The Hawkins Ranch in Texas: From Plantation Times to the Present

The Hawkins Ranch in Texas: From Plantation Times to the Present

by Margaret Lewis Furse
     
 

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In 1846, James Boyd Hawkins, his wife Ariella, and their young children left North Carolina to establish a sugar plantation in Matagorda County, in the Texas coastal bend.
In The Hawkins Ranch in Texas: From Plantation Times to the Present, Margaret Lewis Furse, a great-granddaughter of James B. and Ariella Hawkins and an active partner in today’s

Overview

In 1846, James Boyd Hawkins, his wife Ariella, and their young children left North Carolina to establish a sugar plantation in Matagorda County, in the Texas coastal bend.
In The Hawkins Ranch in Texas: From Plantation Times to the Present, Margaret Lewis Furse, a great-granddaughter of James B. and Ariella Hawkins and an active partner in today’s Hawkins Ranch, has mined public records, family archives, and her own childhood memories to compose this sweeping portrait of more than 160 years of plantation, ranch, and small-town life.

Letters sent by the Hawkinses from the Texas plantation to their North Carolina family in the mid-nineteenth century describe sugar making, the perils of cholera and fevers, the activities of children, and the “management” of slaves. Public records and personal papers reveal the experience of the Hawkins family during the Civil War, when J. B. Hawkins sold goods to the Confederacy and helped with Confederate coastal defenses near his plantation. In the 1930s, the death of their parents left the ranch in the hands of four sisters, at a time when few women owned and ran cattle operations.

The Hawkins Ranch in Texas: From Plantation Times to the Present offers a panoramic view of agrarian lifeways and how they must adapt to changing times.

Editorial Reviews

Lewis L. Gould

"in the expert hands of Margaret Lewis Furse, The Hawkins Ranch in Texas offers to her fortunate readers a well-researched account of more than 160 years of a working ranch, a fascinating ttale of an engaging lively family, and a warm personal memoir brimming with insights. Getting to know the Hawkins clan is a treat!" -- Lewis L. Gould, Author of Edith Kermit Roosevelt: Creating the Modern First Lady
Paula Mitchell Marks

“I’m impressed with the author’s style. She is consistently precise and clear through the telling of a complicated story with multiple players, and she drops in lines of such beauty and insight—for example, the Periodic Table of Elements as taking ‘unruly and savage, beautiful and indefinable’ nature and imposing on it a ‘rational order.’ Again, this is a memorable book. I feel that I have had the advantage of sitting with the author on a front porch, ice tea in hand, as she brings her heritage to life and shares her wisdom.”—Paula Mitchell Marks, Professor of American Studies, St. Edwards University
Frances B. Vick

“Furse uses letters, research, oral history, and her own experiences to tell the story of the old ranch, which makes for a very interesting, well written story. The value of a descendant involved in the ranch telling the story, warts and all, makes for a good narrative. It is a very compelling story and of course one that has never been told of this particular ranch as far as I know.”—Frances B. Vick, author, Letters to Alice: Birth of the Kleberg-King Ranch Dynasty
Journal of Southern History - Debbie Liles

"For those who would use this book as a historical resource, the first section holds the most value. For those who would seek to understand how family and place influence each other over time, The Hawkins Ranch in Texas: From Plantation Times to the Present will be a rewarding experience."--Journal of Southern History

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781623491734
Publisher:
Texas A&M University Press
Publication date:
04/28/2014
Series:
Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University , #121
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
1,233,742
File size:
13 MB
Note:
This product may take a few minutes to download.

Read an Excerpt

The Hawkins Ranch in Texas

From Plantation Times to the Present


By Margaret Lewis Furse

Texas A&M University Press

Copyright © 2014 Margaret Lewis Furse
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62349-173-4



CHAPTER 1

NORTH CAROLINA ROOTS


In 1829 John Davis Hawkins was feeling that worrisome shudder that so often afflicts members of an older generation when looking at the young and finding them undisciplined. Hawkins was a North Carolina lawyer and planter, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina, and for fifty years one of its trustees.

