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The First Wedding

THE bank of the Neches was the scene of Beaumont's first romance and marriage, Miss Mary Tevis, oldest daughter of Noah and Nancy Tevis and Gilbert Stephenson plighting their troth November 27, 1832, in the old Tevis home located just above the Southern Pacific bridge.

The guests gathered there on that wedding day 93 years ago glimpsed through the tangled growth the gleam of water the same as now, but how different was everything else. Now there are ships, wharves, homes, paved streets and automobiles. Then there was an impenetrable forest for a sky line.

Within that fastness across the Neches river, the groom had hacked out a home for his bride. And it takes no great flight of fancy to picture the courtship between the pioneer girl and boy, with true love overcoming the hardships of those crude days when mere existence proved a continual battle.

Don't you know they must have signaled each other with flaming pine knots dark nights, or given bird calls or dreamed over an agreed-upon star when the river was at its flood and no pioneer Leander dared to brave the Texas Hellespont. And it takes no great flight of fancy either to picture that wedding scene.

024-thu
Mary Tevis
Gilbert Stephenson

A log house with mud chimney was the setting for Beaumont's first marriage. Huge logs blazed on the hearth, dispelling the November chill and throwing into relief the rugged features and horny hands of the pioneer men and women assembled to wish the young couple happiness. Homespun frock and sunbonnet, long hickory shirt and coon skin cap were features of the wedding costumes of bride and groom, and their wedding guests were similarly attired as pioneering permitted little variety in dress.

Afterward there was a feast and the Tevis table groaned under its weight of venison, bear steaks, wild turkeys and ducks right out of Mr. Tevis's own back yard and the health of the bride was pledged in Neches river water.

Up to this point, the pioneer wedding differed in no vital particular from one solemnized here in 1925. But very different were the preliminary proceedings.

At that time there was no law in Texas for the marriage of people, except the laws of the Catholic church on the subject, and the ceremony had to be performed by an ordained priest of that church. There was then no church here of any protestant denomination; no civil officer with authority to marry a couple as the law now is, and there were no priests, except possibly one at San Antonio. So it was a rule of necessity that couples had to marry by civil agreement or a common law contract.

But the common law as we have it now was not here. So there was established a policy of marrying by bond, a written contract to marry according to law when there was a law provided for marriage and someone authorized to perform the ceremony. When or where this policy was inaugurated is not known, but it was first introduced about 1830, so far as there are any records.

The parties entering into the contract bound themselves in various sums of money or property, to be married by a priest or by an officer of the law, the old records showing contracts from $5,000 to $12,000 for marriage bonds. Many of these on record tell interesting stories, several of the bonds being forfeited for failure of one of the parties to live up to the contract. In one instance a bond of $5,000 was forfeited by the husband and paid to the wife and heirs.

Here is a copy of a contract between Thomas H. Brenan, clerk of the local court, and Jane McFerron; July 16, 1835.

Thomas H. Brenan and Jane McFerron to Thomas H. Brenan and Jane McFerron:

"In the town of Liberty on the 16 day of July, 1835, and before William Duncan, second judge and notary public ex. of the jurisdiction of Liberty acting in the absence of first judge of said jurisdiction and the instrumental witnesses whose names are at the end of this instrument, come Thomas H. Brenan and Jane McFerron both of this jurisdiction of Liberty whom I know and to whose acts I give full faith and credit, who acknowledge themselves bound the one to the other in the sum of ten thousand dollars good and lawful money of the Republic of Mexico to the payments of which they bind themselves, their persons and property presents and future, conditioned: That whereas the aforesaid Thomas H. Brenan and Jane McFerron have mutually agreed to join together in the bonds of matrimony which they believe to be a rite established by God and sanctioned by all civilized nations. Now if they, the said Thomas Brenan and Jane McFerron shall at the first convenient opportunity have their marriage confirmed agreeable to the rites and ceremonies of the Holy Church then this bond be void; otherwise to remain in full force and virtue of all of which they acknowledged and signed before me, the instrumental witnesses being Milton A. Hardin and William Kibbee together with my assistance with whom I sign to authenticate my act."

