Friday, July 30, 2010

Chapter 4: The thing most people don't know about Major James Kerr

James Kerr
Some readers have asked if I’m telling the truth about discovering something new about Major James Kerr, for whom Kerrville and Kerr County were named. It’s true. There is something about Major James Kerr that few people in Kerrville know. I have used the past three posts trying to get to the new information, though limitations of space have prevented me (so far) from reporting what I’ve learned.
(This series of articles began after a chance meeting with Walter Womack, a descendent of Major James Kerr, intrigued me because of one small comment Mr. Womack made: “You know,” he told me, “there is one thing few people know about James Kerr.”)
So please be patient with me. I’m getting to it. There is some background information I need to share first – the story of James Kerr and his family. In last week’s column, the Kerrs have decided to move to Texas. Kerr, after resigning from the Missouri state senate, has agreed to become the surveyor for Green DeWitt at his colony on the lower Guadalupe River.
“It was the year 1825 when the Kerrs started for Texas,” writes James Kerr Crain, a descendant of James Kerr, in a 1957 biographical sketch. “In New Orleans James Kerr met the agent of Stephen F. Austin, the ‘Father of Texas’ and received from him a letter of introduction to that great pioneer and leader.”
Crain continues: “I will digress at this point to say that Mr. Kerr was permitted to retain his slaves in Texas on the rather specious … grounds that the Mexican law forbade the importation of ‘American Slaves’ and since the Kerr slaves had lived in Missouri when it was a French Possession, it was decided they were not ‘American Slaves.’
Our community’s namesake owned slaves and brought them here through a loophole in Mexican law. I am not proud of this fact, but I want to report the whole story.
“The little family finally obtained passage in a coastwise packet and landed in Brazoria in the spring of 1825. The hardships of the long journey from Ste. Genevieve and of life in their now surroundings soon exacted a heavy toll, on the 27th of July 9 1825 the young wife and mother died in their temporary camp on the Bernard about four or five mile from Columbia. Her unfortunate husband was absent at the time on a trip to locate a suitable site for their future home in the Green DeWitt Colony.”
So Angeline Caldwell Kerr born in Kentucky, married in Missouri, died in Texas at the tender age of twenty-three, leaving behind three small children, the youngest of whom was not yet one year old.
“Her burial service was read by one of the noblest of the pioneer woman of Texas, Mrs. Mary E. Bell. Her coffin was hollowed from an oak log by faithful slaves. In 1853 her daughter, my grandmother, had the remains removed to the church cemetery in West Columbia and a marble slab placed over them. The inscription upon this slab is worthy of note:
“In Memory of Angeline Caldwell/ Wife of James Kerr, Born in Kentucky, Feb. 6, 1802, and died on June 7, 1825. By Foreign hands thy dying eyes are closed/ By foreign hands thy decent limbs composed/ By foreign hands thy humble grave adorned /By strangers honored and by strangers mourned.
“Thus James Kerr returned to his camp on the Bernard to find his wife in her grave, and the three little children under the care of Mrs. Bell. He had located a home in Texas that only he of the little family would see for many years, and then one only---his little daughter. He set out for his new home with the three young children and his slaves. His home was to be on the bank of the Guadalupe River where now stands the city of Gonzales. The father carried his infant son in his arms on horseback, and in his arms the little fellow died just a few weeks after his mother's death. And the older boy just turned five died three weeks later. So within a few months after reaching [Texas] only the father and the three year old daughter remained of the happy family of five.”
I’ve run out of space again, Gentle Reader. I hope in the next post to get to the new information about Major James Kerr.
Until then, all the best.

You can get email updates once a day when new articles are posted by clicking here. Thanks for your interest, Joe

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