15 Sep 1826 -
Story Of A Remarkable Pioneer Woman, Widowed
By Mrs. Vasser White Pier
Frances Sophia Millhouse was the daughter of Philip L. Millhouse and Frances Rebecca Vassar and was born on the 15th day of September, 1826. Her mother died while she was quite a child and her father married again. The step-mother survived her several years. Most of her childhood was spent in the home of her maternal grandmother and she used to tell us many interesting stories of her childhood.
She was married at the age of 17 to Maj. Geo. John Bowie, who lived at Cahawba, Alabama. Mrs. Bowie's home was at Pleasant Hills, near Selma. She was the mother of eight children, two of whom died in infancy and one was burned to death at the age of six. The other five lived to be grown men and women and useful citizens of Matagorda county.
The family came to Texas in 1850, Grandfather having come the year before.
After the family became domiciled in their little Caney home the parents set about making of it a real home and educating their children. I have a diary kept by Mother, during the years of 1857 and 1858 and much is told of their school life in the little log cabin on the creek bank and of their teacher, old Mr. Gracie, whom Aunt Lou describes as having a big fat stomach and his pants fastened on the sides over his stomach. Many children all over the county came to this school. Among them were Jimmy Seaborn who was lost in the Matagorda Bay storm, and Hawkins and Van Dorns and N. Wilson.
I know little of my grandmother's life during the war. She talked very little of those troublous times or of her sorrows, but during the time she gave up three of her loved ones. First her little Anna who was fatally burned and died in January, 1860, then her beloved husband died in September, 1861 from a ruptured blood vessel. The family was summering in Matagorda and the two older boys were at home in the yard when he was stricken. A most dramatic account of his death and the circumstances of bringing my grandmother home was given me many years after by an old Negro woman, who was formerly a slave and brought from Alabama with them. I have heard my father say that Colonel Hawkins in talking with him about my grandmother said she was the most remarkable woman he had ever known and spoke of her fortitude and stoicisms in standing up to her troubles and sorrows.
Then in 1863 she gave up her oldest son in the Matagorda Bay tragedy. A short time before his death Mr. Bowie made the final payment on the place, which he had rented on first coming to Texas, so this brave little mother took up her life with her four remaining children and made herself and them a life and a name to be remembered by all who knew them.
She was a tiny little woman, with the blackest hair and eyes, and in spite of ill health was in her old age a beauty. Her personality was remarkable as it compelled admiration and attention. She was a most devoted mother and grandmother and it was ever a pleasure to her grandchildren to visit her and enjoy her petting. The same old Negro woman who told me of my grandfather's death also told me stories of their life in Alabama and of how good old Marse and Mistis were to them. She said that shortly after my grandparents were married a Methodist revival was held and that while my grandmother had not, up to that time, shown any special-convert religious tendencies she became converted at that revival and that after that she could carry on a conversation about Jesus Christ just as good as any preacher.
She nursed and doctored her slaves and saw to
their welfare, after freedom was declared as well as before. The
only time I can remember her in idleness at all was in the year
preceding her death, when she was too weak to leave her room. She
died the 26th of June, 1899.
By Mrs. Vasser White Pier
Among the old plantations in Matagorda county, the Bowie place, while not having the history of the Shepard place, nor, perhaps the wealth and splendor of the Thompson place, has gone down in the history of Matagorda county as one of the most dependable of all.
It was in the Tone and Jamison League, old Grandfather Bowie who came to Texas in December 1848 bought the place from a Mr. Jamison, who, I believe was the original owner.
As I said, Grandfather came to Texas in '48. His father-in-law and brother-in-law, Ed, came and planned to buy land, as a company, and Grandfather was to be in charge of the plantation. They rented the place for two years and then made a deal for the property and during the ten years of '51 to '61 paid for it. I have never known the amount paid, not the acreage. Grandfather paid the last installment a few days before he died in August, 1861.
