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Rice farming in Matagorda County , Texas , had its beginning around 1899 or 1900. Teams of mules, horses or oxen were used to ready the land into rice acreage. The more modern equipment had not been established.


Canal companies came into existence and irrigation pumps were utilized. Water was pumped from the
Colorado River through canals and bar ditches, so that the rice farmers could contract and have access to water for irrigating their crops.

Around 1901, rice mills and warehouses were in operation. Farmers, gathering their crops, could haul them to these places for storage until a buyer came along.


African-Americans worked in the rice fields from the time of preparing the land for planting until the crops were harvested. They worked for others who actually were the owners and reaped the end results; however, there were a few African-Americans who were the actual owners, and did reap the end result of the rice crops.
 


WILLIAM DUNCAN


On
August 5, 1857 , Ms. Kate Battle, Duncan 's mother gave birth to William Duncan.  He grew up around the Van Vleck and Ashwood areas. To my knowledge, William Duncan was the first African-American rice farmer in Matagorda County , Texas .


He owned the land, contracted and paid his water lease, purchased his seed rice, and in a crude way in that day and time, used a team of horses to plow and ready the land for planting his crop.
Duncan in the end, reaped the results of his labor.


Duncan
farmed rice in the areas west of LeTulle, Sims, Duncan and Austin Streets on the southwest edge of Bay City .


The
October 1, 1915 , issue of the The Daily Tribune newspaper published the following article.


NEGRO FARMER MAKES GOOD.


All success along farming lines does not lie in the path of the white man, and occasionally if not often a colored farmer comes to the front magnificently.


Our attention has been called to one William Duncan colored, who, this year, farmed 80 acres of rice in the edge of town on land that has been idle for ten years, its only use being for that of public pasture grounds.
 

Duncan scraped together some teams, not any too good, and a few implements of a second-and nature and went to work.

 

He planted the 80 acres to rice and has, for the result of his labors, over a thousand bags which will bring him over $3.00 a bag, or about $3,500.00 for his year's work.


What this man
Duncan has done can be done by hundreds of others of his race, and they will not all have to raise rice either. The fact is that Duncan worked and won; there are plenty of others who did not work and lost. Nor is the fault in the country--it's as good for every agricultural pursuit as any on the globe. All that is needed is more Duncans .


On
November 19, 1996 , Earl Eidlebach was interviewed in reference to African-American rice farmers in Matagorda County . Eidlebach is known as the " Water Man. " He works for the Lower Colorado River Authority and contracts and distributes water to the rice farmers.  He said he did not know or distribute water to Duncan . His father had the job before him, and possibly he was the one with whom Duncan contracted his water. He did recall being told about a William Duncan who lived northeast of Bay City off the Old Van Vleck Highway, north of the area where the McCrosky home is located.


According to the
Matagorda County marriage records, William Duncan married Lula Yancy of the Live Oak Community, November 14, 1889 . Three children were born to the couple two daughters, Roy and Ora and one son, Gifford.


Duncan
was a stockman as well as a cotton and rice farmer. In 1920, he founded the Duncan & Son Funeral Home. Today the business is known as the Duncan & Roberts Funeral Home.


Duncan
died March 13, 1938 , and his wife, Lula, died June 13, 1951 . Their remains are interred in Eastview Cemetery , Section A-2, Row 4, Plot 10.
 


JIM WILSON


Jim Wilson, another African-American rice farmer, farmed rice from the late 1930s until the 1950s in
Matagorda County . He was born May 4, 1890 , to Adah and Jim Wilson, Sr. and died May 18, 1984 , in Bay City .


According to Wells Clark, Jim's nephew, Jim had one brother, Lee Wilson, and four sisters, Ella, Louise,
Pearl and Gertrude. Ella was Wells' mother.


The home of Jim and his wife, Millie, was located in the 2500 block of Avenue D in
Bay City .


He was a devoted member of the
Mother Zion Baptist Church , and made many contributions to his church and community. He was a staunch leader in the Black community and gave money and many hours of time to help support the cause.


According to Eidlebach, from early childhood, Jim partly lived, worked and was reared by Joe Mangum, the sheriff of
Matagorda County .  Sheriff Mangum owned land and farmed cotton in the Bucks Bayou area near the Lukefahr School Road . Jim worked and later farmed cotton for Sheriff Mangum.


