Black History Month Part III

During the years that Texas was part of Mexico, the government offered free blacks the same rights of citizenship and opportunities for land ownership as were provided to white settlers. And just like the white colonists, the free settlers of color worked to establish successful lives in the new country.  William Goyens (sometimes spelled Goings) settled in Nacogdoches in the early 1820s and became

William Goyens

William Goyens

an Indian Agent, working as a mediator and interpreter between the settlers and Cherokees of Northeast Texas. Born in North Carolina in 1794, the son of a white mother and mulatto father (with Cherokee ancestry), Goyens’ fair complexion may have helped him establish a successful blacksmith business in Nacogdoches and begin land speculation.  His work as an Indian Agent earned the trust of the Indians, the Mexican government, and the settlers in East Texas.  He opened a freight hauling business, manufactured and repaired wagons, traded with the Indians, began lending money, and developed successful sawmill and gristmill operations.  He married a white widow and adopted her son. Despite barely escaping being sold back into slavery on two business trips to Louisiana, Goyens owned as many as nine slaves and added to his wealth by entering the slave trade as a buyer and seller of human chattel.

During the buildup to the Texas Revolution, Goyens served as Sam Houston’s, interpreter as Houston negotiated a treaty with the Cherokees that kept them from siding with the Mexican Army during the war.

After Texas won Independence from Mexico in 1836, laws under the new Republic changed the status of freedmen.  Many slaveholders feared that the prosperity of freedmen would encourage rebellion among their slaves.  The constitution of the Republic of Texas took away the citizenship of free blacks, restricted their property rights, and forbade permanent residence in Texas without the approval of the congress.  The laws became even more restrictive for free blacks after Texas annexation as the twenty-eighth state.

Despite living the rest of his life in the mansion he built west of Nacogdoches and continuing to amass considerable wealth, William Goyens was forced to hire some of the best lawyers in Nacogdoches to defend against white neighbors who constantly attempted to take the property he accumulated. Goyens died in 1856 and is buried next to his wife on the property they acquired near Nacogdoches.

Hendrick Arnold, the son of a white man and black mother, moved with his family from Mississippi to Stephen F. Austin’s colony in 1826.  During the Texas Revolution, Arnold and his father-in-law, Erastus (Deaf) Smith, earned an almost legendary reputation as scouts and spies for the Texan cause. Beginning with the 1835 capture of San Antonio, Arnold’s bravery and skills in the fight for San

Arnold in foreground of Joseph Musso mural.

Arnold in foreground of Joseph Musso mural.

Antonio earned him a citation for his “important service.”  Deaf Smith suffered serious injuries in the Texan’s fight for San Antonio, and Arnold nursed him back to health.  Then, Arnold joined Deaf Smith as they scouted for other cavalry units, even infiltrating the Mexican camps with Deaf Smith disguised as a Mexican and Arnold posing as a runaway slave.  Before the Battle at San Jacinto, Deaf Smith’s spy company followed Sam Houston’s orders to destroy the bridge that would have offered escape from the field of battle for both armies, thus sealing the boundaries for the final battle for independence.

Like all the men who fought for Texas Independence, Arnold was compensated in land for his service, however, his property lay northwest of present Bandera, a site with poor soil that edged Indian territory, evidence of the lower status that a free black man held in the society of that period.  Arnold never lived on his land, choosing instead to live near San Antonio where he operated a gristmill.

By 1827 Arnold had fathered a daughter, Harriet, with one of his father’s slaves, and despite his own status as a free black, Arnold kept Harriet as his slave.  By the fall of 1835, before his participation in Texas War for Independence, Arnold had settled in San Antonio where he married Martina, the stepdaughter of Deaf Smith.  After Texas joined the Union, Arnold placed his daughter Harriet, who was about nineteen, in an indentured-servant contract with James Newcomb.  Newcomb was to pay $750 for Harriet’s service and then free her after five years. The Texas Black History Preservation Project points out that Arnold may have thought that Newcomb, a white man, had a better chance than Arnold of getting the Texas Legislature to accept a petition to allow Harriet to live in the state as a free woman.

Before the end of the indenture contract, both Newcomb and Arnold died in the 1849 Bexar County cholera epidemic.  Newcomb’s administrator successfully petitioned the Texas Legislature to allow Harriet to remain in Texas as a free woman, but Arnold’s wife (it is unclear who she was) sued the administrator for $2,000 plus the $750 due on the indentured-servant contract and asked that Harriet be returned as her slave.  The results of the suit are not clear.  Harriet may have been allowed to remain in Texas as a free woman.

