Presbyterian minister Amos Roark took a census of the new Capitol City, prior to Austin being incorporated on December 27, 1839. It was more of a marketing plan for the Presbytery than an official census. Regardless of his motive it gives a good description of Austin and its earliest settlers, during the Republic of Texas.
Rev. Roark counted 75 families: 5 with no religious affiliation, 10 Baptist, 10 Catholic, 11 Episcopalians, 10 Lutherans, 17 Methodists and 12 Presbyterians. Only the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches were finished; other congregations worshipped in members homes, some held services at the wood planked capitol building on a hill at the northwest corner of Hickory (now Colorado) and East Eighth.
He tallied 856 full time residents; 550 adult men, 61 women of which 6 were young maidens, the rest children. The minister targeted 20 gamblers and 4 lawyers in need of salvation. He noted there were 6 inns, 6 gaming houses, 9 saloons and a billiard parlor.
There was little night life as few could afford candles at nine dollars a pound. Venison, turkey and buffalo meat were abundant at the Eberly Inn. Paying $75.00 a month room and board at the Eberly was Senator Anson Jones of Brazoria County and Lorenzo Van Cleve. Both bachelors served in the Texas Army during the revolution. Each bought city lots nearby to build their home and business; Jones an MD, Van Cleve a master craftsman, would make furniture for Dr. Jones’ new home on Pecan Street.
The doctor was engaged to Mary McCory; Van Cleve was courting 19 year old Margaret Smith. They would be the second and third couple to marry of the six recorded during 1840. Mary McCory-Jones gave birth to Sam Houston Jones on February 26, 1841. The boy was named Sam Houston Jones at birth, but after a fall out with President Sam Houston, the parents changed the boy’s name to Samuel Edward Jones. Margaret Smith-Van Cleve had Elnora Van Cleve on April 14, 1841. They were the first recorded births in Austin.
Jacob M. Harrell, early settler, was born in Tennessee in 1804. He married Mary McCutcheon and they had four kids. Harrell came to Texas in 1833. In 1836, he was one of five pioneers living at the settlement of Reuben Hornsby on the Colorado River. The Harrell family was one of the first to move to Waterloo (later Austin) in 1838. Harrell was reported to have been living near Capitol Hill when Mirabeau B. Lamar first visited the Austin area on a hunting trip. A historical marker near the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin indicates the site of his home. About 1839, Harrell established a butcher pen in Austin. In 1840, he was a member of an Austin vigilance committee and in June 1843, he represented Austin in a convention at La Grange, Fayette County, called to express dissatisfaction with the republic’s policy in the west. In March 1844, Harrell was a commissioner to sell shares in the Colorado Navigation Company. He was elected mayor of Austin in January 1847. In 1848, he moved to Round Rock, where he was listed as a blacksmith on the 1850 census. He died on August 23, 1853, at his home on Brushy Creek.
This information was taken from the New Handbook of Texas, Volume 3, Page 469.
Four generations of the Thomas W. Smith family came to Austin during the spring of 1839. Family members were his mother Ann Rodgers, his wife Rebeckah. His oldest son James W. Smith and his wife Angelina brought their three children, a son Fayette, daughters Caroline and Lorena. Four of Thomas and Rebeckah’s grown children; William, Harvey, Fenwick and Margaret, all unwed, completed the family of twelve.
Thomas was appointed the first county treasurer; his son James the county judge when Travis County was organized January 25, 1840. Judge James Smith was killed one year later by Comanche Indians just west of his Pecan Street (now W. 6th Street) home, his son Fayette was captured. Fenwick, the judge’s younger brother, witnessed and escaped to report the attack. Family and neighbors searched in vain for nine year old Fayette. As his grandfather Thomas searched, he too was killed just outside of Austin by Indians on August 6, 1841. Rebeckah lost her husband, a son and a grandson to the Indians in eight months.
A document dated May 9, 1840 signed by Thomas Smith gives some indication of Indian problems in the new county. He wrote a requisition for six kegs of gun powder and five bars of lead, to be delivered to Captain John Holliday at the falls of the Brazos. Today that location is north east of Marlin, which was a part of Travis County during the Republic of Texas.
Rebeckah returned to Alabama and died there in 1856. Thomas and Rebeckah Smith’s children and grandchildren stayed to take part in Austin’s future.
Announcing a new category for the Westward Sagas; twice weekly blog published every Tuesday and Friday. I will be writing short vignettes of the earliest known pioneers of Austin and Travis County during the Republic of Texas. A census taken in December of 1839 accounted for 856 people in the new town of Austin. Men numbered 550, woman 61, children 100, and slaves 145.
I have identified about 75 families who resided in the capitol city from October 1839 until February 19, 1846 when the Republic of Texas ceased to exist. I intend to share with you their stories, based on newspaper accounts, letters and Republic of Texas history. These first footers stories will be published periodically in no particular order. If you know of a good story of an early Austin/Travis County Pioneer, please share it with the Westward Sagas website. Next Tuesday’s blog will be about the first Travis County Treasurer, Thomas W. Smith.