Early Settlers of Jasper County
The First to Arrive
Written by Mrs. Charles Martin
Kirbyville Banner, Kirbyville, Texas 75956
Wednesday November 17, 1971
After 1830 immigration to Bevil's Settlement increased. No flood of new settlers poured in but a steady trickle continued to that with five years the "about thirty families" had grown to about one-hundred and forty. To attempt to take note of all these, about some of whom nothing is known, would be of little interest and no profit to the reader.
However, it may be well to look at a dozen or so. Those who came between 1830 and 1833 were: Daniel Donaho, B.F. Jones, William Guthrie, and three sons-in-law---Thomas Tanner, Richard Simmons, and Isaac Winfree (Winfrey)--- Thomas C. Holmes and his son Thomas, Joseph Mott, R.C. Turner, William Williams, and the West's--- Richard and his sons, Jefferson and James.
It is possible that Daniel Donaho belongs in the group who entered between 1828 and 1830. A descendant, Mrs. A.K. Farris of Richards, Texas, says he came to Texas about 1829, but since the first native Texan among his children was born in 1832, it was decided to place him in the post 1830 group. A brother-in-law of Elijah Isaacks, he did not live in Pike County, Mississippi near his sister but in Ouachita Parish in north Louisiana.
Where Donaho at first made his home is not known, but in 1846 his name appears on a list of eligible voters of Precinct 4 in the newly organized Newton County. This precinct covered the southern half of the county from a line drawn between the Bleakwood of Today and the ghost town of Belgrade on the Sabine River.
He may have lived near his son Lewis whose grant and home were between the present Trout Creek Community and Salem. A creek on the east side of Cow Creek was named Donaho for him. The Daniel Donaho grant from the Mexican government was in Liberty not Jasper or Newton Counties, but if he ever lived there no one at present knows about it.
Colonel Samuel S. Lewis, who was born in 1784 in Virginia, went as a young man to Indiana where he remained until about 1825 when he moved his family to Ouachita Parish, Louisiana. In his certificate of character, he states that he came to Texas in March 1832, but that his servants had been in the province since January 1830. This was probably to prepare fields and buildings for the arrival of the family.
The Lewis Plantation was on Indian Creek between the communities of Bevilport and Peachtree, but his post office address was Zavalla in Angelina County. The other part of his grant was east of Cow Creek and south of the Biloxi community. The Convention of 1832 named Lewis to the Subcommittee of Safety, Vigilance, and Correspondence for the Snow River (later Bevil) District, and he represented Jasper County as Senator in the First and Second Congresses of the Republic.
He died February 10, 1838, and was buried in the family cemetery near his home. The title "colonel" was acquired through his participation in the battle of Nacogdoches, but it must have been complimentary rather than military, for, according to George L. Crocket in his "Two Centuries of East Texas" the Texian troops numbered only seventeen.
The eldest of the colonel's three sons, Martin B. Lewis, was born in Indiana, as were all his children. Already the head of a family when he arrived, Martin's league is on the east bank of the Angelina River, adjoining William Jourdan on the north and his father on the west.
A surveyor by profession, he acquired thousands of acres of land, one league of which is the west bank of Cow Creek near Bleakwood. In fact, Singletary Bridge touches his survey. Martin B. Lewis was captain of a cavalry company that had a part in the Siege of Bexar December 5-9, 1835, and he was Jasper County's third chief justice under the Republic.
He was also chief justice at the time of Annexation, and it was he who presided over the organization of Newton County and ordered her first elections. Lewis followed the Gold Rush to California after 1850, but some of his children, already married and settled in their own homes, remained in Texas.
The second son, John T. Lewis, was a second lieutenant in his brother's cavalry company during the Siege at Bexar. His grant of land is east of Kirbyville in Newton County. The E.O. Siecke Forest covers the lower third of the league.
Today many of John T. Lewis's descendants live in the Bleakwood area. The youngest son of Colonel Lewis, William McFarland, was named for his father's old friend and business associate, the alcalde of Ayish Bayou District, and was known as McF. (Mack F.) and Mack Lewis. His grant of land is located on the Sabine River south of the present town of Bon Wier, adjoining the ghost town of Belgrade on the north.
