Sunday, May 26, 2013


How many times have you heard the song “The Yellow Rose of Texas?” Since I grew up in and still live in Texas, that term “yellow rose” did not sink in until I was an adult and learned it referred to a woman who was a quadroon, a term I always thought silly. Quadroon means a person who has one Negro grandparent and three Caucasian grandparents. In our society of blended ethnic and racial bloodlines, these sorts of racial descriptions should have long ago lost their usage and meaning. But I digress.

The Yellow Rose of Texas was an attractive woman supposedly named Emily Morgan. In reality, her name was Emily West. Many assumed, due to her being a quadroon, that she was James Morgan’s slave and called her Emily Morgan. She helped win the Battle of San Jacinto, which resulted in the Texas army’s victory over Santa Anna. This created the Republic of Texas, a separate nation until it joined the United States in 1845. I think she was a heroine, a woman who turned forced servitude/prostitution into an opportunity to fight her oppressor and defend her adopted family.

She was born Emily West around 1816 in New Haven, Connecticut, but moved to New York. She was a free woman and signed a contract with agent James Morgan in New York City on October 25, 1835, to work a year as housekeeper at the New Washington Association's hotel, Morgan's Point, Texas. Morgan was to pay her $100 a year and provide her transportation to Galveston Bay on board the company's schooner, scheduled to leave with thirteen artisans and laborers in November. She arrived in Texas in December on board the same vessel as Emily de Zavala and her children. At the mouth of the San Jacinto River, Morgan laid out the town of New Washington. Morgan was away building a fortification to defend Galveston from Santa Anna when the dictator arrived at New Washington.

General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
The Little Napoleon
Due to lack of records, there is a lot of speculation on the actual facts. Here’s the consensus: General Santa Anna saw a beautiful mulatto woman helping load supplies at the dock to help Colonel Morgan’s family join him at Galveston. Santa Anna, the “little Napoleon” womanizing dictator, decided that Emily Morgan was to become his new “personal maid.” Soon twenty-year-old Emily occupied his three-room, candy-striped tent. But the Mexican dictator had chosen/forced the wrong woman. Emily was a Texian sympathizer.

Santa Anna ordered a slave named Turner, whom he had taken at the same time he acquired Emily, to perform a reconnaissance of the Texian army. Before Turner and his escort of soldiers left on their mission, Emily secretly had a word with him. Since Morgan kept his family apprised of Texian activity, Emily knew where Houston was camped. She also knew Turner would be sympathetic to the Texians. She disclosed Houston’s location and instructed Turner to let him know the Mexican army was in pursuit. Through guile and good horsemanship, Turner was able to pass on Emily’s warning. In addition, he fed Santa Anna false information about Houston’s location.

On April 21, 1836, all was quiet in the Mexican camp. Santa Anna was at his tent. Inside were a piano, silverware, china, food, and chests of opium to feed the dictator’s addiction. The soldiers were having a siesta with limited guards on duty. By the time the Texian soldiers arrived, Santa Anna had retired into his tent with Emily. At the first sign of gunfire, the dictator rushed out and stumbled over cases of champagne stacked at the entrance. Clad only in silk drawers and red slippers, Santa Anna could not restore order among his troops. He wrapped himself in a bed sheet, grabbed a box of chocolates and a gourd of water, and jumped on a horse to escape. He was caught the next day.

Santa Anna's surrender

After the Battle of San Jacinto, a member of the victorious Texian army escorted Emily Morgan back to New Washington. She told Colonel Morgan of the victory. He later learned of the importance she had played in the event. He immediately released her from indenture and it is rumored he bought her a house in a community of free blacks in Houston. Later, she returned to New York and faded into oblivion. (I wonder what happened to Mr. Turner, the slave who helped.)

Folklore picked up on Emily’s heroics. Eventually, Mexican historians admitted to Santa Anna’s “quadroon mistress” during the Texas campaign. William Bollaert, an Englishman who visited Texas several times and was an acquaintance of the Morgans, kept a diary of his travels and recorded Emily’s actions. The diary was not made public until 1902. By then the Yellow Rose of Texas had already become established in Texas lore.

Emily’s story inspired “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” one of the best known songs about Texas. In 1861, Texas Confederates marched off to war singing this song. In 1936 a concert arrangement was offered by David W. Guion for the Texas Centennial (and dedicated to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who ordered a White House performance). In 1955 Mitch Miller recorded an arrangement for Columbia Records that made the song popular with Americans. The lyrics were altered from the original Negro spiritual to the more politically correct version of today. A 1949 movie “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon” starred John Wayne and Joanne Dru. As long as there is a Texas, and as long as the melody of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” lingers, Emily Morgan and her part in the short-lived battle on April 21, 1836 will be remembered.

There’s a yellow rose in Texas, that I am going to see,
Nobody else could miss her, not half as much as me
She cried so when I left her it like to broke my heart,
And if I ever find her, we nevermore will part.
She’s the sweetest little rosebud that Texas ever knew,
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew
You may talk about your Clementine and sing of Rosa Lee,
But the Yellow Rose of Texas is the only one for me.

When the Rio Grande is flowing, the starry skies are bright,
She walks along the river in the quiet summer night:
She thinks if I remember, when we parted long ago,
I promised to come back again, and not to leave her so.

Oh now I’m going to find her, for my heart is full of woe,
And we’ll sing the songs together, that we sung so long ago
We’ll play the banjo gaily, and we’ll sing the songs of yore,
And the Yellow Rose of Texas shall be mine forevermore.

Thanks to FROM ANGELS TO HELLCATS: LEGENDARY TEXAS WOMEN 1836 TO 1880 by Don Blevins for part of the above information.
Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas online.   

Would you become a mail-order bride?

Tabitha Masterson is certain whatever awaits her in Radford Springs, Texas will be better than what her brother and that awful William have in mind in Boston. After her father’s death, her brother has become a tyrant. She escapes to start her new life in Texas, but trouble can’t be far behind. She believes if she’s married when trouble arrives, she’ll be safe. But her fiancé is reluctant to accept her as a substitute for the mail-order bride he’d courted.

Bear Baldwin is crushed when he receives a wire notifying him that the woman with whom he has corresponded for almost a year has passed him off to her friend.  Do the two women think he’s like an old shirt to be handed down? His mother urges him to give the substitute fiancée a chance, but his pride is stung and he hasn’t decided.

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  1. Caroline--since I KNOW I've written a post about The Yellow Rose of Texas, I can attest to the fact that your post is perfect! I can't figure out where I used it--not on Sweethearts, that's for sure.
    Emily Morgan's story is fascinating--I enjoy reading it every time. The fact that she was the reason Sam Houston could wreck the Mexican Army, and the fact ol' Santa Anna was caught in his silk underdrawers, makes the story priceless. I've always been glad Emily lived as she wanted after the war, and that men who cared about her saw to her safety and independence.
    Well done, as usual.
    Oh, and your new book about a Mail-Order wish is to write a Mail-Order bride series. I have a plot for one, but can't get around to it. Plus, I'd need three, at least, for the series.
    Good luck with it! I'll be interested in seeing its success.

  2. I agree with Celia, this is a lovely post and interesting how women heros were overlooked. This brave woman deserves her time in history and then some. Thanks for sharing.

  3. In April, I attended the reenactment of the Battle of San Jacinto and a professor from Beaumont spoke about the Women of Texas, including The Yellow Rose. It was a good speech and I picked up her book, essays on the Women of Texas. I'm going to write about one of them soon!


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