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A HISTORY OF THE JOHN FRANKLIN KELLY, THE JOHN CLAUDE KELLY, AND LEE A. KELLY FAMILIES OF EARLY NEDERLAND

By W. T.Block

(With grateful appreciation to J. C. Kelly, Jr. for genealogical data supplied to the writer.)

In 1906 a man named Sam Collins operated a rice farm at Rice Farm Road and Twin City Highway, two and one-half miles south of Nederland (although those streets did not exist at that time), on land that Collins had purchased from Port Arthur Rice and Irrigation Company. He was married to the former Elizabeth Kelly of Ellis County, Texas, and in 1906, Collins brought his brother-in-law, John Franklin Kelly, to Nederland to work for him. Kelly, a widower, brought four children to Nederland with him, two sons named Lee A. and John Claudius Kelly, and two daughters, Minnie Pearl Kelly (later Cone) and Mary B. Kelly (later Shofner). This was the beginning of the early-day Kelly families of Nederland. John F. Kelly did not arrive with all four children at the same time, one or more of them having remained longer or returned to Tarrant County to work or study, but by the time of the April, 1910, Nederland census, five of six Kelly family members were enumerated at Residence No. 11. Apparently a sixth member, Jessie Ray Kelly, had already left for California.

The nineteenth-century origins of the Kelly families of Nederland go back to Gallatin, Sumner County, Tennessee, on February 5, 1816, when a Joseph Kelly signed an indenture to the Governor of Tennessee, bonding himself for $1,250 in order to marry Hevelina (or Evelina) Penticost. At first glance, one might wonder if Hevelina was an indentured servant. However, the writer has ruled out that possibility since there is nothing else to support that conclusion. Neither the words "indentured servant" nor a period of servitude appear on the document; also colonies, states, territories, and counties did not own slaves or indentured servants, although in some instances they perhaps might have been seized for delinquent taxes. Hence, it appears that the indenture was nothing more than an early-day bond marriage, which existed in one form or another in all the frontier states and territories during the first half of the nineteenth century. Such a document guaranteed that the bridegroom could adequately support a wife. As a Texas example in December, 1835, Simon Wiess of Jasper County bonded himself to his bride's brother for $12,000, wherein he had to put up land titles equal to that amount as security.

The oldest child of Joseph and Hevelina Kelly was James L. Kelly (b. Gallatin, Tn. April 6, 1817-d. Midlothian, Tx. October 29, 1884), who on January 26, 1843, married Sarah Melvina Ragan (b. Gallatin, August 16, 1824-d. Midlothian, Tx. August 4, 1887), also of Sumner County. The couple's first three of ten children were born in Tennessee or Alabama, but shortly after their arrival in Ellis County, Texas, about 1849, their fourth child and second son, John Franklin, was born at Mansfield, Texas. John Franklin Kelly (b. March 6, 1851-d. Nederland April 19, 1919) was a farmer like his ancestors before him, and on February 20, 1879, he married Martha Jane Board (b. February 18, 1861-d. May 1, 1897), the daughter of J. A. Board of Fulton County, Kentucky. The couple became the parents of five children, as follows: Lee A. Kelly (b. June 13, 1885-d. June 18, 1950); Jessie Ray Kelly, who moved to California; John Claudius Kelly (b. July 14, 1890-d. November 11, 1976); Minnie Pearl Kelly, who left Nederland and moved to Ventura, California and married Leon Charles Cone; and Mary B. Kelly (b. July 5, 1895-d. July 22, 1967), who married Floyd Shofner and lived out her life in Beaumont. Only two years after the birth of her second daughter, Mary, Martha Jane Board Kelly died in 1897 at age 36 and was buried at Mansfield, Texas.

In the meantime, John Franklin Kelly's younger sister, Elizabeth (Bettie), married Sam Collins, who was to become one of Nederland's early rice growers. Bettie Collins' period of residence in Nederland was comparatively short since she died in Nederland on December 12, 1910. It was at Sam Collins' invitation that the Kelly family moved to Nederland. Collins farmed rice until after World War I, that is, until about 1919 or 1920, when he went bankrupt. Later he sold out his interest in the rice farm, and moved to Williams Street (now Fourteenth) in Nederland. He died at Corpus Christi in 1938.

