Friday, February 26, 2016

MARGARET LEATHERBURY HALLETT, PIONEER TEXAS WOMAN

Margaret Leatherbury Hallett was born on December 25, 1787, in Stafford County, Virginia to a well-to-do family. At eighteen she fell in love with John Hallett, a merchant seaman.  One account says that John was the youngest son of a gentleman from Worcester, England.  At an early age, he joined the Royal Navy, but when an officer threatened him, he jumped overboard, and swam to a nearby American ship. Allowed to stay on board, he was brought to the United States and adopted by a merchant seaman. 

Supposedly Margaret’s family insisted that she could do better than a seaman. She said “I would rather marry John Hallett and be the beginning of a new family than remain single and be the tail-end of an old one.” In 1808 she left home and joined him in Baltimore where the couple were married aboard ship in Chesapeake Bay.For several years, they lived in Baltimore while John fought in the War of 1812 before they moved west

Allegedly the couple settled in what would later be called Matamoros, Tamaulipas, a Mexican port across the Rio Grande from present Brownsville.  The village where they settled was a commercial center used by area cattlemen. It’s an amazing account since they opened a mercantile business in the Spanish Colonial village while the Mexicans in that area were fighting for their independence.  During that time, their first two sons, John Jr. and William, were born in 1813 and 1815.

When their store there was confiscated by the Mexican government, they moved to Goliad, Texas and set up a trading post. There a third son, Benjamin, was born in 1818 and a daughter, Mary Jane, in 1822. Something happened to Benjamin when he was about ten, but it’s unknown what.Some sources say he was kidnapped by Indians.

The Halletts were still living in Goliad in 1833, when John took a league of land (4.428 acres) in Stephen F. Austin's colony on the east bank of the Lavaca River in what is now Lavaca County. The family continued operating the trading post at Goliad while John took workers with him to build a log cabin on their new property, dig a water well and (allegedly) protect the cabin with a moat that was five feet wide and three feet deep. Not long after it was completed, he died around 1836 and was buried in Goliad Texas.

After the fall of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, Margaret and her daughter Mary Jane fled in the Runaway Scrape with all the other families to escape Santa Anna’s advancing army. Margaret, a forty-nine-year-old widow and her daughter Mary Jane were in Goliad when a young man, Colatinus Ballard, rode in to let Margaret and Mary Jane know that settlers were moving onto the property they owned up on the Lavaca River. The two left immediately for their cabin.   

Upon their return, they found their property destroyed and set about rebuilding and replanting.  The two oldest sons fought at San Jacinto on April 21 in the battle that won Texas independence from Mexico.  The oldest son, John, Jr., returned home after the war and was killed by Indians. (Comanche were fiercely resentful of Anglos.) That same year, his brother William went to Matamoros to buy land, was accused of being a spy, and sent to prison where he died.

Upon arriving, Margaret and Mary Jane met two friendly Tonkawa Indians and their new neighbors who told stories of constant Comanche attacks.  Margaret called a meeting of the settlers and the two Tonkawas who agreed that they must go to San Antonio to seek help from Texas Rangers to rid the land of the raiding Comanches. Margaret prepared food for the trip and issued instructions for the best route. Within two weeks the Rangers had cleared the Comanches from the area.

As more settlers arrived, Margaret stocked her cabin with supplies and began operating a trading post, bartering coffee, sugar, and other merchandise with the Tonkawas and her new neighbors in exchange for hides and pelts.  She hauled the hides and pelts to nearby Gonzales to trade for corn, some of which she planted as a crop.  She also raised cattle and horses that carried her own brand.

Friendly Tonkawas such as these from 1898 helped
Margaret Hallett. Shown picutred here are standing: Winnie Richards,
John Rush Buffalo, William Stevens, John Allen, and Mary Richards.
Seated in front are John Williams, Grant Richards, Sherman Stiles.
Despite being a widow, Margaret never wore black, instead preferring brightly colored clothing.  She also wore a chatelaine bag, a purse like affair that hung by a chain from her waist.  Gossips claimed that she carried gun powder in that bag. Apparently no one had the nerve to ask.

As Margaret learned their language, the Tonkawas became good friends, warning her of impending Comanche attacks.  One legend says that some Tonkawas came into her trading post asking for free merchandise.  When she refused, one of the Indians began to help himself, and Margaret hit the Indian on the head with a hatchet and raised a knot.  When Chief Lolo came to investigate the incident, he was so impressed with Margaret’s independence that he named her “Brave Squaw” and made her an honorary member of the tribe. 

On December 21, 1843, Mary Jane married Colatinus Ballard. He was an energetic, progressive promoter of commerce in the new town. Some said he was a cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln. The store he established on the southwest corner of Block 5 was a well-stocked establishment. He also maintained a freight line to and from Port Lavaca, hauling produce there and bringing back supplies. He was also successful in bringing a variety of tradesmen and businessmen to the settlement.

