Family History by Robert Monroe Fleming (Sr.)

Notes on Fanily History by Iva Causey Fleming
(Part 15)

Transcribed by Robert M. Fleming Jr.

VI - My Father and Mother's life in Texas. At the time of the introduction of the Original three hundred damilies under Austin's first contract, property in slaves was recognized and regulated by the laws in force in Texas. In the formation of the Mexican Republic the province of Coahuila and the province of Texas were united to form one state. And empowered to organize a government and adopt a consitution. The State was organized and the constitution adopted in 1825. But the constitution did not go into effect until 1827. It provided that from and after it's promulgation in the capital in each district, on one should be born a slave in the state. The State Congress also, in 1827, passed decrees in reference to slaves then in the State. In July, 1829, an expedition of four thousand men under General Baradas was sent out from Havana with a view to re-establish the authority of Spain in the Republic of Mexico. The expedition landed at Tampico and produced such alarm in Mexico that the Federal Congress gave to President Guerrero unlimited powers. He determined to send secret agent to Boyer, President of Hayti to obtain his aid in exciting the slaves of Cuba to revolt. Preparatory to this step, and acting under the decree appointing him Dictator, Guerrero proceeded by decree bearing date July 29, 1829, to abolish slavery in Mexican Republic. The American colonists, how ever, still continued the practice of introducing their slaves under the apellation of servants. Austin, fearful of the effects of the Decree of Abolition on his colony, applied to President Guerrero who agreed to modify it in favor of the Americans, the colonists. Guerrero administered, however it was suddenly closed by his tragic death. And Bustamente, who there up on became undisputed master of Mexico, exhibited a narrow policy in regards to the Texas colonists. On April 6, 1830, he issued a decree substantially forbidding people of the United States from settling as colonists in Texas and suspended all colony contracts conflicting with this prohibition. By the same degree the further introduction of slaves was forbidden. With a view to the enforcement of this policy, custom houses were established on the Texas coast at several points. One of which was Velasco. Each in charge of a military officer in command of troops deemedadequate to support his authority. Colonel Dominic Ugartachea was stationed at Velasco, the port at the mouth of the Brazos. in 1829 Mr William Washington McKenzie visited his sister, Madam Bell, at her home on the Columbia, where he spent several months. And became aquainted with the condition of Austin's colony. And the practical effect which the new laws in reference to slaves was having and likely to have of the prosperity on the settlement.

It has been mentioned in a former chapter that my Father visited Texas in 1831 in response to an invitation from his Uncle David McCormick to come and live with him and his adopted son. After my Father had renewed his aquaintance with his Uncle and had become personally familiar with the features of the country and the relations of the settlers, he returned to Kentucky to make arrangements for his permanent removal. The most important of these arrangements was to wed Mr Mc Kenzie's sister, Louisa. My Father had inherited from his Father one negroe slave who was now a young man of good character and condition, as help to a farmer and his family. Not withstanding Bustamente's decree and the stringent regulations to enforce it, negroe slaves were from time to time being taken into Texas almost freely by land over the Louisiana border. And under different devices by sea. From New Orleans to points on the Texas coast. having but one slave my Father disposed to part with him at his native home. Rather than to take the trouble and hazard of getting him through to Texas. A neighboring planter, whom the slave knew and was willing should become his master, proposed brother was taken into consultation on the subject and amongst other things said,"Mac, you have never used to be your own boy, self, for every turn. Be sure to take Sam with you. And do not fail to get him to your home in Texas." My parents were to go by water. They took a steamboat at Smithland, at the mouth of the Cumberland River, which took them to New Orleans. From that city they were to go by mail-vessel, on the Gulf, to Velasco. Sam accompanied them as far as New Orleans. But when they arrived at that city and learned that Colonel Ugartechea had been stimulated to such vigilance in enforcing Bustamente's edicts that captains of vessels from New Orleans to Texas would not take Negroes servants on board. There was no safe or satisfactory or safe opportunity to send the slave up Red River to Natchitoches and then overland to the point of destination on the Bernard. Sam was there fore sent back to Kentucky planter and my parents became non-slaveholders.

Early in 1833 Mr John Sweeney brought in overland from Tennessee a large gang of Negroes and began clearing off the forest and and establishing a plantation on the Breen league. Just back of the David McCormick league. And about three miles Southwest from Uncle David's home on the Bernard. It has already been mentioned that Uncle David received my parents as his own children. That he built for himself and them a better house than the one he had before occupied. And did everything a Father could do to make them confortable and happy. When, how ever, they had tried it for two years, they found, as all who try it will find, that no house is large enough for two families. They were entitled to receive and did receive, as their head right grant from the Government a league and a labor of land the same amount of land that Uncle David had received and then held. He reluctantly consented to the suggestion that "Louisa ought to have a home of her own". But he insisted that no house was large enough for two families, aleague of land (4428 acres) was large enough and asked them to say how much of his league, and what particular part of it would meet their new home there on. They chose five hundred acres (500) in the Southwest corner of the league adjoining Mr Sweeney's plantation of the Southwest, extending toward the river to within about a mile of Uncle David's house. So as to include a good building site and a lot of peach-break land in the Northeast corner of the 500 acre tract. This point was out of the sweep of travel that thronged the public roads. Which crossed the river and each other at the McCormick Ferry. During the year 1834, about 10 acres of the peach-brake was cleared for culture to accomodate the young family. My Father, like Uncle David, hired white single men, one or more according to his need and the supply to help him in the field work. And to help my Mother with the children and the house work he hired a Negroe girl named Ardeny who fourty years afterwards when she had become free came to my house in Brazoria to see my Mother. And to talk over the early times when they as mistress and servant, were raising "Mars Andrew" and to see"Mars Andrew's children."

