Tidbits of Shelby County History
This is article was written by Reba January James.
Eyewitness of Life in Shelby County in 1835 Under Mexican Rule”
From an Interview given in 1890 by William Carroll Crawford, age 86
(As nearly in his own language as possible)
My name is William Carroll Crawford. I am a direct lineal descendant of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland, on of the signers of the original declaration of American Independence. I was born in the city of Fayetteville, N.C. on September 13, 1804. My parents removed to Georgia when I was but a child and died there when I reached my teens. I was then bound out to learn a trade, and in course of time closed my apprenticeship at Macon, Georgia in 1824.
For a few years I indulged in the frivolous pleasures of the world, but the spirit of God arrested me in my dissolute course and caused me to consider and repent of my folly. I was converted through the grace of God and joined the Methodist church, and shortly afterwards was given license to preach. I traveled as a circuit rider for two in Georgia. Then I took a transfer to Alabama in which connection I traveled two years. I married and determined to move to Texas, believing it would be advantageous to my health.
We crossed the Sabine River and arrive in Texas on the 5th day of January 1835 and settled in the edge of a canebrake on Tenaha creek, in Shelby County. In those primitive days in this new country, far from any mill or other conveniences to which we had been accustomed, we subsisted with hearty relish upon corn meal ground with pestle and mortar and upon wild game from the woods.
Shelby County was at this time in the very frontier of Texas and its western limit the Rio Grande. Indians were numerous, sneaking and treacherous Bear, deer, turkey and buffalo were abundant and yielded meat from the settler in plentiful variety; besides these the county was infested with wolves and panther to an uncomfortable extent, which with the Indians were a constant menace.
I made an appointment to preach in our little town which was called Nashville (later renamed Shelbyville) and consisted of a tavern and a blacksmith shop, situated in an old field. The tavern was being kept by Rev. James English. Where I rode up to the place appointed for preaching, I found court in session and a dead man lying in the yard. I was told that Sol Bolin had killed Tome English, a family then numerous and influential in Shelby county, and that the intended to hang him before night. The court then sitting consisted of seventeen men from the vicinity presided over by the alcalde. The prosecution employed General Harrison, the only lawyer in the county. I was unaccustomed to such proceedings, having so recently come from the well-governed state of Georgia, where such courts were unknown. And observing that the prisoner had no attorney to present his defense, I and another citizen begged the court to appoint counsel for the prisoner, and thus afford him some chance for his life, but there was none to act in the capacity, unless as they suggested, I would consent to do so. I objected to this because I was unread in law, unacquainted with the facts and wholly unprepared for such emergency. The prisoner insisted that I should undertake his defense, and to the best I could for him, and I yielded to his persuasion and did so, but it was perfectly useless. The proof showed the killing was done in a drunken carousal and the court condemned the prisoner to be hung. There was no chance for a new trial nor for an appeal, but I succeeded however in obtaining for him a respite of three days, but when this brief space of time elapsed, he suffered the penalty of this sentence.
During the early part of the next year the people of Texas were called upon to elect delegates to a convention preparatory to declaring independence of Texas as a republic. I offered myself as a candidate for the honors and was elected.
On the second day of March 1826, this convention assembled in Washington, a little town on the Brazos, and there framed and unanimously adopted and signed a declaration of the independence of Texas as a republic government. I have esteemed it the proudest act of my life to have signed that immortal instrument. And later I took credit to myself for defeating the passage of an obnoxious resolution, which was near becoming a part of the fundamental law of the republic, having passed two reading like a toast. This resolution provided that no priest or preacher of whatever name or order should ever be eligible to any office of honor or profit in this republic. Only two members, namely S.O. Pennington and myself, opposed it. I soon saw that there was but one way to defeat it, and that was to present a substitute modifying it so as to make them ineligible to gubernatorial or congressional honors, and thus it was adopted.