Cornelius "
Wash " Giles confirmed this, January 8, 1997 . Giles, who is 94 years of age, said that Jim Wilson was a "dry land" farmer on Mangum's land.  Giles' parents, Washington and Matilda Harrison Giles, also lived out there and farmed for Jim Wilson. Giles said that this was about 1912-1916.  Jim then went from "dry farming" to rice farming.


When Sheriff Mangum began rice farming, Jim did likewise. Sheriff Mangum told Jim that he had had enough of farming and that he could take control. This is how Jim Wilson began rice farming on his own.


Jim continued to lease land from the Mangum family after Sheriff Mangum died. He also farmed rice on land leased from the Sherrills, the Lee brothers, and from a Mrs. Combs.  He leased the land, acquired his own equipment, paid his water contracts, purchased his seed rice and hired and paid his own help. He farmed rice into the late 1950s and 1960s before retiring.

Mr. Eidlebach said that one day he met Jim coming out of the bank and asked him what he was doing. Jim said that he had just gotten too old to keep doing this and that an old ailment with his walking was getting to him.


Mr. Eidlebach described Jim as an easy going fellow, very industrious and believed in working to better humanity. He said that Jim possessed some traits similar to the teachings of Sheriff Mangum.


Jim and his wife are buried in
Eastview Cemetery in Bay City in Section A-1, Row 1, Plot 1. They had no children.
 


MARCUS ROBBINS


Marcus Robbins, a third Matagorda County African-American rice farmer, was born in 1902 in the Live Oak Community. He died in 1980. Marcus' father, Spencer Robbins was born
July 18, 1874 , in Caney, Texas , and died August 26, 1958 . His mother, Millie Brown Robbins, was born in 1880 and died March 1, 1948 . John and Harriett Robbins were Marcus' paternal grandparents, and Adam and Emma Roberts Brown his maternal grandparents.


Marcus and his first wife, Lucille Bouldin Robbins had five children: Lamar, A. B. Sr., Kermit S., Mildred Robbins Proctor, and Anita Robbins Perkins.


Marcus had one brother, Cuney, Sr., and two sisters, Emma Green Pea, and Margaret Robbins Gee.  Mrs. Gee and Mr. Eidlebach provided much of the information on Marcus Robbins.


According to Mr. Eidlebach, Marcus farmed rice from the late 1940s to the late 1950s. He farmed on the LeTulle farm in what is now the
Celanese Road area, and later, in the 1950s farmed rice east of Bay City off Farm Road 457 on property belonging to the Kilbride family.


Marcus was not an independent rice farmer as was Duncan and Wilson. He farmed on a percentage. That is, when the crops were harvested and sold, he received a percentage of the income; whereas, Duncan and Wilson owned the rice and received the total income.

The home of Marcus and Lucille Robbins was located on the Robbins property in the Live Oak Community. He later married
Ida M. Lane and their home was on the corner of Avenue C and Third Street in Bay City .


Marcus attended school in the Live Oak Community in the old
Grape Vine School . In later years, he became a city policeman for the city of Bay City .


Marcus and Ida are buried in
Eastview Cemetery , Section B-2, Row 1, Plot 12 and Lucille is buried in Section B-2, Row 3, Plot 60.
 


CARLYLE ROBERSON


 On
July 25, 1896 , in the Cedar Lane area, Carlyle Roberson, Sr., another African-American rice farmer in Matagorda County , was born to Thomas and Eliza Patterson Roberson.


Carlyle was one of twenty-two children born to this couple. He grew up in the
Cedar Lane area, met and married Harriette Henderson. To this couple nine children were born, six girls: Alonia, Eliza, Almater, Vinella, Eva Mae and Magaline; and three boys: Lee Andrew, Caryle, Jr., and Thomas.


Carlyle was a parent, a cotton farmer, a country preacher, a school bus driver, a stock raiser and a rice farmer.


According to Mr. Eidlebach, Carlyle was one of the finest men that he had ever met. Carlyle could hold any man to his prize of being fair and honest, and shared his possessions with many others. He was a very intelligent man with a lot of common sense, even though he could not read or write. He was a country preacher who believed and taught the Bible to others. As a member of the Masonic Lodge, he led a productive life in his community.


Late in life, Carlyle Roberson moved to Bucks Bayou and then to the
Wadsworth area on the Chinquapin Road . He helped establish the New Hope Baptist Church on Bucks Bayou. When most of the people who attended the church moved to Bay City , he, with the help of others, loaded the building on poles used for a slide, and with his tractor, moved the building to the corner of Avenue C and Whitson Street in Bay City .


