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JEFFERSON COUNTY'S ROLE DURING THE TEXAS REVOLUTION

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE,, February 5, 1984, pp. 1-2BB; March 30, 1974, 7-A.
Source: For a much more comprehensive account, plus muster rolls and footnotes, see W. T. Block "Minutemen of 1835-1836: Southeast Texans in the War for Texas Independence," TEXAS GULF HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL RECORD, XI (Nov., 1975), 79-90.

Although a number of books have been written concerning the Civil War in Jefferson County, no treatise that the writer has knowledge of documents the county's role in the Texas Revolution. The following account does not pretend to be complete (for all muster rolls of that war burned in 1855), but it should inform the reader that the earliest pioneers of this region were in the forefront of that war.

At the beginning, it is necessary to define Jefferson County as it existed in 1837. In December, 1835, the original Jefferson County was created with exactly the same boundaries as present-day Orange County and was known as the "Municipality of Jefferson." In 1837, present-day Jefferson County was deleted from Liberty County, the southern half of Hardin County, south of Village Creek, was added, and the county seat was then transferred from Old Jefferson (now Bridge City) to Beaumont. In 1852, Orange County was created from Jefferson County's eastern half beyond the Neches River, and in 1858, that portion of the county between Pine Island Bayou and Village Creek was removed to become a part of the new Hardin County. By 1836, about seventy Mexican land grants had been issued in extreme Southeast Texas in that three-county area. Perhaps 75 families, totalling about 250 persons, were residing in that extreme corner of the state. There were two families at Sabine Pass, one at Port Neches, about five families in the Taylor's Bayou vicinity, an equal number around Pine Island Bayou, and about fifteen other families living in or within a ten mile radius of Beaumont. The remainder, about twenty families, lived east of the Neches River around Old Jefferson or between Pine Island Bayou and Village Creek, and a few of them had been enumerated in the Atascosita Census of l826.

Perhaps the greatest concentration of families was at Old Jefferson, the first county seat, which was never a close-knit community. In 1840, one book described it as a hamlet scattered out over a ten-mile length of Cow Bayou, but even then, the town was in a state of decline, with population moving away.

By 1836, there were already two merchants in the area. One of them, Henry Millard, opened his store in Beaumont in July, 1835, and laid out the first townsite there two months later. By October, 1835, Beaumont had already received its name, according to an article in the San Felipe "Telegraph." In April, 1836, William F. Gray, upon crossing the river as part of the 'Runaway Scrape,' saw only four log cabins in the hamlet, of which three would have been occupied by Millard, Nancy Tevis, and Capt. Samuel Rodgers, who was the Mexican customs collector. In 1837, Millard became one of the five original proprietors of the Beaumont Townsite Company.

Claiborne West operated a store and was also postmaster at Old Jefferson, where he settled in 1825 with his brothers-in-law, David, Jacob and Isaac Garner, Ben Johnson, and John McGaffey. Another person who visited Old Jefferson often was Stephen H. Everett, who contracted the mail route to Jasper.

As the storm clouds of revolt gathered in October, 1835, West, Millard, and Everett were quickly caught up in the conflict. The citizens of Old Jefferson soon selected West to represent them at the Consultation of San Felipe in November, and in March, 1836, at the Convention at Washington-on-the Brazos, and the residents of Bevil Settlement (Jasper) selected Everett to attend the same conventions. Millard was chosen to represent Liberty County at San Felipe, and he was instrumental in passing the legislation creating the "Municipality of Jefferson."

The Consultation drew up a list of grievances, protesting the despotic decrees of the Mexican dictator General Antonio de Santa Ana. Other actions of the Consultation included the selection of Sam Houston to command a Texas Army for defense and the selection of a provisional governor of Texas and other officers. On December 8, 1835, while the Battle of San Antonio was in progress, they also established the original boundaries of Jefferson Municipality and authorized the selection of a county seat.

Millard also obtained a commission for himself as a lieutenant colonel of the First Regiment of Texas Infantry. His brilliant performance at San Jacinto and throughout the succeeding year won for him the lasting respect and friendship of President Sam Houston. While he was still in the army, he was appointed as a commissioner to treat with the Texas tribes of Indians to prevent their loyalty to Mexico, and in 1837, President Houston appointed him chief justice (now county judge) of Jefferson County.

Even as Millard, West, and Everett were in session at the Consultation, other Southeast Texans were moving west to bolster the Texas defenses. Although only 16 years old, William McFaddin of Beaumont joined Captain Andrew Briscoe's company at Liberty and fought at the Battle of San Antonio between December 6-9, 1835. He was standing only a short distance from Colonel Ben Milam when that immortal Texan was killed in action.