When the Texans gained independence from Mexico and established the republic of Texas, the couples married by bond were married under the new law, and their licenses and marriages recorded. The first marriage recorded was that of Gilbert Stephenson and Mary Tevis, and the marriage license reads: "Whereas Gilbert Stephenson has this day applied to me for license to marry Mary Tevis, at the same time stating that he was married by bond on the 27th day of November, 1832, by G. A. Patillo, and that he wished to have said marriage confirmed according to law. You are therefore authorized and licensed to celebrate the rites of matrimony between said Gilbert Stephenson and Mary Tevis according to law. -- In witness whereof I have here unto set my hand this 4th day of November, 1837."

Gilbert Stephenson, so far as history or tradition goes, was not only the first man to marry in Beaumont, but was also the first white man to walk over or see the place where the city now stands.

On Christmas eve, 1876, Thomas J. Russell and C. C. Caswell were standing on the platform in front of the Caswell store in Cypress street when an old man came slowly along. His appearance indicated one who had passed his three score years and ten, and who had been used to life and labor on a farm. His face was kindly, intelligent, and honest.

A norther was blowing and a cold mist falling. The stranger stepped on the platform in the shelter and remarked that the weather was too inclement for him to go home that evening. He lived across the river in Orange county about four miles.

This was Gilbert Stephenson, who explained to the men: "This is the first Christmas eve for over 40 years that I have not been with my family. I have never failed to be with my wife on Christmas eve until now. I want to go home this evening; my family is looking for me. But I can't go out in this weather. It's too far for me to walk through the swamp."

The story, as told by Mr. Stephenson himself to Judge T. J. Russell, who in turn told it to the writer, states that he arrived on the east bank of the Neches river on Christmas eve, 1824, and camped for the night. He had his gun, his shot pouch, powder horn and piece of punk. His camping place was about one hundred yards from where his house afterwards stood, and where he took his young bride to live on Christmas eve, 1832.

Mr. Stephenson was born and reared in east Louisiana, and when he started out west to hunt a new home, crossed the Sabine river above where the city of Orange now flourishes, at a place subsequently known as Le Due's ferry, and cam e in afoot to his camping place, passing north of Aroya Adams and Aroya Vaca, above where there was water. But then neither of these aroyas, now known as Adams bayou and Cow bayou, had a name, and there was not a single white man nor Indian living in the territory known as Orange county. There were no cattle, nor other stock. It was the primitive wild of nature.

He crossed the Neches about the mouth of Beard's bayou on a raft of small logs, hastily constructed by himself and came up along the bluff shore to the place where the city of Beaumont stands. Then he went on to Liberty where there was a settlement, and down to Moss bluff on the Trinity river and on to Anahuac on Galveston bay. He traveled about over the country as far as the Brazos river, but finally returned and made his settlement where he first camped. In 1835 he located his headright league there, and his descendants still occupy the place.

During the eight years between the time when he first camped on the bluff east of Beaumont across the river and his marriage Stephenson cleared up a field for crops, built a house, bought some cattle and horses and certainly these eight years were not idle ones. Bare necessities of living placed heavy demands on the pioneers. There were no stores for the sale of goods, groceries, clothes, and no postoffice. The only news received was when some settler came in from the old states, who could tell who was president of the United States, governor of Louisiana or Mississippi, how the people were getting along. Occasionally a man would bring in a newspaper.

Sometimes a small sail boat from New Orleans would come along and trade up and down the river, and among the chief objects of trade were powder and lead, and fish hooks. Small crops of corn were raised. To make bread it would be grated or parched before the fire. Roasting ears with the shucks on were roasted in the hot ashes, or boiled and made into hominy. Hunting and fishing furnished much of the food in those day of life in the primitive wilderness. But the people were always hopeful of the future.

The story of Gilbert Stephenson, his life, trials, hardships, loves, problems and ambitions, is the story of all the pioneers and of what they braved in the building of the nation.

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