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EVOLUTION OF A STATE
"Young man, you have thrown away an independent fortune," was Col. Austin's impatient comment when informed of my hasty rejection of the position tendered me by the government. And he was no doubt correct, but I still had a good trade to fall back on and this I forthwith prepared to do, purchasing the outfit of San Felipe's pioneer blacksmith, David Carpenter, and establishing myself in business at Bell's Landing where the proprietor of the premises, Col. Josiah Bell, was laboring to bring into being the town of Columbia.
A fine specimen of the old Kentucky gentleman was Col. Bell, who was among the first of Austin's colonists, both chronologically and socially. As a proof of the high esteem in which he held Col. Bell, Austin, when compelled to go on to Mexico in 1822, in order to get his father's grant confirmed, committed the affairs of the colony into the former's hands during his absence.
Of Col. Bell's children who were then quite small, I remember distinctly only James H., who later distinguished himself in the legal profession, attaining therein the honorable prefix by which he was long designated. It was not in that character, however, that Judge Bell first introduced himself to my special notice.
During a visit to the home of Col. Bell, my head covering a fur cap which I had deposited on the floor beside my chair having attracted the attention of the embryo jurist, he crept softly up in my rear and laid his hand cautiously upon it. This mode of examination, though apparently establishing the general character of the material of the cap, failed to reveal the specific character. But the incipient lawyer showed forth in his determination to get at the bottom facts. Looking earnestly up into my face, he gravely inquired, "Is this a wool-'kin or a bear-'kin?"
Bell's Landing was the depot for all the supplies for the settlements above. Here Davis and John R. Harris, the founders of Harrisburg, had opened a store; they also owned a small trading schooner which plied between Columbia and New Orleans. I think they had a store at Harrisburg, but it may have been at a later date.
Among others that I recall as residents of the incipient town were my host and hostess, Mr. and Mrs. Farr, the latter a daughter of Capt. Brit Bailey (Mrs. Farr subsequently married David Milburn, at one time alcalde of San Felipe); Joseph H. Polley, also a son-in-law of Capt. Bailey's; (Capt. Bailey lived on a farm in the vicinity); Oliver Jones, who later represented Texas in the congress of Coahuila and Texas; Thomas Westall, whose daughter married Brown Austin and after his death Zeno Philips - both gentlemen residents of Brazoria municipality; Alexander - or, as he was generally known, Sandy - Calvit; Mrs. Jane Long, widow of General James Long and sister to Mrs. Calvit; Mrs. Pamelia Pickett, also a widow, with her son John and a daughter; Dr. Samuel Angier, who subsequently married Mrs. Pickett; Martin Varner, Jesse Thompson, the Alsburys, Alleys, Dr. Wells, John H. Moore, the McNeals - the last four on San Bernard - and many more whose names have slipped my memory, lived in the vicinity.
I had also many patrons in Ft. Bend municipality, among them William Morton, Jesse Cartwright, Horatio Chriesman, Mills M. Battles, alcalde, Thomas Barnet, later "Big Alcalde," i. e., president of the ayuntamiento, Joseph San Pierre - French; Churchill Fulshear, the widow McNutt, Moses Shipman, Martin Allen, Elijah Alcorn and a host of others; for in these two districts, Ft. Bend and Brazoria, were located the majority of Austin's colonists; and here, too, was concentrated the greater portion of the wealth in the colony.
Most of the men I have mentioned were men of means, many of them having slaves with which they had already opened up quite respectable plantations.
Of these old pioneers, Churchill Fulshear occupies the largest space in my memory, because of the generosity extended to me when I was left to his care, sick and a stranger, as previously related. He was a small man, somewhat lame, with very homely features, but a warm true heart. The old man had been for years a follower of the sea, at which trade he had accumulated some money. This fact becoming known, there were frequent calls for loans. If the applicant were a man that he wished to oblige, Fulshear would remark that he had "little or none," but would see what he could do, and drawing a purse from his pocket, manage to scrape up the required amount. In other cases he would solemnly declare that he "hadn't a dollar in the world," and draw out an empty purse to prove it. Having been present in both cases, I probably betrayed some surprise when, after having heard him assert that he "hadn't a dollar in the world," he turned right about and loaned 50 or 100 dollars to another party.
