1921 in Lee County and used to visit her uncles in La Grange when she was young.  She is now 93 years old and wants to discuss her own "conversations" with the old oak tree and how she and other family members used to walk to the Nechanitz Store, and how Charles Clemons was able to apparently buy back the 195 acres of land that was swapped by Whales Clemons with Axel Meerscheidt and then divide it into 35 acre tracts that were given to his children: Connie, J. Kimble, Birdie Ferguson, Nettie Ferguson, Emma Jones and other family members who eventually sold the property to the Frank Rauch family. 

The final story the old oak tree will tell me will be about Charles Clemons' son, Ollie Clemons, and wife Lizzie moving from the farm to La Grange, Texas and buying a home at 620 E. Guadalupe St., near the Meerscheidt house and the Kaulbach house.

This old oak tree continues to sway back and forth and from side to side.  If only it could “really" talk.

Photo: Marker or monument of unknown origin on Charles Clemons' original farm. Do you have any idea of the purpose of these concrete structures?

Sources:

Collins, David L., Sr. Family Oral History
Fayette County, Texas Deed Records
Lee County, Texas Deed Records
U.S. Census Records for 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920
The Old Oak Tree

 

Whales Clemons, African American Pioneer

“The Untold Story”

by David L. Collins, Sr.

Fayette County, Texas is a unique place where there are many untold stories about Anglos, Germans, Czechs and  especially about African Americans. One such story is about my great-great grandfather, Whales Clemons, also known as Wells Clements or Wales Clemons.

Whales Clemons was born December 14, 1829 in Amelia County, Virginia and died in Lee County, Texas in 1906.  Records indicate that he married Sarah Killough or Kellough, who was born in February 1838 in Alabama or Mississippi and died July 30, 1901.  Her father was Ernest Samuel or Robert Kellough, born in Alabama; her mother was Caledonia Kellough, born in 1820 in Mississippi.

As we fast forward to 1870, we find in the U.S. Census that Whales Clemons was living in Beat No. 1, Rutersville (Fayette County), Texas with his wife, Sarah Clemons, and children: Mary, Mandy, Charles, Thomas, Edward and John.  

The area of Beat No. 1, Rutersville, Texas, where Whales Clemons’ family lived included Rutersville, Texas, the southern service area of Neese’s Store in Warrenton and the Bluff, all of which had a total population of 1,752 (825 white and 927 colored residents).

As I researched the Voters Registration Lists from 1867-1869, I noticed that a Wales Clemons was a registered voter as of August 14, 1867 with his place of residence noted as Rutersville (Fayette County), Texas.  Further research revealed that Whales Clemons was one of the African Americans living in Fayette County, Texas, who were freed prior to emancipation.  More research is needed to determine how many slaves in Fayette County were granted freedom prior to the Emancipation Proclamation. 

The main characters in this interesting story are as follows:
1. James R. Phillips, probably a native of Tennessee, was the owner of League No. 11 in Fayette County that he was granted on April 23, 1831. 
2. J. G. Wilkinson, origin unknown, was the owner of League No. 2 in Fayette County that he was granted on October 10, 1835. 
3. Whales Clemons who married Sarah Kellogg (Kellough) in 1860 at age 31.  In 1863, he was freed from slavery, and by 1870 was living in Beat 1, Fayette County, Texas.  He was still in Fayette County in 1880.
4. Sarah Kellough-Clemons, listed as a 12 or 15 year old female slave in 1850, was owned by S. W. Kellogg of Robertson, Texas.  By 1860, she and Whales Clemons were living in Washington County, Texas.  At age 35 (1870), she was living in Beat 1, Fayette County, Texas.
5. John and Catherine Kozurck or Kocurek were from Moravia in the Empire of Austria.
6. Joseph (Josef) and Frederika (Francis) Krupa (also written Kroupa) were from Moravia in the Empire of Austria.
7. W. R. Doak was listed as living in San Antonio in 1887 and was representing Alex Meerscheidt and H. B. Kaulbach in real estate transactions.  A review of the U.S. Cities Directories from 1821-1989 shows that W. R. Doak was the City Surveyor when Lee County, Texas was organized in 1874.
8. H. B. Kaulbach, born in England, was living in a hotel in La Grange, Texas in 1870.
9. Axel Meerscheidt was living in La Grange, Texas in 1870 with his parents, Arthur and Caroline Meerscheidt, and siblings.  The Meerscheidts were from Braunschweig, Germany.  His occupation was listed as tenant farmer.  By 1900, Axel was living with his brother, Paul, in Ward 3 of San Antonio.  Axel’s occupation was listed as real estate agent. By 1910, he had relocated to Seattle, Ward 3, Washington State with his wife and children.  In 1920, he was still living in Seattle, King County, Washington.