His eldest son, James Boyd Hawkins, a boy of sixteen at the time, whose life would be lived out in Texas, was approaching college age. Should this son attend his father's revered alma mater, the University of North Carolina? The father had grave doubts and confided them in a letter to his classmate John Branch, the secretary of the navy. He told Branch that the students were too little disciplined by the faculty and that they were more given to "extravagant dissipation and drunkenness" than to "emulating each other for literary form." John D. Hawkins wrote this gloomy evaluation and said it made him think of West Point as perhaps a better alternative. But first he would like to make a visit there himself to get more information on West Point educational methods. Could John Branch, as secretary of the navy, possibly arrange to have him appointed an official visitor there the following June?

James Boyd Hawkins (1813–1896) indeed enrolled at West Point as a member of the class of 1836. If careful planning, hard work, and diligence were inculcated at West Point, its influence on him was certainly apparent from 1846 until his death in 1896, in the way he set up and operated his Texas plantation and later cattle ranch.

At the very time of John D. Hawkins's worry about the youth of the day, his own father, Philemon Hawkins (the third of that name; see Hawkins genealogy) was also worried: that the younger Hawkins generation would not know or appreciate the fine character traits of his own father, Philemon the second. On September 29, 1829, at his father's request, John D. Hawkins invited family and friends to come to hear a finely-crafted tribute that he wrote and delivered. The speech was twice published as a pamphlet, first in 1829 and again by his youngest son, Dr. Alexander Hawkins, in 1906. In it John D. Hawkins tells a captivating story in the young life of the heralded Philemon (see endnote).

John D. Hawkins praised his grandfather mainly for his work ethic. That was what the young should emulate, he said: hard work, avoidance of debt, attending to crops and to business. These habits and virtues would be rewarded by the accumulation of worldly goods, which would make one more useful to others.

Having had no education himself, Philemon the second had greatly valued it for his own sons, two of whom he sent to Princeton: Benjamin and Joseph Hawkins. Benjamin (175–1818), the uncle of John D. Hawkins, became so adept in French that he was asked to serve Gen. George Washington as a translator for French troops during the American Revolution.

In the vigorous ending of his speech, John D. Hawkins forcefully impressed upon his audience the importance of his grandfather's character and example:

When we take a review of his rise and progress in life, and contrast them with the idleness and dissipation of the present day, we are ready to exclaim, that degeneracy is surely among us. He lived within his income, and caused it continually to increase; by which he was not only increasing his ability to live, but to increase his fortune, and to add to his power to be useful.... Let us then emulate his virtues, inculcate his habits, and instill into the minds of our children the examples of his prosperous and useful life; and when each rolling year shall bring around the day of his birth, let us hail it as his natal day, and endeavor to imprint it deeper and deeper in their hearts.


James B. Hawkins did not stay at West Point to graduate and never embarked on a military career. Instead he married Ariella Alston in 1836. After their marriage at her father's residence, Butterwood, near Littleton in Halifax County, North Carolina, the couple spent the next ten years living in North Carolina, in close touch with their respective families. Both the Hawkins and the Alston families were planters and used a slave workforce. In North Carolina the extended Hawkins family had various business pursuits related to agriculture—milling, potash production, cotton ginning,and tobacco—and eventually a primary interest in the development of railroads. J. B. Hawkins was involved in planting and in the various business pursuits in which his father was engaged. Ariella was busy with her growing family. She and her husband had six North Carolina–born children who went with them to Texas, where two more were born.

Ariella's father, Willis Alston (1769–1837), died shortly after his daughter's marriage; most family letters from Texas starting in 1846 were written to her widowed mother, Sarah Madaline Potts Alston. She was constantly urged to come to Texas for a visit but probably never did. Ari-ella's father, Willis Alston, attended Princeton and served in the United States Congress during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. He was a member of Congress for several terms (1803–15; 1825–31) and during his service in 1812 was chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means. Ariella's mother, called Sallie, was his second wife but the only one by whom he had children. Altogether, there were five Alston children, most of whom were addressed or mentioned in letters from Texas.

