SOUTHMAYD, TEXAS

Is the name given to the town of Southmayd in Grayson County, Texas, merely a coincidence? Or how about Southmayd Elementary School in Houston, Texas? No, they are both named for Southmayd family members, albeit in the first case indirectly, and in the second case for the wife of the direct Southmayd family member.

In December 1834, Reverend Daniel Starr Southmayd, his wife Joanna Kent Southmayd, and their three small daughters, Joanna, Maria, and Catherine, arrived in the Mexican territory of Texas. They settled between Harrisburg and San Felipe and began a Protestant ministry and school. This was rather unusual since the governing body of the Presbyterian Church, in which D.S. was an ordained minister, had not established Texas as within the domain of their outreach, and preaching and operating a school was outlawed in Texas at the time. Nevertheless, D.S. Southmayd came armed with English, Spanish and German Bibles that were provided to him by the American Bible Society "for gratuitous distribution in Texas."

Daniel Starr Southmayd was born February 11, 1802 in Waterbury, Connecticut. His parents were Ebenezer Southmayd (January 23, 1775-September 30, 1831) and Elizabeth Starr Southmayd (January 8, 1777-July 3, 1842) who were married at South Farms, Middletown, Connecticut, on April 16, 1797. Ebenezer Southmayd's father was John Southmayd (born August 8, 1753 in Waterbury, died September 13, 1838, married to Martha Sage) who was the son of Daniel Southmayd (born September April 19, 1717, died January 12, 1754)) and Hannah Brown Southmayd (married March 24, 1749). Daniel was the son of Reverend John Southmayd (born 1676 in Middletown, Connecticut, died November 14, 1755 in Waterbury, Connecticut) and Susannah Ward Southmayd (born June 16, 1674, died February 8, 1751; married 1700). Reverend John Southmayd was the oldest son of William Southmayd, Jr. (born 1643 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, died December 4, 1702 in Middletown, Connecticut) and his first wife, Esther Hamlin Southmayd (born December 15, 1655, died in childbed November 11, 1682, married October 16, 1673).

Joanna Kent Southmayd was the daughter of Reverend Daniel Kent of Vermont, who served in the American army during the Revolutionary War. She was an educated woman who wrote hundreds of pages of letters to her family back in New England during her life in Texas. These letters are in the possession of the Wilkinson family in Houston, Texas. The letters chronicle Joanna's Christian ministry in Texas, and the terrible trials and tribulations of a woman living on the Texas frontier in the 1830's. About all that is known of D. S. and Joanna Kent Southmayd in Texas comes from her narratives.

D.S. Southmayd and his family reached Harrisburg in January of 1835, and opened a private school with fifteen pupils, probably the first school within what is now the city of Houston. They were operating the school when the Mexican army came in 1835 and were forced to flee. After the Battle of San Jacinto, they returned to the school to find that their home had been burned, yet they continued their endeavor, and life, from a tent. In the fall of 1836, Joanna and her gravely ill husband and one daughter (the other having died a year earlier), went by ox cart to the Brazos area where at Fort Bend she opened another school, probably the first in what is now Fort Bend County, Texas. Along the way, Joanna Kent Southmayd lived a very spartan existence in an area and in a time completely devoid of comforts, and saw her way through sacrifices and sorrows steeled only by her Christian devotion and fortitude to do the Lord’s work.

In a letter to her brother in Boston, originally dated from New York City December 16, 1834, Joanna relates that she and her family were about to sail on the vessel "Whig" for Galveston Bay, a voyage that she says would take at least "six Sabbaths." The letter continues in a diary form during these six Sabbaths in a depressing narrative describing a voyage wrought with seasickness and illnesses rendering the family unable to do little beyond lying on the cabin floor. Joanna was, however, "overwhelmed with the goodness of God who cared for us in these dark waters." By the fifth Sabbath, she had recovered sufficiently to read her Bible. Joanna was particularly happy when the Whig finally entered Galveston Bay, but her dread of the voyage returned when the ship became stuck on Red Fish Bar for seven days. She wrote that she was sure the God who had parted the Red Sea could extricate them from the sand bar. Finally, however, the passengers and crew abandoned the Whig and took ashore at Clopper's Point where The Southmayd family took refuge in the home of Mr. Clopper. Joanna reported that "Mr. Clopper and his son, were very kind to us." She spent much of her time talking to Mr. Clopper about religion and the concerns that he should have for his soul. Mr. Clopper told an apparently shocked Joanna that in his experience people generally lost their religion when they came to Texas.

Mr. Clopper loaned the Southmayd family a boat and helped take them to Harrisburg, which was about thirty miles away. Along the way, they stopped for a day at the Thomas Earle home. D.S. and Joanna wasted no time in trying to save the souls of the large Earle family. Once against, Mr. Earle’s daughter told Joanna that people of faith who came to Texas soon lost it. Joanna noted, however, that Mr. Earle had a number of bad traits: he was from Ohio, he was an Irishman, and worst of all, he was a Roman Catholic. Nevertheless, she prayed for his salvation one day, and the family moved on to Harrisburg.

The D.S. Southmayd family arrived in Harrisburg, Texas on a cold night in February 1835. They disembarked in the bushes on the bank of the bayou with their seven trunks containing all their earthly belongings and 100 Bibles. D.S. went off and found a vacant shanty in which they spent the first night in Harrisburg. Since they could not ascertain the owner of the vacant premises, this became their permanent home. The daily diet of the family consisted of rice and corn meal and some occasional beef and potatoes. It was in March of 1835 that the Southmayd school opened for the education of the populace of Harrisburg, which Joanna estimated to consist of some forty adults and their children.

