Stepping Back in Time at Varner-Hogg Plantation

Don’t you just love visiting a place that makes history come to life?

The Varner-Hogg Plantation in West Columbia is one of those sites.

When most of us think of plantations, our thoughts go immediately to Louisiana or Mississippi. But just an hour south of downtown Houston an enchanting reminder of the past sits tucked backed on acreage covered by magnolia trees and a pecan orchard, beside a lazy, winding creek.

The Varner-Hogg Plantation Historic Site shares the story of three owners and their families.

Martin Varner came to the area in 1824 and was granted 4,428 acres by Stephen F. Austin. Along with the two male slaves they brought to the area, his family raised a small amount of livestock and established a rum distillery.

Ruins of sugar mill

Ten years later, Columbus R. Patton moved from Kentucky with a large number of slaves. He became active in politics and served in the Texan army. During the years the plantation was known as the Patton Place, between 40 and 60 slaves made bricks by hand, constructed a plantation house, smokehouse, sugar mill and their own living quarters.

Sugar mill boiling kettles

The two-story sugar mill, which sat across Varner creek within sight of the front porch (now the back) of the main house, made Patton highly successful.

View of main house from site of sugar mill.
The original front entrance now serves as a back porch.


His long-running, open relationship with a slave named Rachel was unpopular in the community. She had many of the rights a white wife would have, and was known to have ruled over the other slaves in a harsh manner.

Patton’s extended family also disapproved, and his nephew and brother were disinherited by Patton because of their actions against her. The extended family had Patton declared insane in 1854, and had him committed to an asylum in South Carolina where he died in 1856. After his death and a prolonged court battle, Rachel was granted her freedom and an annual stipend.

Between 1869 and 1901, the site changed hands several times. Many of the original buildings, including the slave quarters and sugar mill were destroyed during the 1900 hurricane.Governor Hogg purchased the plantation in 1901, convinced that there were oil reserves beneath the land. His 1906 will recommended that his children retain the mineral rights, and the discovery of oil a short time later made the family extremely wealthy.

His daughter Ima was a renowned collector of antiques and decorative arts, and furnished the main house with exquisite pieces before donating the plantation to the state of Texas in 1958.


 

 

A stairway leading from the second floor to the third floor, where the boys of families of former residents would have slept, is off limits to current visitors. Luckily, I was allowed access so that I could share these phots with my readers.

Stairway to third floor.

Though the quarter round windows would have originally allowed light into the space, it’s hard to imagine how the heat of summer would have been tolerable.

The original, covered quarter-round windows as seen on the third floor.

A much smaller set of stairs, tucked beneath what was possibly an original eave, then leads from the third floor to the glassed-in cupola atop the plantation house.

Stairs from third floor to the cupola.
View from cupola
View from cupola.

A feature of the plantation site that kids find especially fun is

“Governor Hogg’s Tub” and Swimming Hole.


Fed by a natural spring creating a small fountain from a pipe, the water is retained in a square, brick lined “tub” before continuing to a small lake. The well-maintained feature is now enjoyed by local wildlife.

One of the things this site does so well is to preserve the beauty of this time period and lifestyles, without romanticizing the sacrifices of others that made them possible. In the outbuidling known as Ima’s cottage, where she stayed on her visits in later years, a fascinating account has been gathered of what the lives of slaves on the plantation were like. Visitors can even listen to recordings of reminiscences of former slaves in their own words.


During your visit make sure you visit the barn, where you can see antique carriages. The yard to the barn is now used for special events.







The visitors center, immediately to the left as you enter the grounds, has a small exhibit room as well as a great selection of local history books and souvenirs.

In my next blog post, I’ll share a special place to stay overnight when you

visit the Varner-Hogg Plantation! 




 

 

I Spy….Bonnie & Clyde!

Rosenberg’s historic downtown district has been undergoing a revitalization in the past few years. It’s so great to see the number of buildings that have been standing along the streets housing local businesses for generations.

Once  Again Antiques

Among the businesses now are a few impossible to resist antique and gift stores, including Once Again Antiques at the corner of Third Street and Avenue F.

The Eagle Cafe

And you won’t believe the fun connection it has to a notorious couple!

Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow

In 1934,  the Eagle Cafe was housed in this building, and a favorite among locals. One day, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (yes, THAT Bonnie and Clyde!) came in and sat down. Even in the age before electronic media, their faces were easily recognizable, so it’s a bit surprising that no one confronted them or left to get the police.

The couple sat down, ordered lunch and ate it without ever looking up or making eye contact with the staff or other customers. Can you imagine how exciting, and perhaps a bit unnerving, it must have been for the locals inside?

The Eagle Cafe

It shouldn’t have been too surprising to have spotted them in town, since Bonnie was from Roweena, Texas and Clyde was from Ellis County, near Dallas.

When they finished their meal, they returned to their car, which they had left running out front, and left.

Shortly after this particular stop in Rosenberg, the couple was killed in a shootout in Louisiana.

These days the building is filled with happier reminders of the past, in the form of antiques. The charming co-owner proudly pointed out the small sections of exterior wall at the front where they uncovered “ghost signs” or remnants of original painted ads. They preserved them so that future generations could enjoy their find.

Once Again houses the booths from 18 different vendors and one of the best assortments of antiques I’ve seen in a long time. They also have a few art pieces, like these adorable “canines” made from antique toasters, cameras, spoons and other amusing parts. They’re worth the stop all by themselves, but the history of the building makes the visit pretty memorable, too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Church of the Osage

When you’re a history buff, visiting historical sites is just part of any well-rounded getaway!

My sister and I just got back from a trip to Oklahoma, where we spent part of every one of our childhood summers. My grandparents’ farm was built on my grandfather’s Indian land grant (he was a Cherokee, born in 1899…but I’ll share more about him later).

On our way to find the farm again, we decided to go to Pawhuska to visit the Pioneer Woman Mercantile and the ranch where Ree Drummond films her Food Network show.

In addition to that, I had heard of an amazing Catholic church in town built by the Osage Indians. The stunning stained glass windows are the feature that draws most visitors to this historic church.

Before we left on our trip, I called the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, and confirmed that we would be able to take a tour on the day we planned to be in town. The lovely lady who answered the phone assured me that she would be there. If you plan to go, you can also check their Facebook page for details.

 

 

 

 

 

Pulling into the parking lot, there is nothing particularly grand about the exterior appearance of the structure, but the moment we stepped inside it took our breath away.

 

The 22 windows in the sanctuary are considered to be among the most unusual stained glass of any church in the United States. Traditional Catholic windows feature biblical scenes, and twenty of those found in this church do as well.

The other two, however, depict images of people who were alive at the time the church was erected – which is strictly against Catholic guidelines. The Pope gave special dispensation for these to be created as an acknowledgement of the special relationship between the Osage and the Catholic missionaries.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First I’d like to share just a bit about the history of the church itself, which is as interesting as its details.

The church is known in the Pawhuska area as the Cathedral of the Osage.

Knowing that the Osage in the area may have been the richest people per capita in the world at the time may come as a surprise to many, but definitely explains the exquisite cathedral and its rich details.

In the beginning of the 20th century when oil was struck on Osage land, the tribe suddenly went from one of the poorest tribes to the richest.

Photo courtesy of the Osage Wedding Project website

 

 

The men are said to have driven the finest cars and simply replaced them if they broke down or got a flat tire. The women of the tribe walked the streets of town with diamonds on their shoes.

Their parish priest at the time was Father Edward Van Waesberghe, who laid out plans and designs for the church around 1910. The priest even did much of the brickwork himself, aided by Osage members.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the church, the ceiling is a series of cross-ribbed arches, painted with a pattern that mimics traditional Osage ribbon work.

Ribbon work patterns also appear as details in many of the stained glass windows.

The altar, draped with an Indian blanket, and statues were made by the same craftsmen who supplied them to the famous Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Osage oil money built the church, and enabled the tribe to afford exquisite stained glass ordered from the Bavarian Art Glass Company in Munich Germany.

 

 

 

 

Being created in a country in the midst of  World War I held dangers for such fragile masterpieces however, and for a while the German artisans buried the almost completed windows in a local sandy river bank in Munich to protect them from possible shelling.

The artisans themselves traveled to Oklahoma with the 36 foot tall windows, which were shipped in sections to Pawhuska and placed in the church prior to its completion in 1916.