It was a brave undertaking for James B. Hawkins and Ariella to leave North Carolina and their extensive Hawkins and Alston families and move with their many small children to the largely unsettled place that Texas then was. Earlier, in 1844, in what was apparently a staging operation, James and his brother Frank had traveled together from North Carolina to Mississippi. There J. B. Hawkins left some of his slaves to be retrieved and moved to Texas later. In 1848 Frank settled permanently in Mississippi.

Frank probably chose Mississippi because he intended to farm cotton. But J. B. Hawkins had become enthusiastic about growing sugar cane and producing molasses and sugar, as was being done among growers along Caney Creek. Land around Caney Creek in Texas was fertile, and the creek itself provided a means of getting sugar to market. Ariella's brother Edgar Alston said Caney Creek in 1845 was navigable from a point above the land that J. B. Hawkins and his brother John D. Hawkins Jr. had bought. Other sugar growers, a number of whom were from North Carolina, had also settled along Caney Creek. In 1847 J. B. Hawkins wrote that many planters along Caney "have quit cotton and are going altogether on sugar. They are putting up splendid brick sugar houses. There are 4 large sugar houses within 2 miles of each other. I examined all the crops. They were splendid."

Although James and Frank left North Carolina and settled in different states, their motive for leaving home was the same. It was primarily the fact of slave ownership. A planter already having a slave labor force was highly motivated to have land enough for such a force to cultivate. Slave holders regarded such a force as a business asset that could not simply lie idle. If moving was required in order to acquire enough land to make use of the existing workforce, then the families moved to new territory.

CHAPTER 2

LETTERS WRITTEN EN ROUTE


Traveling to Texas, Ariella wrote to her mother on November 20, 1846, when she arrived in New Orleans from Memphis. The fact that New Orleans was a new and thrilling adventure for her suggests that Ariella probably had not been to Texas before the trip she now described.

She was "heartedly tired of traveling" and anxious to get to their Caney Creek home in Texas. Traveling in a paddle wheeler, they had started down the Mississippi from Memphis. Probably they arrived at Memphis from North Carolina by private carriages or public stage. The slaves, who accompanied them on the Mississippi riverboat, had made their way from North Carolina to Memphis in their own group, probably by wagon. All reached Memphis safely, Ariella told her mother, who she knew would want to hear, and were "well pleased" with their trip.

The party traveling to Texas together consisted of Ariella and her husband, whom she called "Mr. Hawkins"; their six children, including their baby daughter Ella; and the wife of the (probably permanent) overseer hired for their Caney plantation. Ariella did not say whether the overseer himself was on board. While J. B. Hawkins was bringing his family to Texas, he had put a temporary man named McNeel in charge at Caney. The trip from Memphis to New Orleans took them one week by paddle wheeler.

The Mississippi River was low, with so many hazardous snags that the captain decided it was not safe to run at night when the obstacles could not easily be seen. Ariella described these dangers:

We passed five boats sunk between Memphis and New Orleans, two of them very large boats, were lost a few days before we reached Memphis. [She may mean a few days out of Memphis or a few days before reaching New Orleans.] We passed the wreck of the Monarch just at night and stopped close along side of her, so close as to run against her and break a shaft and two arms of one of our wheels. It made a tremendous noise when we run against her and we had quite a scare on board. Two ladies fainted; one of them was our overseer's wife. I thought at the time she would never come too[,] she was so dredfully frightened. We then run upon one wheel over to the wreck of another very large boat the Matamoros, took off some of her fraight[,] run a few miles down the river and stopped for the night.


Their adventures were not ended. Their sleep was disturbed about midnight, and Ariella "was awakened by the cry of fire, looked out and saw a great light just oposit my stateroom on the quarter [deck]."