Black History Month Part II

Many slave families were sold and ripped apart by white slave owners as easily as if they were selling purebred puppies.  When Matilda Boozie Randon was a child in South Carolina, her mother and siblings were sold and she never saw them again.  Matilda was sold to a family that brought her to Texas, settling first in Mt. Pleasant. When she was about thirteen she bore her first child after being raped by her master’s son.  At some point she and the family moved to Washington County. After the Civil War, possibly because of the rape, Matilda and her husband, a preacher named Randon, were given 1,500 acres. Randon farmed and rented portions of their land. Matilda sold butter and eggs and became well known throughout the county as a midwife, delivering both black and white babies. In an oral history, Matilda’s granddaughter said Matilda woke up at any time during the night to go to a birth and that she stayed until the mother was able to care for herself.  According to her granddaughter Matilda had a black bag that looked like a doctor’s bag, in which she carried scissors and number eight thread for tying the umbilical cord.  The children in Matilda’s family were not allowed to touch that black bag, and they “weren’t allowed to even look at it too hard.”  Matilda was paid for her midwife services in canned goods, hogs, chickens, eggs, quilts, and other objects of barter.

Not all slave families suffered from permanent separation.  Elizabeth Ramsey was a mulatto slave in South Carolina who gave birth in 1828 to her master’s child whom she named Louisa. One account claims that because Louisa looked like the master’s other child, Elizabeth and Louisa were sold to a planter in Mobile, Alabama. When Louisa was about thirteen, she and her mother were separated in a sale to different slaveholders.  Despite being sold to a man named Williams in New Orleans, Louisa remained determined to find her mother.  Williams made Louisa his concubine, and she gave birth to four of his seven children.  Upon his death, she was set free and given enough money to move to Cincinnati where she married a mulatto named Henry Picquet who encouraged her continued search for her mother.

Meantime, Elizabeth had been sold to Col. Albert C. Horton who served as Texas’ first lieutenant governor and as acting governor during the Mexican-American War.  By the opening of the Civil War, Horton was one of the wealthiest men in the state and owned 150 slaves on plantations in Wharton and Matagorda counties.

A friend of Louisa’s, who had traveled to Texas, brought back descriptions of Horton that matched Louisa’s memory of the man who had purchased her mother.  Around 1858 Louisa began writing letters to Horton and to her mother, pleading to buy Elizabeth’s freedom.  Horton wanted $1,000 to give up Elizabeth.  Finally, Louisa convinced Horton to accept $900.

Louisa Picquet the Octoroon

Louisa Picquet the Octoroon

Raising $900 was no easy task.  Louisa borrowed against her husband Henry’s salary, and she asked for help from Methodist minister and abolitionist, Hiram Mattison, in May 1860.  Eager to help Louisa raise the money, Mattison tried to present her case to a meeting of Methodist bishops, but was unable to get it on the agenda.  Instead, Mattison published his interview with Louisa with most of his

Louisa Piquet, the Octoroon by H. Mattison, 1861

Louisa Piquet, the Octoroon by H. Mattison, 1861

account centering on the whiteness of her skin and how shocking it was for white women to be held in slavery.  Eventually, the savings and public solicitations resulted in Louisa purchasing her mother and being reunited after a twenty-year separation.

After Texas won independence from Mexico, allowing free persons of color to remain in Texas went against the basic principles of those who supported what was often called the “peculiar institution.”  Among the many reasons used to hold blacks in bondage was the claim that slaves and free Negroes were incapable of self-government. Consequently the constitution of the new Republic of Texas stated that free blacks could not remain in Texas without permission from congress.  Various resolutions resulted in freedmen being allowed to remain in Texas only until January 1, 1842, at which time they would be sold back into slavery.  Several thousand free people of color petitioned the congress asking to remain as free citizens of Texas.

In 1840 Fanny McFarland’s petition stated that William McFarland brought her “to this country” in 1827 and that he freed her in 1835 because of “long and faithfull [sic] services to him and his family.”  The petition goes on to say that “at the time of the Mexican invasion,” by which she meant the 1836 Texas Revolution, she was living in San Felipe de Austin as a free person, and as a result of the war she was driven from her home and lost all her possessions.  After Texas won independence from Mexico, she moved to Houston in 1837 and “acquired a little property.” Accounts of her early time in Houston indicate that she was a laundress, saved her money, and began buying small pieces of property, eventually operating one of Houston’s first successful real estate ventures.  Her petition states that she “would beg leave to urge upon your Honors the hardships of being obliged in her old age to leave her children to sacrifice her hard earned property to be obliged to part from friends of years standing to be obliged to leave her only home and be turned loose upon the wide world.”  The petition continued, “she has four children held as slaves in this Republic so that all her hopes and prospects in this life lie here.”  She asked, “to spend the few reminding [sic] days of her life as a resident and Citizen of this republic.”  Despite more than seventy people signing a petition dated October 30, 1840, stating that Fanny McFarland was a good and useful citizen of Houston, the Congress of the Republic of Texas denied her request.  Undeterred, Fanny McFarland remained in Houston until her death in 1866.  There is no record of whether her children, freed in 1865 at the end of the Civil War, were able to be with their mother in her last year.

