Three Women Legally Executed in Texas

Josefa “Chapita” Rodriguez lived in a lean-to shack near an ancient road that crossed the Nueces River north of Corpus Christi. She offered meals and a cot on her front porch to travelers along the route. During the Civil War, the trail was known as the Cotton Road because the Confederacy used it to move cotton to Bagdad, a Mexican port at the mouth of the Rio Grande. The Confederacy exchanged the white gold with mostly British ships for guns, ammunition, and medical supplies.

Near the end of August 1863, employees at the nearby Welder Ranch found the body of John Savage stuffed in two burlap bags on the edge of the river. His head had been split with an ax.

A few days before the discovery, Savage had arrived late in the evening at Chapita’s cabin carrying $600 in gold in payment for his sale of horses to the Confederate Army in San Antonio. A large man who traveled heavily armed with six-shooters strapped to his leg, Savage frequently stayed at Chapita’s house.

Most of the records in the case burned in a courthouse fire, allowing rumors and legend to fill in the blanks. Since Chapita was too old (probably in her sixties) and too small to stuff the bulk of Savage into two bags and drag them down river, authorities pointed to Juan Silvera who may have been her illegitimate son.

The sheriff who arrested Chapita and Juan Silvera served as foreman of the grand jury and foreman of the jury that heard the charges at trial. At least three grand jury members also served as trial jurors, and members of both juries had been indicted on felony charges that were later dismissed. Chapita’s only defense was her repeating “not guilty.” A few days before the trial began, the gold was discovered downriver from where the body was found.

Despite the discovery of the gold, Chapita was found guilty as charged. The jury recommended mercy because of her age and the circumstantial evidence, but the trial judge Benjamin F. Neal sentenced her to be hanged. Juan Silvera was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to five years in prison.

Some accounts claim she was held for a time in the sheriff’s home; other stories say she waited in leg irons, chained to the courthouse wall in San Patricio. Children visited the courthouse, supplying Chapita with candy and corn shucks in which she rolled her cigarettes.

Many stories suggest Chapita’s silence was to protect her son Juan Silvera.  Whatever her reason, Chapita rode in a wagon to her fate while sitting atop her coffin and smoking a corn shuck cigarette. She stood to have the noose, dangling from a mesquite tree, placed around her neck. Local residents, many of whom believed her innocent, whispered among themselves that Chapita’s execution marked the end of San Patricio.

By the mid-1880s life began changing. The introduction of barbed wire closed the open range and the excitement of cattle drives through San Patricio came to an end. The railroad bypassed the town, the courthouse burned, and Sinton became the new seat of county government.

Despite Texas’ record number of executions, only three women have faced the gallows. Little information exists about the first woman legally executed other than she was a slave named Jane Elkins convicted of murdering a white man in Dallas County and hanged on May 27, 1853.

The third execution of a woman occurred in 1998 when Karla Faye Tucker died by lethal injection fourteen years after being convicted in a pickaxe murder.

On June 13, 1985, Governor Mark White signed a resolution passed by the Texas legislature to absolve Josefa “Chapita” Rodriguez of the murder for which she was hanged 122 years earlier on November 13, 1863.

Woodcut
Texas State Historical Association

A Texas Frontier Woman

Elizabeth Ann Carter Sprague FitzPatrick Clifton knew tragedy long before October 13, 1864, when 700 Kiowa and Comanche warriors tore through Young County in what became known as the Elm Creek Raid.

At the age of sixteen in 1842, Elizabeth married a free black man in Alabama. She moved with his family to Texas where they eventually settled on her father-in-law’s ranch near Fort Belknap, ninety miles west of Fort Worth. Elizabeth was illiterate and epileptic, but those drawbacks did not keep her from working on the ranch with her husband and father-in-law and operating a boarding house. Both men were mysteriously murdered, and the ranch was left to Elizabeth’s children––fourteen-year-old Susanna and young Joe. Elizabeth managed the ranch and boarding house for her children. Then Elizabeth and Susanna both married.