As we continue this interesting story and based on Fayette County Deed Records, Whales Clemons and his wife purchased 50 acres of land from John and Catherine Kozurck (Kozurek) of Fayette County on October 29, 1874 for $960.00 in coin dollars.  The 50 acres were cut out of the Kozurek’s 200 acres and another 100 acre tract which paralleled the James R. Phillips League and J. G. Wilkerson League. The contiguous line of both leagues is now Rausch Road, which runs northwest to southeast, crossing FM 2145. According to later records, it is conclusive that Whales Clemons had  acquired another 30 acres, but when he purchased that land or when he arrived in Fayette County has not been determined.

In July 19, 1878, Whales Clements, also referred to as Clemons, and his wife, Sarah Kellough-Clemons, purchased two more tracts of land, one tract being 35 acres, and the other tract being 80 acres contiguous to their currently owned 80 acres from Joseph (Josef) and Franciska (Frances) Krupa of Fayette County, Texas.  The total purchase price was $3,200.00.  This transaction included five (5) promissory notes.  The notes included a note for $200 due on or before January 1, 1879, with $350 notes due each January 1st for the next four years, all with 10% interest.  Each payment was to be paid in gold or silver dollars.  Although the deed did not mention it, I assume that Whales Clemons made a down payment of $1600 dollars in gold or silver coins.

The conditions of the sale of the 35 and 80 acre tracts by Joseph Krupa were very stringent until paid in full and states that, “Whales Clemons cannot cut timber on the two tracts and can only cut timber for his place of residence and farming. If there is a default, all land, improvements, plus money paid remains in the ownership of Josef Krupa”.   At the closing, Mr. Krupa gave Whales one iron axle and a horse wagon.

Samuel H. Clemons
Samuel H. Clemons, third son of Whales and Sarah Kellough Clemons

As we look back at the 1880 U.S. Census, the Whales Clemons family had grown from six children in 1870 to ten children.  The children living at home included Charlie (18), Tom (17), Ed (14), John (12), Henry (8), Samie (Samuel) (6), Lucy (5) and Bessie (3).  Mary, age 22, had apparently moved away from home or married, and Mandy, age 20, also was not living at home. At that time, they were living in the 5th District of Fayette County.

Mandy Clemons apparently was married to Richard Collins before the enumeration of the 1880 Census.  Their first child, Ira Collins, was born on October 1, 1880.  Based on Ira Collins’ birth certificate, they lived near Nechanitz, Texas located along FM 2145. Richard Collins and Mandy Clemons were my great-grandparents and were the parents of five children: Ira, Edward, Hugh, General, Sr. and Gertrude.  Ed Collins was my grandfather.

In my previous articles, I documented the migration of my ancestors and other African American pioneers from Fayette County, Texas to Lee County, Texas.  This migration began after the Civil War and continued through the 1920s and 30s, because the white slave owners sold their land and left the slaves to fend for themselves.  Also most of the Germans and Czechs, who had settled in the two counties, had from five to ten children who worked on their own farms, so there generally was no need for share croppers.

As I continued to develop the Whales Clemons story, based on Fayette County deed records, it was documented that he received an offer for his accumulated acreage of 195 acres from W. R. Doak, who was representing Axel Meertscheidt of Bexar County, Texas and H. B. Kaulbach of Fayette County, Texas in 1883.

The land in question was the accumulated acreage purchased by Whales and Sarah Clemons from John and Catherine Kozurek in 1874 and Joseph and Franciska Krupa in 1878.  For the Whales Clemons 195 acres in Fayette County, Texas, W. R. Doak began negotiating a land swap for Tracts No. 8, 9 and 10 and and the north half of Tract No. 11 in the Stephen F. Austin League in Lee County, Texas. Tract No. 8 contained 114 acres, Tract No. 9 -101 acres, Tract No.10 – 100 acres, Tract No. 11 – 50 acres, plus two acres for a church, for a total of 365 acres. 

An agreement was reached on the land swap, and the deed was executed by Axel Meerscheidt and H. B. Kaulbach on November 23, 1891 in Bexar County, Texas.  The deed was also filed in Fayette County, Texas by Kaulbach.