Queen of the Confederacy

Lucy Pickens

Lucy Pickens

Lucy Pickens’  life was a contradiction—she was an outspoken, determined, and forceful woman who was ahead of her time, and she was a southern-belle, a beauty, and a charming hostess who was very much a part of her time.  She graced the stage of the Russian Czar and Czarina and the grand plantations of the South.  She sold her jewels to outfit a Confederate Army unit that bore her name, her image appeared on the Confederate one-dollar and the one hundred dollar bill, and she served as the first lady of the Confederate state of South Carolina.

Born in 1832 on the family plantation outside LaGrange in western Tennessee, Lucy Petway Holcombe may have been the second of five siblings, but her rare beauty, quick intelligence, and determination elevated her in the eyes of her very religious and indulgent mother, Eugenia Holcombe.  Lucy could do no wrong.  Her mother’s accounts in her diary described her daughter’s antics as precious childlike amusement, slightly frivolous, but   always adorable.  Lucy was named for her paternal grandmother, Lucy Maria, who claimed to be a distant relative of Marie Antoinette. Lucy clasped her connection to nobility and spent her life feeling slightly elevated and entitled to whatever was best for her.

Her early life on the remote plantation with only her siblings and slave children as companions did not deter Lucy’s insistence on getting her way.  Her first trip away from home occurred when she was eight and allowed to travel with her siblings to Kentucky to visit their governess’s family. Lucy missed her home and especially her mother. She whined and cried incessantly for days until the family gave up and placed her on a steamboat bound for Memphis.  Upon arrival, she rode fifty miles in a coach and then met a companion who accompanied her the rest of the way home on horseback.

Lucy and her older sister left the loving environment of their plantation home in 1846 for the formal rules and practices of a Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  As Lucy would show in later years, she had learned from her mother to make the most of her situation, finding for the first time a larger society that admired her beauty, wit, and charm.

While the sisters were away at school, their father, Beverly Holcombe, made a series of bad investments, which forced the girls to leave school and the family to move to land outside Marshall, Texas.  Determined not to allow his family to forgo the luxuries to which they were accustomed, Beverly Holcombe managed to recoup some of his losses and build a grand brick mansion with white columns named Wyalucing. As a further show of wealth he constructed a second home, Westover, and created a street between the two houses that was lined with cabins for the slaves.

Despite her husband’s flair for displaying their wealth, Lucy’s mother, Eugenia, continued to stress her Christian ethic of hard-work and benevolence. She emphasized to her daughters that to whom much is given, much is required. Each day she made her rounds to the slave (she called them “servants”) quarters delivering liniment and salve.  She also made sure her servants owned Bibles and learned to read and write, a practice that was against the law and one she claimed in her diary did not sit well with other people in her community.

Lucy was eighteen years old when the family arrived in Texas, and she was determined to realize all her dreams for a fine life of wealth and prestige.  The manners and social skills learned in her youth, combined with her extraordinary beauty, perfect figure, and flowing auburn hair came together in a creature constantly surrounded with admiring suitors. Using her wit and charm, she managed to convince each admirer that he was special as she moved quickly into the important social circles that spread across the South.

Unknown until almost a century after her death, Lucy was also busy writing The Free Flag of Cuba or the Martyrdom of Lopez: A Tale of the Liberating Expedition of 1851, a novella published in 1855 under the pen name of H.M. Hardimann.  It was a romantic story 41S5N3GSH5L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_favoring the actual filibustering efforts of Gen. Narciso López to free Cuba from Spanish rule and establish a slave state on the island. The book encouraged the U.S. support for the cause, and the characters and situations they encountered paralleled Lucy’s own life. The men were brave, the women were lovely southern belles, and the slaves were happy servants. Some historians believe Lucy had been engaged to Lt. William Crittenden who was killed in the expedition and that the book was her reaction to her own lost love.

Very soon, however, another opportunity arose.  Lucy met South Carolina’s U.S. Congressman Francis Wilkinson Pickens, who was twenty-two years older than Lucy and had three children from two previous marriages.  Pickens fell immediately in love with Lucy and quickly asked her to marry him. Despite Pickens offering most of what Lucy was looking for—a man who was handsome, wealthy, respected and well established—she turned him down saying that if he had accepted the offer of the ambassadorship to England that his good friend, President Buchanan, had recently offered, she would have married him. Pickens hurried back to Washington to see if the offer was still open.  The position had been filled but Pickens agreed to become the Ambassador to Russia.  The couple married within a few weeks and began immediate preparations for the journey to St. Petersburg. Despite her determination to better herself and climb the social ladder, the letters that she sent to her family reveal a young woman experiencing terrible anxiety at the prospect of leaving home.  When she was the only one in her party who did not succumb to illness during the long sea voyage, she managed to ease her stress as she enjoyed the solicitations of the sailors on board ship.