Eight months later, her second husband disappeared. Elizabeth continued to manage the ranch. The boarding house prospered, especially after the Butterfield Overland Mail Route made a stop at nearby Fort Belknap. In 1862 she married her third husband––one of her ranch hands––named FitzPatrick. He was murdered eighteen months later.

Then came the horror of the Elm Creek Indian Raid. The men had gone to Weatherford for supplies, leaving children in the care of Elizabeth, her widowed daughter Susanna and Mary, wife of Britt Johnson, a freed slave who worked for Elizabeth.

When they heard the shrieks of the approaching warriors, Susanna grabbed a gun, ran into the yard, and fought until she was overpowered, stripped and mutilated as Elizabeth watched.

T. R. Fehrenbach says in Lone Star that two braves quarreled over who had captured Britt Johnson’s oldest son; they settled the argument by killing him. They murdered Susanna’s baby boy and then discovered eighteen-month-old Millie crawling out from under a bed in the burning house. The Indians divided the survivors––Elizabeth, little Millie and her five-year-old sister Lottie, thirteen-year-old Joe, and Mary Johnson and her two children––and rode away in separate groups. Joe was sick, and when he could not keep up with the pace of his captors, they killed him.

Before the raid of Elm Creek Valley ended, eleven settlers had been killed, eleven homes damaged or destroyed, and seven women and children carried off.

Elizabeth was held for over a year in northwest Kansas. Although accounts differ over who actually won her freedom, Fehrenbach writes that Britt Johnson, who had spent all that year searching for his wife and two surviving children, found Elizabeth. She begged Johnson to help ransom all the captives and promised to pay from her considerable land and cattle holdings whatever it took to gain their freedom. Johnson made four trips into Comanchería, paying “two dollars and a half” to ransom his wife and eventually rescuing all the captives except little Millie.

After Elizabeth was freed, she spent ten months in a mission in Kansas where she nursed, fed, and cared for other released captives, all the time demanding better care for those in her charge and begging for more to be done to find all those still being held by the Indians.

When Elizabeth finally reached home in 1866, almost two years after her capture, she was reunited with her granddaughter Lottie whose Comanche captors had tattooed her arms and forehead.

Elizabeth married her fourth husband, Isiah Clifton a farmer who still had four small children. They moved with Lottie to the ranch her mother had inherited. Elizabeth never gave up her search for little Millie, contacting the Office of Indian Affairs only a few years before her death in 1882, asking them to investigate rumors that Millie was living with a Kiowa woman.

Fehrenbach writes that Millie was found after being raised by a Crow family and “her life was not an unhappy one.” Another account claims that in 1930 a Kiowa historian began seeking the white relatives of his mother-in-law, Saintohoodi Goombi, who knew she had been captured by Kiowas when she was eighteen months old. Several elderly men, including one who had been a young warrior on the raid, confirmed the story of the capture of a toddler.

Apparently, Elizabeth had described Millie to government officials as one-quarter African descent with dark skin, hair, and eyes. Mrs. Goombi had fair skin and blue eyes, which convinced many that she was not the missing Millie, but the child of another family who never knew their baby daughter was alive.

This account also says Mrs. Goombi had lived a happy life with no memory of her white childhood. She had nine children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She lived in Oklahoma with her daughter until her death in 1934 and apparently never met any of Elizabeth’s or Lottie’s descendants. Whatever the true story, Fehrenbach writes that when the Governor of Texas asked Mrs. Goombi “what the state might do for her, she answered, ‘Nothing.’”

 

Legends of A Lady Pioneer

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 Post, now under the waters of Lake Texoma. The neighboring marker calls Sophia Coffee

Sophia Coffee Porter, Grayson County TX GenWeb

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, 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, claimed to be the first woman to reach the battle site at San Jacinto. She arrived on April 22, 1836, the day after Texas won its independence from Mexico. Although no record exists of their relationship in Sam Houston’s published letters or biographies, Sophia maintained that she nursed the wounded general back to health. Some historians believe she may have been a camp woman who sold her services to the general.

Coffee’s Trading Post
Grayson Co TX GenWeb

Holland Coffee established his trading post in the early 1830s on the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) side of the Red River and moved to the Texas border in 1837. The historical marker says Coffee traded with the Indians for many white captives. Coffee ransomed 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. Despite being 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.