Benjamin Johnson of Old Jefferson joined Capt. Willis H. Landrum's company, fought at the Battle San Antonio, and was discharged at the Alamo on January 1, 1836. Capt. David Garner of Old Jefferson led a company of volunteers, which included his brothers Jacob and Isaac, and Charles Cronea, to the Battle of San Antonio, where they also took part in the "Grass Fight," and he also discharged his men at the Alamo on December 31, 1835.

In 1855, all original muster rolls of the Texas Revolution were burned in a fire at the General Land Office. Although a substantial effort was soon made to reconstruct the muster rolls from military discharge, bounty land grants, etc., there are no existent muster rolls for several militia companies that are known to have existed, including Capt. David Garner's company. In fact, this company appears to have been fused with one led by Capt. James Chessher, who was the ferryman over Pine Island Bayou, and Garner's name appears with his company. Hence, it appears that all of Garner's old fighters were assigned to other companies.

Chessher's company came principally from Jasper County, but it had a number of early settlers from present-day Jefferson and Orange Counties. Adam Byerly, James Drake, Murad W. Bumstead, and Amos Thames were all from the Pine Island or Village Creek area of Hardin County, and in addition to some of Garner's men, William, Moses, George, and Elisha Allen were also from the Old Jefferson area around Cow Bayou.

Capt. Briscoe's company at San Antonio de Bexar was another whose muster roll was lost and was never re-compiled, but two other area men, William Logan of Liberty County and Lovic P. Dyches of Pine Island settlement are known to have been in it. The small Liberty County company of Capt. S. C. Hiroms was mustered on December 8, 1835, while the battle was in progress, but did not reach there until about two weeks later. Three young teen-age brothers from Liberty were probably a part of Briscoe's company as well. It appears that Edward, George, and James Taylor chose to re-enlist after the Battle of San Antonio, rather than be discharged as most other veterans of that battle were, and subsequently the three brothers were killed at the Alamo on March 6, 1836.

With San Antonio captured and secured, the retreat of Gen. Perfecto de Cos' army apparently instilled a false security among the Texans. Unknown to them, other large Mexican armies led by Generals Santa Ana and Urrea were at that moment approaching the Rio Grande River en route to Texas. Most of the San Antonio veterans had returned home and were tilling their fields when news of a second emergency, William Barret Travis' appeal from the Alamo, was carried by horseback by Joseph Dunman, reaching Liberty on March 2. Young McFaddin was at that moment en route home afoot, having lingered on in San Antonio long after his discharge.

On March 2, 1836, West was again a delegate to the Convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos, where he, Everett, and William B. Scates, the other delegate from the Municipality of Jefferson, signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Scates, who had just purchased the Choate league of land on Pine Island Bayou, then enlisted and fought at the Battle of San Jacinto.

News of the impending disasters at the Alamo and at Goliad first reached Southeast Texas on March 2, 1836, when Dunman rode into Liberty bearing Travis' plea for assistance against Gen. Santa Ana. As Dunman reached each settlement during his long ride eastward from the Brazos River, the news of the approach of the Mexican armies demoralized East Texans, and the famed Runaway Scrape to the Sabine River began. There is no better source of the "Scrape" than the diary of W. F. Gray, which recorded in graphic language the plight of the victims approaching the Neches River at Beaumont when there were no longer any ferries there to carry them across the river.

On March 4, 1836, Capt. Benjamin Harper raised a company of 28 men at Beaumont and started westward. Upon reaching Liberty, his company was merged with those of Capt. William Logan and Capt. Franklin Hardin. Most of this company were from Liberty County, but the remainder were from Jefferson and Orange Counties, as follows: from Beaumont, Benjamin Harper, Ephraim Bollinger, Peter Bollinger, David McFaddin, M. J. Brake, and Hezekiah R. Williams; from Pine Island settlement, Lefroy Guidry, David Choate, Stephen Jackson, Lovic P. Dyches, and Michael Peveto, Jr.; from Taylor's Bayou, William Smith; and from from Old Jefferson, David Cole and James Cole. All of these men later fought at the Battle of San Jacinto, except Jackson, and all but one were discharged on June 6, 1836. Michael Peveto was already terminally ill during the battle and died at Nome, Texas, three weeks later. It was reported that Brake (for whom Brake's Bayou is named) broke his double-barreled musket shotgun during the heat of battle and picked up another gun he found on the battlefield.

