Friday, July 30, 2010

About James Kerr's diary

James Kerr's diary
It’s a small leather-bound book, about the size of a checkbook, though thicker, that I found at the Texas State Archives, and it contains the jottings of James Kerr, the man for whom our county is named. Kerr was a prominent member of the political class during the Texas Revolution, and this memorandum book is filled with interesting references to Texas history – written as the events unfolded.
Major James Kerr was born in Boyle County, Kentucky, on September 24, 1790, one of ten children born to a circuit-riding Baptist preacher and a woman named Patience. He came to Texas after some time in Missouri, where he served as a sheriff, state representative, and state senator. Winning that last office, the seat in the state senate, was one of the reasons he came to Texas: the man he defeated happened to be his father-in-law, and this caused some discord in the family. Soon after the election, Kerr and his young family headed to Texas, a part of the DeWitt Colony.
Tragedy struck the family on their journey; Kerr’s wife, Angeline, and two of their three children died on the journey. The only survivors were Kerr and his daughter Mary Margaret. This was in 1825.
In October 1826 Kerr built a log fort known as ‘the Old Station’ on the Lavaca river, and remained in that area for the rest of his life.
The small memorandum book I found in the Archives is dated oddly – it appears to be dated 1835, but a plausible argument could be made that the date was originally 1834. It’s my opinion the book was started in l834 and the date changed.
On its first page Kerr recorded a Bible verse: Psalms: XLIX v:20 “Man that is in honour and understandeth not is like the beasts that perish.”
On the inside cover page and the first page are all sorts of scribblings, from the Bible verse to surveying information, sketches of several livestock brands. These notes are written in both pen and pencil.
The most poignant note on the inside cover tells the sad story of Jack:
“Jack was drowned in LaVaca December 23rd on Tuesday returning from Guadalupe – found January 1st, 1835 Interred 2nd day in the evening.”
There is another reference to a “Jack” in the book, though they can’t be the same person.
The entry for March 3rd, 1836 reads
“Left Lavaca for fear of Indians and Mexicans. Cash on hand $172.00. Cash recd of T Davis $20. Cash recd of cattle for horse $20. [Total] 212.00. Sold Jack for $110.00. [Total] $322.00. One $5 note. [Total] $327.00”
This entry was near the time of the fall of the Alamo which was noted in Kerr’s book in July. “Memorandum. Fall of the Alamo 6th of March 1836. Col Fannin left Goliad on Saturday the [illegible] day of March [illegible] with Urea 20 and was masacreed [sic] on the 27.”
On July 28th the entry reads “Michel Andrews came in 5 days from Bastrop & informs that about 3 weeks ago the Indians burnt the town and destroyed the improvements.”
There are many entries like this. The Texas frontier was harsh.
Historic persons are mentioned on the pages, from President Burnet to “the spy” Deaf Smith.
Until next week, all the best.

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