John F. Kelly moved to Nederland in 1906 with his three youngest children, John Claude Kelly, Minnie Pearl Kelly, and Mary B. Kelly. Soon after his arrival in Nederland, John C. Kelly altered his middle name from Claudius to Claude. In 1907 he returned to Fort Worth to take business courses in business administration, and he did not return to Nederland until about 1909. In 1906, Lee A. Kelly was working as a cattle ranch employee in the Jacksboro, Jack County vicinity, and he did not arrive in Nederland until 1907. Apparently, Jessie Ray Kelly had already settled in California by 1906 because he did not move to Nederland with the family in 1906, and he was not listed in the census enumeration of the Kelly family household in Nederland in 1910.

The Nederland census of 1910 provides the best record of the Kelly family members only four years after their arrival in Jefferson County. Residence No. 11 of that census lists John Franklin Kelly as a rice farm employee on the Collins farm. Lee A. Kelly was employed by a dirt contractor, and John Claude Kelly was a laborer at the Texaco asphalt refinery in Port Neches. Minnie Pearl Kelly was a Nederland school teacher, and Mary B. Kelly was a student.

During the next decade, three of the siblings married and began homes of their own. On November 11, 1913, John C. Kelly married Verna May Gibson, an Iowa native who had come to Nederland with her parents, William and Nancy Gibson, in 1901. On October 28, 1915, Lee A. Kelly married Lois Jane Thomas (b. August 31, 1897-d. May 28, 1983), daughter of John Thomas and Lois Stoddard Thomas, in Jack County, Texas. Lee Kelly was born in Jack County in 1885 when his parents lived there for a short period, but by 1888, the John Franklin Kelly family was living in Tarrant County. Evidently, Lee Kelly had met Lois Thomas when he worked as a cowboy near Jacksboro in 1906. On July 15, 1918, Mary B. Kelly was married to Floyd Shofner at Beaumont by the Rev. Harold Cooke, also a Nederland native. Minnie Pearl Kelly apparently moved to California at an early date since she was not recorded in the 1918 Nederland city directory. She married Leon Charles Cone at Ventura, California, in December, 1935, eventually retired there on a school teacher's pension, and died there in 1963. In 1918, John Franklin Kelly was recorded in the Nederland city directory as working as a watchman. He died in Nederland on April 19, 1919, and was buried at Midlothian, Texas

As soon as John Claude and Verna May Kelly were married in 1913, they moved to Texas City, Texas, where Claude Kelly worked for Texas City Refining Company, built in 1908, which was the eighth and largest refinery then in Texas, and the first built along the Houston-Galveston Bay gulf coast. On May 20, 1915, their oldest child, Sanford Franklin Kelly was born there. Only three months later, they rode out the August, 1915, storm in a passenger train coach that had been chained to the rails.

Claude Kelly also worked in the Mexia, Texas, oil field for Colonel Albert Humphreys, but it is uncertain exactly what year(s) he was there. By 1917 he was back in Nederland, where his second son, John Claude Kelly, Jr., was born on May 29, 1917. In the 1918 Nederland city directory, Claude Kelly was recorded as working as a stillman for an oil refinery, but it is unclear whether his employer was Texaco or Gulf Oil Corporation. The couple's third son, Joseph Edward Kelly, was born in Nederland on March 8, 1919.

Late in 1919, Claude Kelly moved his family to Wilson, Oklahoma, while he worked as construction superintendent of a small refinery built for Humphreys Oil Company. In mid-summer of 1920, he moved to the Smackover, Arkansas oil field, still employed by Coloney Humphreys. In mid-1921, he moved to Ruston, Louisiana, where in worked both in the oil field southeast of Ruston and at Oil City, Louisiana. The Kelly's rented an upstairs apartment in Ruston, where their fourth and last child, a daughter named Verna May, was born.

