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Autobiography leaves account of McGaffeys
By W.T. Block.
The Beaumont Enterprise, July 19, 2003, p. A-12.
Dateline: NEDERLAND
Mrs. Otis McGaffey was a pioneer resident of Sabine Pass for over 30 years, and her autobiography tells of dozens of hardships and horrors that she endured, including the environment, Civil War and a yellow fever epidemic.
Mary Tomb McCollister was born on March 4, 1822 in Salem, N.Y., where she lived and attended school until age 10. The family moved in 1832 to the frontier outpost of White Pigeon, Mich. At first they traveled in a barge down the Erie Canal to Lake Erie, where they boarded a steamboat for Detroit. She continued her studies in White Pigeon, one of her classmates being Otis McGaffey, whom she married on May 18, 1841.
McGaffey had already made a visit to the Republic of Texas with his father Neal, and both became citizens by taking the oath of allegiance at Beaumont on Dec. 31, 1839. They immediately returned to Michigan; Otis to marry, and each to bring his family to Sabine Pass, which had been founded in 1832 by Otis' uncle, John McGaffey.
The McGaffeys left Michigan by horse and wagon, traveling first to St. Louis, where they boarded a steamboat bound for New Orleans. Upon reaching the Red River, they disembarked and caught another steamboat to Natchitoches, La. Again they traveled by horse and wagon to Texas.
When they reached Sabine Pass, they rented a vacant warehouse, where Otis planned to live and operate a store; there were only four neighbors living nearby. They quickly had their first encounter with "gallinippers" (mosquitoes), which were a threat to man and beast. One wag described the giant alligators, "large as a horse's body," and 15 feet or more long, which sunned themselves beside her kitchen, and thus prevented children from playing outside.
The McGaffeys became the parents of nine children, and for 30 years Otis owned Sabine Pass' leading mercantile and cotton commission business, stocking all the early wares needed to sustain the frontier economy, and buying and selling ginned cotton, hides, tobacco and other frontier produce. In 1862, during the Civil War, the family fled to Wiess Bluff during a virulent yellow fever epidemic, but not before three family members died, including Otis' mother Hannah, his daughter Amelia, and his son-in-law, Lt. R.J. Parsons. The family at first attended the Methodist Church from 1848 until around 1870, after which most of them joined the Tremont Baptist Church.
The Sabine Pass Beacon of June 10, 1871 carried the large ad of Otis McGaffey and Co. The firm stocked a large variety of fresh and canned foods, hardware, glassware, ready-made garments and other dry goods, saddlery and all leather goods, farm implements and musical instruments. The writer believes that Otis McGaffey earned a small fortune in gold, shipping cotton aboard blockade runners during the Civil War.
Mary McGaffey wrote that her family had endured 10 hurricanes, two each in 1871 and 1875, during which the house and store floors were always flooded. Fed up with those disasters, which threatened their lives, the McGaffeys sold out in 1875, and moved to Luling, Texas, where daughter Mary Jane Keith owned a store. While an invalid in 1895, Mary McGaffey wrote her long autobiography, prior to her death on March 28, 1896. Otis McGaffey died at age 88 in 1908, and was buried beside his wife in the Luling City Cemetery.
Copyright (c) 2003 Beaumont Enterprise

  
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