Reminiscences of Austin's Original Colonists
The First Crops
Raised--Battling with Savage Indian Tribes--An Entire Absence of Crime--
Col. Robert H. William, late of Matagorda county, in his recollections of early times, said: I immigrated to Texas in December, 1824. I landed sixteen miles above San Felipe; was one of the original 800 of Austin's colony; came to what is now Matagorda county in 1825; was appointed by Austin in 1826, alcalde of Bay prairie district, composed of Bay prairie, Caney creek and Bernard, as far as Wharton county now extends, and held the office for four years. There was very little litigation during my term of office. Nearly all disputes were settled by arbitration. The only contested litigation were four suits between Charles Cavanah and John Hubb. No criminal complaints were brought before me. There were no towns or villages when I arrived excepting San Felipe. Brazoria and Columbia were laid off in 1827. When I arrived in San Felipe there were thirteen resident families. This was the first place of any permanent settlement in Austin's colony. The colonists possessed about 200 slaves when I arrived. Groce owned about 100; Bingham, eight or ten; Josiah Bell, four; Calvert, ten or twelve; I had nine, and others not recollected. Groce raised cotton in 1825 and I raised some the same year. There were about ten persons in the colony at that time who planted a little cotton to spin and weave for family use. The farming was all done on the Brazos, excepting my cultivation at my plantation on Old Caney, where I raised the first cotton on Caney. In 1825 there was a small tanyard near Columbia. This was the first and only public manufactory in the colony. The first cotton gin was established on the Brazos in 1826. I erected a gin at my place on Caney in 1827, which was then the third gin stand in the colony. Cotton had previously been picked from the seed by hand. In 1824 a man named Bayze, who called himself a Baptist preacher, attempted to address the people on religious subjects, but I prohibited him, as it was against our laws. There were no other movements in this direction until after the civil contract of marriage was by bond to be afterwards perfected and sanctified according to solemn rites of the Holy Catholic church. No crimes were committed in Austin's first colony that I ever heard of. In 1824 the practicing lawyers were: Kinney, Three-legged Williamson, General Chambers and David G. Burnet. In 1828 other lawyers came to the colony, not, however, as harbingers of peace. Messrs. Keen and Nuckols were the only doctors in the country when I arrived, in 1825. There was much sickness in San Felipe and they were kept very busy.
The only foreign commerce from 1825 to 1830 was a contraband tobacco trade with Mexico. The first merchandise for sale was kept by one Harris, at Columbia, in 1828. In December, 1839, three small schooners from the north came to Brazoria with goods, which were retailed out from shops in the town. Prices were then high even without a tariff.
There were very few cattle and horses in 1825. Beef cattle and milch cows were sold at $25 each. In the colony there may have been 2000 head of cattle. The largest stock was owned by one Cooper, near San Felipe, who brought 198 head to the colony in 1824. I never saw a year too dry for farming until 1856. The year 1843 was very wet. In 1825 I was the lowest settler on Caney creek toward its mouth. At that time there were only two other permanent settlers on Bay prairie--John Demoss and Daniel Rawles, both with families. In 1826 the few colonist residents on Bay prairie came to the conclusion to break up their settlement and abandon the country on account of Indian troubles, and several of these colonial families encamped for three months during that year in my door yard and at night gathered in my house, which was portholed for rifle firing.
As an addendum concerning the Indians, I will add that at the Battle island fight there were 31 colonists and 150 Indians; at Dressing point, 27 colonists and about 150 Indians; at Buckner's prairie, 12 colonists and 140 Indians; many Indians killed but no colonists. At Dressing point 43 of the enemy's dead were counted after the battle. The savage enemy was brave and equal to the whites in every respect excepting in their weapons.
I will not close without making my humble tribute of respect to the old colonists, who were good men and true, brave, generous and honorable in all their relations of life; fond of adventure with all its attendant perils in a savage wilderness, and they were never cursed with that sordid greed of gain which triumphs at the present day over all nobler qualities.
Matagorda, October, 1890
Mr. Williams' remembrances were
abstracted from the article.
Courtesy of Carolee Moore
Robert H. Williams, or "Gentleman Bob" as he was affectionately called, was born in Caswell County, North Carolina. In December of 1823, when he was twenty-seven years old, he came to Texas and, as one of Austin's "Old Three Hundred," received title to a sitio of land, August 19, 1824.
Williams' plantation was on an early trail or road leading from Matagorda to Brazoria and was known as Caney Crossing or Camp Crossing on the early maps of Texas. Williams raised the first cotton on Caney Creek and erected the third cotton gin in the colony in 1827. The census of 1826 listed his wife Anna, age 16-25, and nine slaves.
"Gentleman Bob" became alcalde in December, 1826. He secured provisions for the Texas army and took part, as a colonel in the Battle of Velasco, during which he was blinded in one eye by a splinter. This caused him to wear an eye patch for the rest of his life. Williams represented Matagorda Municipality in the Convention of 1833. In January, 1836, Williams received an appointment as a commissioner for the sale of the schooner Hannah Elizabeth and its cargo, however took no action on the case. He was postmaster at Caney Crossing for four years, from May 4, 1847 to September 29, 1851, when Thomas Jamison took charge. Williams was not interested in politics in his later years, however he did write a letter of recommendation for David G. Burnet in 1865.
Robert married his second wife, Mary Lawson White, May 2, 1833, under the bond system, in Matagorda and again on September 10, 1837. She was born in Tennessee in 1816, the daughter of B. J. White of Texana, in present Jackson County.
To this union five children were born:
Christopher H., born 1838, died 1916
Lydia E., born 1840, married George W. Caldwell, February 24, 1864
Maria L., born 1842, married Joseph T. Fry, a physician from Tennessee, November 21, 1859
Roberta, born 1845, died by 1870
Robert, born 1852.
Robert H. Williams died September 11, 1880, and his will was probated November 15, 1880, which read:
To my wife, Mary L. Williams, I
leave 228 acres on the east side of Liveoak Creek, purchased by me from
Nancy Williams. To my son, Christopher H., the old homestead and
plantation hereinafter bequeathed to Lydia E. Caldwell. To my daughter,
Lydia E. Caldwell, the upper one-fourth of headright and to my
granddaughter, Maria A. Fry a league of land in Blanco County.
Robert H. Williams had eight brothers and sisters: John, Elizabeth, who married Robert P. Harrison; Charles H., Lydia, who married Jesse Taylor; Mary, who married Dr. J. Hand; Edna, who married a Mr. Meleria; Augustus; and Narcissa, wife of Tobiah Wolf.
Historic Matagorda County,
Volume I, pp 102-103
Col. Robert H. Williams; of Matagorda county, whose death was announced in the News of Saturday morning, at the advanced age of 85 years, was truly one of the American pioneers of Texas. The following brief sketch of his life has been for some years preserved for the use of the News in anticipation of the close of his long and eventful career:
He was a member of Austin's colony, and reached Texas in December, of 1823. After living for a while at Gross's Retreat, some fifteen miles above San Philipe, on the Brazos, he moved to Matagorda county, in 1825, and opened a plantation on Old Caney, where he had resided ever since. He commenced the successful production of corn and cotton, built the third cotton gin in the state in 1827, and rapidly gained the enviable reputation of being a kind and generous citizen, ready to divide whatever he made with those around him who, in these hard and dangerous times, needed help and support. He was appointed alcalde in 1826, and held this important position until 1833, and it is a fact that during his administration of over seven years there were but two suits prosecuted before him, all appeals to the law having been otherwise settled by a moral inducement for personal adjusment. During a long series of years the Carancahuas, a fierce and war-like tribe of Indians, infested all the coast country from the Brazos to the Guadalupe, and Col. Williams was often called upon to meet them in deadly conflict. At one time he and eleven men held over one hundred and sixty of the Carancahua warriors at bay for a number of hours on Buckner's prairie until the chief was killed, when they retired in safety. He fought about fifty of the same Indians a short time after this a Dressing point, on the bay, gaining a signal victory; and shortly afterwards he perfected a treaty of peace with the tribe, which was ever respected. Several of the Indians remained upon his plantation for a short time after the treaty, and assisted him in gathering his corps (sic). the Carancahuas, long extinct, were probably the finest specimen of aborigines on the continent. None of the warriors were under six feet in height, and many of them reached seven. After they entered into the treaty the spirit of the tribe was subdued, and the chief had all the female children destroyed. Two of the women escaped to the town of Matagorda and left two little Indian girls there, who grew to be twelve or thirteen years old, and made excellent servants, but died at that age.
Col. Williams lost an eye by a shot, at the battle of Velasca, in 1832. His remaining eye, as he advanced in age, began to grow weaker and weaker, until, in 1866, he became unable either to read or write. He lost his sight entirely shortly after this and so it remained until a fortunate operation was performed upon him by Dr. Dohlman. Since then the old gentleman has had the happiness of again recognizing friends, and, with the use of strong glasses, of reading the newspapers. The frosts of 85 covered his brow, but beneath his snow white locks there lingered some of the youthful features still. Col. Williams had always been a man of generous impulses, kind to his family, even to a fault, and loved and respected by all who knew him. He has two surviving children, one daughter living in San Antonio, and a son living in Matagorda county.
The Galveston News, Friday, September 4, 1880
The Late Mrs. Mary L. Williams
The late Mrs. Williams, whose death in this city was recently announced in The Express, deserves more than a passing notice on account of both her own qualities and virtues, and her connection with the early history of Texas. She was born in 1815 in Knoxville, Tennessee, whence she came with her father, the late B. J. White, of Texana, Jackson county, to Texas in 1830. Mr. White settled with his family first on the Navidad. In 1835 she was married to Col. R. H. Williams, of Caney, Matagorda county, where she resided with her family till 1850, when they removed to the then flourishing little village of Matagorda.
Col. Williams was himself one of Austin’s colony, “the old three hundred,” and the time of his marriage to Miss White was, as it may well be called, the heroic period of Texas history, when the courage of the wife was often so severely tested and so brightly displayed as that of the husband. And Mrs. Williams was no exception to the rule. She had her full share of the dangers and hardships of the times. Not only did she remain bravely at her post while her husband was at the front fighting the Indians or repelling the Mexicans, but on one occasion convinced, on hearing of the approach of a band of Mexican soldiers, that there could be safety only in flight, she mounted a horse and taking her infant in her arms, swam every stream to Sabine Pass alone. And well was it that she fled, for on her return she found that her home had been plundered of everything in it and the cattle and provisions, which had been raised and stored up for the year, carried off or destroyed.
These experiences of the pioneers of Texan civilization and independence on the part of the gentler, as well as the sterner sex, should not be forgotten.
Mrs. Williams had a large family of ten children, only two of whom survive her, Mr. C. H. Williams, of Matagorda county, and Mrs. George W. Caldwell, of San Antonio. Though of a gentle and retiring disposition, she had a fine mind, which was well cultivated and informed, and a very remarkable memory. She was, therefore, when her health permitted her to join in a conversation, a most agreeable and entertaining acquaintance and companion. A sincere and humble Christian, she bore with great patience and resignation her many sufferings and afflictions, never losing her faith in the loving kindness and tender mercy of Him, who, as a father, pitieth his children, pitieth those that fear Him.
In 1859 she was confirmed by Bishop Gregg in Christ church, Matagorda, and thus became united in the Episcopal church, of which she continued to be a firm, consistent and devout member to the day of her death.
For the last twenty years she had been an invalid, during the greater part of which time she had lived with her daughter in this city, a quiet and somewhat secluded life, mingling but little in society, and seldom leaving her home.
Knowing that the end could not be distant, she calmly waited for it, and when it came at last she passed away without a struggle in the full possession of her faculties, like one falling into a peaceful sleep. Many had been her trials and sorrows but there was no trace of them upon that sweet and peaceful countenance as she lay in the slumber of death; and we could not help feeling, as we gazed upon it, that once more the weary had entered into rest. The rest that remaineth for the people of God.
Courtesy of Carolee Moore
|Background Courtesy of|
Copyright 2008 -
Present by the Williams Family
Mar. 22, 2008
Mar. 22, 2008