LIFE AT WASHINGTON -ON-THE-BRAZOS IN THE 1840s
Jesse Bartlett and his family settled in 1832 on the west bank
of the Brazos River, at New Year Creek, a few miles south of the
settlement called Washington or Washington-on-the-Brazos,
in what was then Mexico but became Washington County, Texas,
one of the original counties of the Republic of Texas. Jesse
died in 1838, but most or all of his family remained there for at
least several years in the early 1840s. The following material may
give an idea of what life was like for them then. It was published
in Sixty Years on the Brazos by Dr. John Washington Lockhart.*
Recollections of Scenes and Incidents Connected with the
Early History of Old Washington
From the Brenham Banner,1 July, 1899
FRIEND RANKIN: I was much pleased while reading the last number of the BANNER, especially so in perusing the article headed "At Old Washington." It naturally brought back to mind many scenes and incidents, both dramatic and comic, which transpired in that old historic place many, many years ago. There are few now living who bore witness to the many incidents which were enacted in its early settlement.
In regard to the information furnished you by my friend Frank Brown (who I knew in his early boyhood, and whose father and mother were of the most substantial citizens of the then young town) brings to mind many names of persons who have almost faded from memory, nearly all of whom I knew well. I well remember the old road he speaks of, and there was once a legend that the Mexicans had buried a large treasure somewhere near the crossing of the Brazos in the neighborhood of the old town. A Mr. Richard Slack was, I think, one of the earliest settlers on this road. His residence was on a high rock cliff, where the prairie gathered up to the river bottom. Near the summit of this hill there was quite a curiosity in the nature of a spring; small, though it was clear and inviting to the thirsty traveler, yet its water was so warm that it was unpalatable to the taste. The next settler was John W. Hall; the next Uncle James Gray, whose coffee pot never grew cold; and then Mr. Amos Gates, and near him Dr. Perry. Andrew Robinson was the man who put in the first ferry boat at Washington. He was quite old at the time I saw him last.
The first farm north of Washington was owned by Isaac Conly. My father afterward cleared and settled between Mr. Conly and the town tract, and afterward bought the old Conly farm from Mr. P C. Watson, who had purchased it from Mr. Conly. J. P. Cole settled on Cole's Creek, about four or five miles above Washington on the road to Hidalgo prairie; Col. Josiah Crosby had opened a little farm in the prairie. These were the only settlements that I remember on or near the river at that time. On or near the road to Jacksonville there were only a few settlers, Mr. William Dever and 2 Charles and William Gates. Joe Franklin and Gus Woods owned farms near what is now called Gravall. Mrs. Panker, John Early and his brother, Thomas Early; R. A. Lott and his brother John lived on farms near Doerun; on the road to Independence lived Mr. Merett, Robert Stephenson, Wm. Jackson, Mr. Newman, Mr. Farquhar, James Lynch and Capt. James R. Cook. These are all of the old settlers that I now remember who lived near Washington as early as 1839 who were farmers and stock raisers. There were, doubtless, others but I now fail to recall their names.
In looking over the list of names of the first organized church which has been so well preserved by the Rev. W. G. Wood, of San Antonio, is like removing a screen from a dark chamber which has not been inhabited for many years. The names bring figures to light which have been almost lost to memory, and make them appear almost as real as living organized beings. The great majority of them have crossed "over the river and no doubt are resting in the shade." If ever a class of people deserve reward for heroism, in suffering privation, trials and hardships, the old Texans certainly does [sic]. Yet, in all of their struggles they were cheerful, free and easy almost to a fault. The list of names added to the church on July 24, 1841, were made up mostly of new converts taken in at a protracted meeting carried on in the old Declaration Hall by Rev. W. M. Tryon and Judge R. E. B. Baylor. It was an exciting time and scene; fired by the eloquence of Mr. Tryon, followed by the persuasive speech of Judge Baylor made the call almost irresistible. Over half of the town joined the church at this meeting, which had a good effect on the inhabitants thereof. The old Texans were not angels by any means, but a more honest, honorable, charitable, bold, self-reliant people never lived on this Continent.
Illiteracy was very uncommon among the people; all men, with the exception of three or four known to the writer, were well educated in the English branches of study and could hold their own in trade or traffic with their fellow man. There were a few, however, that could not read or write, among them the famous "Wild Man of the Woods," Moses Evans, who was also an expert in the murder of the King's English. He could not be excelled only by one other in the town; this man was by the name of Delk. On one occasion there had been a heavy washing rain which had gullied Main street considerably. The citizens concluded to turn out and repair it. The evening before the work was to commence some one approached Delk and asked if he would assist. He reply was no, but I will send a prostitute in my place (meaning a substitute). The next morning Pat Lusk came along to do his part of the work with a large garden rake on his shoulder. Hello, says someone, Pat, are you going to work the street with a rake. No, says Pat, I only brought it along to keep Delk's prostitute company. We had 2 another character in the town by the name of Bob Flewry. Mr. Flewry was well educated and sprang from one of the wealthy families of New York City. After coming to Texas he lost his all and sank into poverty. He had been used to high living in his early days and could not forget it in his poverty. His main desire was for pudding, hence his pseudonymous name Pudding. Hence no conversation could be started in his presence without Flewry's bringing in his favorite dish, pudding. On a certain day a man bought a new broad ax and on stepping from the store to the street saw Flewry approaching. Boys, says the owner of the ax, I will bet a treat for the crowd that I get Flewry this time. The bet was immediately taken. By this time Flewry had arrived. The ax was presented and its uses commented on. Flewry reached out, took the ax in hand and remarked, after making a few short cuts in the air, "Boys, I wish I had as much pudding as I could cut up with this ax." Many more comic scenes and anecdotes could be related, but as to the tragic, they had better be hidden in the grave with the actors.
J. W. LOCKHART, M.D.
Chappel Hill, July 6, 1899
*Mrs. Jonnie Lockhart Wallis, in association with Laurance L. Hill, Sixty Years on the Brazos: The Life and Letters of Dr. John Washington Lockhart, 1824-1900 (Waco, Tex., 1967: rep. Texian Press), pp. 66-68.
Notes by Roger Bartlett
2. Bracketed numbers indicate page breaks.