When Sophia failed to get a divorce from Aughinbaugh through the courts in Houston, she petitioned the legislature to intervene on her behalf. After several attempts to get a bill through Congress, Sam Houston, President of the Republic of Texas, 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 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 cowboys heading north with their cattle. Coffee gave Sophia a wedding gift of 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 lived twenty-five miles away.

Because of the constant threat of Indian attacks, the Texas Rangers guarded their trading post. While their slaves plowed the fields, the horses had to be watched. At preaching services, they stacked firearms nearby for easy access. 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 continued to buy land and slaves. New settlers arrived, and in 1845 Holland sold town lots for the town of Preston.

Glen Eden
Grayson County TX GenWeb

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. Sophia entertained lavishly. By her own account, her guests included such notables as Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant (no record exists of either man being there), and Sam Houston. Men from nearby Fort Washita in Indian Territory came often to Glen Eden.

Stories vary about how Coffee died in 1846. Some say it began when Sam Houston arrived to dedicate the new county courthouse in nearby Sherman and planned to stay with the Coffees 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 would 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, Sophia, at age thirty-one managed the 3,000-acre slave plantation, tended her extensive gardens, and continued to host grand parties. On one of her regular trips 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 became 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 Quantrill’s 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 calling Sophia Coffee Porter a Confederate Lady Paul Revere may not be altogether accurate. Several tales surround this claim, most of them of Sophia’s own telling. One story says that when James Bourland, commander of 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 took them to 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. Before the entire congregation, the minister said Sophia 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 the church. She gave a section of land to Southwestern University, a new 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. At the first meeting of the Old Settlers Park in Sherman in 1879, Sophia Porter 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

Sophia Coffee Poter
Grayson County TX GenWeb

the shops in nearby Denison and Sherman and ordered from catalogs 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.

Texas Girl Becomes a Star

Mary Martin as Peter Pan, NBC Productions

Growing up in Weatherford, twenty-five miles west of Fort Worth, Mary Virginia Martin loved to mimic movie stars—dancing and acting like Dick Powell’s co-star, Ruby Keeler and singing like the crooner Bing Crosby. Martin’s mother, a violin teacher, had planned to have a son in 1913. Instead, her lively little girl became the family’s tomboy, romping and playing in the orchard and barn and riding ponies with her older sister Geraldine. She claimed in her autobiography My Heart Belongs to have had an idyllic childhood and that her photographic memory made it easy to memorize songs and remember the answers for school exams.

She performed her first solo in a fire hall and remembered soaking up the crowd’s admiration. Then, she sang with a trio of little girls dressed like bellhops on the town’s bandstand right outside the courthouse where her father used his powerful voice to present his law cases. She realized her voice was powerful, too, because even without a microphone it rang out across the town square.

Her family sent her to Ward-Belmont, a strict finishing school in Nashville, Tennessee, where entertaining the other girls with imitations of Fanny Brice was not enough to assuage her homesickness, especially for Benjamin Hagman. She and Hagman convinced her mother, who was the family disciplinarian, to allow them to marry. As it turned out, marriage and expecting her first child (Larry Hagman, future J.R. Ewing in Dallas) at seventeen was not the dream she had imagined.

Following her sister’s suggestion, she opened a dance school in nearby Mineral Wells and embarked on a series of choices that finally propelled her into stardom. She divorced Hagman, left her son in Weatherford, and headed to California to study dance. Over the next two years, she became known as “Audition Mary” for never missing an opportunity to try out for a job as a singer or a dancer. She took whatever work she could get including a stint at theaters in San Francisco and Los Angles.

She arrived in New York after a producer saw her performance and offered her a role in a play that never opened. Then she was cast in Cole Porter’s production of Leave it to Me, which debuted in November 1938. She captured the audiences with the song, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.”

The media attention finally opened the door to Hollywood in 1939, and in the next three years, she starred in ten movies. Radio performances included Good News of 1940 and Kraft Music Hall.