Each of the windows is a stunning masterpiece, with the brilliant red panes achieved through the addition of gold dust.

The two most unique windows in the cathedral feature the images of Native Americans.

The ‘Columbus Window’ in the south transept depicts the Pentecost scene on the upper panels, and Christopher Columbus’ first encounter with Native Americans in the New World on the lower panels. It was donated by the William S. Mathews family.

Opposite this window, on the north side of the building though, is the exceptional work of art that many travel from around the country (and world) to see in person.

The ‘Osage Window’ portrays the scene of Jsesuit missionary Father John Shoenmakers, known as ‘Black Robe,’  bringing Catholicism to the Osage Nation, at a time when the tribe lived in Kansas before they were moved to Indian Territory. Shoenmakers was held in such high regard by members of the tribe that his name, as Sho-Mink-Ah, is now used as the Osage word for priest.

In addition to the clergyman, the window depicts the images of actual people in traditional Osage dress surrounding the priest, intently listening to the word of God. Many of the tribal members were still alive at the time it was created. They include Osage Chief Bacon Rind, his wife Julia, Chief Saucy Calf, and interpreter Arthur Bonnecastle and his wife. Photographs of those included were sent to Germany along with the order for the windows. This window was donated by Rose Hill, Angie Bonniecastle and T. J. Leahy.

 

 

Two adorable little girls stand out from the rest of those pictured, partly due to their stance of staring directly out from the window. They are actual portraits of two young girls who died tragically young from the devastating smallpox disease. They represent the eternal saving power of God’s words to their souls.

Father Shoenmakers worked for 36 years among the Osage until his death in 1883.

 

 

 

A very small room off the vestibule holds the original baptismal font, as well as a partial view of the ‘Expulsion’ window depicting the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and the ‘Revelation of St. John.’

 

 

 

Only the lower half of the Eden window is visible however, until one climbs to the organ loft to view the upper half, where musical instruments appear in the design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The same can be said of the ‘Annunciation’ window in the vestibule on the opposite side, which is partially obscured by the tightly winding steps to the loft. The roses at the feet of Mary glow impressively in the late afternoon sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My sister spotted the name ‘Juanita Scott’ on the donor section of one of the window, which made us smile because…although we knew it wasn’t the same person…it was our grandmother’s name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The remaining windows at Immaculate Conception depict traditional Biblical scenes in a highly detailed and theologically symbolic manner, including ‘The Child Jesus Teaching in the Temple,’ ‘Wisdom, Age and Grace,’ ‘The Wedding Feast,’ and other classic biblical portrayals. Each one is beautifully detailed and worthy of study.

 

When we asked how many people attended mass there now, the guide responded about 80 to 100 people. For a cathedral of this size, that took us aback. But generations of families have been attending since the church was built, and about 80-90 percent of the parish remains a part of the Osage.

This treasure trove of glass masterworks is definitely worth a detour from any nearby trip route.

 

 

Ghostly Appearance at the Pier

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Many people assume that the majority of Galveston hauntings stem from the 1900 Storm. While it’s true that the overwhelming loss of life during that hurricane contributed to the population of restless spirits of the island, entities were experienced long before the waves of 1900 washed across the city.

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Pier 33 in 1910

In January of 1894, Galvestonians were talking about the wraith of a woman seen on the West End. She was said to be the spirit of a woman who had drowned in the neighborhood years before.

Appearing at midnight and clad in a calico gown, she clutched a shawl that was drawn around her shoulders and beneath her chin. Moving slowly and deliberately she moved from the east end of Pier 33 to the west end, then going over the edge.

There were different theories at the time as to whether she had fallen or jumped, but no sounds of footsteps or a splash was ever heard. If witnesses rushed to the end of the pier to look, there was no sign of her in the water.

Was she distraught from the loss of a child during a Yellow Fever epidemic, or a husband lost at sea? Was she a victim of the harsh life experienced by many during the rough, early years of the city? It seems her identity and story will remain a mystery.
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In 1894 that area, home of the newly constructed Moody Cotton Compress, was bustling with business and waterfront workers, but as 12 o’clock neared…no one ventured toward Pier 33, at one time called Western Wharf.