He wrote his wife, who was in Alabama, from Sugarland, Texas, March 10, 1850, telling her of having written her father by a previous mail, telling of the things they were doing here and giving her a description of the property as follows:
"We are living in a very respectable log house, about 20 feet square, a good story and a half high, with comfortable fire places below and above. A piazza in front and a piazza and shed room in the rear, then we have a smoke house, store room, kitchen and two Negro houses, and a first rate hen house in the yard and another Negro house a short distance away. The lot is also well fixed with cribs, stables and also good wagon sheds and tool house, there is also a gin, rather out of repair but which I can get along with very well.
"There is also a cistern which in this country is considered a great thing, all located within 50 yards of old Caney, a stream about the size of Cedar Creek and abounding in fish (tell the boys we can have fine fishing when they get here). I never saw the like of perch. We can catch them as fast as we can put a hook in. We have a good many peach and fig trees and a good garden, but nothing planted in it yet, except Irish potatoes. You can have vegetables all the year round, if you will take the trouble to plant them. We have cabbage every day as fine as you ever saw. There is some volunteer lettuce in our garden, which has gone to seed. There is a quantity of evergreen. We have Cape Jessamins, oleander and other kinds, seen in Alabama. We also have a great many Mexican and West Indian plants. The orange grows well here and will bear if they are a little protected from the northers. I am very well pleased with this part of the country and will probably settle here."
So that was the place the Bowie's came to, when they came later in the year of 1850.
They continued to live in this log house which I have been told was one big room downstairs, with the shed room, used for sleeping and a dining room. The upper story had two rooms, one of which was the boys' room and the other for the girls. This house not only accommodated the family but boys and girls within a radius of ten miles or more, who came there to go to school. A log school house had been built for the children of the neighborhood and a Mr. Gracie was hired to teach the young some idea how to shoot. Some of the boys rode horseback to school but when the weather was bad they stayed at the Bowie's.
Several houses were added to the servant's quarters and as years passed more were put up. But not until 1881 was a more pretentious house built for the family.
Grandfather Millhouse and his son, Ed, were returning to Alabama in 1857. They had been here on an extensive trip, returning by boat from Galveston, Texas to Mobile, Alabama. The boat caught on fire off the coast of Louisiana and practically all the passengers were lost at sea. There was a man on board who was taking several slaves to New Orleans to be sold. He was lost, and one of the Negro women found material on the boat on which she floated to the coast. She went to New Orleans and established a hair-dressing parlor and became famous at that time.
Quite a number of the plantations from the Rugeley place on North Caney to the Hawkins place on lower Caney were then known as Sugarland and there was a small P. O. at the Shepard place, where the mail was brought from Matagorda. Matagorda was then the county seat and all particular mail was held there until called for.
There were two tragic deaths in the Bowie family and quite a bit of romantic history could be told. I must not forget the rose garden. As soon as the family was established, Grandmother Bowie began her planting and her roses were famous all over this part of the state. She had several beautiful Crepe Myrtle trees that were very large, and formed an arch over the walk that led to the cemetery. An old man named Freeman was the first to be buried there. I have forgotten the story and who he was related to. His grave was covered with brick and vines grew over it, and the grandchildren delighted in playing house on it until some of the Negroes told us ghost stories, when we decided it was better not to do so. Then later, two little graves were made, and later still our Grandfather, and finally the family were laid to rest with the exception of the two older boys, George who is buried in Matagorda and Harris in Bay City.
I must tell a little more about the school. As I said the little log house was built for a school. The smaller children had benches in front and the larger ones in the back, and the water bucket just inside the door. The big boys went to the cistern to get water to drink. Mr. Gracie was the teacher for many years, then he got to be a drunkard and they let him go. Captain Flack was the next, and was there only about a year when he went back to Scotland. The older boys of the community were sent to the Sartwell school in Matagorda and later the two Bowie boys were sent to North Carolina to school and quite a bit later Frank Hawkins and Jesse Kirkland were sent to Berlin to the University.
100th Anniversary Edition of the Matagorda
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