Upon their arrival in the summer of 1858, they saw St. Petersburg’s marvelous architecture at its best.  Pickens’ position as the American Ambassador swept the couple into the upper echelons of Russian society.  Lucy’s knowledge of French and Russian, her elaborate wardrobe, and her willingness, despite the cultural shock, to learn the customs associated with her new lifestyle, soon made the Pickenses favorites at court. In her letters home she indicated that the manners of the aristocracy reminded her of those of the Southern planter class.  The friendship that developed between Lucy and Czar Alexander II and his wife the Czarina resulted in the

Lucy with Douschka in Russia

Lucy with Douschka in Russia

Czarina insisting when Lucy was expecting her first child that she move into the Imperial Palace to be waited on during the last stage of her pregnancy and be attended during the birth.

Upon the birth of the daughter, a formal salute was fired to announce it to the citizens of St. Petersburg.  The child was given a name that combined the southern family tradition and the Russian addition: Francis Eugenia Olga Neva Pickens with the added “Douschka,” which is Russian for “little darling.”

By 1860 Lucy longed to return to the South to raise her daughter, and Francis, concerned about the political turmoil stirring between the North and South, felt he needed to get back to South Carolina.  Thrust immediately into the upheaval, Pickens soon had to choose between his deep friendship with President Buchanan (who was soon replaced by President Lincoln) and loyalty to his state of South Carolina that was becoming the leader in the push for secession. As Pickens traveled across the state, he realized if he wanted to serve as governor, he would have to support secession.  On December 17, 1860, Francis Pickens was sworn in as South Carolina’s governor, and three days later the state became the first to secede from the Union without clear assurances that other southern states would follow.  Despite wanting desperately to return to her family in Texas, Lucy stood firmly behind her husband’s decision and saved her doubts for the letters she wrote to her family. In the following months thirteen other southern states followed South Carolina, and after a brief trip back to visit her family in Texas, Lucy recognized that she was the face of the southern cause and returned to her husband whose health was declining.

In keeping with her duties as the governor’s wife, she entertained lavishly at the governor’s mansion in Columbia and at the family plantation near Edgefield.  The Confederate elite were impressed and fascinated that even her servants were dressed in the finest Russian fashions.  She made a further gesture of grand support for the Confederate troops by publicly selling her exquisite jewels that had been gifts from the Russian Czar.  In a gesture of appreciation, Colonel P.F. Stevens of The Citadel in Charleston raised a legion composed of seven infantry companies and one cavalry; he named it the “Holcombe Legion.”  Becoming known as “Lady Lucy,” she adored the attention and frequently addressed the soldiers dressed in her finest attire.  She also presented the legion a flag she

Holcombe Legion Flag

Holcombe Legion Flag

designed that bore her name, the South Carolina palmetto, and the lone star that represented her Texas home.

As a further symbol of appreciation for the support of such a beautiful lady, the Confederacy placed her image on its one-dollar note in June 1862 and on its $100 note the following December.  At the end of his term in 1862, Pickens’ poor health forced him to return to Edgewood where Lucy continued to entertain.  With Pickens too weak to accompany her, Lucy traveled all over the South to show her support for the Confederacy.

Confederate $100 bill

Confederate $100 bill

After General Robert E. Lee surrendered, the life Lucy had always known came to an abrupt end.  Many of their slaves stayed as servants and just before Pickens passed away in 1869, he called the servants to whom he felt closest and asked them to watch over Lucy.  True to their former master, the servants served as pallbearers at Francis Pickens’ funeral.

Lucy’s brother came to help run the plantation, and her daughter Douschka, who was eighteen, helped manage some of the farms.  Douschka instituted a plan that may have been the first plantation to pay its laborers a bonus in addition to their salary when they helped produce a good crop.  After Douschka married and moved away, Lucy joined the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, which worked to preserve George Washington’s former home.  After Douschka died in 1894, Lucy lived another five years until August 8, 1899, when, at the age of 67, the Queen of the Confederacy passed away.

Queen of the Confederacy

Queen of the Confederacy

Stein House is Published

For several weeks I have been blogging about the central coast of Texas where the first huge wave of German settlers landed in

Texas Historical Fiction

Texas Historical Fiction

December 1844 on a bare shell beach that developed into the thriving seaport of Indianola. The blog posts have been an introduction to the exciting history of the place where Stein House, my latest historical novel, opens in 1853 as Helga Heinrich and her four children sail into Indianola to begin their new life.  They are determined to overcome the memory and haunting legacy of Max, her husband and their papa, who drowned in a drunken leap from the dock as their ship pulled away from the German port.

Helga is anxious to be reunited with her sister Amelia, and she’s grateful her wealthy brother-in-law, Dr. Joseph Stein, fulfills his part of the bargain that brought the family to the new world, even without Max to run Dr. Stein’s mercantile store.  Helga takes charge of Stein’s massive boarding house overlooking the road to Texas’ interior and the fickle waves of Matagorda Bay.