The sad spirit became such a regular occurrence, that even those who lived nearby avoided the area around the midnight hour.

Today grand cruise ships past the spot of the ghost’s appearance on their way to dock at the cruise terminal. I wonder if she even notices.

 

GOG-CoverRead more tales of Galveston’s spirited past in ‘Ghosts of Galveston’ from The History Press.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1467119652

 

 

Christmas Spirits…Bottled and Otherwise

     A 1904 ad for a different kind of “Christmas spirit.” Henry Toujouse ran the bar in the basement of the Tremont Opera House (where the National Artist Lofts are now).

     His beautiful mahogany bar now resides at the Tremont House. It’s seen a lot of spirits in it’s day and is still reportedly tended by Toujouse, who committed suicide in 1918.

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Magnolia Grove: Galveston’s Lost Victorian Era Cemetery

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An article I wrote about the history of Magnolia Grove Cemetery (established 1871) will appear in the September issue of Galveston Monthly Magazine. Now, lost this once elegant, Vithrasher-gravectorian Era cemetery was the most beautiful burial ground on the island.

Not all of the bodies were moved, but the grounds of the cemetery now lie beneath the runways of Scholes Airport and the back nine fairways of the Moody Gardens Golf Course.

My investigation led me to many of the usual resources for history in Galveston, such as the Galveston & Texas History Center (always wonderful), but led me on new research paths as well. No single source seemed to MagnoliaCemeteryJournalhave all of the pieces of information, and many whom I contacted had no knowledge of the lost cemetery at all.

There unfortunately simply wasn’t room to include all of the fascinating information that I found about the lost cemetery, so I will list some of the details here for those who are interested or researching their families.

Magnolia Grove was comprised of 100 acres, divided into 25 sections. They were identified as Sections A through X, and City Circle, otherwise known as Rest of Honor. This circle was reserved for the interment of people of distinguished merit or achievement. The first two burials in this section were the first and last presidents of Texas, David Burnet and Aaron Jones, who were moved from previous burial sites.

Sections 6 and 7 (also known as F & G), which were located on the waterfront, were consecrated by the Catholic Church and reserved for exclusive use of members of that faith.

A portion of Section 2 (B) was purchased by the Masonic lodges and used for burials of Masons and their families. The Tucker faMagnoliaCemeteryInvitationmily, headed by the president of the Magnolia Grove Cemetery Association, was also located in this section.

Many of the larger lots in the cemetery were purchased by wealthy families and organizations.

Less expensive public lots for white “clients” were located in Section 4, and for “colored” loved ones in Section 5 of the Eastern Division of Magnolia Grove.

The Spanish Benevolent mausoleum still stood after 1900 in Section D on lots 31 and 32, which was part of the southern half of lot 258. Although heavily damaged by weather and vandalized, the mausoleum still stood in the 1920s.

MagnoliaGroveBylawsGalveston’s Fireman’s Relief Association purchased a portion of Section B for their members in August 1878.

Plots in Section J were purchased by Joseph W. Rice and David Guthrie; Section M included family plots for Adriance and Trueheart; Section N for August Kleinecke; and Section P plots belonged to the Sealy, Ball and Hutchings families.

General Wigfall’s plot was in Section Q, and J.P. Davie purchased four lots in Section R.

Section S was home to the The French Benevolent Society lot, as well as the Nahor Biggs Yard and Grover families.

Adolph Flake chose his plot in Section T, but now rests in the Historic Broadway Cemetery District.

John Sidney Thrasher, who married the widow of Galveston’s founder Michel Menard, was buried in the City Circle in 1879.

Of the many illustrious citizens in Galveston who were interred in Magnolia, some remain on the grounds, some were moved to other cemeteries, and some were lost to weather events.

Among the well-known Masons interred at Magnolia Grove who remain there are Henry S. Pearce, First Master of Hope Lodge in another part of the state; Adolph Cycoski, a Civil War veteran and teacher of French in Galveston, also a prominent Mason; and Dr. Benjamin Ball, a prominent businessman who was buried with Masonic ceremonies Feb. 13, 1880.

French native Achilles Mingell; Captain John Price, who formerly owned part of this property, and a residence in the early days; and Isaac McGary, veteran of Texas Revolution,; Mexican American War: and the Battle of San Jacinto are just two of the illustrious people whose graves wer never relocated and are now lost.