When the Battle of San Jacinto ended, there were still large Mexican armies stationed in Texas, and these had to be escorted back to the Rio Grande River at the very moment that many men from the 90-day militia companies were due to be discharged. When Captain Logan's company disbanded, Capts. Harper and Hardin re-enlisted most of them in new 90-day companies needed to go to the Mexican border. Among Harper's enlistees from Jefferson and Orange Counties were George Allen, E. Bollinger, W. H. Irion, James McFaddin, C. Bollinger, Moses Allen, David Scott, John Clark, Gilbert Stephenson, Clark Beach, Absalom Jett, John Allen, Aaron and William Ashworth, and John Turner.

There were eight members from Capt. Hardin's new company who were from Jefferson and Orange Counties, as follows: David Burrell, Reason Green, William Smith, George W. Tevis, Claiborne West, Christopher Yocum, and Elisha and James Stephenson. Both of the latter companies were discharged on October 7, 1836. On the way back from the Rio Grande, Capt. Harper's company stopped at Goliad and interred the bones of the 400 ill-fated members of Col. James Fannin's army, who had been massacred.

On March 23, 1836, Capt. James Chessher raised a second militia company at Jasper, but arrived at San Jacinto too late for the battle. Two of his enlistees moved to Jefferson County after the battle and became well-known at Beaumont. In 1840, Oliver H. Delano was the Jefferson County surveyor, whose map of the county's Mexican land grants survives in Austin. A second, James R. Armstrong, was the long-time district attorney for the Fifth Judicial District and was the county's representative to the Texas Congress in 1844-45. He was also its delegate to the State Constitutional Convention of 1845. Still a third enlistee, Andrew F. Smyth of Jasper County, was always well-known in Beaumont, being master of the Neches River cotton steamboat "Laura," and he is buried in Magnolia Cemetery.

Bounty grants reveal that many other Southeast Texans were at or near the Battle of San Jacinto, but no muster rolls of their companies have survived. Others, such as William McFaddin, were in Logan's company at San Jacinto, but were detailed to guard the wagon train. A company raised by Capt. William Milspaugh at Old Jefferson reached San Jacinto in time, but was detailed to guard military prisoners. Three settlers from Old Jefferson, Jacob Garner, Peyton Bland, and Elisha Stephenson, were enrolled in this company, but no muster roll survives.

Nathaniel Grigsby and Enoch Grigsby were enlisted in Capt. Chesher's Jasper County company and fought at the Battle of San Antonio. They were living on their father, Joseph Grigsby's, plantation at Port Neches in 1836, but may have enlisted while visiting in Jasper County. W. F. Gray described Grigsby's Plantation, having spent the night preceding the San Jacinto battle there, but he was unable to obtain ferriage across the river at Port Neches.

In March, 1836, Benjamin Johnson re-enlisted in Capt. James Gillaspie's company and fought at the Battle of San Jacinto. Altogether, Johnson served three 90-day enlistments in the Texas Army and received his third discharge at Houston in May, 1837. His brother-in-law, Jacob H. Garner, also served three enlistments before finally settling at Sabine Pass, where is tombstone still stands. A long-time Orange shingle mill owner, Robert B. Russell, joined Capt. Kimbro's company at San Augustine and also became a participant at the Battle of San Jacinto. State historical markers are installed on Johnson's grave in Sabine Pass cemetery; on Russell's grave in Evergreen Cemetery at Orange; on Absalom Jett's grave in Jett Cemetery in Orange County; and on William McFaddin's grave in Magnolia Cemetery in Beaumont.

The writer owns certified copies of Texas bounty land grants to Randolph C. Doom, Charles Cronea, and R. E. Booth, showing dates of their 90-day enlistments, but not the name of their companies. Doom was appointed by President Houston to be Texas collector of customs for "Sabine Bay" at Beaumont where he resided from 1837 to 1839, but for most of his life he was a resident and storekeeper at Bevilport, Jasper County. In 1840, Booth was postmaster at "Mount Holland,' near Ballew's Ferry in Orange County, but he died there about about 1845. Besides serving at San Antonio in December, 1835, Cronea, according to his memoirs, was present to see Santa Ana as a prisoner at San Jacinto and the Mexican dead on the battlefield. However, he did not take part in the actual battle as he is not credited among the 700 Texas participants.

During the first presidential election of September 5, 1836, the following area men were still on duty in the Texas Army, as follows: John R. Bevil, William Dyson, John Stephenson, William T. Hatton, Joseph Callihan, John Turner, James Stephenson, and William H. Irion, the latter from Beaumont.