"You doubtless think me lying when I say 'I haven't a dollar in the world,'" said he, in explanation, "but I'll show you that I am not. This," said he, drawing the empty purse from his pocket, "I call 'the world' and you can see for yourself that there isn't a dollar in it. And this," exhibiting one containing money, "I call 'little or none."'
Capt. Horatio Chriesman, head surveyor for Austin's colony, was the soul of generosity. It was told of him that he loaned a friend a league of land to assist him in the consummation of a trade and it was further told that the loan was never repaid, but a league of land those days was of less consequence than a horse.
Jesse Thompson, living on the San Bernard though possessed of a number of slaves, devoted his attention mostly to stock. There was much dissatisfaction over the uncertainty of legislation on the slavery question and Thompson, among others, was at one time on the point of returning to the United States with his slaves, and it was probably due to this uncertainty that he had neglected farming interests. One of his slaves, Mose, impatient for the promised freedom, ran away to Mexico to obtain it, but he soon wearied of "husks," and, returning voluntarily, surrendered himself to his old master, preferring slavery under Thompson's lenient rule to freedom in Mexico.
The negroes soon became aware of the legal status of slavery in Mexican territory, and it was probably owing to their ignorance of the language and country that more of them did not leave. Jim, one of McNeal's slaves, openly announced his determination to leave, and, acting on the impulse, threw down his hoe and started away. Pleasant McNeal, to whom he communicated his intention, ordered him to return to work, but Jim went on, whereupon Pleasant raised his rifle.
"Jim," said he "if you don't come back I'll shoot you!" Jim, however, kept on and true to his threat McNeal shot him dead.
Another type of the old colonists, but one that played a no less important part in the development of the country, was Thomas B. Bell, who lived up on the San Bernard above McNeal's. He came several times to my shop during my stay at McNeal's, and he being an intelligent, well-bred man, I took quite a fancy to him and gladly accepted an invitation to visit him. I found him domiciled in a little pole-cabin in the midst of a small clearing upon which was a crop of corn. His wife, every inch a lady, welcomed me with as much cordiality as if she were mistress of a mansion. There were two young children and they, too, showed in their every manner the effects of gentle training. The whole family were dressed in buckskin, and when supper was announced, we sat on stools around a clapboard table, upon which were arranged wooden platters. Beside each platter lay a fork made of a joint of cane. The knives were of various patterns, ranging from butcher knives to pocketknives. And for cups, we had little wild cymlings, scraped and scoured until they looked as white and clean as earthenware, and the milk with which the cups were filled was as pure and sweet as mortal ever tasted. The repast was of the simplest, but served with as much grace as if it had been a feast, which, indeed, it became, seasoned with the kindly manners and pleasant conversation of those two entertainers. Not a word of apology was uttered during my stay of a day and night, and when I left them I did so with a hearty invitation to repeat my visit. It so happened that I never was at their place again, but was told that in the course of time the pole cabin gave place to a handsome brick house and that the rude furnishings were replaced by the best the country boasted, but I'll venture to say that the host and hostess still retained their old hospitality unchanged by change of fortune.