In 1940 she married Richard Halliday, an editor and producer at Paramount, who became her manager. She won the New York Drama Critics Poll for her role as Venus in One Touch of Venus. She contributed ideas for the songs and choreography for her role as Ensign Nellie Forbush in the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein hit South Pacific. For ten years, she performed on stage and television in Skin of Our Teeth and Annie Get Your Gun, however, she said that her favorite role was that of Peter Pan that ran briefly on Broadway and then repeatedly on NBC-TV.

Martin claimed many awards including Tony Awards for Peter Pan, for her portrayal of Mary Rainer in The Sound of Music and for her role as nurse Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. She was presented with a special Tony in 1948 “for spreading theatre to the rest of the country while the originals perform in New York,” and she received the annual Kennedy Center Honors in 1989 for career achievement. Although she is credited with fifteen films and fourteen television performances, Martin said she preferred the “connection” she felt with a live theater audience. She performed in twenty-two stage productions.

Mary Martin died of cancer on November 3, 1990, and is buried in her hometown of Weatherford, Texas.

Memories of a Pioneer Woman

Thanks to the stories that Elizabeth Owens told her daughters, we know about life in South Texas during some of its most turbulent times

Elizabeth was two years old in 1829 when her stepfather, James Quinn, moved the family from New Jersey to Texas as part of McGloin-McMullen’s Irish Colony. While the group of fifty-three families camped on Copano Bay near present Rockport, Elizabeth’s baby sister became the colonists’ first death, perhaps from cholera that spread through the settlers and followed them as they traveled inland to the old Spanish Mission Nuestra Señora del Refugio.

Elizabeth’s family remained near Refugio and began farming. She and her brother Thomas always carried lunch to James Quinn when he worked in his fields. One time, Elizabeth said a drunk Indian caught Thomas and terrified the children by saying the sweetest morsel ever known was a white man’s heart. Elizabeth ran for help, and her stepfather used an ax to strike the Indian more than once before he released the boy.

In 1835, the family acquired from the De León Colony a league of land (4,428 acres) outside Victoria. The following year, Elizabeth witnessed a Tancahua Indian Scalp Dance on Victoria’s Market Square in celebration of the tribe outwitting the Karankawas. Elizabeth explained that the warlike Karankawas had asked the peaceful Tancahuas for help attacking the aristocratic and refined Mexican family of Don Martín De León the empresario who had founded the colony. Instead of joining the attack, the Tancahuas cut the Karankawas’ bow strings, killed thirteen members of the tribe, and carried the scalps stuck atop their spears, to Mrs. De León as a gesture of their friendship. Mrs. De León expressed her gratitude with a huge feast for the Tancahua and that is when Elizabeth, a nine-year-old, witnessed the Scalp Dance.

When war clouds built up for Texas independence, James Quinn joined a company that made the twenty-five-mile trip to La Bahía, to defend the presidio from Mexican attack. Elizabeth and her mother went to a nearby home where the women molded bullets for their husbands. With the approach of the large Mexican Army, James Quinn and other men rushed home to move their families to safety. However, Quinn discovered that his oxen had roamed away, which meant the Quinns and two other families could not leave.

They listened to the sound of the cannons fifteen miles away during the battle between James Fannin’s troops and General Urrea’s Army. A man arrived on horseback carrying a message for Colonel Fannin, but when he heard the cannon fire, he stayed with the Quinns. Startled at nearby gunfire, the messenger rushed to his horse and galloped away only to be discovered and shot.

General Urrea’s army accepted Fannin’s surrender and reached Victoria with great fanfare, parading through the streets to the sound of their bugles and drums. A Mexican officer took possession of Quinns’ front room. Although their home was constructed of adobe and had only three rooms with dirt floors, it was one of the more comfortable houses in town. Elizabeth said that ironically, the officer’s presence saved the family. A group of Mexican soldiers banged on the door with their muskets, but when the wife of the Mexican officer opened the door, the startled Mexicans quickly withdrew.