During the winter of 1834-35 my Father got out material for a log house similar to the one Uncle David built in 1833. At the close of the cultivating season of 1835 he began to erect this house. And except as to chinking and painting the cracks and building the chimney had finished it. When he was stricken down with his first and most serious sickness. He was attacked with congestive fever and had a life and death spell, in which life and death waged a grievous and uncertain battle for a period of eight to ten days. He was attended by Dr Anson Jones, then a prominent politician. And afterwards the last President of the Republic of Texas. But as learned, as skillful and as successful in the practice of medicine as he was in the practice of statescraft. In the fall of that year when his health was fully restored and his little crop gathered and disposed of he (Father) received from Mr Sweeney a proposition to take charge of the force and field work on his plantation. The terms offered were liberal. The offer was made at a time when Mr Sweeney and my Father had met in the neighborhod. Either at Mr Sweeney's house or at some other place away from my Father's home. His answer was, "I must sleep on it, Mr Sweeney and consult Louisa". When in the evening of that day, the children had gone to sleep and the young parents were settled by their own hearth in their little house he with his book, and she with her needle work, he closed his book with a questioning look for her response as he told her of Mr Sweeney's propostion. When he had finished she said,"I knew before we were married that we were to live here in a new settlement. Subject to many privations. I have never murmured or felt a shadow of regret. We have not endured more than I expected and contracted for. But I did not contract to be or expect to be an over seer's wife". She did not say she would not but I suspect she looked it. Her response thrilled him with pride and joy.

He was as unfit to be, and as unwilling to be, an overseer's as she was to an overseer's wife. But under the circumstances it was right and kind to let her choose. Mr Sweeney's proposition was declined with respectful thanks. And the transaction was the beginning and basic of a friendship between themen and their families that was beautiful and lasting. Mr Sweeney and his family filled so large a space in the life of my parents in Texas that more extended mention of them is meet. In his youth he received the ordinary log cabin school house education and was taught to work in wood and iron. Early in life, in middle Tennessee, he set up and carried on the business of blacksmith and wheel wright. Doing all ordinary blacksmith work and making and repairing road and farm wagons. For a time he had but one man slave whom after their immigration I knew in Texas as old Uncle Gravy. This slave worked with his master in the shop in those early years. Later Mr Sweeney enlarged his business built and operated public grist mills and cotton gins. Owning and running as many as five corn grinding mills and cotton ginning establishments in different localities, at one time. He bought seed cotton from small farmers in all the region around those gins. He developed and displayed capacity to conduct large business ventures. He grew wealthy. He had a large family of children. He informed himself of the situation in Texas. Wether by a personal visit of inspection I do not know, now remember. If I ever knew. And in 1833 as already noticed came in with a large gang of negroes and train of wagons and work animals. He found in the second tier of leagues West of the Bernard land that his judgement approved. It was embraced in grants already made to Polly and Chance, to Breen and to Keep. But he bought it of them and located his head right lands else where. His wife, the Mother of his children, came with him. They had seven sons and two daughters. The youngest son, Franklin, was a few years my senior. The youngest daughter Sarah was about my age. The oldest son William, was about the age of my Father possibly a few years younger. The next oldest son, John, was born in March 1816 being ten years younger than my Father. The oldest son had received a academic if not college education. At the time I recollect to have first seen him, Wiiliam was married and had two children. He was a man strikingly like his father. Of large size and fine presence, with easy manners. Attractive to a young boy. And had more taste for town life, books and or strangers. Only in his own family and on his own inspiration. He died when I was only seven or eight years old. Six or eight years after the death of the oldest son, Mr Sweeney's fourth son, Lafayette was killed by the accidental discharge of his gun as he sat it down on returning from hunting. The oldest daughter, Miss Sophia, in 1838 married the Hon Edward L Holmes, then a member of the Texas Congress. This was the first wedding I remember to have attended. My Mother and my two sisters went some days in advance, that my Mother might assist in directing and making the preparations for the great function. My Father and I went on the wedding day. All of our world had been invited and was there. Adequate preparations had been made for feasting and dancing. It was a matter of necessity, if not choice, to "dance all night till broad daylight". And who could provide beds for so great a company. Mr Holmes died within a few years and Mrs Holmes returned to her Father's house. Remarried Mr John McGrew. The youngest daughter died before reaching womanhood. The five remaining sons were settled off successively on good plantations carved out of the large body of land their Father had pruchased. and with a good and growing force of slaves the brothers maintained an amiaable rivalry with with their Father and each other in growing crops and in dispensing hospitality. To both of which the Father was a model of the best type. He died in 1854 and Mrs McGrew got the old home. After which her husband and family resided there. And the surviving children conducted their six adjoining plantations in the old affluent style. Until"the Flood" came and broke up the old plantation ship into total wreck. The land remained and is still held and used by their descendents. Or by some of them. But the fashion of the antideluvian world has passed away. Of the six children who survived Mr Sweeney only the oldest son, John, now just entering his eighty-second year remains. He still resides with his family at the place just settled by Samuel Chance. The man who gave his name to the prairie on which place Mr Sweeney has lived for more than fifty years. His farm embraced all the land that his plantation formerly covered. And still does. He has it all worked as well as he cqn with free negroes. There is no perceptible change in the mansion house. Nor in the hospitality dispensed there.That is much the same as ever. I visited them in 1894, and saw the same abundance of home comforts and enjoyed the same hospitality as in the good old times. But all else bore little resemblance to what had once been the subject of praise to all who saw.

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©2009 Robert M. Fleming Jr.

This page was last revised on 24 September 2009.