They were a social people these old Three Hundred, though no one seems to have noted the evidence of it. There were a number of weddings and other social gatherings during my sojourn in that section, the most notable one perhaps being the marriage of Nicholas McNutt to Miss Cartwright. There was a large number of invited guests, both the families occupying prominent social positions. Jesse Cartwright, father of the bride, was a man in comfortable circumstances and himself and family people of good breeding. They were among the very first of Austin's colonists, Cartwright being a member of the first ayuntamiento organized in Texas. The bridegroom was a son of the widow McNutt, also among the early arrivals. The family, consisting of mother, two sons and three young daughters, came from Louisiana, where they had been very wealthy, but having suffered reverses they came to Texas to recoup their fortunes. Bred up in luxury, as they evidently had been, it was a rough road to fortune they chose, but they adapted themselves to the situation and made the best of it. Mrs. McNutt had three brothers, the Welches, living on Bayou Rapids, La., whom I afterwards knew; she also had a sister, Mrs. Dr. Peebles living with her husband in San Felipe. Dr. Wells later married a Miss McNutt, and Porter another. But to get back to the wedding. Miss Mary Allen, daughter of Martin Allen, a very pretty girl and a great belle by the way, was bridesmaid, and John McNutt, brother of the bridegroom, was groomsman. There being no priest in the vicinity, Thomas Dukes, the "big" alcalde, was summoned from San Felipe. The alcalde tied the nuptial knot in good American style, but the contracting parties had in addition to sign a bond to avail themselves of the priest's services to legalize the marriage at the earliest opportunity.
Among the guests present I remember Mrs. Long and her daughter Ann, Miss Alcorn, daughter of Elijah Alcorn, Miss Mary, daughter of Moses Shipman, Mrs. McNutt and daughters, none of the latter then grown, Capt. Martin, Elliot and John Alcorn.
The first and most important number on the program being duly carried out, the next thing in order was the wedding supper, which was the best the market afforded. That being disposed of, the floor was cleared for dancing. It mattered not that the floor was made of puncheons. When young folks danced those days, they danced; they didn't glide around; they "shuffled" and "double shuffled," "wired" and "cut the pigeon's wing," making the splinters fly. There were some of the boys, however, who were not provided with shoes, and moccasins were not adapted to that kind of dancing floor, and moreover they couldn't make noise enough, but their more fortunate brethren were not at all selfish or disposed to put on airs, so, when they had danced a turn, they generously exchanged footgear with the moccasined contingent and gave them the ring, and we just literally kicked every splinter off that floor before morning. The fiddle, manipulated by Jesse Thompson's man Mose, being rather too weak to make itself heard above the din of clattering feet, we had in another fellow with a clevis and pin to strengthen the orchestra, and we had a most enjoyable time.
One other wedding to which I was bidden was that of Dr. Angler and Mrs. Pickett, Mills M. Battles, I think, officiating. The wedding, which took place at Captain Bailey's, was a very quiet affair, no dancing or other amusements being indulged in.
Another dancing party in which I participated was at Martin Varner's, near Columbia. When we were all assembled and ready to begin business it was found that Mose, the only fiddler around, had failed to come to time, so we called in an old darky belonging to Colonel Zeno Philips, who performed on a clevis as an accompaniment to his singing, while another negro scraped on a cotton hoe with a case knife. The favorite chorus was:
"O git up gals in de mawnin',
git up gals in de mawnin',
O git up gals in de mawnin',
Jes at de break ob day,"
at the conclusion of which the performer gave an extra blow to the clevis while the dancers responded with a series of dexterous rat-tat-tats with heel and toe.
Ah, those old memories, how they throng around me, bringing up forms and faces long since hidden 'neath the sod. So long ago the events herein narrated occurred that I question if there is now another person living who participated in or even has heard of them.
Other weddings among the Old Three Hundred in that vicinity to which I was not fortunate enough to get an invitation were the daughters of Wm. Moreton of Fort Bend, one of whom married Stephen Richardson, at one time partner with Thomas Davis in a store at San Felipe, and the other, William, son of George Huff, on San Bernard; Samuel Chance and Miss San Pierre, daughter of Joseph San Pierre. They have probably all passed away, but to their descendants, for such I take it there are, I extend the greeting of their father's friend; may they prove worthy of such parentage.
My associations with those worthy people were pleasant, and, had I been content to remain with them, much of the remainder of this book might never have been written. But the spirit of adventure was still the dominating influence and, falling in with a lot of congenial spirits, I forsook the ways of civilization for a time, returning no more to those peaceful shades.
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