[Letter from an Early Texas Settler and Plantation owner.]. Silas Parsons.

[Letter from an Early Texas Settler and Plantation owner.]

Wilbarger Creek, Travis County, Texas, 28 Jan. 1858. 8vo (10” x 7.75”), white paper. 4 pp. of manuscript.

An interesting letter written by ex-Alabama Associate Justice turned Texas plantation-owner Silas Parsons, this letter doing much to flesh-out his later life.

Born in Kentucky, Silas Parsons (ca. 1800–1860) served as an Associate Justice from 1849 to 1851 in Huntsville, Alabama and soon thereafter relocated to Travis County, Texas where he composed the present letter. Parsons had moved to Alabama around 1819 from east Tennessee where he settled on a farm in Jackson County; in 1823 he was elected sheriff and served for three years. During this time he read law and was admitted to the bar. After practicing law for several years in Bellefont (then county seat of Jackson County), he moved to Huntsville in 1831. Elected chancellor of the northern district of Alabama in 1839 by the legislature, he declined the appointment. In 1849, Governor Reuben Chapman appointed Parsons to the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy opened up by Justice Henry Collier’s resignation. Parsons served on the bench for two years, resigning in June, 1851—apparently on account of poor health. He then moved to Texas and lived on a plantation near Austin. Parsons married the daughter of Col. John Reed of Huntsville, where he later died.

Parsons opens this letter by noting that, “As I get older I get more sanguine & it may be owing to that that I do not apprehend serious or long continued pecuniary difficulties.” He explains that—“in the first place”—he is not speculating, “not to the value of a single cent” adding: “& in the next [life?] I buy nothing to live on that I can do without.” However, he admits he would appreciate it if his correspondent would pay him the allotted sum of $200—as he will put it towards this “year’s expenses,” which he lists: carpentry, an Artesian well (costing him nearly $300); another room to his house, plank shingles, chimney, etc. He then turns to the current state of his plantation:

For several months we have had a vast deal of rain, in consequence of which I have had about twenty five sick negroes during the winter, & in consequence of that considerable of my cotton that the frost left wasted & a good deal is yet in the field to be picked. Seventy large bales is as much probably as will be saved, of which 61 were sent to market before the grass was killed…The sickness was cold in its worst form, but all have recovered except two & they are recovering.

Parsons describes how the rain has prevented them from breaking ground, although he was able to cross plough some fifty acres of his new ground before the rains “became excessive”:

It was so well done as to make me count on nearly a full crop on that part of my new ground … I expected to have about 250 acres in cotton which is much the largest cotton crop I ever had any where, though it is not equal to my force. Now I have 85 negroes, some of them children, & males, horses & others enough, & I have, as one of my neighbors told me this winter, the most valuable place as now improved in Travis County. Our team are some what weakened by the wet winter, but sufficient I trust to make the crops though none of them has had a single feed of grain since last summer.

He describes his plantation at-length and the various grasses growing on it. He also notes that he has been happily reading Macaulay’s History of England, which he briefly discusses. In closing he remarks, “In the filibuster affair, if Buchanan holds out as I hope he will, I shall be a Buchanan man. Indeed, he has pleased me so far in every thing.”

In 1854, Travis County, Texas saw the opening of a school for boys, and four years later a school for girls. Property for the latter was provided by James B. Manor (c. 1804–1881) who sought to ensure a proper education for his daughters. (Manor was one of Travis County’s earliest settlers; a lifelong friend of Sam Houston (having moved to Texas with him), and after whom the city of Manor was named.) The girl’s school was originally named Parson’s Female Seminary in honor of the Silas Parsons, who was apparently a primary contributor to the institution. The second floor of the school was occupied by a Masonic Lodge which was organized around the same time. During the Civil War the boy’s school would close; however, boys were later admitted to the Seminary—which came to be called Parsons Seminary, and later Parsons Academy. The coed school was one of the leading private educational institutions in the area. A shipping point for long-staple cotton, the city of Manor stood at the center of cotton production in Travis County, from which some 18,000 bales of cotton were shipped annually. By the end of the nineteenth century Manor was the second most populous city in Travis County after Austin.

REFERENCES: James B. Manor at findagrave.com; Silas Parsons Associate Justice – 1849–1851 at judicial.alabama.gov

CONDITION: Good, old folds.

Item #5501


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