In her STORY OF BEAUMONT, Florence Stratton noted that in August, 1835, Jefferson County had a 62-man militia company commanded by Capt. George W. Hargraves, who stated that he and 21 men were en route to San Jacinto when the battle was fought. As recalled by Hargraves during his old age, members of his company included: "William Clark, - Clark, John Cole, - Cole, Bill Ashworth, Aaron Ashworth, Tapler Ashworth, Luke Ashworth, Charles Cronea, Elisha Stephenson, Elijah Stephenson, Tom Berwick, Batiste Peveto, Dave Harmon, Jim McCall, John Allen, - Allen, Joe Linsecomb, Jake Hays, Jim Jett, - Jett, Clark Beach, - Powers, Archie Richie, Wash Tevis, Jack Tevis, - Williams, Tom Yocum, Jim Foreman, Ben Johnson, and Jim Courts."

However, some names on Hargraves' list appear quickly to be of dubious authenticity, and hence, cast a shadow over the remaining names. While some names are immediately recognized as being Texas veterans, as indicated previously, three of them, including Hargraves himself, do not even appear on the county's list of jurors and freeholders for 1837 or as applicants before the county's Board of Land Commissioners in 1838. Jim Courts and Jim McCall were far too young for military service, their tombstones in Sabine Pass Cemetery listing 1829 and 1830 as being their birth years. In his application to the Board of Land Commissioners, Batiste Peveto swore that he arrived in Texas in 1838, although biographies in the T. J. Russell Papers at Tyrrell Library state his arrival year as 1840.

Sometimes settlers paid substitutes to serve for them in the Texas Army. William Smith of Capt.Logan's company at San Jacinto was a substitute for Thomas Colville of Jefferson County. Thus, Colville was entitled to a bounty grant in the same manner as Smith. A. B. J. Winfree of Old Jefferson hired J. B. Dupre of Capt. Hardin's company to serve in his place, and the writer owns a copy of Winfree's bounty grant. In March, 1836, Abner and William Ashwoirth hired, respectively, Elijah Thomas and Gibson Perkins as substitutes to fight in their stead.

What may seem unusual about the Ashworths, Thomas, and Perkins was the fact that they were free Negroes, some of whom owned slaves themselves. One of the enlistees in Capt. Chessher's Jasper company of March, 1836, was Joseph Tate, whom the muster roll labeled as a "man of color." In 1838, only two years later, the Board of Land Commissioners of Jefferson County turned down Joseph Tate's application for a land grant at Beaumont because he was a Negro. In 1840, Tate was included in a new law which would force all free Negroes to leave the Republic of Texas, but an amendment the following year excluded those who had served in the Texas Army in 1836.

Several local families apparently furnished supplies to the men en route to the San Jacinto battlefield. Hargraves noted that upon leaving Beaumont with 21 men, he "furnished the ammunition and supplies; I spent $42 for ammunition, $6 for flour, and $10 for meat for the trip." In 1906, T. J. Russell wrote in the "Russell Papers" that a company of soldiers left Beaumont for San Jacinto on April 18, 1836, and who evidently arrived too late. He added that Beaumont "men, women, and children engaged in molding bullets, baking bread, and drying beef" for the departing soldiers. Claiborne West was another who furnished supplies out of his store for departing soldiers leaving from Old Jefferson.

The story of the Texas Revolution would hardly be complete without the account of the utter social upheaval caused at Beaumont by the approaching Mexican armies as can be found in William Fairfax Gray's diary of those fateful days, a part of which reads as follows:

"The poor frightened fugitives have thrown away a great deal of their furniture, emptied beds of feathers, bags of corn, etc.....As we approached the Neches, we found there was a great uncertainty about crossing the river. The boats were said to have been taken from all the ferries and carried down to the lower bluff (Port Neches). Thither we bent our way, passing great numbers of fugitives, men, women, and children, black and white, with all the accustomed marks of dismay..... There are many families here (Port Neches) waiting to be ferried across the bay, a distance of 7 or 8 miles, and put on the United States shore. There are at least 1,000 fugitives here (at Joseph Grigsby's plantation).....Started at 10 o'clock....Arrived at Beaumont about 1 o'clock. Passed on the road the Kuykendall family. They have in charge the poor little lost baby, which each carries by turns. I took pleasure in carrying it a short distance to relieve the old man...."

As Jefferson County approached the threshold of the Texas Republic, its population had done much for which they could be proud. They had punctured the wilderness, although it remained a continual threat to their existence. They had supplied many of the soldiers who had helped forge a victory out of chaos. Some who couldn't go hired substitutes to fight, and others moulded bullets or furnished other supplies. With the war behind them, Jefferson County's 250 free inhabitants, who revered the soil upon which they had settled, wished only to till their farms in peace and to develop the abundant resources which surrounded their cabins.

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