Mr. H. went out and discovered that a bail of cotton was on fire. The carpenter coming out of the wheel house where he had been mending the wheel droped the candle on some loose cotton and it was all soon in a light blaze. They soon called the hands together got water and outed it, it was very fortunate for us that it was so soon discovered, for our Negroes were on top of the cotton and if it had of spread, much farther it could not of been stoped.


Now the travelers had a few days to spend in New Orleans. Probably they had to wait for a boat to transport them to Galveston or Matagorda. The Galveston News (of September 14, 1848) had advertisements of ships and packets connecting with larger lines with routes from Galveston to New York. Family letters do not indicate how the group reached Caney from New Orleans. While they waited, Ariella wrote to her mother Mr. Hawkins was so busy that she seldom saw him except at mealtimes, but she was enthralled with the delights of New Orleans.

They had met a gentleman and his wife and children who were also going to Texas, and Ariella and the gentleman's wife apparently struck up a friendship: "We went out together yesterday to look at the city. I differ from Mr. H. in opinion about the looks of the city it is one of the prettiest places I have seen yet Philadelphia not excepted. I never saw such a show of pretty goods and pretty things in my life. Oh me if I just had plenty of money what is it I could not buy here."

One of the things they needed to buy in New Orleans was furniture for the house they would occupy on Caney. J. B. Hawkins described the house "bought of Quick" as plain and needing to be patched up for their occupancy. Ariella's letter confirmed that the house they expected to move into on Caney was modest, although she had not yet seen it. When she went about New Orleans acquiring the necessary things to set up house keeping, she says she selected "the plainest sort to correspond with the house." This structure in later years was called the plantation house.

You would like it in this section of the country, Ariella told her mother. Writing in November, she said the weather was warm and felt more like the month of June. She described their meals at a hotel where presumably they were staying: "We have garden peas, lettuce, butter beans and other vegetables every day for dinner, it looks very strange to see the people with summer clothes on." Ariella's daughter Sallie asked her mother to tell her warmth-loving grandmother (the child's namesake) she would very much like this country because there had been no days cold enough to sit by a fire.

Two years after his brother J. B. Hawkins moved to Texas, Frank Hawkins in 1848 brought his family from North Carolina to settle in Mississippi, where he had set up a plantation on an earlier trip. They traveled overland to Middleton in Carroll County, Mississippi, in a company of fellow travelers probably making a train of wagons and carriages, and averaging twenty-four miles per day.

Letters written by Frank and his wife Ann describe romantic scenery and a dramatic encounter. They had camped one evening within seven miles of Abingdon, at the southwest border of Virginia. Ann said the country was beautiful—"Cows and hogs are feeding all day in the greatest lots of clover and grass I ever saw. The people have so much butter." And they came upon a curious sight: "We passed a dwelling yesterday where there were four dwarfs, 2 girls and 2 boys. Mr. H. became acquainted with the oldest man 38 years old and a head lower than John, inquiring about corn and fodder. He conversed so well. He asked him how old he was and carried him on his horse to show us he is a curiosity, his face getting wrinkled, quite intelligent, seemed to be."

Another camp site on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains she found sublime: "We came up the mountains last Tuesday, camped on top of the Blue Ridge that night. The scenery was very romantic and beautiful. We have not had a drop of rain since we left home. The children find a good many chestnuts."

Ann also gives a clue about why they left home. In this letter she refers to what she considers the "Christian duty" they owed to their slaves. With this expression, she hints at the reason for leaving: "Dear Mama [her husband's mother] though we are far from you and Papa we never can be removed from you and if it had not been for the Christian duty we owe to our slaves we never would have left you and I still entertain the same desire to return if we can arrange it in a proper way as to do so."

She must have meant that the care they owed their slaves required having land enough to make farming profitable and their care affordable. Because the family had a workforce, they needed land enough for their slaves to work, and they were on their way to find it.