6475360_130510553456David Burnet (pictured at left) , the first president of Texas, was moved from Magnolia Grove and now rests in the Sherman plot at Lakeview.

William Tennant Austin of early Texas revolutionary fame, was mo3753_1018045175ved from Magnolia to Lakeview Cemetery.

Anson Jones (pictured at right), the last president of Texas, was originally buried in Trinity Episcopal Cemetery, moved to Magnolia Grove Cemetery five miles away in 1871 as part of the opening ceremonies. His remains were moved to Glenwood after 1892.

After the article runs in Galveston Monthly, I will share more information about this fascinating, and sad, loss of history.

 

Bounty of Souls

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During the Thanksgivi4fd3151700e18d3acab293cb952eedccng holidays, we are surrounded by symbols of harvest and bounty. One of the most popular symbols of the season’s bounty is a sheaf of wheat, which is why it is often incorporated into decorations.

lincoln-wheat-pennyThe image is so connected with bounty and prosperity that it was at one time used on United States currency.

Religiously, the image of wheat has a deeper meaning. Wheat is baked into the 67bd297f31d93d7f8069455b09a58857Eucharist, a motif of everlasting life through belief in Jesus. Therefore when wheat is used on gravestones or memento mori, it represents a divine harvest – being cut to resurrect the “harvest” into everlasting life or immortality.

Wheat has also been symbolic of love and charity in the bible, and was a popular emblem used by Masons.

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20151120_110201_DSC_5871The wheat sheaf can also signify a long and fruitful life, often more than 70 years.

So the net time you see an image of wheat on a grave, check the lifespan of the person who the stone memorializes.

 

 

 

Roker Book is Entertaining but Flawed

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Here is an interview I did with Al Roker about his new book, “The Storm of the Century.” It deals with the devastating 1900 hurricane in Galveston, which still stands as this nation’s worst national disaster.

Mr. Roker utilized the services of a professional researcher for this project.

As someone well-versed with Galveston history, there are some things in the book that grate on my nerves, such as mislabeling the Bishop’s Palace (one of the island’s most loved architectural treasures) as Ashton Villa (another historic home), and stating that Indianola (which was completely obliterated by a hurricane) was in Mississippi (it was in Texas). I would dearly have hoped that a professional researcher or publisher fact-checker would have caught things like this.

Aside from that, Roker and his team have gathered some heart-wrenching stories about those who did and didn’t survive the storm, and the book makes a quick and interesting read.

If you read “The Storm of the Century,” let me know what you think!

Fun Book Signing Event at the Galveston Bookshop

 

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An immense “Thank You” to everyone who came out to Saturday’s book signing event at the Galveston Bookshop for “Galveston’s Broadway Cemeteries.”

I had such a great time meeting everyone and learning about their individual interests in history, cemeteries or personal connections with the cemeteries on Broadway. I hope to follow up with some of you to learn more!

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Leaving Family Behind

On our way to visit the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas, my husband agreed that since that outing was “his thing,” we should make a stop on the way that was something I would especially enjoy. And, yes…he knew that would entail sitting in the car as I roamed an old cemetery somewhere along the route, taking photos. He’s a good sport!

So, with a bit of quick Googling, I found Lavaca County’s Old Moulton Cemetery. It seemed to have a good number of older headstones and offer some exploring opportunities.

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It was in this cemetery that I came across the marker of R.H. and E. J. McGinty – both born toward the first part of the 19th century.

The stone is in remarkably good shape, given that it has been exposed to Texas weather for over 100 years.20150623_125804_DSC_1840

The engraving itself was obviously not done by a seasoned professional. But whoever did carve the marker took great care and engraved the names, information and epitaph to the best of their ability. The extra effort makes it all the more poignant.

So, who was this couple?

20150623_125802_DSC_1839Robert Henry McGinty was born to Shadrach McGinty and Mary “Polly” Lamar McGinty on April 17, 1824 in Jones County, Georgia. Mary’s father James Lamar, according to family stories, was a first cousin to Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second president of the Republic of Texas.