The above transactions, as far as I can tell, were a pure swap of 195 acres of land in Fayette County, Texas for 365 acres in Lee County, Texas. There was no mention of money or dollars paid in the final deed.

The Whales Clemons family transitioned from their Nechanitz area home to their new homestead that is still in the family today.  The new homestead is located at the end of Lee County Road CR 429 along Brushy Creek near the Burleson County Line and due east of FM 141 near New Dime Box, Texas.  The area is a Freedom Colony named Sandy Point.  Many of the Clemons family members are buried there in the Sandy Point Cemetery.

Whales and Sarah Clemons raised a beautiful family on their final home place from 1892 to 1906 in Lee County, Texas. They not only reared their own children, but took in the children of Richard Collins and Mandy Clemons-Collins, which included Ed (14), my grandfather; his brothers, Ira ( 20), General, Sr. (16), Hugh (12) and sister, Gertrude (18), based on the 1900 U.S. Census.

Samuel H. Clemons
Whales Clemons, grandson of his namesake, Whales Clemons

For some reason, Richard Collins and Mandy Clemons-Collins disappeared around 1900, and the family has not been able to determine where they went or what happened.  After several years of research of records, I was able to locate Mandy Clemons-Collins’death certificate, which indicated that she was buried in Seguin, Texas.  Thanks to Whales and Sarah Clemons, the children of Richard Collins and Mandy Clemons-Collins grew up and made a life for themselves.  We have not been able to find a picture of Whales and Sarah; however, we were able to find a few pictures of siblings and their grandson, Whales Clemons.

Land Swap

The land swap really intrigued me, so I continued to try to determine why W.R. Doak and the other parties swapped 365 acres for 195 acres.  I reviewed the General Land Office league maps for the James R. Phillips League and the J. G. Wilkerson League and there were no clues.  I did a further review of the 1947-1953  Edgar Tobin Aerial Survey ownership map of the common boundary line of the J. R. Phillips and J. G. Wilkinson League and noticed the names of several property owners who my grandfather had talked about, but no other real clues.

Growing up and through the years, my grandparents would tell me stories that real estate brokers were pushing sandy and red clay land in Lee County to many of the African Americans looking for homesteads, and they were very successful. Our families were good at taking this kind of land and making a living off it, and many others were also very good at it. This is how Lee County became a dominant African American County, after Fayette County. 

All of my family and many African American families in Lee County from 1900 through the 1940s raised their families and made a decent living on this land. As the 1950s rolled around, and the cotton picking machines took over hand picked cotton, many of us moved to the large cities and left our grandparents on the home places.

As the 1970s arrived, the real estate agents and oil men returned to the sandy and clay land in Lee County, Texas to buy back the land and the mineral rights.  Many of our family members fell for the scheme in hopes of making a quick profit; however, the majority of African American land owners held on and did not sell.

We all know what happened in the late 1970s – an oil boom struck in the Lee County Austin Chalk area, and the rest is history.  Many family members have been collecting royalties since 1979.  This is what I think the land swap was all about – there was oil on the Whales and Sarah Clemons 195 acre tract; however, eighty years later, we find that there is plenty of oil under the 365 acre tract as well.

The End of An Era…

On Saturday October 12, 2013, I decided to see what it would be like to walk or drive in my ancestral footprints.  The boundary line dividing the J. R. Phillips and J. G. Wilkinson League is Rauch Road, which runs north and south, beginning at FM 2145 on the north  and to Laird Road on the south.  The land east and west of Rauch Road is still undeveloped, and the road is only paved with gravel.  The only development seen were oil wells and oil and gas pipelines traversing the land north, south, east and west.  The rest of the area remains grazing and cattle raising land with rolling hills, beautiful oak trees and low lying bottom land. There are no homes fronting Rauch Road.  The signs of the past are all gone with the exception of a lonely wood frame, tinned roof home dating back to the 1930s located at the northwest corner of the intersection of Laird Road and Rauch Road.  

After visiting the site, I also visited the Tax Office and reviewed the old abstract maps. What I noticed is that Charles Clemons, the third oldest child of Whales and Sarah Clemons, remained in Fayette County and raised six children before his death in 1919.  My review of these maps only complicated the mystery of the 195 acre and 365 acre land swap.