Mack Lewis and his older brother, Martin B., laid out the town site, Upper Belgrade, in the southeast corner of the former's league, and today the area is still a populous and widespread, though scattered, community bearing the name Upper Belgrade. After the demise of Belgrade, the post office, discontinued about 1936, was moved to Upper Belgrade.
McFarland Lewis moved to Orange County during the 1850's and settled west of Orange. His name, though corrupted in spelling, is remembered in the McLewis (sic) community and school. Benjamin Franklin (B.F.) Jones reached Bevil's settlement in 1831. A native of Georgia, he had lived for a number of years in Mississippi where he met and married Letitia Guthrie. His league, where he lived, is located east of Jasper and John Bevil's grant.
The part of Jones's grant known as the labor (177 acres) is on Cow Creek about five miles northwest of the present town of Newton. Letitia Jones died about 1845 and he moved to the labor. At any rate, he was living there in 1846 when the new county was organized and he was elected its first sheriff. Until his death in 1871 he was in office almost continuously as sheriff, chief justice, and justice of the peace, serving more than one term in each office.
Jones's father-in-law, William Guthrie, came soon afterwards or more probably he was with him, for such was the pattern of emigration from the older states. That is to say, a number of families, relatives, or close friends, moved together. With Guthrie were three other sons-in-law---Thomas Tanner, Richard Simmons, and Isaac Winfree--- and two sons, Pleasant and Finess, both unmarried.
Within a few years Guthrie died, and title to his grant was issued to his widow, Nancy. It is located about six miles northwest of the present town of Deweyville. Nancy Guthrie never lived there. Tanner's league was southwest of and included a part of the town of Roganville, but he moved to the Newton area between 1850.
Richard Simmon's league is in the northeastern part of Newton County. In fact, the town of Burkeville is in the southern part of the survey. Isaac Winfree's grant is in the southwestern part of Jasper County immediately north of Richardson's Bluff (Evadale). Tanner and Simmons remained in Newton County but by 1840 Winfree's name cannot be found on the tax roll of any county in Texas.
He had taken an active part in community affairs, however, and on November 26, 1835, the General Council appointed him one of three commissioners to organize the militia in the Municipality of Bevil. Guthrie's sons, Pleasant and Finess, received grants as single men. These grants are located north of the present town of Bon Weir and southeast of Burkeville respectively. What became of the two young settlers is not known. It may have been noted that after 1829 people began to move into the eastern part of Bevil's Settlement. In 1832 a colorful character, Thomas C. (Goldie) Holmes, came there to live. A native of North Carolina, as was Stephen Williams, he too had served in the American Revolutionary War and had been am express rider in Pinckney's regiment under General Francis Marion.
In 1830 he was living in Hancock County, Mississippi, and two years later, although past seventy, he left for a new home in Texas. A man of some means, he was known as Goldie because he used that medium of exchange almost exclusively in his business transactions. Holmes's grant was in two partsPone joined B.F. Jones on the east, the other is located west of the present community of Farrsville. His home was in the latter tract.
His eldest son, Thomas, came here from Mississippi a little later. His grant was also in two partsPone on Britton Hall's east boundary line, the other adjoining his father's Farrsville survey. He made his home on the former tract, which was inside Newton County when Jasper County was divided.
Thomas Holmes, known as Major Holmes, represented the Municipality of Bevil at the Consultation and was the first chief justice (county justice) of Newton County. One of the first matters to receive the attention of the General Council was the organization of a militia. To this end, in each municipality two judges and three commissioners were named. Judges for the Municipality of Bevil were George W. Smyth and Joseph Mott. The latter, a native of South Carolina, perhaps should have been included in the 1830 group of settlers, but to date there is no certainty about the time of his arrival in Texas.
Although his land grant is in the present county of Sabine, a fact that points to early entry into the province, he lived in Bevil's Settlement where he farmed and operated a ferry across the Neches River between Bevilport and Fort Teran. It is not known whether the office to which he was named carried over into the county organization, for no record is available.