A woman of strong passions, Helga operates Stein House for boarders of all stripes whose involvement in the rigors of a town on the edge of frontier influences and molds all their lives: the cruelties of yellow fever and slavery, the wrenching choices of Civil War and Reconstruction, murder, alcoholism, and the devastation wrought by the hurricane of 1886.

The following is an excerpt taken from the first chapter as Helga and her children walk with Amelia to their new home:

A crowd had gathered in front of an impressive white two-story building.  A sign over the door read Casimir House.

Amelia whispered, “Let’s cross to the other side.  It’s a slave auction.”

Helga’s breath caught, and she stood transfixed, staring at a black boy, not more than ten, chained by his ankle and wrist to a giant black man.  Both slaves had been oiled until their flesh shined like polished ebony, outlining every detail of their muscles.

“They look so strong.” Hermie spoke barely above a whisper. “Have you ever seen such muscles on a boy?’

Helga had not.  The child’s massive shoulders bulged under the faded, sleeveless shirt, his powerful arms hanging loosely at his sides, seemingly waiting for the next command.  She looked down at the round softness of Hermie and Paul.  How could she think their life was hard?  Yet in this new land she intended to see their lives improve.

Suddenly the crowd parted, and Helga recognized the top of Anna’s blonde head as the child stepped onto the porch and very lightly stroked the black, manacled hand of the boy.  The contact made the boy jump—the only indication of his fright.  The crowd burst into merry laughter as Anna examined her fingertip for color.

Helga pushed her way into the throng and took Anna firmly by the hand. “Please forgive her,” she whispered, her eyes riveted to the black child’s steady gaze.

The amused spectators patted Anna’s head and made comments about the lovely little German lass until the auctioneer began chanting excitedly.  Almost immediately, the bidding reached a fever pitch.

Gretchen said, “Is that man selling those people?”

“It’s legal.  A few locals use slaves as domestics.  Mostly, they’re sold to planters who take them upriver.”  Amelia kept her voice low.

Helga couldn’t speak.  She clutched Anna’s hand and stared at the boy, who continued to look into her stricken face, his eyes bold and defiant, so little remaining of the child within that fully developed body.

We must go.  You don’t want to see them taken away.” Amelia tugged at Helga’s arm.

“I’ve got to see where he goes,” Helga whispered.

A planter stepped forward wearing a big, broad-brimmed hat and a green satin vest that made his stomach bulge like he was about to strut at the head of a parade.  He paid an amazing $900 for the boy and $1,200 for the man.  The auctioneer nodded dismissively at the slaves, who trotted behind the planter in a rhythm that kept them from entangling their jangling chains.  With one smooth motion, both black bodies heaved themselves into the back of a wagon.  It creaked slowly away, the older slave glaring sullenly into the upturned faces, the boy continuing to stare over the crowd at Helga.

Amelia pulled at Helga’s arm.  “Come.  You can make yourself sick over something you can’t change.”

Anna tucked her finger protectively into the fold of her skirt.

You may order Stein House here to read the rest of the story of this family as they settle into the life of this bustling seaport that rivaled Galveston until two hurricanes finally created a ghost town.

Next week, I will return to my regular Texas history tales.

Texas Troubles

Newspapers around the country called it “the Texas Troubles” in 1860 when rumors—fanned by letters to Texas newspapers written by Charles R. Pryor, editor of the Dallas Herald—claimed that a mysterious fire on Sunday, July 8 that burned the newspaper office and all the buildings on the Dallas town square except the brick courthouse, was an abolitionist plot “to devastate, with fire and assassination the whole of Northern Texas . . .” On that same day other fires destroyed half of the square in Denton and burned down a store in Pilot Point. Fires also burned in Honey Grove, Jefferson, and Austin.  The city leaders of Dallas (population 775) first blamed the extreme heat—105 to 113 degrees in the area—for causing spontaneous combustion of the volatile phosphorous matches in a box of wood shavings, which ignited a fire that quickly spread over the downtown.  The citizens in Denton, after experiencing other problems with “prairie matches,” concluded that spontaneous combustion was the cause of their fire.

In Dallas, however, white leaders stirred by the intense political climate and encouraged by Pryor’s claims, blamed a sinister slave plot hatched up by two white abolitionist preachers from Iowa.  The preachers were jailed, publically whipped, and sent out of the county.  A committee of fifty-two men organized to mete out justice to the slaves in the county.  At first the vigilance committee favored hanging every one of the almost 100 Negro slaves in the county, then cooler heads prevailed and decided to hang only three. Two days later the men were hung on the banks of the Trinity River.  The remaining slaves, in consideration of their property value, were given a good flogging.  Later, a judge who had been part of the vigilante committee said that the three slaves were probably innocent, but because of the “inflamed state of the public mind, someone had to be hanged.”