Based on these maps, the original 195 acre tract was owned by Charles Clemons and were broken up into 35 acre tracts and deeded as follows by Charles Clemons to Carrie Powell-1935, J. Kimble-1935, Birdie Ferguson-1935, Nettie Ferguson-1935, Emma Jones-1935 and 1936, and Frank Rauch-1935.  From these maps, I also determined that Charles Clemons also owned the original 30 acres owned by Whales and Sarah Clemons, which was separate and apart from the 195 acres.  This 30 acre tract was located at the intersection of Rauch Road and Laird Road, where the old house still stands that I mentioned earlier. Charles Clemons deeded this 30 acre tract to his wife, Martha Clemons, and son, Dee Clemons.  Martha Clemons also owned 110 acres directly across Rauch Road from the 30 acres, which she eventually deeded to her son, Ollie Clemons, in 1935 and in 1937; Ollie sold this land to Frank E. Rauch.  This part of the land dealing by Charles Clemons will be addressed in my next segment on the Clemons Family.

I would note in closing that there is a large mansion just south of Schuster Road along Laird Road, which may correlate to the oil and gas income that present-day landowners are collecting.  The 21st Century is slowly coming to the area, and the old way of life is nothing more than a memory.

Sources:
Collins, David L., Sr. Family Oral History
Fayette County, Texas Deed Records
Lee County, Texas Deed Records
U.S. Census Records for 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920

My Name is Joe Griffin

by Gary McKee

I arrived in Texas in 1838 with the Sam Maverick family. I was one of several slaves belonging to the Maverick family. The Maverick family had treated me well and I was considered part of the family. When Mr. Maverick was away on business, I was the guardian of the family. Once, when we were camped out, the Indians attempted to attack the family. I took up an axe and told them Indians to come this way if you dare, you devils, and I'll make hash of you! They decided not to mess with me.

In 1841, we were living in San Antonio and the Mexican army was threatening to invade Texas. Mr. Maverick decided to move his family to La Grange for their safety. While we were living on the Colorado River, Mr. Maverick had business in San Antonio and took me with him.

The Mexican army invaded San Antonio and captured all the Americans in the town. The Mexican government did not allow slavery and so I was released to be free. My commitment to the Maverick family and the Republic of Texas caused me to head straight to Mrs. Maverick to tell her of Mr. Maverick's capture. Along the road to La Grange, I told everyone that I met of the invasion of Texas. When I told Mrs. Maverick of the situation, she gave me three hundred dollars, a fresh mule, and sent me back to San Antonio to try and free Mr. Maverick. As a black man, I could move freely among the Mexican soldiers and possibly give them the money to free Mr. Maverick.

The news that I brought to La Grange, caused a group of men led by Mr. Nicholas Dawson to leave La Grange and head to San Antonio to fight the Mexicans. They caught up with me and I joined up with them. When we got to San Antonio, we stopped to rest. The Mexican army discovered us and attacked. During the battle, I was given several opportunities by the Mexicans to escape, but I stood by my neighbors. After my gun was broken, I broke a branch from a mesquite tree and kept fighting, until after several wounds, I was finally killed. The Mexican commander told Mr. Maverick that he had witnessed the fighting performed by the valiant black man and pronounced me the bravest man he had ever seen. This battle, which happened in 1842, was called the Dawson Massacre. The Maverick family mourned my death and more than once Mr. Maverick stated that we owe Griffin a monument. I am proud to say that when my bones were returned to La Grange to be buried, I was buried in the same tomb as my white neighbors. You can visit my tomb and the remains of 52 other Republic of Texas heroes at Monument Hill State Historical Site.