An incident occurred during this convention which I deem worthy of mention, and I feel sure it has never appeared in print. Colonel Sam Houston, who having been elected a delegate to this assembly, considered it necessary to travel a circuitous route from his home to the seat of he convention in order to consult and if possible to effect a treaty of peace with the famous Indian Chief Loid and his tribe and prevent their alliance with Santa Anna. Having accomplished his purpose and feeling elated with is success, and probably with a view also to inspiring the members of the convention with a good degree of patriotic enthusiasm. He purchased a couple of yards of red flannel, cut a hole in the center of the cloth through which to put his head, and wearing it thus as a shirt, and with a pair of buckskin pantaloons and other apparel to suit, thus attracting general attention, and having the grotesque appearance of half-civilized Indian Chief, he stalked boldly into the convention, and by leave of that body he made known his successful adventure and peaceful negotiations with the celebrated Indian warrior and his tribe, who had hitherto been a terror to the whole frontier country. His statements were received with great joy and applause, and Colonel Sam was thenceforth the Son of the Convention.
Shortly after this occurrence, however, perhaps the next day, in the midst of important deliberations, Judge Ellis presiding, a rumor of alarm was brought in stating that Santa Anna, with several hundred Mexicans and reinforcements with a large number of Indians was in a few miles of Washington, coming to capture the convention and murder the inhabitants, and warning all to flee for their lives. At first there was a sensation, and some were indeed panic-stricken. The presiding officer arouse and suggested that he considered it, but prudent that the assembly retire to the better-protected settlements and continue their deliberations. When he had finished speaking Colonel Tom Porter arouse, and with great earnestness urged that every member of that body remain undisturbed and stand firm and manfully at his port of duty, for he believed this rumor of alarm was a mere canard of the enemies of the convention, and perpetrated with the accomplishment of the purpose of which they had convened, that it was supremely important that Texas be constituted an independent republic, and was it not more manly to stand their ground and purse their deliberation until they were positively sure that the rumors were true? The various other members supported the last speaker and it was resolved that all remain and proceed with the business before them, and they accordingly continued their proceedings for seventeen days and completed the organization of the new republic, not withstanding there were new reports of alarm coming in almost daily, and had we been attacked there were probably not twenty stand of arms in all the town of Washington.
It was afterward ascertained that neither Santa Anna nor this reported force had been within several hundred miles of the convention, but that the rumors were part of a scheme of certain land grabbers and speculators to prevent the organization of better government and thereby allow them to purse their nefarious traffic.
The first president of the new republic was a man named David Burnet afterward Colonel Sam Houston was elected, and still later, after annexation he was made governor and filled the position most nobly.
In the year 1833 James Beaver, John S. English and myself built a fort in Harrison County, with a view of obtaining the county seat, but we were defeated in our enterprise, and the town of Marshall was awarded the coveted prize. The Indians, however, were the principal, if not the only cause of our defeat. Unwitting, doubtless successful nevertheless, by drawing the settlers from us eastward, and massing them in the vicinity of Marshall.
Resuming my own personal history; I removed with my family to Shelbyville in 1838, and from that date until 1859 I held the several offices of postmaster, clerk of the district court and county treasurer of Shelby county simultaneously. I then removed to Pittsburg, in Camp county, and was again appointed postmaster and continued in that position until 1880, when I removed to Hill county, residing there nearly three years, and thence I removed to my present home in Johnson county.
Twelve children were born to us-eleven daughters and a son. They were raised to be grown, and seven of these, namely six daughters and the son, still survive, and it is a consoling reflection to me that all are believers in and professors of the Christian religion.
I have been a minister of the gospel for more than sixty years, and have witnessed glorious success to my early ministrations, and though now in my 86th year I still rejoice in the favor of my Heavenly Father and patiently await His bidding to “come up higher” and enter into rest eternal.
Postscript: William Carroll Crawford died on September 3, 1895, and was buried in Cow Creek near Dublin, Texas. On February 16, 1936, the State of Texas removed his body to the State Cemetery in Austin, Texas. It is recorded that at the minute of his death, his favorite music box began playing “Nearer My God To Thee”.