Shortly after 1840, Robert’s family moved to Dallas County, Alabama where he would meet his future wife. Her name was Elizabeth “Eliza” Jane Lucas, who was born in Dallas County on November 14, 1828. They married on Feb. 6, 1844.

By the 1850 census, Robert, his new wife Jane (age 21) and their sons John Henry (age 3, born Dec. 1, 1846) and James Milton (age 1, born Jan. 10, 1849) lived on a farm next to Shadrack’s in Catahoula Parish, Louisiana.

Another family story explains that both were farmers on the Dubois Plantation at the time. Although there is still a Dubois Plantation Road off of Highway 190 in Tammany, Louisiana near the famous River Road District, this is in St. Tammany Parish.

Catahoula Parish is far north of this location, closer to Natchez. But, of course, there is nothing to say that they did not live on plantation grounds, and that the family just misinterpreted the name through the years. Plantation names were not listed on the censuses, but Catahoula Parish had the highest number of slaves in the era, so it makes sense that the area was plantation/farm country.

But I digress…history does that to me.image_018

The next handful of years were filled with joy and sorrow: the birth of daughter Mary Jane in 1851; the death of son John Henry in 1853; the birth of daughter Susan E. in 1854; the birth of son Obediah L. in 1857; the birth of son Robert in 1859, and the death of Susan the same year.

Evidently, during that time Robert’s parents Shadrack and Polly moved to El Dorado, Union County, Arkansas to farm. Shadrack disappears from the records soon after that, and is assumed to have passed away.

So to help his mother and leave the heartache of lost children behind, Robert and Jane moved their family to Arkansas, inheriting and farming his father’s land. His mother Polly lived with them and appears in their household on the 1860 census.

artilleryRobert left to serve in the Confederate Army, Company C, Second Battallion of the Arkansas Infantry on September 22, 1861. He was wounded by enemy artillery and sent home in December, probably in time to see the birth of daughter Nancie (Nannie) Aresenith on Dec. 20, 1861.

In the spring, he returned to the army and served until the end of the Civil War, joining Company I of the 6th Arkansas Regiment while it was stationed in Corinth, Mississippi.

After the war, as was the weight of large families of this era to bear, more children came into and passed from their lives.

The family welcomed another daughter, Sallie Micou, on Dec. 3, 1863, but mourned the death of their son Robert within a few months.

Their last son, Calhoun, arrived the 5th of November, 1866., and their last daughter Georgia was born in Lavaca County on May 5, 1871. (They had moved to Lacava County, Texas in 1870.)

And the losses continued, with Mary Jane (who had recently married) dying in March of 1869, Obe in Sept. of 1886 and little Calhoun just five days later.

Robert Henry joined the five of his ten children that passed before him on Dec. 19, 1896 in Moulton, Lavaca County, Texas. Imagine how sad the holiday season must have been for their family that year.

His epitaph reads, ”Eternity Called, He Answered Ready.”

In 1901 Jane filed for and received a Confederate widow’s pension. This document still exists and is a goldmine of information, confirming the above story.32241_1220701439_2218-00176

Jane passed away on February 25, 1904 in Alvin, Texas. Her son James Milton lived there, and although she was not listed on the most recent census in the household, perhaps she was visiting him at the time.

She had left five of her children behind, buried in different states. I’m sure she thought of them often.

Her touching epitaph reads, “Mother, our best friend on earth.”

Ironically, James Milton is buried in the Confederate Cemetery in Alvin, where I took some photos in May. I did not seem to get a shot of his marker though, so I guess I’ll have to go back for another visit.

Always looking for an excuse to find more stories.

 

Robert Henry McGinty (1824-1896) age 72

Elizabeth Jane Lucas McGinty (1828-1904) age 76

Their Children:

John Henry McGinty (1846-1853) age 7

James Milton McGinty (1849-1926) age 77

Mary Jane McGinty Slaughter (1851-1869) age 18

Susan E. McGinty (1854-1859) age 5

Obediah Lamar McGinty (1857-1886) age 29

Robert McGinty (1859- ?)

Nancy Aresenith McGinty Harris (1861-1940) age 79

Sarah Micou McGinty Crouch (1863-1955) age 92

Calhoun McGinty (1866-1875) age 9

Georgia McGinty Murphy (1870-1954) age 84