The Tom Lee Story

by Ed Janecka

Tom Lee was born on November 23, 1821 somewhere in Virginia. Tom Lee was born a slave, and at an early age his master’s family and Tom along with other slaves moved to Texas. Tom used to tell stories about those early days in Texas, like the time his Master sent him on a mission. On his trip home from that mission, Tom noticed some Indians in the distance, so he decided to climb a tree and wait until they passed. He was a young boy and very tired. What an incredible surprise it was to Tom when the Indians decided to make camp under the exact tree that Tom had chosen to climb. He said that several times during the night he almost fell out but as fate would have it he clung to branches and secured himself in the fork of that old tree. In the morning the Indians broke camp and went on their way. As soon as they were out of sight he scurried down and ran home. Exhausted he told of his encounter and was chastised by his Master for being late. Tom said that at the age of 15 he was at the battle of San Jacinto or, as he called it, the battle of Santa Anna. He said he was a rifle re-loader for his Master. It is hard to verify this fact as very few records were kept of slaves, but we do know that he had a bayonet that he said came off of a Mexican rifle. Little is known about Tom until the early 1870s when he was hired by Joseph Peter to help him in his new blacksmith shop in Dubina, Texas. By all accounts he was an excellent blacksmith. As a matter of fact, he designed and constructed the cross on the First Catholic Church in Dubina which was built in 1877. Unfortunately that church was destroyed by a hurricane in 1909. The current church was built in 1911 and the cross from the first church was placed on the present church and is still there today. Tom Lee was a remarkable man who was known and respected far and wide. He was accepted by the mostly Czech community as they had no love for slavery and could empathize with his place in life as it was less than 25 years before that they were serfs in Austrian Hungary. Tom also learned the Czech language which helped him communicate with all the residents. He was an accomplished holistic veterinarian and his counsel was sought by many. Tom bought his first piece of property in January of 1878 – forty acres of land payable with three payments of $166 each. Tom Lee and his family used to own a large portion of the area where F.M. 1383 and Highway 90 intersect. Because of the large African American population in the area, Judge Augustin Haidusek on August the 18th 1886 purchased on behalf of Fayette County 1/2 acre of land from Oscar Taylor for the purpose of building a Negro school. This school would be called Lee school after Tom Lee. On the 15th day of November 1886, Judge Haidusek authorized spending $50 from the available school fund to build a permanent building for the Lee School. On November the 26th the county approved spending $25.50 for building materials from Brasher and Fisher of Weimar. The first teacher for the Lee School was Miss Delia Bremby and the first trustees were Silas Acott, Jonas Scott, and Cyrus Daniels. The school continued to operate until 1947 when it was incorporated into the Schulenburg School District. Tom Lee was also instrumental in establishing the Mount Pilgrim Mission Baptist Church which stood adjacent to the school. Both the church and the school were located on F.M. 1383 and were torn down in the 1970’s. Tom Lee had five children Representer, Cyclia, Ella, Stella and Tom. Tom Lee died on November the 25th 1928 at the age of 107. He is buried at Paradise Gardens Cemetery in Weimar. He attributed his long life to the Mullein plant. The Mullein plant is an herb which was brought to Texas by the early settlers. He made a tea of the dried leafs and drank the tea nightly. Today the Mullein plant grows wild in parts of Dubina and whenever I see it reminds me of Tom.

Runaway Slave Sold For Expenses

by Katie Kulhanek

Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, the need for slaves greatly increased in southern states, especially Louisiana. After a long build-up of interest and concern, the problem of slavery in America was finally becoming a major forerunning conflict. Attempts at escaping to the North occurred on a regular basis. Before and during the Civil War, slaves found various ways to escape from their masters. One way was through the Underground Railroad. With the aid of abolitionists, slaves could make their way into free states further north or up to Canada. There were other routes that led to western territories of the United States, Mexico, or even overseas. This is indicative by the following article which appeared in the Houston Telegraph and Texas Register (Volume VI, Issue 1, Page 4):

Committed to the Jail of Fayette County, Texas (By M’Kree White)

On the 5th day of May, 1840, a Negro Man, who says his name is HENRY, and says he belongs to Beaties Giddrest (or Battiest Gidre) living in the parish of Appalouses, Louisiana, on Bayou Boeut, about 40 miles below Chinaville. Said slave is about 25 years old, of yellow (or mulatto) complexion, about 5 feet 4 inches high, and would weigh about 125 lbs., has a scar on the left arm, chin and forehead, all occasioned apparently from a burn. He says he is a carpenter by trade. Speaks the French language, and upon the whole is a very pert smart boy.

The owner is required to come forward, prove property, pay charges, and take him away, within six months, or he will be sold according to the law to satisfy his expenses.

WILLIAM NABERS,
Sheriff of Fayette County, R.T.
La Grange, 6th May, 1840. dt. Wit.

In the article, Nabers most likely misunderstood the name of the parish and wrote it as “Appalouses” instead of its proper name, “Opelousas”. Today, the parish is renamed St. Landry Parish after the Catholic Church located there in 1807. It is interesting to note that despite the name change in 1807, the parish was still known as Opelousas to some, even until the date of this article – 1840.

There were many dangers associated with attempting to escape. Captured slaves could be beaten and shackled. The owner of the escaped slave would have to pay fees to free them from jail. Some owners even offered rewards for the capture of their escaped slave with the amount varying depending on the slave’s personal skills. Slaves who were never claimed by their owners were often sold at public auction – as the article above suggests.

The route “Henry” chose to take would have been a long and tiring one, stretching well over 300 miles long (from Opelousas to La Grange). We’ll never know how “Henry” fared, but His escape symbolized one of the many cases of discontent that slaves had towards slavery in America that led up to the Civil War. 


