Monday, May 20, 2019

A Texas Plantation

I am in the middle of boxing up books in my home office because we are going to have the room's old carpet replaced. Not a fun job! I've collected hundreds of research books over the years from library book sales, used book stores, historical places hubby and I toured, or from online sources, mainly Amazon. In many cases I'd forgotten I even had the book.

One such example is Plantation Life In Texas by Elizabeth Silverthorne.

Published in 1986 as part of a Texas life series, this fascinating volume is based on earlier books, articles and first-hand accounts from former slaves collected during the 1930s by interviewers employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The text is liberally illustrated with scenes of plantation life drawn and painted by noted Texas artist Charles Shaw.

Ms. Silverthorne grew up in Brazoria County on Texas's Gulf coast, where cotton and sugar plantations flourished in antebellum days. She opens her book with a history of how planters came to Texas in the early 1800s when it was still part of Mexico. "Along with slaves and seeds, they carried ideas and ideals about the kind of life they wanted to create for themselves."

One of these "would-be empire builders" was Jared E. Groce. Born on a Virginia plantation, he moved west, managing plantations in Georgia and Alabama. Then, in January 1822, Groce became one of Stephen F. Austin's Old Three Hundred settlers. He and his son Leonard, along with an overseer, led fifty covered wagons to Texas. They brought pontoons to ferry the wagons across rivers. Included were his family, over ninety slaves, furniture, spinning wheels, looms, clothing, farming equipment, and enough food to see them to their destination. A train of livestock followed the wagons.

Groce chose to settle on a high bluff overlooking the Brazos River. Some of his slaves set to work building a small cabin (for his family presumably) while others cleared ground for planting seed corn and cottonseed. He named his plantation Bernardo.

Bernardo Plantation;

Due to a severe drought, the corn crop failed, leaving Groce, his family and slaves to subsist on wild game until the following year when a corn crop was grown successfully. However, the dry weather and rich soil produced more cotton than Groce had imagined. The first few crops were carried by pack mules into Mexico, with Groce leading accompanied by his body servant Edom, who performed many servised for his master, whose arms were crippled.

One slave managed ten or twelve mules, walking or riding behind them, yelling at them to move on. Each animal carried two bales of cotton, weighing seventy-five to eighty pounds a piece, plus a sack of feed. Strong little critters!

Groce eventually built a river landing near his plantation, allowing him to float his cotton on homemade flatboats down the Brazos and transfer it to a schooner bound for New Orleans. Other plantation owners and travelers also used his landing, calling it Groce's Ferry.

In 1825 Groce's son, Leonarrd, brought the first cotton gin to that part of Texas. The family's empire grew, building more plantations. When Groce's only daughter, Sarah Ann, and her husband William H. Wharton moved to Nashville, Tennessee, he enticed them to return by promising to build them their own plantation. They returned and he built for them the Eagle Island plantation on Oyster Creek, where Sarah became a famous hostess and political influencer for her husband.

Bernardo Plantation played a large part in the War for Texas Independence. The plantation provided a strategic location for Sam Houston and his Texian soldiers before the Battle of San Jacinto, which ended the conflict. The Twin Sisters cannon supplied by Ohio sympathizers arrived at the plantation and soldiers were ferried across the Brazos by steamboat prior to the battle. Additionally, Bernardo is considered the South's last major cotton plantation and the nation's farthest west cotton plantation.

I can't go into how slaves lived, worked and died to provide their masters an opulent lifestyle, not without writing another book about it. Or how everything changed after the Civil War, forcing plantation owners to free their slaves, thereby losing their cheap labor. For that, I suggest you get hold of Elizabeth Silverthorne's amazing book. The wonderful illustrations, alone, are worth the cost.


  1. Lyn, this was a very interesting post. I'd love to have a copy of the Silverthorne book. I love my Kindle, but for research, I prefer the tangible book. I don't envy you having to pack all of yours.

    1. Caroline, thanks for stopping by and commenting. The last I checked, Amazon still had a few hardback copies of Silverthorne's book available. I hope you grab one! I do a lot of research online these days but like you, I truly prefer a resource book I can hold in my hands and keep on my shelves.

  2. Wow, this sounds like an amazing book, that is the kind of books I love to read, just so very happy that i wasn't born around that time, would have been pretty sad to see all that injustice. I will look up this amazing book, and I believe you Amazon has it?

  3. Alicia, I would not want to live in that era, but Ms. Silverthorne's book does shine a light on plantation life from both the black and white perspective. Yes, I did see it on Amazon. I hope you enjoy it.


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