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Sunday, July 22, 2018

A Texas pioneer family


Texas map drawn by Stephen F. Austin in 1822.  (Source)
Click on any image to enlarge.
In 1822, the first of my family arrived in Texas.
His name was Jesse Parker, and he farmed on a Spanish land grant near present-day Huntsville with his first wife, Sarah.
Natives of North Carolina, the couple made their way through the southern states, living for a while in Louisiana, where Jesse served in the War of 1812. Together they had seven children.
When Sarah died, Jesse married Elizabeth Barker in 1829. They, too, would have seven children together. I descend from Jesse and Elizabeth; their grandson was my grandmother's grandfather.
In 1822, when Jesse and Sarah Parker arrived in Texas, Texas was part of Mexico. Spanish rule had ended the year before, in 1821, after many decades of conflict.
Mexican rule in Texas was turbulent and inconsistent. In 1824 a constitution was written for the newly independent Mexico, a document which resembled the U. S. Constitution in many ways, including the idea that the national government would grant powers to the states. The authors of the constitution of 1824 envisioned a republic, an idea which was amended and changed several times.
Texas was not a state by itself; it was part of 'Coahuila and Texas,' and its first capital was Saltillo, which is about 190 miles southwest from Laredo, an almost impossible distance from the early Texas settlers from the United States.
The new government encouraged immigration to Texas, offering land at a nominal price, use of the Gulf ports, and exemption from taxes. It was this immigration policy which attracted the early empresarios, such as Moses Austin and his son, Stephen, as well as Green DeWitt and others.
It was this liberal immigration policy that attracted Jesse and Sarah Parker to Texas.
This policy had two purposes: first, to attempt to halt expansion into Texas by the United States, and second, to defend the region against the various Native American groups who'd lived in Texas for many thousands of years. The settlers and their industry would also be an eventual source of revenue to the new government, but their primary use was as a buffer against incursions.
However, in the mid-1820s the Mexican government came to see this policy had its own problems. Many of the settlers in Texas were bringing ideas of self-governance which threatened rule from Saltillo and Mexico City. The settlers also failed to take seriously their commitments to Mexican laws and customs, such as becoming members of the Catholic church, and learning to speak Spanish.
Then, in 1826 a short-lived rebellion took place near Nacogdoches, when the empresario Haden Edwards declared the area an independent Republic of Fredonia. This rebellion was quickly ended, and other empresarios denounced Edwards, siding with the Mexican government. However, it caused concern to the government authorities, which feared additional immigration would only supply more secessionists, a concern which would be justified by later events.
In 1830 a new immigration policy was enacted which sharply curtailed immigration into Texas. Military bases were planned to stop illegal immigration into Texas. In addition, the colonists were now subject to taxation.
Proceedings of the
Convention of 1832
(Source)
These changes were not welcome, and Texas settlers chose to elect representatives to meet at San Felipe de Austin in what was called the Convention of 1832. Fifty-five delegates, representing sixteen districts, met from October 1 through October 6, 1832. It was the first elected representative council in Texas. My ancestor, Jesse Parker, was elected as one of three representatives of the Sabine District.
San Felipe de Austin is not much more than a dot on the map today, but in 1832 it was the center of politics in Texas. Delegates of the Convention of 1832 elected Stephen F. Austin president of the convention. Other elected delegates included James Kerr, for whom Kerr County and Kerrville are named, as well William H. Wharton. I noticed an advertisement in a newspaper published in September 1, 1832, for a lawyer in San Felipe de Austin named William Barrett Travis, "Attorney & Counsellor at Law." They were all in San Felipe de Austin that autumn.
The proceedings of the convention were published, and in reviewing them I see two things about my ancestor: he was one of the very few delegates not appointed to any committee; and he was among those who voted to request Texas be made its own state, separate from Coahuila. Jesse Parker's other contributions to the convention, if any, were not recorded.
Although the Convention of 1832 was the first elected body in Texas, its resolutions were never actually transmitted to the Mexican government.
Jesse Parker died at their farm near Huntsville in 1849; his widow, Elizabeth, died at their farm in 1898.
Jesse and Elizabeth Parker had a daughter, Rebecca, who was born when Texas was an independent republic. Her son Alonzo was born when Texas was a state, before the Civil War.
My grandmother, Annie Lee, had many memories of her grandfather Alonzo, and told me stories of riding in a wagon from his farm to town to buy groceries. She remembered his practice of putting green tomatoes in the barn and covering them with hay, and enjoying them later after they'd ripened. She remembered he always had popcorn kernels on hand, having grown them in his garden, and whenever she visited he'd make up a big bowl of popcorn for her as a treat.
History is the story of families.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who would like to visit San Felipe de Austin, which is just down IH10, past Sealy.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 21, 2018






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