Relationships Between Whites and African Americans After the Civil War

By Marie W. Watts

After Emancipation, African Americans struggled to reunite families, set up households, start their own churches and schools, and establish their own rural communities. While newspaper editorials railed against African Americans in general—vigorously opposing their suffrage, military protection, and any other type of advancement—some Fayette County attitudes toward particular local African Americans was somewhat tempered. 

The La Grange newspaper, for example, called for white residents to financially support a group of African Americans trying to start a church; it commended freedmen for coming to the aid of a white man whose barn was on fire; and it gave favorable publicity to a convention of freedmen in nearby Bastrop.

Yet, tension between blacks and whites generally remained strong. A cousin of the Faison family of La Grange, James Peden, who lived in a nearby county, reflected a disparaging attitude toward people of color in a letter written February 10, 1868: “Lynch law is carried on all over the state and the Negroes try to run rough shod over the Whites. Oh! Would to God another war would break out. I would not be in the Commissary Dept. I would make a heavy mark or die in the attempt.”

During these turbulent years, Nathaniel Faison, local entrepreneur and landowner, began to donate land to local freedmen. On March 28, 1867, he deeded two town lots to trustees of a Baptist church and a Methodist Episcopal church to provide a school and worship for black members; and on May 30, 1867, he and W.W. Ligon deeded, for the sum of thirty dollars, a town lot to trustees of the Freedman’s School Association of La Grange.

In February 1870, Faison and Ligon sold another lot for thirty dollars to the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church: “Said premise shall be used, kept, maintained and disposed of as a place of divine worship and for school purposes subject to the discipline, usage and ministerial appointments of the Methodist Episcopal Church.”

Faison verbally offered to donate two acres about nine miles west of the La Grange for school purposes sometime in 1870 or earlier. Louis Luck, August Hahn, and A. Keisling formed a board of trustees to take charge of erecting a schoolhouse and employing teachers. The land was formally deeded in May 1871 after Faison’s death for the sum of one dollar.

In 1874, another tract promised by Faison was deeded by his estate to trustees of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in rural Fayette County.

Both Nathaniel and Peter Faison, his brother, seemed to have had a complex relationship with African Americans. Their father, William Wright Faison, owned 27 slaves at the time of his death in 1859. After Emancipation, Peter assisted in making the bond for the marriage of two former slaves, Smith Woodson and Lucy Faison, on August 9, 1866.

Payton Faison, a former slave of William Wright Faison, moved to Fayette County sometime before 1873, and his descendants still reside in La Grange today. Payton Faison’s son Tom may have borrowed money from Peter Faison; notes with documentary stamps were found in the Faison House, showing that in 1899, Tom Faison owed H.C. Heilig & Company, a local bank, small amounts of money on several occasions.

Sources:
Fayette County Deed Record Book T, 181, 245.
Fayette County Deed Record Book V, 722.
Fayette County Deed Record Book W, 610.
Fayette County Deed Record Book 3, 209.
Letter, James Peden to Bettie Peden, February 10, 1868.
States’ Rights Democrat, 1866.
United States Census, Fayette County, 1880; conversation with Faison family members, La Grange; papers from Faison House, Garden Club of La Grange.
     Louisiana Brown (“Lou Faison”)
Will of William Wright Faison; marriage records, Hardeman County, Tennessee, 1866.

The Will Taylor Family History

African American Pioneers of Winchester, Texas

By David L. Collins, Sr.

Will TaylorThe Taylor family history, as it has been handed down through the generations, began in the early 1800s.  Willis Taylor was born on September 11, 1833 in Port Royal, Virginia.  As a young boy, he was separated from his family due to slavery.  His mother, Chattie, and the rest of his family remained on the free side of the Mason-Dixon Line.  No information has been found on his father.  Willis was a farmer and lived to be ninety-six years old.  He died of heart problems and asthma on September 28, 1929 and is buried in the Winchester Black Cemetery (Shiloh Cemetery). 

Louvinia, his wife, otherwise known as Vinnie Ramsey, was born in Alabama.  According to her death certificate, her parents were John Martin and Ellen Ramsey.  Vinnie, along with her brother, Rueben, and sister, Hannah, were sold into slavery to a man named Captain MacDonald  and came to Texas in a covered wagon.  Vinnie was known to have worn bonnets and long dresses throughout much of her life.  Her birth date is listed on her death certificate as “unknown”, but it is said that she lived to be 105.  Vinnie died of old age on April 13, 1936 and is also buried in the Winchester Black Cemetery (Shiloh Cemetery).  So if she was 105 years at her death, she would have been born in circa 1831.