The “troubles” were not over.  By the end of July, towns throughout North and Central Texas organized vigilance committees to find and punish the conspirators.  The committees terrorized the slave community and focused their investigations on white itinerant preachers who were cited as insurrection leaders.  An article in the Handbook of Texas tells of  Rev. Anthony Bewley a Northern Methodist preacher who held antislavery views and operated a mission south of Fort Worth.  A letter, which some people claimed was a forgery, urged Brewley to continue his efforts to free Texas from slavery.  It was published widely, which convinced Brewley that he must take his family to Kansas.  A posse caught him in Missouri,  returned him to Fort Worth on September 13, where a lynch mob hanged him and left his body dangling until the next morning.  After burial in a shallow grave, his body was exhumed three weeks later, the bones stripped of the flesh, and placed atop a storehouse. Children played with the bones.  The episode ended the activities of Northern Methodists in Texas.

Despite fears of a slave rebellion that lasted until after the Civil War, there was never an organized group of slaves in Texas that shed white blood.  Vigilantes often obtained “confessions” and evidence points to white leaders spreading the rumors to garner public support for secession.  Approximately ten whites accused of being abolitionists and around five slaves actually  died during the “troubles ”  between July and September 1860.

Saga of Sophia Suttonfield Aughinbaugh Coffee Butt Porter

Two official Texas historical markers sit on the shore of Lake Texoma, the enormous reservoir separating North Texas and Oklahoma.  One marker commemorates Holland Coffee’s Trading

Texas Historical Markers for Coffee's Trading Post and Sophia Coffee Porter

Texas Historical Markers for Coffee’s Trading Post and Sophia Coffee Porter

preston1Post, now under the waters of Lake Texoma.  The neighboring marker calls Sophia Coffee Porter a Confederate Lady Paul Revere.  The colorful lives of Sophia and Holland Coffee came together in 1837 probably while Coffee served in the Congress of the Republic of Texas.

Sophia was born a Suttonfield in 1815 on the remote military post at Fort Wayne (present Indiana).  As a beautiful dark-haired girl of seventeen, she ran away with Jesse Aughinbaugh who had been the headmaster at her school.  The twosome split up in Texas—Sophia said he deserted her—in 1836 and Sophia, who told many stories about herself, said she was the first woman to reach the battle site at San Jacinto on April 22, 1836, the day after Texas won its independence from Mexico.  Although there is no record of their relationship in Sam Houston’s published letters or biographies, Sophia claimed she nursed the wounded general back to health, and they did remain friends.  Some historians believe she was a camp woman who sold her services to the general.

Holland Coffee established his trading post in the early 1830s on the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) side of the Red River and moved it to the Texas side of the river in 1837.  The historical marker says Coffee traded with the Indians for many white captives.  Some historians think Coffee was out to make money and that, like many of the stories Sophia told of her exploits, not as many rescues took place as later generations have been led to believe.  Coffee did ransom a Mrs. Crawford and her two children by paying the Indians 400 yards of calico, a large number of blankets, many beads, and other items.  In later years, Mrs. John Horn wrote that when Comanches refused to trade for the release of her and her children, Holland wept and then gave her and the children clothing and flour.  Although he was accused by settlers of trading whiskey and guns to the Indians for cattle and horses they stole from the whites, his neighbors must have forgiven him because they elected him as their congressman.

14165345_114780775898Apparently Sophia and Holland met in Houston, one of the early capitals of the new republic.  When Sophia failed to get a divorce from Aughinbaugh through the courts, she petitioned the legislature to intervene on her behalf.  After several attempts to get a bill through the legislature that was more concerned with passing a Homestead Exemption Law, Sam Houston finally used his influence and the petition passed both houses with Holland Coffee as a member of the House of Representatives voting aye.

Coffee and Sophia took a 600-mile honeymoon on horseback through Anderson in Washington County, to Nacogdoches and along the Red River, stopping at several locales to attend balls in celebration of their marriage.  Coffee settled with his bride at his trading post, a popular place for Indians and for drovers heading north with their cattle.  Coffee’s wedding gift to Sophia was one-third league of land, about 1,476 acres—only the first of her many acquisitions.  In her later accounts of life on the Red River, Sophia said her nearest neighbor was twenty-five miles away and that to protect against Indian attack, Texas Rangers guarded their trading post, the horses had to be watched while slaves plowed the fields, and firearms were stacked nearby for easy access during preaching services.

Because of the constant threat of Indian attacks, the Republic of Texas built a protective line of forts along the western edge of the frontier and connected them with a Military Road from Austin to Fort Johnson on the Red River near Coffee’s Trading Post.  The military base bought supplies, clothing, tobacco, gunpowder, and tools from Coffee, which injected new life into his business.  He opened a ferry at a crossing on the Red River and he and Sophia bought land and slaves.  New settlers arrived in the area, and in 1845 Holland sold town lots on his land for the new town of Preston.

In 1845-46 Holland Coffee hired Mormons traveling from Illinois to Central Texas to build Glen Eden, a home that expanded over the years into the most impressive house in North Texas and where Sophia entertained lavishly.