Elizabeth says that Señora Alvarez, the woman known as “The Angle of Goliad,” because she saved several of the Texans before the massacre, was the wife of a Mexican colonel. Despite stories of his abandoning her when he heard that she had rescued some of the young Texans at Goliad, she came to Victoria with her husband. Seven men who escaped the massacre rushed into Victoria, unaware that it was occupied by Mexican troops. They attempted to enter the Quinn home, and when Elizabeth’s mother exclaimed that they would all be killed if the Texans were found there, the men ran back into the yard where Mexican soldiers killed three of them. The other four were imprisoned in one of the homes. Elizabeth’s mother bribed a guard to let her son Thomas take food each day to the prisoners. A new guard discovered the boy delivering food and choked him severely.

When the Mexicans moved the four Texan prisoners to Market Square for execution, Señora Alvarez threw herself in front of the Texans, spreading her huge skirts out before them and protesting that she too would be shot. That halted the execution, and the four men were released after Texas won its independence from Mexico.

Despite Santa Anna’s surrender, a rumor spread that the Mexican Army had reorganized and was heading to Victoria. The family loaded a small cart and began their journey northward with a Mr. Blanco and his son. They crossed a creek and the Lavaca River before they reached a ferry on the mile-wide, swift-running Navidad. When their turn came to board the ferry, it tipped and threw them into the water. Elizabeth grabbed a partially submerged tree and clung to it. Mr. Blanco’s son disappeared under the water, but Mr. Blanco spotted Elizabeth’s white cap and pulled her to safety. Mr. Blanco’s son became the only casualty.

Many times, impending Indian attacks or fears of a Mexican army sent the women and children to the protection of a blockhouse; other times they crossed the Navidad River, even spending the entire winter of 1836-37 away from Victoria.

When they returned home, the Quinns found their house reduced to ashes. It happened when Texan soldiers mistook a herd of deer on a hillside for the Mexican Army and ordered all the houses burned except those that surrounded the town square. They saved the houses on the square for the soldiers’ use. That winter the family lived in the church with other families. They hung partitions for privacy.

In 1840 Comanches, who felt betrayed by whites in an incident at San Antonio’s Council House, swept down across Texas in what became known as the Great Comanche Raid. When they reached Victoria, they killed several and terrorized the town before moving on down to the port of Linnville, which they completely destroyed.

At seventeen, Elizabeth married Richard Owens, a New York native who had arrived in time to serve in the Army of the Republic of Texas. He became a very successful building contractor, freighter, merchant, and mayor of Victoria. Elizabeth worked as a community leader and raised their twelve children.

During the Civil War, Elizabeth and her daughters sewed the regimental flag for Col. Robert Garland’s Sixth Texas Infantry. Using material from Richard Owens’ mercantile store, they selected red Merino wool for the background and white silk fringe for the border. A large blue

From Home Page of Co “K”, 6th TX Infantry reenactment group

shield with twelve white stars circling a larger star represented the Lone Star State. The regiments’ name showed in white silk letters.

Before Elizabeth McAnulty Owens died in 1905, she shared the stories of her life adventures with her daughters, and in 1936 they published Elizabeth-McAnulty-Owens, The Story of her Life.

Tough Pioneer Woman

School children often read that Jane Long was the “Mother of Texas.” She was a courageous woman who followed her husband when he led a group of filibusterers intent on freeing Texas from Spanish rule. However, many Native American, Mexican women, and several English-

Jane Long

speaking women came to Texas before Jane Long arrived in 1819.

Born in 1798, the youngest of ten children, Jane Herbert Wilkinson lost both her parents by the time she was thirteen. She lived with her sister on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi, where she met the dashing James Long after he returned from the Battle of New Orleans. They married before her sixteenth birthday, and for several years James Long practiced medicine, operated a plantation, and worked as a merchant in Natchez

James Long, filibusterer

James Long and many of the residents in the Natchez area were unhappy over the Adams-Onís Treaty, in which Spain gave Florida to the United States in exchange for setting the boundary of the Louisiana Purchase at the Sabine River. Initially, they expected, and even Thomas Jefferson stated, that the border should be the Rio Grande, which would have made Texas part of the United States.

Citizens of the United States had already made several filibustering attempts to wrest Texas from Spain when James Long in 1819 was named commander of an expedition financed by subscriptions totaling about $500,000. Over 300 young men volunteered, expecting to receive a league of Texas land in exchange for their service.