Margaret donated land in 1838 near her trading post for a town. The town was named Hallettsville in her honor but was also known as Hidesville in its early days because of a hide stretched across the door of the Hallet cabin. Margaret built a new home in Halletsville and promoted the town vigorously. In 1842 the legislature authorized the establishment of a judicial county to be named La Baca, which later became Lavaca County. County and district court sessions were held in the Hallett home pending the selection of a county seat.

The town was laid out around a central square in 1838 by surveyor Byrd Lockhart. By 1841, the town began to take shape. Halletsville was spelled with one "t" for many years until the present spelling of Hallettsville was officially adopted by the City Council in 1888.

Hallettsville and the older town of Petersburg each wanted to be named the county seat. In November of 1851, the town of Petersburg petitioned the Texas State Legislature to declare the town to be the permanent county seat. Leaders in Hallettsville contested the petition and on January 15, 1852, a bill was approved by the Governor that selected June 14, 1852 as the Election Day for the county residents to select a permanent county seat. While Hallettsville won the election, a records war ensued between Hallettsville and Petersburg which lasted for several months. Margaret Hallett, her daughter Mary Jane Ballard, and her son-in-law Colatinus Ballard were instrumental in having the county records moved from Petersburg to Hallettsville by ox cart and seeing that they remained there. Allegedly, that settled the dispute.

Mary Jane had attended a private convent. In 1852, Margaret gave land to establish the town’s first public school and helped organize the Alma Male and Female Institute.

Hallettsville City Memorial Park where
Margaret Hallett is buried.


Margaret Hallett died in 1863 at the age of seventy-six and was buried on the Hallett league. Later her remains were transferred to Hallettsville City Memorial Park, where a grave marker acknowledges her as the founder of Hallettsville.


Memorial to Margaret Hallett


Hallettsville was mentioned in Ripley's Believe It or Not:

"Hallettsville with its 1300 people in 1913 had thirteen newspapers, thirteen saloons, thirteen churches, and an empty jail," all true according to author historian Paul C. Boethel. The five printing shops of the town published The Daily Booster; three semi-weeklies Novo Domov, Herald and New Era; five weeklies Nachtrichten, Rebel, Habt Acht, Decentralizer and Pozor; three semi-monthlies Vestnik, Obzor and Buditel; and one monthly Treue Zeuge. There was a saloon and church for every editor, a saloon for every pastor and a pastor for every saloonkeeper! There was a church for "all kinds of people---from Methodists down to Papists, not forgetting the Campbellites--all hide-bound as the Devil himself" including a Christian Science chapel and a Jewish synagogue housed in the Odd Fellows Hall.

Margaret Hallett was a true pioneer with the stamina and independence to succeed. Against tremendous odds, she shaped the future of a town.

Sources:
Handbook of History Online


Caroline Clemmons is the author of contemporary and historical western romances. Her latest release is AMANDA'S RANCHER, a Montana Sky Kindle world. http://amzn.com/B01BL0HKPK 


One desperate young woman.
A chance meeting.
A life-changing outcome.

Growing up in a brothel, Mara O'Sullivan battled public disdain and contempt, but always remained kind-hearted and gracious. After testifying against vicious bank robbers, her life is threatened and Mara must find sanctuary far from everything she knows.  

One train ride changes her life as she fatefully meets a half-sister and a niece she never knew existed. But when circumstances end her sister's life, Mara makes a promise that she'll raise her niece as her own and take her sister's place as Preston Kincaid's mail-order-bride. As Mara and Preston grow closer, their marriage no longer seems like a ruse, but a relationship of love, passion, and desire.

Mara's past comes back to haunt her and she finds herself in danger—will her new husband forgive Mara's deceit and protect her as his own? 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Subscribe to Caroline's newsletter and receive a free novella, HAPPY IS THE BRIDE. 

3 comments:

  1. Isn't it amazing what some women are capable of doing in spite of having to raise their children without their husbands. They must have had signs above their doors that read "No whining allowed." Margaret Hallett was a brave and industrious woman. I'm surprised I haven't heard of her until now.
    This was such a wonderful and uplifting post, Caroline. I wish you the very best success with your novel, Amanda's Rancher. Beautiful cover.

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  2. Loved this, Caroline. I have a series going in a trading post in northern Wisconsin. Some of her projects have given me an idea on how to make my heroines stronger. They had to be tough in those days. :)

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  3. Margaret Hallett's story is amazing. To live through the loss of her husband and sons, yet still have the courage and strength to found a town and help it grow, makes her a true heroine. She's the kind of woman I like to write and read about. Thank you, Caroline, for telling us about her.

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