The teaching duties were largely left up to Joanna. D.S. began to pursue the headright land grant that Mexico was giving free to each emigrant family that settled in Texas. He left in March of 1835 for San Felipe, forty miles away, to locate the parcel of land that had been granted to the Southmayd family. He found the homestead and titled it in the family name, but in order to retain the Southmayd League, it had to be improved and lived upon. Reverend Southmayd had no money or other financial resources, but did manage to borrow an axe and began the arduous task of felling trees and building a split rail fence to enclose a six acre farm where the family hoped to live and farm. D.S. made the 25-mile trek from the farm to the Harrisburg home as often as possible, but the only mode of transportation available to him was foot power. The months of hard work on the homestead, fueled only by rice and corn meal, and the long walks back and forth between his family and the farm site, took its toll. Before the end of the summer of 1835, D.S. was quite ill. In fact, he was often too ill to make the trek home with great regularity, much to the disappointment and concern of his family. Joanna wrote late in the summer of 1835 that "The children were grieved last night that their father did not come and it required all my Christian fortitude to convince them it was the will of God."

In April of 1836, D.S., Joanna and their little daughters fled from Harrisburg as the Mexican army approached. They were not able to return to their home until September of that year. Joanna wrote her mother in Vermont that their home was in ashes and that "I have just finished dressing my little Joanna for the grave. She then related the conditions under which they lived during their months of exile, how her children and husband sickened from their meager diet, and eventually little Joanna succumbed from the hardships after calling out one night for her sister, Maria. The family was living in a floorless tent and suffering from the famine that had followed the Mexican invasion of Texas. One month to the day after little Joanna died, her sister Maria followed. At that point, D.S., Joanna, and their new infant daughter left in an ox cart for Fort Bend, Texas on the Brazos River. Joanna reported that the family could put all their worldly possessions in one box that they loaded on the ox cart, which was driven by a drunken man named Smith.

The Southmayd family moved to Fort Bend in December of1836 with the hope that the change in location would have a beneficial effect on D.S.’s health. However, when they reached the Brazos, they found that conditions there were almost as bad as those they had left behind in Harrisburg. The Borden family in Fort Bend took them in and treated them kindly. In spite of this, D.S. died a few weeks later, leaving his wife and infant daughter penniless in a desolate land. Joanna’s family offered financial support for her to return to New England, but she refused citing the need to continue with the Lord’s work in Texas. She opened a private school at Fort Bend and later moved with her daughter to Bailey’s Prairie in Brazoria where she also taught school. Two years later, on February 1, 1839, she married John B. Warren, a Presbyterian minister in Brazoria.

In the meantime, Daniel Starr Southmayd’s younger brother, John Allen Southmayd, had also come to Texas in 1836 to stake his claim for a headright. During the Texas War of Independence, J. A. Southmayd served in Captain Chamberlain’s company of the 1st Regiment of Texas Artillery, commanded by Colonel Neil. Following the war, John A. Southmayd claimed one third of a league of land in consideration for his service to the Republic of Texas and was granted it in Harris County, Texas. Little is known of John A. Southmayd other than he had a son named for his brother, Daniel Starr Southmayd, and was a farmer and slaveowner in Harris County, Texas. The Harris County Board of Health records indicate that on May 9, 1845 "A negro woman belonging to J. A. Southmayd, drowned in the Bayou." His son, D.S. Southmayd, moved to California to seek his fortune in the gold fields and married an Ailcy Caples in 1851 in San Francisco.

John A. Southmayd served as a witness for a claim made by Joanna Southmayd and "the heirs of D.S. Southmayd for one league and labor of land" based on the Southmayd's residence in Texas prior to the revolution. The claim was received and certified by the Republic of Texas on February 8, 1838, but was not approved until December 27, 1845. The land granted to the heirs of D.S. Southmayd was in Grayson County, Texas, and was designated in the land records as the D.S. Southmayd League.

In 1877, the Texas and Pacific Railroad built a track through Grayson County, Texas. The railroad created a depot at a central location along the line with cattle loading pens to serve the large ranches of western Grayson County where cattlemen would drive their cattle to be shipped by rail to Fort Worth. The depot needed a name, and since it was located on the D.S. Southmayd League, it was named Southmayd, Texas. The U. S. government established a post office at Southmayd in 1881 and a small town began to grow up around the depot. The town of Southmayd, Texas, located southwest of the Sherman-Denison area, continues to exist today, although no Southmayd family members ever resided there as far as anyone can ascertain.

In the mid-1930’s, as part of the centennial celebration of the Republic of Texas, Mr. Clarence R. Wharton, a prominent Texas lawyer and historian, wrote a series of historical articles for the Houston Chronicle. Among these were several articles on Joanna Kent Southmayd and her courageous pioneering efforts in colonial Texas. In 1936, the Houston Independent School District named an elementary school in the memory of Joanna Kent Southmayd, the first teacher to ever assemble a school within the confines of what was then the Houston school district. The Joanna Southmayd Elementary School is on Pecan Park in Houston, within only a few hundred yards of the spot where she first landed with her family in Texas in 1834.

I would like to acknowledge the help of Ms. Sally Koch and The Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library in the reseach behind this narrative.

(c) 2001 Jeffrey D. Southmayd

CONTACT WEBMASTER AT yojsouth@aol.com.