When James Long left for Texas, Jane was pregnant and remained behind with their eighteen-month-old daughter, Ann. The second girl, Rebecca, was born on June 16. Twelve days later Jane left with both children and Kian, her young slave girl, to join her husband in Texas. By the time they reached Alexandria, Louisiana, Jane was sick. She left both children and Kian with friends and plunged on, finally reaching Nacogdoches in August.

The citizens of Nacogdoches declared the independence of Texas, organized a provisional government, and named James Long its chief. Supplies did not arrive as expected from Natchez, and Long made a fruitless attempt to persuade the pirate Jean Laffite, who occupied Galveston Island, to provide supplies and men for the expedition. Finally, in October Spanish authorities sent more than 500 troops to Nacogdoches and drove the Long Expedition out of Texas.

As they fled to Louisiana, the Longs learned of the death of their baby, Rebecca. Undeterred by his failure, Long organized a new expedition. By March 1820, he took Jane, their daughter Ann, and the slave girl Kian with him to Bolivar Peninsula that extended into Galveston Bay across from the eastern end of Galveston Island. Long organized his forces at Fort Las Casas on Point Bolivar and continued to court the elusive Jean Laffite.

In later years, when Jane recounted her experience on Bolivar Peninsula, she claimed that she dined privately with Laffite to get his support for her husband’s expedition. She also said that she made a flag, which she called “The Lone Star” for Long’s troops to carry with them.

Finally, in September 1821, Long and fifty-two men sailed to La Bahía (present Goliad) with plans to capture the town. In the meantime, Mexico won its independence from Spain and had no intention to allow citizens from the United States to take Texas. Long held La Bahía for only four days before Mexican forces overpowered his troops, marched them to Mexico City and killed Long.

Jane, who was expecting another baby, had promised her husband that she would wait for him with several others families at Fort Las Casas on Bolivar Peninsula. After a month, the food supply ran low, and the Karankawa Indians in the area were increasingly unfriendly. The families began to leave, but Jane insisted on waiting for her husband until she, her daughter Ann and Kian were all who remained at the fort. With the help of Kian, Jane gave birth to daughter Mary James on December 21, 1821, at a time when it was so cold that Galveston Bay froze.

In early 1822, an immigrant family arrived, and Jane reluctantly moved with them up the San Jacinto River. The following summer, she received word that James Long was dead, and she returned to Louisiana. After her baby Mary James died in 1824, Jane Long returned to Texas and received a league of land in Stephen F. Austin’s Colony. Family tradition says that many of Texas’ leaders courted Jane including Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Ben Milam, and Mirabeau B. Lamar. She refused all their proposals, remaining loyal to James Long—the love of her life. After living several years in San Felipe, the headquarters of Stephen F. Austin’s colony, she opened a boarding house in Brazoria.

The Bolivar Peninsula Cultural Foundation, which maintains Jane Long’s memorabilia, states that Jane held a ball at her boarding house in Brazoria when Stephen F. Austin returned in 1835 from prison in Mexico. It was at the ball that Austin made his first speech favoring Texas independence from Mexico. The foundation claims that during the Texas Revolution in 1836 Jane fled Brazoria ahead of the advancing Mexican Army and that she saved the papers of Mirabeau Lamar, which included his original history of Texas.

In 1837, at the age of thirty-nine, Jane Long moved to her league of land, part of which she sold to developers for the town of Richmond. She opened another boarding house and ran a plantation with the help of twelve slaves. At the beginning of the Civil War, Jane owned nineteen slaves and 2,000 acres valued at $13,300. After the war, she worked her land with tenant farmers. When her daughter Ann died in 1870, the value of Jane’s estate had diminished to $2,000. Jane Long died at her grandson’s home on December 30, 1880.

Today, the Bolivar Peninsula Cultural Foundation has dedicated a Jane Long Memorial on Bolivar Peninsula, which consists of a monument, Texas historical markers, and three flags—the United States, the Texas, and the Jane Long flag.