The earliest, in the Texas State Archives department of the State Library, is dated February 4, 1839, at which time Mott resigned as chief justice (county judge) of Jasper County, and John Bevil was elected to succeed him. Sometime in the 1840s Mott moved his family across the Neches River to Tyler County where he died in 1850. His eldest son, Benjamin, carried on the family business.
Another settler whose name is not to be found in the Mexican census of 1835 was Ruffin Cornelius Turner, an omission not easy to understand since he lived near the center of population only about ten miles southeast of the Bevil Home. What is more, he was a son-in-law of James Conn, one of Bevil's nearest neighbors.
Since Turner's first child was born in Texas in 1833, according to the 1850 census, it may be presumed that the family was here by that year or earlier. Application for his grant of land as a Zavalla colonist was made in January, 1835, thus giving proof of his presence prior to that date. His league, title to which was issued June 23, 1835, is located on Thickety Creek southeast of Jasper and adjoins the Britton Hall grant on the south.
Today a part of the town of Roganville lies along the southern edge of the survey. Turner built a substantial home in the southwest corner of his league near the beautiful Indian Springs, and today the house, begun in 1838, still stands. It had been occupied continuously and maintained in a good state of repair so that it is as sound as when erected. In 1966 the Texas State Historical Survey Committee awarded the structure a medallion, naming it one of the historic homes in Texas. It is also included, with a photograph, in "Texas Homes in the Nineteenth Century," a handsome volume compiled by the School of Architect of the University of Texas and the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art of Fort Worth.
To add to the already considerable interest in the old Turner place are two trees, one of them the national champion crepe myrtle, the other, an enormous Eastern Red cedar, has been National Champion since 1965. Recently another very large tree of the same species was located in South Carolina, but whether it will displace the Turner tree has not been decided. Owner of this old home is Mrs. W.H. Bridges of Roganville, who lives in the delightful place.
Ruffin Turner was another good citizen that Texas lost to California during the Gold Rush, having gone there to live after 1850. The eldest son, Aaron, either did not go with the family or returned later, for in the 1860s he was living in Orange County.
The next settler of this 1831-1833 group is William Williams, another immigrant from St. Helena Parish, Louisiana. He was a son of old Stephen Williams and a brother-in-law of Michael Dailey. His grant of land is located in north Newton County in that part known as The Survey where he lived before moving to his father's home southeast of Jasper. The house was on the old Jasper-Belgrade Road, a good location for a blacksmith shop, and Williams practiced that trade for many years. He was also a substantial farmer and owner of ten slaves. In 1835 he was alcalde of the municipality, justice of the peace after Jasper County was organized, and deputy collector of custom's during the first years of the republic. He died in 1871 and is buried in the family cemetery located near the Centennial Marker erected in 1836 to honor his father. A son who had the same name is buried in Homer Cemetery in northwest Jasper County.
At this time a third William Williams, a saddler by trade, also lived in Bevil's settlement. So far as can be determined the two families were not related. The grant of this Williams, Abstract 45, is located in Jasper County south of Magnolia Springs about three miles.
Another family of the 1831-1833 group about whom we have information is that of Richard West and his sons, Jefferson and James. The oldest West, a widower in 1835, had lived in Mississippi before going to Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, and then he came to Texas. Where he made his first home is uncertain, though it may have been in northwest Jasper County, but his son Jefferson, at an early date, was living at the mouth of the Trout Creek in what is now Newton County.
Unlike most colonial settlers the West's do not seem to have been land hungry. As a matter of fact, neither of them so much as applied for what could have been theirs. Both the father and older men, as heads of families, were eligible for a league and labor each, but no early grants in either name can be found of record.
Jefferson, moreover, was entitled to a bounty grant for his military service in the Texas Revolution, but he did not apply for it. The younger son, as a single man, received a grant in two parts, one north of the present Bleakwood; the other was the tract where his older brother lived. At one time Jefferson went so far as to have his league surveyed for him but he did not take the steps necessary to complete his title.
A plat and description made by the surveyor, William McFarland, show it was located between Trout Creek and the ghost town Call. Apparently this family preferred to purchase the land needed for farming and to allow their livestock to use the open range, a custom followed generally in SouthEast Texas until recent years. Two other West families, those of Gadi and Berry, who lived in northeast Newton County, may have been related to Richard but no positive information is available.