James Clinton Neill
Navarro County, Texas


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James Clinton Neill
Researched by Wyvonne Putman
Originally published in "The Navarro County Scroll", 1985
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society

Even prior to the fall of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto, pioneers of Texas, led by the immortal statesman and diplomat, Stephen F. Austin, dreamed of a great future for the southwest.  These same pioneers led the way for the Lone Star State's accomplishments with daring, faith and resolute endeavor.  Perhaps it was their vision which gave them the strength to carry on when less resolute men would have given up because of the apparently overwhelming odds.

James Clinton Neill, born in North Carolina in 1790, was one man attracted by the gleaming star of the southwest and answered its' appeal before the Republic of Texas had ceased to use its' original flag.

He came to Texas in 1831 with Stephen F. Austin's third colony.  He settled first in Milam County and Immediately became involved in the politics of the day, representing Milam County in the Convention of 1833.

Stephen F. Austin was successful in attracting imigrants.  In 1820 Texas had only about 6,000 inhabitants, not including the thousands of Indians.  During the next decade, largely through Austin's efforts, 30,000 settlers came into the Mexican sub-province, mainly from the United States.

It was fairly obvious to people all over the world that these Americans in Texas Mexico weren't going to be happy under Latin rule.

One of those who thought the Mexicans could never keep Texas was a well known British socialist, Robert Owen.  In 1828 Owen asked Mexico to give him Texas.  The English social reformer was not joking.

Owen had made a fortune as a cotton spinner.  He made a 2,500 word written appeal to Mexico when he asked for Texas.  He said he hoped to establish a model, independent and socialistic country.  His argument went like this: "You Mexican statesmen will find it wise to give me Texas.  For your jealousies and irritations over Texas with the North American Republic will terminate in war."

Mr. Owen implied: "You're going to loose Texas eventually, anyway, so why not give it to me now."

Owen sent his "memorial" to the diplomat representing Mexico in London, Senor Rocafuerte, who personally approved of the British philosopher's idea of a buffer state between Mexico and its powerful neighbor to the north.

Your paper is very beautiful, Senor Owen," said the ambassador.  "I will send it to the city of Mexico.  It is a very beautiful appeal.  But they won't give you Texas."

Rocafuerte was right.  Mexico kept Texas -- for eight more years.

The pleasant city of Bastrop, Texas, near an isolated pine forest on the Colorado River, was named in honor of a mysterious Dutch crook, who may have turned into a patriot and an honest man after he had lived in Texas for a spell.  This fellow, at least while in Texas and Mexico, usually called himself Felipe Enrique Neri, El Baron de Bastrop.

About then the United States was busy trying to buy Texas.  In 1825 Mexico was offered $1 million if the boundary would start at the Rio Grande or a half million if the Colorado River was the line.

By 1829 the United States had raised the offer to $5 million, this to include the portions of what is now New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma then included within the subprovince of Texas.

As for Baron de Bastrop, who was so intimately mixed up in all these events, he seems to have become selflessly devoted to the interests of Texas.  From 1824 to 1827 he was one of Texas' legislative representatives to Saltillo, the capital of Coahuila and Texas.  Usually sharp in business, he seems to have let his commercial interests melt away.  for, when he died in 1827 in Saltillo, his friends in the legislature had to take up a collection to bury him.

The Texans were fairly prosperous in the early 1830's.  The colonists exported 4,000 bales of cotton in 1833 and 10,000 bales in 1834.

In 1833 a fantastic personality named Antonio de Santa Anna became the president of Mexico.  During the next twenty years he served four terms in this office.

Until 1835 most of the Anglo-American colonists had been fairly loyal to Mexico, although there were several violent clashes between the Mexican ruler and the Texans.  Most of these rising of the colonists were against the Mexican officials attempting to collect taxes or duties.  Stephen F. Austin admitted that his colonists hated the sight of a tax collector.

Santa Anna's ruthless campaign alarmed the Texans more than anything else in 1835, and soon there were manifestations that the dictator intended the military occupation of Texas.

James Clinton Neill entered the Texas Army as a Captain on September 28, 1835.  He was later appointed a Colonel of Artillery and was in charge during the siege of Bexar.

Austin was the leader of some 500 volunteers who amazingly bottled up General Cos's 1,800 troops behind the mud and stone walls of San Antonio in October, 1835.  The colonists kept the city under siege for weeks.  Austin, who did not have much taste for the military, especially for a long drawn-out siege, turned the command over to a rough, brave indian fighter, Colonel Edward Burleson, and then left on a mission to the United States to try and raise money and volunteers for the Texas cause.

Burleson and his small group of volunteers then took the Mexicans by surprise and captured them without a single shot being fired.

On December 24, 1835, he (Austin) was assigned to a civilian job by the "Consultation"; assembling his men he asked for their loyalty and support to Colonel Burleson.  It was at this time that Sam Houston was named Major General and Commander of the Texas Army.  The title of General wa used to distinguish Houston for the remainder of his life.