Willis and Vinnie had five boys and three girls. They were living in the Winchester area of Fayette County by 1870 with their first child and three of Vinnie’s younger siblings.  Willis and Vinnie purchased 125 acres of land in the Rabb League in Fayette County in 1914.  There they farmed and raised their family.  Their youngest son, Robert, remained on the property and raised his own family there.  The property was eventually sold and is now known as Clear Lake Pines.

Willie L. Taylor, the oldest of their five boys, was born in 1872.  He met and married Mary Brown, the fourth daughter of John and Bettie (Smith) Brown, in 1894.  She had three sisters and seven brothers.  Willie and Mary purchased 243 acres of land located twelve miles northwest of La Grange off Highway 77 N (on Pietsch-Kappler Road off of FM 153); their land was located along the Colorado River.  This property remains in its entirety today as the Will Taylor Estate.  According to his will, it is to be handed down through the generations and should not be divided.  It now has oil wells on it and is rented as grazing land.

Willie and Mary reared their family of thirteen children there and built a blacksmith shop and syrup and molasses mill, which was used by the entire community.  A tank and a well dug by them remain on the property today; however, the well was never used because it contained bitter alum.  Remnants of the original homestead are still standing. 

Education was important to the Taylors, so their children attended the Shiloh and Coaxbury Schools for at least five or six years.  Willie owned a black stallion named Prince, and working together, they served the community in a variety of ways.  Willie died in 1957 at age 85 due to a stroke.  Mary died in 1943 at the early age of 69 years.  Her cause of death is listed as “acute indigestion”, which oftentimes was confused with symptoms of heart failure.

Willie and Mary’s last living child was Beatrice Taylor Santos of La Grange who celebrated her 100th birthday on September 29, 2006.  She passed away four days later on October 3, 2006.

Willie and Mary Taylor are the common veins that run through a large number of descendants.  Each of them can be proud to be descendants of a man who was recognized by the community as the honorable, intelligent and ambitious Willie Taylor. 

Photo Caption: Will Taylor; courtesy of David L. Collins, Sr.
Sources:
Ancestry.com
Contributions to family history: Della M. Catley-Franklin
Contributions and documents: Clifton Taylor, Mary Callie Taylor Johnson, Leo Lee Taylor, Versie Taylor Martin and John Santos
Additional contributions: Scherry Taylor
Excerpts from Shiloh Baptist Church and Cemetery Dedication presentations
“Family Reunion News”: Donna Taylor Smith; September 30, 2006

David Rivers

The Colored Chicken Farmer of Fayette County, Texas

By David L. Collins, Sr.

David RiversOne should never underestimate the power of positive thinking and a good work ethic.  David Rivers, an African American resident of Fayette County, adhered to those values and became a successful agricultural businessman during the first half of the 20th century.

David, born on March 9, 1891, the son of Thomas Rivers and Channie Maxwell-Rivers of Round Top, Texas, lived with his parents and eleven siblings on the Frank Wagner farm on the west side of Weyand Road and Round Top Road.  Thomas Rivers was the brother of Katie Rivers and Matthew Rivers, Jr. of Round Top.  Katie married my great-grandfather, John Wesley Taylor, of La Grange, Texas.

On January 7, 1920, David married Malissa Hopson in Fayette County and on October 23, 1920, they became the parents of twin boys, Edgar and Federick.  David lived in Fayette County for his entire life.  He and Malissa purchased 125 acres of land west of Highway 159 at the corner of Cottonwood Road.  His neighbor and friend, John G. Grant, lived just up the road at the intersection of Cottonwood Road and Harms Road.  David was also surrounded by many Germans, including the Rauch, Helmken, Wessels, Gau and Schulze families, and developed a working relationship with them.  He was an entrepreneur at heart and developed a profitable chicken farm.  Because of his hard work, the following article was published in the La Grange Journal on December 19, 1946. 

The article featured a photo provided by the Fayette County Farmers Home Administration showing Rivers with his overalls and straw hat and his wife with her bonnet on and approximately 200 chickens in their yard - a portion of their large flock of laying hens.  Rivers had recently paid his farm loan out in full from earnings derived entirely from his farm.