In the spring of 1922, Colonel Humphreys sent Claude Kelly back to Smith's Bluff, north of Nederland (where Unocal refinery currently is located), where Humphreys had built a pipe line from the Mexia field and a small dock for shipping crude oil in whale-back barges (sometimes called "cigar boats"). At that time only the Kelly family, the Choate family, and the Flora Staffen family were living at Smith's Bluff. (A year later, Mrs. Flora Staffen would sell out her 300 acres of land there to Pure Oil Company, Humphreys' successor.) In the meantime, the writer wonders if it were Claude Kelly that induced Colonel Humphreys to build at Smith's Bluff, and thus indirectly, bring in Pure Oil Company with him.

After Pure Oil Company bought out Colonel Humphreys in 1923, Claude Kelly continued on with Pure Oil Company as pipe line superintendent in the Pure Transportation Department. J. C. Kelly, Jr. writes that:

". . . At first our place was just east of the old entrance gate -- the Choate place was on toward the river one-half or three-quarters of a mile - a shell road went to the loading dock where crude oil was pumped into the whaleback barges for transport at sea."

"My two brothers and I, J. C.Kelly, Jr., continually watched the removal of trees, the pouring of foundations for the first stills, and the construction of office, warehouse, and other buildings. Then the old coke stills were built. Arthur J. Davis drove a small truck to town ech morning for the mail and also to transport Earl Choate, Sanford Kelly, and myself to school. . . .Four company houses were built on Pure-Atlantic Road for refinery supervisors and four more about a quarter-mile farther for the pipe line group. . . .We were moved to the pipe line group of houses just before the coke stills were put into service. . . .My father left Pure Oil in 1928 and started his own business in Nederland (J. C. Kelly Oil Company, Inc.), wholesaling Pure Oil products. . . .

"We used to swim in the (Neches) river just upstream from the docks," Kelly recalled, "and there was a large sand bar there. Believe it or not, the water was clear then. My brothers and I had full access of the refinery's holdings to roam in. My father had a permit to run his cattle on Pure Oil property before the refinery was finished and later on land away from the refinery (tank farm) after it went on steam. . . ."

(J. C. Kelly, Jr. did not mention the huge alligators at Smith's Bluff, but perhaps by 1923, the large alligators had grown scarce there. In 1911 Rufus Gallier killed a fifteen foot alligator there, and in 1929, Roy Sterling killed another fifteen foot alligator at Magpetco dock, a few hundred yards downstream. For the record of the huge alligators there between 1911-1929, see W. T. Block, "River Rats and Alligators," Sapphire City of the Neches, pp. 132-136, and "Memoirs of Marya Koekkoek Munson," Vol. II, p. 78, of "The Chronicles of The Early Families of Nederland, Texas," at Henson Memorial of Nederland, Tyrrell Historical of Beaumont, and Port Neches libraries.)

In 1928, John Claude Kelly organized J. C. Kelly Oil Company, Inc. at Nederland, in conjunction with Arthur J. Davis and Charlie V. Phillips, to wholesale Pure Oil products. Kelly, however, was the major stockholder in the firm. He built a bulk station at Atlanta Street and Twin City Highway in Nederland, and he had other bulk stations at Woodville, Lufkin, and Tyler, Texas. During the 1930's, J. C. Kelly, Jr. spent much of his youthful years hauling bulk products to those various locations. With the exception of the Tyler plant, Pure Oil Company bought out Kelly Oil Company in June, 1935. At that time, the J. C. Kelly family moved to Tyler, Texas, where they lived for several years before they moved back to Beaumont.

In January, 1940, J. C. Kelly sold out his bulk plant at Tyler, and he and a man named Guy Hitt founded a dealership for Hudson automobiles at Tyler. This was only shortly before World War II began, and all automobile production ended in January, 1942.

Kelly then went to Pascagoula, Mississippi, where he built a pipe line for Littrell Construction Company from Lucedale, Mississippi to Pascagoula. During World War II, he worked as a pipe fitter for Brown Shipyard in Houston, later transferring to Pennsylvania Shipyard in Beaumont in the same capacity. He then bought a home in Beaumont and sold his home in Tyler.

J. C. Kelly had a long and difficult illness about 1945 that finally resulted in most of his stomach being removed. In 1948 he went to Lake Charles for Clarence Crenshaw's Oil City Welding Works to install a new water system in that city. Later Kelly built a Gulf States Utilities power line across the Atchafalaya River swamps between Baton Rouge and Lafayette. Kelly continued to work in Lake Charles until he returned to Nederland to become the city's director of public works in 1956. He retired in 1958.