Carlyle farmed rice for ten to fifteen years. In the late 1940s he bought about 100 acres of land on the
Chinquapin Road from a Mrs. Wates whose husband had died. He farmed cotton, raised stock, drove the school bus, and leased about 50 to 75 acres from LeTulle to farm rice.


He made an X for his signature, and many times, one of his sons or Mr. Eidlebach signed for him after his X.


Carlyle leased his land to farm rice, signed his lease to contract water for irrigation, purchased his farm equipment, paid his help, and reaped the total percentage for his crops.


His former house, a two-story building, burned and his later house that he built still stands about 10 miles southeast of
Wadsworth on the Chinquapin Road . The land is still owned by the Roberson heirs.


This information was provided by: Mr. Earl Eidlebach, the "Water Man:" The Rev. James Roberson, a grandson of Carlyle's who escorted the writer out to the land; Lee Andrew Roberson, a son of Carlyle's; Helen Edison; Carlyle, Jr.; Ms. Pearl Roberson, a member of New Hope Church; and Mrs. Magaline Roberson Barnes, a daughter of Carlyle's.


Carlyle died
June 14, 1975 , and his wife, Harriette died December 26, 1965 . They are interred in the Shiloh Cemetery , Cedar Lane, Texas.
 


PHILLIP MERCHANT, SR.


In 1923, in
Hawkinsville , Texas , Phillip Merchant, Sr. was born to Hammie and Ophelia Duggan Merchant. He grew up in the Cedar Lake area and went to school at Cedar Lake .


As a young lad, Phillip learned to work with farm equipment and gained an enormous amount of knowledge on the mechanical operation of the equipment.


Phillip and Pearline Merchant were interviewed three times by the writer at their home. Mrs. Merchant would often ask if the information was going to be in the paper, but she passed away before the presentation was made at the February meeting of the Matagorda County Genealogical Society.


Phillip, Sr. married Pearline Smith in 1941. His father, Hammie Merchant (1900-1978) was born in
Cedar Lake , Texas , and married Ophelia Duggan (1903-1958) in 1922. Phillip's paternal grandfather, Jack James Merchant, a slave, was born in 1865 and died in 1963 in Cedar Lake at the age of 97. Jack's wife, Angeline Austin Merchant was born in 1859 and died in 1964 in Cedar Lake at the age of 105. Will and Willie Duggan were Phillip's maternal grandparents. Will died in Cedar Lake and Willie in Seguin , Texas . Phillip's paternal great-grandparents were Cheat March Merchant, who died at the age of 108, and Joyce Merchant for whom Phillip named his daughter.


Phillip's wife, Pearline Smith Merchant was born in 1924. Her parents were John and Peggy Smith of
Cedar Lake .


As a rice farmer, Phillip worked for C. L. Burkhart. He actually ran the rice farm, but only received a percentage. Mr. Eidlebach said that when he went to the Burkhart farm, he conversed with Phillip. When Mr. Burkhart died, Mrs. Burkhart turned everything over to Phillip and he received a percentage after the harvest.


Phillip holds the record of having the best rice crop and the most rice per acre of any farmer in the county in present times. He did it all the work including running the machinery, planting the crops and gathering the rice.

The news clippings, photographs and certificates review the many accomplishments made by Phillip, Sr. and his rice farming on the C. L. Burkhart acreage and elsewhere from 1960 until the 1980s.


Phillip and his wife, Pearline had three children: Phillip, Jr., a chemical engineer with Exxon; Marsee, a chemical manager with Celanese; and Joyce a home economic major with a B.A. degree.


Phillip's wife, his parents and grandparents are interred in the
Cedar Lake Cemetery near the Bethlehem Christian Church.
 


THE BAILEYS


There were two other African-American rice farmers that farmed rice in Matagorda County , but lived in Wharton County .


Little information was available on them except that a road southeast of Highway 60 between Magnet and
Lane City was named in their honor. Several miles down the road were four houses in which the brothers and some of their heirs lived. The brothers are now dead, but it is understood that some of their heirs still live in the area.


This information was furnished by Mr. Johnny Hahn, Mr. Eidlebach and Mr. L. McIntosh of Wharton.
 


All in all, African-American rice farmers not only farmed rice on
St. Helena Island, South Carolina, but also in and around the small town of Bay City in Matagorda County, along the Texas Gulf Coast .
 

 

Copyright 2004 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
All rights reserved

Created
Jan. 3, 2005
Updated
Jan. 3, 2005
   

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