On the way to Mississippi Frank Hawkins wrote to his father as often as he could find a store or post office to mail the letter. On November 1, 1848, he wrote:

Dear Papa:

I again write you a few lines to let you know how we are getting [along]. Mrs. Read [his mother-in-law] has recovered from her cold and is well and stands the trip much better than I expected. We are now all well. My horses look as well as they did when I left though we have drove hard. This is the 28th day we have been upon the road and if nothing prevents in 9 or 10 days I think we shall be at our place of destination which will be a quick trip. Brother James and myself were 42 days upon the road when we went out 4 years ago but I am traveling a different route, nearer and much better than the one we went. I am now in 4 miles of the Tennessee River and shall stop early in the morning and mail this at the Post Office. We have camped out every night but I feel as much at home at camp as in a good house. My expenses have been smaller than I expected.... The cotton crop in this part of Alabama is not good. I learn in Mississippi it is better. My wife and Mrs. Read join me in love to you and Mama and all the family.

I remain your affectionate son,

Frank Hawkins


In a postscript Frank tells of a slave named Randal belonging to his brother, Dr. Alexander (Sandy) Hawkins. Randal was now cheerful but was "fit for nothing unless he is constantly watched" and was a man of "bad temper" Frank had not been aware of before they left: "I will sell him for as much as I can." Evidently Sandy Hawkins had placed Randal with Frank in order to sell him, and Frank later reported that he had sold Randal for $740. He "will have a good home. Mr. Williams who purchased him is a fine man."

By November 14, 1848, when the Frank Hawkins family arrived at the plantation in Mississippi that Frank had previously set up, he was pleased with the crops and the management of the overseer he had hired for the place. "My Negroes are all well and look well and are well pleased. They have what they can eat and I find them well clothed. Mrs. Henry [wife of his overseer] is a very smart woman. She had the little Negroes brought in last night for me to see them and they look well." His overseer had brought in a large crop of corn, about 3,000 bushels or 600 barrels "for the force" and had twenty-four fine hogs to kill that Frank thought would average 175 or 200 pounds. Frank was well pleased with his overseer, whom a Mr. Purnell had hired for him.

Frank Hawkins wanted to sell his North Carolina holdings and use the proceeds to acquire more land adjoining what he already had in Mississippi: "I should like to have enough and a little to spare to work my force." Currently, then, he had more hands than he had land for them to work and would need to hire out some of them. He was motivated to buy more land by the excess number of slaves he had.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Hawkins Ranch in Texas by Margaret Lewis Furse. Copyright © 2014 Margaret Lewis Furse. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Lewis L. Gould

"in the expert hands of Margaret Lewis Furse, The Hawkins Ranch in Texas offers to her fortunate readers a well-researched account of more than 160 years of a working ranch, a fascinating ttale of an engaging lively family, and a warm personal memoir brimming with insights. Getting to know the Hawkins clan is a treat!" -- Lewis L. Gould, Author of Edith Kermit Roosevelt: Creating the Modern First Lady
Frances B. Vick

“Furse uses letters, research, oral history, and her own experiences to tell the story of the old ranch, which makes for a very interesting, well written story. The value of a descendant involved in the ranch telling the story, warts and all, makes for a good narrative. It is a very compelling story and of course one that has never been told of this particular ranch as far as I know.”—Frances B. Vick, author, Letters to Alice: Birth of the Kleberg-King Ranch Dynasty
Paula Mitchell Marks

“I’m impressed with the author’s style. She is consistently precise and clear through the telling a complicated story with multiple players, and she drops in lines of such beauty and insight—for example, the Periodic Table of Elements as taking ‘unruly and savage, beautiful and indefinable’ nature and imposing on it a ‘rational order.’ Again, this is a memorable book. I feel that I have had the advantage of sitting with the author on a front porch, ice tea in hand, as she brings her heritage to life and shares her wisdom.”—Paula Mitchell Marks, Professor of American Studies, St. Edwards University

Meet the Author

A member of the Hawkins family, MARGARET LEWIS FURSE now lives in Austin. She has taught in Rice University’s religious studies department and in the American studies program at the University of Texas at Austin. Furse is currently a general and managing partner of Hawkins Ranch Ltd.

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