COLORED FARMER PAYS FSA FARM

     "Monday, December 2, 1946, David Rivers came to the office of the Farmers Home Administration at La Grange and paid his loan in full.  Rivers was one of the first Negroes from among the various applicants to be eligible to purchase a farm in 1938.  Rivers' papers were completed, and he took charge in July that year.  At the time Rivers made application, he was a tenant farmer living on the same farm that he now owns.  His net worth at the time he made his application was about $11.65.  He now has his farm paid for which was valued at $3350 in 1938.  He has paid for this from the sale of agricultural products.  This includes crops, livestock (cattle and hogs), chickens, milk and eggs.  Chickens and eggs, David says, must have the biggest credit.  He started with about 300 chickens and at one time had as many as 2500 laying hens.  He has at this time reduced his flock to eight or nine hundred hens.  David Rivers has worked with other farmers of the area. He has cooperated with the County Agent, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and the Soil and Water Conservation program.  His whole farm is terraced and his pastures are sodded with some fine grasses.  He now has 15 head of cattle, but expects to increase this part of his program.  He has eight acres fenced hog proof and has at times made considerable from the sale of pigs and hogs.
     During the time Rivers was building up his poultry and livestock program, he found that he had a shortage of water supply.  He came to the office and made a loan to purchase an electric pump and pressure tank which now affords ample water supply.  At this same time, he was able to get the Rural Electrification Services to wire his farm for electric service.
     He now figures his net worth is between six and seven thousand dollars.  Rivers has made excellent progress and now feels the sense of security of a home owner”.

David Rivers passed away on March 15, 1967 and is buried in the La Grange City Cemetery.  After his death, Malissa eventually sold the farm and moved to Kendleton, Texas to live with her son, Federick Rivers.

During my search for my great-grandmother, Katie Rivers, I began to locate members of the David Rivers' family.  The first person I found was Beatrice Crump-Rivers, the wife of Edgar Rivers, who lived on Chalmette Street in South Houston.  She grew up on Bauer Road about two miles east of Highway 237 in Fayette County. 

My interview with her was very rewarding, and she provided me with a number of pictures of African American pioneers in Fayette County, Texas.  What was ironic is that as a teenager, I worked for the Watkins Grocery Store on Cullen Boulevard in Houston.  The store was located directly across the street from her home at that time.

David Rivers familyThat interview opened up many doors in my search for Katie Rivers, one of which led to her great-nephew, Federick Rivers, and his wife, Ida Grant-Rivers, who lived in Kendleton, Texas, where I was coincidentally performing engineering services for the city. Ida Grant-Rivers was the daughter of Vernal and Lucile Grant, who also were neighbors of her father-in-law, David Rivers. When I went to visit Federick Rivers in 1996, his mother, Malissa Rivers, who was 101 years old at the time, was living with him and his wife.  I immediately realized the importance of doing an oral history interview with her.  However, before I found time to perform the second interview in 1998, she had passed away.  Malissa Hopson-Rivers was born on May 21, 1895 and passed away on May 24, 1998 at 103 years old.

Federick Rivers passed away at age 80 on July 19, 2001 in Kendleton, Texas; his twin brother, Edgar Rivers, passed away at age 83 on September 14, 2004 in Houston.

The era of small-scale farmers is fading fast, but the era of black farmers now seems to be a thing of the past.  African Americans of David Rivers’s generation seemingly were the last to cling to an agrarian lifestyle.  By the 1950s when cotton was no longer a cash crop, the majority of African American farmers left their farms, whether they were renting or owning them, and moved to towns and cities to pursue other means of income. This was especially true of the younger generation, especially the men who had served in the armed forces during WWII and the Korean War.  They had received training that was beneficial to them in finding jobs in urban areas.  

David Rivers, however, had the foresight to not depend upon cotton as his only source of income.  Instead, he chose to diversify by raising poultry and livestock, which were more stable commodities that could provide a steady income from the sale of his agricultural products, especially his chickens and eggs.

Photos:
Top: David Rivers holding one of his prize chickens, circa 1950s; courtesy of David Collins, Sr.
Bottom Left to Right: Tommie Jean Rivers, daughter of Edgar Rivers; Marie Rivers, daughter of Frederick Rivers; David Rivers and Frederick Rivers; courtesy of David Collins, Sr.
Sources:
Ancestry.com
Interviews with Malissa Hobson-Rivers, Beatrice Crump-Rivers, Edgar Rivers, Federick Rivers and Wesley Taylor, son of Katie Rivers-Taylor
La Grange Journal, December 19, 1946, Vol 67, Issue 51

 

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