Madison County through the lens of history

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Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part piece highlighting news stories from the 1800s regarding Madisonville and Madison County.

Not long ago, I found where Bill Page, who is quite an authority on history of our region and was once a librarian at Texas A&M University, had compiled information about Madison County from pre-1900 newspapers from elsewhere.

They interested me, so I am sharing below much of what he gathered. He cited several publications, including the Leon Pioneer, Texas Baptist, Austin Daily State Journal, Galveston Daily News, Galveston Weekly Civilian, Dallas Weekly Herald, Plain Dealer, Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph, Bellville Countryman, Cleburne Chronicle and the Huntsville Item.

I was amazed that the latter was founded in 1850.

I found it distracting to attribute each bit of news to a different source, so I chose not to do so. I also did not give dates unless a year or so passed. Also, I use (sic) when someone before me misspelled something and I left it that way.

Page’s first news of our area was dated Jan. 29, 1853. It told about a bill that had been presented to the House of Representatives in Austin by the Honorable H.M. Crabbe (sic), for the establishment of a new county (which would later become Madison).

The author was not in favor of the bill and gave it little chance of passing. He attributed it to the perseverance of the Beedi (sic) citizens. In explaining the new county’s possible borders, he said “its northern boundary would probably start at a point on the Trinity River somewhere near the mouth of Boggy Creek (Leon County), go west to hit Old San Antonio Road near Rogers, and follow that road until it crossed the Navisoto (sic). The southern boundary would start at a point on the Trinity near the mouth of the Beedis (sic) and go west pretty nearly in a direct line to the Navisoto (sic). It would lop off about ten square miles of Leon County and the majority of the new county would come from Grimes County, but the author felt that it would take a lot of Walker County. Folks desired the new county because Bedias Creek had not been yet bridged. When it was in flood stage, it kept folks south of it from being able to do business in the county seat, which I think was then Centerville, as Leon County was established in 1846. Despite the author’s skepticism, Madison County was indeed created in 1853 and organized in 1854.”

On Jan. 25, 1954, Mr. E.T. Robinson, of Centerville, was shot in Madisonville by a Mr. McIver. The latter also suffered a broken arm, and no other particulars were given. McIver’s first name was not given, but I was able to learn elsewhere that several McIver families had come to our area in 1846, from Madison County, TN. No other particulars were known at the time.

Soon afterwards, an article expressed amazement at Madisonville’s fast growth. In just 9 months’ time since it was wilderness, it had sprung into a busy town, with “4 dry goods stores, one saddler shop, 2 groceries, 2 hotels, and quite a number of tasty private residences.” The Court House was used as a school house, and as a church. Mr. S.L. Heller, formerly of Crockett and assisted by his lady, had charge of a flourishing school with 40 to 50 scholars. There was then no Madisonville post office but arrangements were afoot to remove the Ell Wood (sic) post office from 4 or 5 miles away and move it to Madisonville.

Local town lots had been sold the previous August, and at that time, there had not been a single house in town, and scarcely a tree had been cut. By mid-April, there were quite a number of neat dwellings, store houses, taverns, and shops, and the town square thronged with people.

Merchants were busy at counters, the judge in the Court House was on the bench, and the advocate was addressing the jury. Nancy, Calvin, and George Jones were on trial on an indictment for murder. George was tried for the murder of his father, and his mother, Nancy, and his brother, Calvin, as accessories before the fact. The jury acquitted Calvin Jones but found George and Nancy guilty on the charge of being accessories. Punishment was fixed at eight years for George and five for Nancy, but the defendants’ application for a new trial was granted by the court. Page’s work contained no more or later information.

Fall and winter of 1853 had brought many new settlers, and our town gained 200 voters by April 1854. Agricultural lands were good, and many town improvements were made. However, the Huntsville sawmill had burned, and it was hard to get sawed lumber here locally. Still, the author touted the town of Madisonville as the prettiest, neatest, and decidedly largest town in this section of the country for its age.

Religion had come to the area by 1855-1856. Brother (J.W.D.) Creath had a good meeting at Madisonville, and thirteen were added to the church.” Of a separate incidence, a Brother Baines stated, “Our mission will close here today. There have been 16 received for immersion and by letter.” Later, after a meeting at Willowhole Prairie, B. Clark stated, “We commenced a meeting…continued for 5 days...I was assisted by James Powel…received 5 for baptism…I think the prospect good for building up a considerable church in that neighborhood.”

Articles in 1860-1864 were focused on matters of war, with companies organizing and rendezvousing and such. In July 1861, the governor called for volunteers for the 18th Brigade, to be composed of 450 men from Madison, Leon, Robertson, Brazos, and Burleson counties. In November 1862, at a meeting of the 3rd Cavalry Battalion, which represented Madison and eight other nearby counties, Madison County resident A.J. Spiller was among those appointed to a committee on resolutions.

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