Glen Eden

Glen Eden

By her own account, she entertained such notables as Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant (no record exists that either men were there), and Sam Houston.  Men from nearby Fort Washita in Indian Territory seemed always to be guests at Glen Eden.  Stories vary about how Coffee died in 1846.  Some say it began when Sam Houston was scheduled to dedicate the new county courthouse in nearby Sherman and planned to stay with the Coffee’s at Glen Eden.  Coffee’s niece had married Charles A. Galloway who offended Sophia by commenting about her former relationship with Sam Houston.  She demanded that Coffee horsewhip his new nephew.  When Coffee refused to publically air the family problems, Sophia said she had rather be the widow of a brave man than the wife of a coward.  Coffee started an “Indian duel,” a fight to the death, with Galloway who killed Coffee with a Bowie knife.

A rich and charming widow of a brave man at age thirty-one, Sophia managed the 3,000-acre slave plantation, tended her extensive gardens, and continued to host grand parties.  On one of her regular visits to New Orleans to sell her cotton crop, she met Major George N. Butts, who returned with her to Glen Eden to manage the plantation. There is no record of a marriage in either Texas or Louisiana, but the relationship was Sophia’s happiest—Butts enjoyed the niceties of gracious living—and they paid for their lifestyle with the sale of their cotton and land.  They enlarged Glen Eden, filled it with fine furnishings and china from New Orleans.  She became known for her rose garden, an orchard of more than a hundred fruit trees, and grape and berry vines for jams and wines.  She grew a magnolia tree in the front yard from a seedling given to her by Sam Houston.  Albert Sidney Johnston brought catalpa seeds from California, which she planted, in a line down the driveway.

In 1863, William Clark Quantrill with his group of Confederate guerrillas from Kansas and Missouri moved into Sherman and began robbing and killing anyone who did not agree with his brand of Confederate support.  Although Sophia and Butts were southern sympathizers, Butts got into an argument with one of Quantrill’s men and was ambushed one night as he returned from a cotton-selling trip to Sherman.  Sophia garnered the sympathy of Sherman residents against Quantrill and got him arrested; he later escaped.

Some historians say the historical marker story calling Sophia Coffee Porter a Confederate Lady Paul Revere may not be altogether accurate.  Several tales surround this claim, most of them encouraged by Sophia herself.  One says that when James Bourland, commanding a Texas frontier regiment, stopped at Glen Eden on his way back to Fort Washita, he warned her that federal troops were following him.  When the Yankees arrived, Sophia fed them dinner and then took them into her wine cellar where they proceeded to get drunk. She locked them in the cellar and then, riding a mule, forded the treacherous Red River to warn Bourland of the Union’s plans, thus preventing the invasion of North Texas.  Another version of the story says she stripped to her underwear and swam the river and then whistled to get the Confederates’ attention.

At age fifty, toward the end of the Civil War, Sophia found the Red River country too dangerous.  She packed her gold in tar buckets and took her slaves with her to the safer environment of Waco in Central Texas.  There, she met Judge James Porter, a Confederate cavalry officer from Missouri.  Rufus Burleson, president of Baylor College performed their marriage on August 2, 1865 and the Porters returned to Glen Eden.  With her slaves freed, Sophia’s net worth dropped, but she and James Porter began buying land at sheriff’s auctions and reselling it quickly to increase their holdings.

James Porter apparently influenced Sophia’s desire to “get religion.”  She attended a camp meeting and rushed forward throwing herself at the feet of the preacher.  In front of the entire congregation the minister said she must wait for twelve years because “the sun, moon, and stars were against her being a Christian.”  The Methodist preacher in Sherman, however, welcomed her into church.  She gave a section of land to Southwestern University, a Methodist institution at Georgetown and land for a Methodist Church at Preston Bend.  “Aunt Sophia,” as she became known in later years, apparently earned the respect of her neighbors.  When the Old Settlers Association

in Sherman was founded in 1879, one of the speakers at the first meeting was Sophia Porter who entertained the crowd with the stories of her life as a pioneer woman along the Red River.

Glen Eden continued to be a social center, but Sophia no longer allowed dancing.  She and James Porter continued giving money or land to churches in the area until his death in 1886.  For the next eleven years Sophia and her long-time friend and companion Belle Evans searched the shops in nearby Denison and Sherman and ordered from catalogues new fashions that would restore Sophia’s youth.  Mrs. Evans also applied Ayer’s Hair Dye each week to maintain Sophia’s black locks that had attracted so many suitors over the years.  On August 27, 1897, when Sophia died quietly at the age of eighty-one in her fine home of fifty-four years, the man at her side was Reverend J. M. Binkley, the Methodist preacher from Sherman who had accepted her into his congregation.