Verna May Gibson Kelly died at Beaumont on December 4, 1962, and was interred at Magnolia Cemetery. John Claude Kelly, Sr. lived to age 86, dying at Midland, Texas, on November 10, 1976, and was laid to rest beside his wife in Beaumont.

Sanford L. Kelly, their oldest son, married Ann L. O'Brien of Tulsa, Oklahoma in California in 1939. He died at San Jose on March 31, 1975 without issue. Joseph Edward Kelly married Jean Webb, and they also had no children. He died at age thirty at Jasper, Texas on June 26, 1949.

John Claude Kelly, Jr. married Winifred Charlotte Richards of Bath, Maine, on December 26, 1941, and they currently (1991) reside in Beaumont. They are the parents of two sons, Lewis S. Kelly of Beaumont and John C. Kelly III, who married Sheila Lynn McGill of Port Arthur. They also have two grandchildren, Cammie Lynn Kelly and Troy Wade Kelly. J. C. Kelly, Jr. retired after forty years as a construction electrician, and on several occasions he worked inside the Pure Oil refinery at Smith's Bluff where he had grown up and played as a boy.

Verna May Kelly married Malcolm D. Abel of Mosheim, Texas, on April 19, 1946, and they currently (1991) reside in Midland, Texas. They are the parents of two sons, Joe Curtis Abel and Donald David Abel, and one daughter, Claudia Jane Tomlinson, all of Midland.,

Of John Franklin Kelly's two daughters, Minnie Pearl Kelly did not marry Leon C. Cone at Ventura, California until she was age 42 in 1935, and apparently she died without issue. Daughter Mary B. Kelly married Floyd Shofner, the son of Martin Luther and Matilda Collins Shofner, in 1918. They lived out their lives in Beaumont and are buried in Magnolia Cemetery. They were the parents of three sons, as follows: Floyd Kelly Shofner, who married Lois Marie Crane in 1945; James Franklin Shofner, who married Mary Jean Stewart; and Jack Shofner, who married Frances Viola Dishman in 1949.

Lee A. and Lois Kelly lived out their lives in Nederland. The 1938 Nederland city directory listed Lee Kelly as a bricklayer residing on Shell Street, but he was also in the trucking business during the latter years of his life. The family also resided at various times on Gary Street and in the 700 block of Nederland Avenue.

Lee A. Kelly died on June 18, 1950, and was buried in Oak Bluff Cemetery in Port Neches. Lois Kelly survived her husband for 33 years, died on May 28, 1983, and is buried beside her husband in Port Neches.

Lee and Lois Kelly were the parents of one son and six daughters, all of whom are still alive (1991) except Nellie Jean Kelly who died as a ten-year-old girl in 1938. The others are as follows:

Albert Lee Kelly married Mary Jane Porter, and they are the parents of two daughters, Cathy Hagen and Kitty Auwerter. Daughter Edith Kelly married Allison Prejean, and they are the parents of four daughters, Lois Savoie, Carolyn Pearl Arsement, Sheila Fay Frederick, and Mary Elene Latta.

Daughter Jennie Lois Kelly married Eugene Frazier (deceased), and they were the parents of one son, Frank Eugene "Butch" Frazier. Daughter Pearl Kelly married Micajah Hutchison (deceased), and she operated a beauty shop at Twelfth and Chicago for about thirty years. They had no children.

Daughter Mary Elene Kelly (deceased) married Howard Harvey Keith, and they were the parents of two sons and two daughters, as follows: Lee Albert Keith, Howard Harvey Keith, Jr., Violet Ann Emfinger and Opal Northcut. Daughter Vivian Fay Kelly is married to Kenneth Langham. She is the mother of two daughters, Gwen Cantrell and DeAnna Gosney, and one son, Jerry Lee Tyer, by her first marriage.

John Franklin and Martha Kelly, John Claude and Verna Kelly, and Lee A. and Lois Kelly are fondly recalled and still sorely missed by their surviving children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and a host of friends whose lives they touched.

Copyright 1998-2016 by W. T. Block. All rights reserved.
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