When they completed the taking of San Antonio, the army Houston was to command did not yet exist.  However it would not be difficult to incorporate them whenever a real and present danger appeared.  In early December they determined to establish a regular army of approximately 1,200 men.

The first plan called for its equal division between two regiments, on of Infantry and the other of Artillery, with a select group of Rangers to serve on the frontier.  The organization, discipline and pay resembled that of the United States; a significant difference was the reward of land for those who served Texas.

On December 7, 1835, James Walker Fannin was appointed Colonel of the Artillery; James Clinton Neill and David B. McComb were appointed Lieutenant Colonels, and William Barrett Travis was named the first Major.

General Sam Houston was responsible for the appointment of Colonel Neill to serve as the Commandant of San Antonio.  Neill wrote:

"We have 104 men and two distinct fortresses to garrison, and about 24 pieces of Artillery.  You doubtless have learned that we have no provisions nor clothing in this garrison since Johnson and Grant left.  If there ever has been a dollar here I have no Knowledge of it, the clothing sent here by the aid, and patriotic exertions of the Honorable Council, was taken from us by the arbitrary measures of Johnson and Grant, taken from men who endured all the hardships of winter, and who were not even sufficiently clad for Summer, many of them have but one blanket, and one shirt, and what was intended for them was given away..."  

This was only one of several complaints about the lack of supplies in San Antonio that flowed from his pen in the next several weeks.

Neill is referring to Frances A. Johnson and Dr. James Grant who were in charge of San Antonio prior to Neill's appointment.

On January 23, 1836, Neill asked for authority to hold elections to determine officers at the Alamo.  Three days later Bonham and Bowie had taken the lead in organizing the Alamo.  On or about February 3, Neill received word of a family illness and he made his preparations to quit the Alamo for only twenty days - that grew into forever - and it was to William B. Travis that he turned over the command of the Alamo.  General Sam Houston's order to blow up the Alamo in February of 1836 was not carried out by Neill.  He said the reason he did not destroy the Alamo was because he did not have teams to haul off the artillery.  Colonel Travis chose to stay in the Alamo and died with his men, although common sense and the Commanding General (Sam Houston) told him not to do so.

This heart breaking plea was sent by a courier to Houston:

Commandancy of the Alamo Bejar, Feby 24th, 1836

To the people of Texas & all Americnas in the world ---

Fellow citizens and compatriots ---

I am beseiged by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna -- I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man -- The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken -- I have answered the demand with a cannon shot & our flag still waves proudly from the walls -- I shall never surrender or retreat.  Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch -- The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three for four thousand in four or five days.  If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country --- Victory or Death

William Barret Travis,
Lt. Col. comdt.

P.S.  The Lord is on our side -- When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn -- We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels and got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.

Travis

 

The siege of the Alamo began February 24, and ended thirteen days later -- March 6, 1836.  These thirteen days immortalized 187 Texans.  There were perhaps 1,600 Mexicans killed during the Battle of the Alamo.

The victory of the Alamo inflated Santa Anna's already overblown ego.  He sent out printed circulars to the colonists announcing that he was going to restore "the old Spanish policy of not even letting a bird fly across the Sabine River."  This was the boundary between Texas and Louisiana.  After the conquest of the Alamo, he sent thousand s of men across the settled regions of Texas.  The dictator was sure that the Texas Rebellion was over.

In early April Sam Houston was on the other side of the Guadalupe with a few "raw recruits."  He retreated at the news of Santa Anna's approach.  On April 18, 1836, Santa Anna was about forty miles in advance of his main column and on April 20th he met General Sam Houston's Army of Rebels in a field called San Jacinto.  However, the Texans stayed hidden in the woods in which they were camped.

The apparent timidity of Houston's Army down in the woods caused Santa Anna to relax his vigilance.  Around the siesta hour most of his troops were taking naps.  The Texans back in the woods had been busy.  Houston had sent a group of scouts to destroy a bridge some eight miles away.  About 4 P.M. on April 21st, 1836, General Sam Houston took Santa Anna and the Mexicans by surprise.

Dr. Samuel E. Ashbury of Texas A & M said:

"the 25 years of colonial, revolutionary, and national Texas, have no parallel in history .... There are other quarters of a century a century of greater moment to mankind, but not one as unique.  This uniqueness is not necessarily praise-worthy.  For the Texas Revolution was a fluke.  It couldn't possibly have happened, yet happen it did; Austin's Colonies should have failed, but they did not fail; the Texas republic could not exist, yet it did exist for 10 years and then joined the United States on its own terms.  the separate events are just as unique.  There never was, there never will be another Alamo, so futilely heroic...another Goliad, so futilely tragic...another San Jacinto, so triumphant, so superficially important.

Colonel Neill was in Harris County at the time of the Battle of San Jacinto, and was wounded in a skirmish the day before the Battle.

When Neill came to Texas in 1831 as a colonist of Stephen F. Austin, he received a league of land (4,428 acres) in Milam County.  In 1846 he received a land grant in Navarro County of 640 acres.  This was patented October 8, 1847.