Jane Long Memorial, Bolivar Peninsula

NORRIS WRIGHT CUNEY RISES TO POWER AFTER THE CIVIL WAR

Born into slavery in 1846, Norris Wright Cuney did not lead an ordinary slave’s life. His education and other opportunities led the way to his becoming one of Texas’ most powerful black political leaders of the nineteenth century. Cuney’s father, Colonel Philip Cuney, one of the largest landholders in Texas, owned 105 slaves and operated the 2,000-acre Sunnyside Plantation near Hempstead. Cuney’s mulatto mother Adeline Stuart was one of the colonel’s slaves, but she worked as the colonel’s chief housekeeper and bore eight of his children. Cuney’s mother made sure that he and his siblings never lived in the slave quarters or worked as plantation field hands. In fact, Cuney learned to play the bass violin and carried it with him when he traveled with his father on trading trips.

Norris Wright Cuney

During the time Cuney was growing up, his father also had a white family. About the time his father married his second wife in 1843, he also embarked on a political career as a member of the House of Representative of the Republic of Texas. He became a delegate to the Convention of 1845 that voted for Texas annexation to the United States, and he served as a brigadier general in the Texas Militia. After Texas joined the Union he became a member of the Texas State Legislature and the State Senate.

In 1853, not long after Colonel Cuney married his third wife, he left his plantation in the hands of an overseer and moved all his family to Houston, including Adeline Stuart and her children. That same year he began freeing his black children, starting with Cuney’s older brother Joseph went to the Wylie Street School for blacks in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Over the years Colonel Cuney continued freeing his children and their mother Adeline Stuart.

In 1859 Cuney and his sister Jennie were freed. Cuney went to school in Pittsburgh and Jennie sailed to Europe for her education. Jennie later passed as a member of the white community.

The Civil War disrupted Cuney’s studies, and he spent the wars years working on steamboats between Cincinnati and New Orleans where he met and became influenced by black leaders such as P.B.S. Pinchback, who became Louisiana’s first black governor after the Civil War.

After the war, Norris Wright Cuney settled in Galveston near the homes of his mother and brothers. He began studying law and took advantage of being a literate, educated mulatto son of a wealthy white man. He worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Union League during the Reconstruction-era to push former slaves to the voting booth, which resulted in more than 100,000 blacks voting annually into the 1890s. When the Reconstruction Legislature established a public school system, Cuney worked to ensure that tax money also went to black students within the segregated system.

Cuney married Adelina Dowdie, a schoolteacher, and daughter of a mulatto slave mother and a white planter father. The Cuney’s had two children, and since both parents were musical—Cuney played the violin and Adelina was a singer— art and music filled their home, and they emphasized education. Their son Lloyd Garrison Cuney, named for the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, became an official in the Congregation Church. Their daughter Maud Cuney Hare studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and became an accomplished pianist, folklorist, writer, and community organizer in Boston. She wrote Norris Wright Cuney: A Tribune of the Black People.

Maud Cuney-Hare

 

Over the years of Cuney negotiating with white elites and despite serious strikes, unionized blacks finally gained access as workers on Galveston’s docks.

After being elected the Texas national committeeman in the Republican Party in 1886, Cuney became Texas party chairman, the most powerful position of any African American in the South at that time. However, his position did not sit well with some Republicans in Texas and throughout the country, which led to some in the party trying to have black leaders expelled. Cuney coined the term “Lily-White Movement” to describe the Republican effort.

In 1889 Cuney was appointed U.S. Collector of Custom in Galveston, the highest-ranking position of any black man in the South in the late nineteenth century. However, Cuney’s death that year coincided with efforts across the South to disfranchise black and poor white voters. Legislatures passed laws that made voter registration difficult and Texas instituted the Poll Tax and White Primaries (only whites could vote in the primaries) that greatly reduced the number of black voters from the high of 100,000 in the 1890s to less than 5,000 by 1906. During the Great Depression, racial strife within the unions dissolved much of the labor cooperation that had been established between blacks and whites.

Despite Cuney’s legacy of inspiring other black leaders, and the designation by some historians of the period between 1884 and 1896 as the “Cuney Era,” it would take the passage in the 1960s of the Civil Rights laws before blacks across the South regained the right to vote.

Norris Wright Cuney: A Tribune of the Black People