Sophia Porter in later years

Sophia Porter in later years

Belle Boyd, Confederate Spy

At the beginning of the Civil War, 17-year-old Marie Isabella (Belle) Boyd hardly fit the image of a daring spy.  A tall, slender blonde with a hooknose and protruding teeth, Belle had graduated Baltimore’s Mount Washington Female College and enjoyed the luxury of a Washington debut.  Family stories abound of the lively, oldest child of eight growing up as a tomboy climbing trees and finally in protest for being excluded from the adult dinner table at age eleven, she rode her horse into the dining room and announced, “Well, my horse is old enough isn’t he?”

Belle’s family lived in Martinsburg, Virginia (present West Virginia) and owned six slaves, one of whom, Eliza, became Belle’s constant companion.  Secretly, at night by candlelight, Belle defied the law by teaching Eliza to read and write.  When Belle began her other secret adventures—spying on Union troops—Eliza reportedly helped by carrying messages to Confederates in a hollowed-out watchcase.

In Belle’s memoir Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison published in 1866, she relates a story that appears to signal the beginning of her involvement in the Civil War.  The Union captured Martinsburg and while ransacking homes and businesses, a group of drunken soldiers invaded the Boyd home and tried to raise a Yankee flag.  Mary Boyd, Belle’s mother, exclaimed, “Every member of my household will die before that flag shall be raised over us.”  Belle continues the story by writing that one of the soldiers “addressed my mother and myself in language as offensive as it is possible to conceive.  I could stand it no longer . . . we ladies are obliged to go armed in order to protect ourselves as best we might from insult and outrage.”  Belle drew her Colt 45 pistol and killed the gentleman.

The subsequent inquiry found Belle had “done perfectly right,” according to her account.  For a brief period sentries posted around her home kept watch on her activities, which worked to Belle’s profit.  She charmed secrets out of one of her overseers and related the information to Confederate officers—the beginning of her career as a spy.

Union officials began to watch Belle’s activities, but she managed to take advantage of her minders’ sense of chivalry and their natural deference to “ladies” to gather detailed information on Union movements that she passed on to Confederate commanders.

After visiting her father who was serving in what became known as the Stonewall Brigade, Belle began carrying messages between generals Jackson and P.G.T. Beauregard.

In May 1862, probably while employed in a hotel owned by her relatives in the Shenandoah Valley town of Front Royal, she overheard plans to send Union forces east out of Front Royal, reducing the Union’s strength in the town.  She rode that night; some accounts say fifteen miles through Union lines to pass the information to Confederate Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.  When the Confederates advanced on Front Royal on May 23, Belle ran to the edge of town to meet Jackson and inform him of the light enemy strength.  Jackson’s aide later described seeing a woman in white gliding swiftly out of town seeming to heed neither weeds nor fences, but waving a bonnet as she came.  Belle claimed in her memoir, “Federal pickets . . . immediately fired upon me . . .rifle-balls flew thick and fast about me . . . numerous bullets whistled by my ears, several actually pierced different parts of my clothing.”  Jackson captured Front Royal and wrote a personal letter of appreciation for Belle’s bravery.  Some accounts say she received the Southern Cross of Honor.

The detective, Allan Pinkerton wrote to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, “She (Belle) gets around considerably, is very shrewd, and is probably acting as a spy.  She is an open, earnest, and undisguised secessionists, and talks secession on all practicable occasions . . .informant considers her more efficient in carrying news to the rebels of our operation than any three men in the valley.”

After being arrested in July 1862 and again the following year, she became known as the “Joan of Arc of the Confederacy.”  She volunteered to carry Confederate papers to England aboard the blockade-runner Greyhound only to be stopped on May 10, 1864.  She “managed” to escape, fled first to Canada, then on to London where she married Samuel W. Hardinge, one of the Union naval officers who had captured the Greyhound.  Upon Hardinge’s return to the United States, he was jailed for aiding and abetting an enemy spy.  Soon after his release, he either died mysteriously or disappeared.

Belle remained in London where she wrote her two-volume memoir, gave birth to a daughter, and began a stage career.  By the end of 1866 Belle retuned to the United States with her daughter and made her stage debut in St. Louis under the name of Nina Benjamin.

Belle’s Texas connection began in 1868 when she acted in several plays in Houston and Galveston.  She moved on to Austin when she gave several dramatic readings at the Texas postwar constitutional convention.

Belle sampled domesticity in 1869 when she gave up her stage career to marry Dallas businessman, J. S. Hammond.  Their union produced three children and lasted until 1884 when Belle divorced Hammond and two months later married the twenty-four-year-old stock-company actor, Nathaniel Rue High.

Belle returned to the stage in 1886 under her maiden name, Belle Boyd, with High serving as her business manager.  She opened her Toledo, Ohio, debut with the dramatic story of her exploits as a Confederate spy.  She toured the country performing in a Confederate gray uniform and cavalry-style gray hat.

In 1900, after ending a lecture with the dramatic words “one God, one flag, one people—forever,” Belle Boyd died of a heart attack.