Neill was appointed Indian Commissioner in 1844 and 1845.  Serving with him wre Thomas I. Smith and Leonard Williams.  At this time the Secretary of War and Marine was a young man who, in later years, was a highly respected pioneer of Navarro County, Dr. George Washington Hill.  Dr. Hill also worked with the Indian Councils.  Colonel Neill was an experienced soldier, and records show that he fought in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Tennessee.  Military papers from this battle in Tennessee in 1815 and from the Alamo Command in Texas show Neill's signatures to be identical.

In the spring of 1846 several of the pioneers met in the home of Thomas I Smith, which was one mile north of Chambers Creek in a little community known as "Freezeout".  This was near the home of W. R. Howe.  At this time Neill became acquainted with Thomas I. Smith and David R. Mitchell, and the three men formed a partnership.

At one of these meetings the purpose was to discuss the creation of a county.  It was presided over by General E. H. Tarrant, a Texas Ranger.  A petition was drawn up asking that a new county be created out of Robertson County and that th ehome of W. R. Howe be made the temporary county seat.  C. M. Winker was asked to present the petition before the next Legislature at Austin, Texas.  Present for this meeting were General E. H. Tarrant, W. R. Howe, Thomas I. Smith, J. C. Neill, J. Eliot, William Love and C. M. Winker, a young lawyer from Franklin, Texas.  Other people living in this community were William J. Ladd, John Roark, Jacob Hartzell, Mike Welch, Squire Wash, Brewer David, Henry Cook, Ethan Melton, Reverend Noah T. Byars, Reverend Hampton McKinney and others.

On July 13, 1846, a new county was created out of Robertson County.  It contained all lands lying between the Brazos and Trinity Rivers.  All Lands north of a point near Waco Village and east of the Tehuacana Ridge to the Trinity River.  This new county was called Navarro County in honor of Jose Antonio Navarro, a Texas patriot.

The fist men elected to the office in the new county were John A. Young, County Judge; however, Mr. Young died before taking office and E. H. Tarrant, Texas Ranger, was appointed to serve in his place; Elias Rogers was appointed Tax Collector and Assessor; Ethan Melton was appointed as Treasurer; W. B. M. Nicholson, District Clerk; R. N. White, County Clerk; Isaac Cline, Constable, and Thomas A. Ward as Land Commissioner.  The home of W. R. Howe, which was located where the town of Forreston in Ellis County is, was the first county seat.

After the death of W. R. Howe in December, 1947, Judge E. H. Tarrant and several of the leaders in the county thought it time to locate a permanent county seat.  A committee of five men, namely; Thomas I. Smith, W. F. Henderson, Ethan Melton, J. A. Johnson and James Riggs, was appointed by Court to locate a permanent county seat.  Some of the above-named gentlemen lived near Dresden.

On February 25, 1848, this committee voted.  Two votes were for Dresden and three votes were for a camp-site midway between Dresden and Porter's Bluff.  Already living at the latter place was the Reverend Hampton McKinney, who had moved from Dresden the previous year and had built a two room log house on Pecan Creek where the present Roger Q. Mills home on West 2nd Avenue is now located.

At a meeting of the committee of five on this February date, Thomas I. Smith, speaking for his associates, David R. Mitchell and James C. Neill, offered to donate one hundred acres of land at the Hampton McKinney site on which to build a new county seat.  The offer was accepted and C. C. Taylor of Dresden was employed to make the town plat.

A few weeks later, Representative C. M. Winkler asked Jose Antonio Navarro, for whom the county was named, if he would like to name the new county seat.  His reply was, "Call it Corsicana, in honor of the Isle of Corsica, my father's birthplace."

When Hampton McKinney was notified that the land on which he had hoped to settle had been selected as the county seat, McKinney, with the help of his boys, erected a large building which was called the "McKinney Inn," in which was located the post office, the hotel, and which served the county officials as their headquarters for some time.

Colonel Neill was born in 1790 in North Carolina.  For a time he lived in Tennessee and served with the army there.  We find Neill, Smith and Mitchell meeting in 1846 and becoming business partners.  Smith and Neill died in 1848 and Mitchell died October 7, 1853.

Colonel Neill was a citizen of Texas from 1831 until his death in 1848.  He was married to Margaret Harriett.  They had three children:

1. George Jefferson, b. 1808 in Tennessee

2. Samuel Clinton, b. 1815 in Tennessee

3. Harriett, b. 1820 in Tennessee

The Texas Historical Marker to honor Colonel James Clinton Neill will be located at 1208 West Seventh Avenue on West Highway 31 in Corsicana.  He lived in Navarro County for about ten years.  A thought of Henry David Thoreau is most applicable to Colonel Neill: "Our thoughts are the epochs of our lives: all else is but a journal of the winds that blew while we were here."

Colonel Neill died March 31, 1848, and is buried in Grimes County.

 


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Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox