Mathew Duncan Ector: A Mostly Unremarkable Life of White Supremacy

Original work began November 2017

As memorials to Confederate figures and slavers continue to be removed from public and otherwise challenged, a common refrain is that by doing this, we’re forgetting our history or erasing it.

This is, of course,  disingenuous, but it reminded me how little I know about the namesake of Ector County: Mathew Duncan Ector. So I went looking.

I found that my home county is named after a Confederate general and Texas judge most notable for re-affirming anti-interracial marriage laws post-Reconstruction.

As part of the Southern effort to kill hundreds of thousands of fellow Americans in order continue keeping millions of fellow Americans in chattel slavery, Mathew Ector rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Confederate army until he was wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga, resulting in the amputation of part of his left leg. [link] [link]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most memorials and plaques to him are centered on his military actions, for example, the 1963 historical marker [link] placed in county seat Odessa, Texas:

Enlisted 1861. Lieutenant 3rd Texas Cavalry. Fought Arkansas, Missouri and Indian territory. As colonel led 14th Texas Cavalry Kentucky invasion. Made brigadier general 1862 to command famed Ector’s brigade in Tennessee and Mississippi battles. Wounded four times without leaving Chickamauga field. Under constant fire 70 days in Georgia. Lost leg in Atlanta 1864. Assigned to defense of Mobile, Alabama. A memorial to Texans who served the Confederacy erected by the state of Texas 1963,

A second marker [link], placed in 1964, refers to the creation of the county itself but includes the curious phrase “Outstanding Jurist”, which took some digging into.

Created February 26, 1887 from Tom Green County organized January 15, 1891, named in honor of Matthew Duncan Ector 1822-1879. Member of the Texas legislature a confederate officer and outstanding jurist Odessa, The County Seat.

(He spelled his name with only one “t”, after his mother’s father [link], but it shows up even on plaques with the more common spelling.)

The Texas State Historical Association has articles about Mathew Ector and about Ector’s Brigade [link][link], and those are about the most complete biographical information written about him, albeit highly simplified and often slipping into Confederate apologism.

Just after the Civil War, Ector won an election for district judge, but in 1867 the United States military government removed him from that position due to being a “Southern obstructionist”.

Ector had won his district judge election in 1866 before federal Republicans and an occupying military had successfully extended the franchise to black men, so his first judgeship and removal occurred in the context of white resentment and violence toward formerly enslaved people [link]. Other than the 1866 election being illegitimate for that reason and, perhaps, lying about whether men sworn-in to serve on a jury actually had been Unionists during the war, I haven’t found a source to detail what he did during that year.

The specific phrase “Southern obstructionist” seems to come directly from a short chapter of flowery prose [link] from The Bench and Bar of Texas [link], written in 1885 by James Daniel Lynch [link], a Confederate private and later anti-Reconstruction writer [link].

Ector claimed not to be an obstructionist, of course. He wrote more than once to President Ulysses S. Grant, first to the then-general in 1866 for endorsement of a pardon regarding his part in the war, then Oct. 10, 1867, because the Union military generals in charge had removed him as an elected district judge on the basis of “Known Hostility to the General Government” [link].

But Ector claims:

I positively assert that since I have been upon the bench I have taken no part in politics and have had as little to say about such matters as possible.

Grant favored the pardon but had no opinion on restoring him as a district judge. Ector went back to private practice till 1874 when the state legislature removed his replacement, District Judge John B. Williamson. A known “impediment to reconstruction” Governor Richard Coke appointed Ector to fill it, so he was obviously considered by his peers to be a good, safe Southern legislator. As Southern revanchists reasserted their power in Texas, their new constitution in 1876 created the Texas Court of Appeals in an effort to get around the existing Texas Supreme Court and its anti-Confederate justices [link]. That structure remains to this day.

In his decision in Frasher V. Texas, 1873, upholding anti-miscegenation laws as part of the Texas Court of Appeals, circumventing the Texas Supreme Court’s rulings that such laws violated the 14th and 15th amendments [link] [link]

In Charles Frasher v. the State of Texas, Presiding Judge Matthew Ector writes [link]:
Marriage is not a contract protected by the constitution of the United States or any of its amendments. It is a civil status under the control of the states, and the existence of the relation and the rights, obligations, and duties arising out of it are to be determined exclusively by state laws.
The provision of the Texas code making marriage of a white person to a negro an indictable offense is not repugnant to or avoided by the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the constitution of the United States, or the legislation of Congress under them.
The fact that by the code the penalty is imposed on the white person only, does not make it obnoxious to the Civil Rights Bill. 

The opinion later quotes that exact Texas law, article 2016 of the Criminal Code passed in 1858 [link], stating that a white person couldn’t marry someone with a great-grandparent identified as black, except on fear on imprisonment:

“If any white person shall, within this state, knowingly marry a negro, or a person of mixed blood, descended from negro ancestry to the third generation inclusive, though one ancestor of each shall have been a white person, or having so married, in or out of the state, shall continue to within this state to cohabit with such negro, or such descendant of a negro, he or she shall be punished by confinement in the penitentary not less than two nor more than five years.”

In 1879, the Texas legislature explicitly extended the punishment to black spouses as well now that the law had to regard them as people.

In her 2008 paper [link], University of Texas Professor Martha Menchaca [link] considered the Frasher opinion nationally notable and part of a general revanchist streak to undo Reconstruction:

This new legal conservatism coincided with political changes at the end of Reconstruction. In 1873, Texas Governor Coke, who opposed extending equal rights to Blacks, began replacing liberal state supreme court justices with conservatives (Richardson and Wallace, 1970: 224). Furthermore, conservatives took control of the legislature and in 1876 revised the state constitution to condone the segregation of Blacks. In 1877, the Texas Supreme Court heard Frasher v. The State and upheld the legislature’s right to preserve the division of the races. The decision was felt nationwide as it set a legal precedent protecting the states’ right to pass antimiscegenation laws immune from the jurisdiction of the 14th Amendment. The Court opined that the 14th Amendment did not apply to marriage because US Congress conferred on state legislatures the right to regulate marriage contracts in order to follow majority views. According to the court, if Christians in Texas by tradition have opposed the intermixture of the White and Black races, the legislature had the obligation to uphold this belief. Judge P. J. Ector offered the opinion of the Court:

In this state marriage is treated as a civil contract; but it is more than a civil contract. It is a public institution established by God himself, is recognized in all Christian and civilized nations, and is essential to the peace of happiness, and well-being of society . . . Civilized society has the power of self-preservation, and, marriage being the foundation of such society, most of the states in which the negro forms an element of any note have enacted laws inhibiting intermarriage between the white and black races. And the courts, as a general rule, have sustained the constitutionality of such statutes . . . It has always been the policy of this state to maintain separate marital relations between whites and the blacks. . . . If the people of other states desire to have an intermixture of the white and black races, they have the right to adopt such a policy. When the Legislature of this state shall declare such a policy by positive enactment, we will enforce it; until this is done, we will not give such a policy sanction.

Following the ruling, Frasher became the national precedent upholding the states’ right to regulate marriage and determine which races could intermarry (American Digest, 1902, 1949). State rights were to be upheld at all cost even if policies prevented people from marrying within their own ethnic group, or if the policies resulted in absurd practices such as prohibiting people from marrying anyone.

Otherwise, as presiding judge, I couldn’t find any especially laudable or even notable rulings up to his death in 1879 [link]. Then, there’s nothing until the county is named after him.

I’m not a scholar, so I’m limited to what work others have done or has been digitized. Ector’s first name is just as often given as “Matthew” instead of “Mathew”, plus almost all references that appear are for his part in the Civil War in a military capacity.

To a layperson like myself, other than, I suppose, some personal bravery for volunteering, fighting in multiple battles, and eventually losing a leg, he doesn’t seem especially notable in his military career considering there were literally hundreds of other Confederate brigadier generals and dozens of Texans [link].

Tom Green, Benjamin McCulloch, and H.B. Granberry had counties or cities named after them, too, but not Prince de Polignac, Sul Ross, or Richard Waterhouse.

Without access to the debate on HB 113 from Texas’ 20th Regular session [link], I can’t know what their stated criteria was. Someone could still do that in the future.

Looking at places where Ector pops up otherwise, there’s a reference to how he treated some enslaved people while administrator of his father’s estate prior to the Civil War [link].

Matthew D. Ector, as an administrator of the estate of Hugh W. Ector in Rusk County, placed three of his eight slaves ‘with the best carpenters the county could afford and this materially enhanced their value as skilled workmen.’

Ector’s father Hugh [link] seems to have died in 1835 [link], so Ector would have been 13 at the time. Rusk County is also in Texas, and if Ector was living there then, he had to get back to living in Georgia for passing the bar and his early adult career. It’s also possible the estate was in someone else’s hands till he came of age [link].

Ordered:
That the adminis on the estate of HUGH W ECTOR dec’d be premitted & authorized to keep the estate of said dec’d togather without division in joint common stock for the benefit of the family & heirs until the legal age or marriage of either or otherwise legally required—— and to continue to work the plantation, saw mill, balcksmith sop and carpenter at their discretion as they may think necessary.

By 1845, he’d been elected to the Georgia General Assembly as a House representative for Meriwether County [link], and other sources indicate he only served one biennial term through 1847. Although I was able to find several references to his father, I couldn’t find anything for Ector himself during this time as a Georgia House member [link].

After his first wife died in 1848, he moved to California then to Texas where he was a lawyer again but also a newspaper editor for the Henderson Democrat. He shows up in this period before the Civil War in regards to an 1860 a slave insurrection panic [link] that a fire had been intentionally set, perhaps as part of an abolitionist conspiracy [link].

Ector initially claimed he thought “negroes had but little to do with it”, but the “committee of vigilance” he was on ultimately recommended hanging at least three black people and fretful Texans lynched at least one white person in direct relation to the panic [link].

Henderson, Aug. 7, 1860.
Judge Frazer:
You have before this learned the fate of our town. All from McDonough’s Hotel to Smither’s office, taking that entire block, and from Redwine’s store to Likens’s corner, running back to the Presbyterian Church, (which was saved,) is a scene of ruin and devastation; 10 stores, 2 drug stores, 8 or 10 law offices, 2 family groceries, &c., were consumed. There was a stiff South wind blowing at the time, and in two hours at most, every house which had caught burned down. The sparks reached out fully a half mile. Judge, it is a sad picture to visit the scene, where all but yesterday was life and energy, fine buildings and every evidence of thrift and prosperity, now burnt and crumbling walls, lonely chimneys, chared [sic] shade trees, and the rubbish, as is generally to be seen after such a calamity. Owing to the failure of crops, such a misfortune never could have found us so illy prepared to meet it in a pecuniary point of view. And when we consider it has not been the result of accident, but that it was fired beyond any sort of question by some fiend in human shape, who had only acted the part allotted him in all probability, in a common purpose, to set on fire our towns and perhaps to murder or poison our citizens, it has driven us to a state of desperation which can scarcely be conceived by one who has not witnessed it. All is alarm and excitement with our women and children. Our men are in arms. The most vigilant investigation is being had. The plot was so well conceived, the time of the night, a little excitement between two gentlemen had just occurred which attracted the crowd just as our citizens were assembling at Church, and before the guard started out, the fire was put in some shape into an old shop where there had been none for months. It was burning in every part of the house at once, and in less than five minutes it was on fire all over. As yet we have not been able to find out who it was that did it, whether white or black. No traces have been discovered. My own opinion is, that the negroes had but little to do with it. I have given you these particulars in haste. I will write again soon. I see no chance for us to have a Court. We can scarcely provide for those of our people left. I would like to hear from you and advise with you. Be on your guard, for you cannot tell how soon you will share the same fate with us.

Your friend,
M. D. Ector.

With the tail-end of that panic coinciding with the 1860 election and slipping quickly into the American Civil War, we’re back up to his military service.

If I gloss over that, it’s only because, again, I don’t care much about the particulars what the moral equivalent of child rapists did in their war to defend systemic child rape.

Timeline in Confederate Gazette [link]

  • 1822: Born in Georgia
  • 1844: Passes Georgia Bar
  • 1846-47: Served one term in Georgia General Assembly as representative from Meriwether County
  • 1850: Settled in Texas by way of California after wife’s death in 1848 (married 1842)
  • 1851: Passes Texas bar
  • 1855: Elected to Texas House
  • 1859: Second wife dies
  • 1860: He is listed in the 1860 U.S. census as having $29,000 in property and enslaving 20 people; only 1860 Census I’ve found (for Rusk County) says 4,000 real value and 2,500 personal value [link]
  • 1861-1865: American Civil War
  • 1867: Wrote to President Grant, claimed to be apolitical and loyal to government [link]
  • 1874: Becomes district judge again. Rules in favor or railroad companies’ fraudulent election where they paid fees for special bond [link]
  • 1876: Elected to Texas Court of Appeals.
  • 1879: Dies
  • 1887: House bill 113 of 20th Regular Session Texas legislature passes, dividing western Tom Green county into six new counties. [link]

Bonus

John T Reagan, with a nearby county [link] and elementary [link] in Ector County Independent School District named after him had this to say: [paper] [source] [full text]

‘Reagan described “the four million negroes in bondage in this country … better fed better clothed, better protected from violence and wrong. better informed. more intelligent. ” than their counterparts elsewhere in the world. To free the Negro would be to destroy that ideal state. Besides, Reagan added, he found Negroes so incapable of self-government and survival that if emancipated “they would fall into such habits of idleness and vice and licentiousness as would render it necessary, for the security of society, to exterminate the greater portion of the race. ” ‘

Sources

  1. Grave of Mathew Ector:
    https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=10037
  2. Tim Kent’s Civil War tales:
    http://trrcobb.blogspot.com/2014/12/matthew-duncan-ector-being-in-front-of.html
  3. Historical Marker 1963:
    https://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/Details/5135002137
  4. Historical Marker 1964:
    https://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/Details/5135001379
  5. Mathew Duncan will: http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~dobson/ga/gameriwe.htm
    • ” to my grandson Mathew Ector $200 to remain in the hands of my executors at lawful interest till my grandson Mathew Ector shall arrive at lawful age, but should he die before he arrives at lawful age, the $200 & interest shall be equally divided among my lawful heirs”
  6. TSHA biographical entry:
    https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fec02
  7. TSHA entry on Ector’s Bridade: https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qke01
  8. M.D. Ector in Bench and Bar of Texas: http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/scanned/members/bios/BenchandBar_Ector.pdf
  9. The Bench and Bar of Texas by James Daniel Lynch:
    https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nnc1.cu54319757;view=1up;seq=357
  10. Redpath, or The Klu Klux Tribunal, A Poem by James D. Lynch:
    https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009245587

    • Author of a Popular Poem, “Robert E. Lee, Or Heroes of the South”
    • It’s bad poetry in every way poetry can be bad, exactly how you expect it to be bad, but revealing at how little has changed except that Southerners no longer write poetry
  11. Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967:
    https://goo.gl/FGfHqq

    • “In Lynch’s universe, the South was the victim of a Northern conspiracy determined to revenge itself upon the South.”
    • “Flawed as history by prejudice, hyperbole, and poor, insufficient evidence, [Daniel Lynch’s] Kemper County Vindicated nevertheless prefigured a whole school of Reconstruction historiography, which shared its prejudices (albeit in a milder form), while repudiating its lack of scholarship and scientific detachment.”
  12. Grassroots Reconstruction in Texas, 1865-1880:
    https://goo.gl/rNZBGL

    • “In April, 1867, General Griffin attempted to ensure greater justice in legal proceedings by issuing the jury order requiring that all members of grand and petit juries be able to swear the test oath. Somewhat surprisingly, when the district court met in June, Judge Ector and Sheriff Perry found forty-nine men who could swear they had never supported the Confederacy.”
  13. The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant: 1866:
    https://goo.gl/RvCE6a
  14. Semicolon Court:
    https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jps01

    • The Constitution of 1869 had provided in Article III, Section 6, that all elections would be held “at the county seats of the several counties until otherwise provided by law; and the polls shall be opened for four days.” For the 1873 election the legislature provided that polling would be held in precincts and the polls would be open for only one day. The court ruled that the semicolon in this section made the second clause of the provision independent, thus not open to a change by the legislature. The court’s ruling made the election unconstitutional.
  15. What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America, Pg. 61-62: https://goo.gl/VJoaaB
    • “The Court of Appeals, a new body created by the Post-Reconstruction Texas legislature to take jurisdiction in criminal cases away from the Texas Supreme Court, issued its ruling in the case of Charles Frasher…”
    • “In this fashion, southern state courts linked the association between interracial and illicit sex born in slavery to the authority of state police powers upheld in Gibson to forge a powerfully persuasive rationale for miscgenation law.”
  16. Southwest Legal History (1870-1900): Jim Crow in Texas:
    https://goo.gl/5e3rKo

    • “Most white Southerners (including Texans) grudgingly accepted postwar civil rights laws that granted blacks basic rights such as the right to hold property, control their own labor and travel freely. But whites of all stations fiercely resisted attempts to enact social equality: for example, laws requiring schools, theaters, restaurants and other public places to be integrated or allowing blacks and whites to intermarry. In Frasher, Texas’s appeals court affirmed that interracial marriage continued to be illegal; it justified the ban as a public safety measure, designed to defuse racial tension – a rationale that Southern courts would use for decades to come to justify Jim Crow laws.”
  17. Court of Appeals of Texas. Charles Frasher v. The State of Texas: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3304403?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
  18. The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897:  https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth6730/m1/1040/?q=white%20color%20negro
    1. “If any white person shall, within this state, knowingly marry a negro, or a person of mixed blood, descended from negro ancestry to the third generation inclusive, though one ancestor of each shall have been a white person, or having so married, in or out of the state, shall continue to within this state to cohabit with such negro, or such descendant of a negro, he or she shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary not less than two nor more than five years.”
  19. The Anti-Miscegenation History of the American Southwest, 1837 To 1970: Transforming Racial Ideology into Law:
    https://goo.gl/CBYz3R
  20. Martha Menchaca, Ph.D.: https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/anthropology/faculty/mm487
  21. The Reporter, Vol. VI, July-December 1878:
    https://goo.gl/FVjnLc
  22. A Roster of General Officers , Heads of Departments, Senators, Representatives , Military Organizations, &c., &c., in Confederate Service during the War between the States: 
    http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2001.05.0144%3Achapter%3D13&force=y
  23. HB 113, 20th Regular Session: http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/legis/BillSearch/BillDetails.cfm?billFileID=206580&from=advancedsearch&startrow=1&number=50&IDlist=&unclickList=
    • Relating to dividing the western portion of Tom Green County into six new counties.
  24. “An Empire for Slavery” By Randolph B. Campbell:
    https://goo.gl/9MMu97

    • Matthew D. Ector, as administrator of the estate of Hugh W Ector in Rusk County, placed three of his eight slaves ‘with the best carpenters the county could afford and this materially enhanced their value and skill as workmen.’
  25. Col Walton Bray Ector, Sr:
    https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=131097856

    • Father: Brig. General Hugh Walton Ector 1798 – 1835
  26. Hugh Walton Ectory biography: http://files.usgwarchives.net/ga/meriwether/bios/gbs5ector.txt
    • Second [child] was Matthew Duncan Ector, born February 28, 1822. Matthew migrated to Texas in 1849. He served as a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army, and  returned to Texas after the war where he practiced law and served as a judge.  He was married three times: Mary Louisa Phillips, Letitia Graham and Sallie  Parish Chew, and had a total of ten children, Jennie Ellen, Walton Hugh,  Letitia, Matthew D. Jr., Walker D., William Chew, Paul Cecil, Anna, and Helen Marian.
  27. Meriwether CO. GA – Guardianship returns, 1 June 1835
    http://files.usgwarchives.net/ga/meriwether/court/guardian.txt

    • Ordered: That the adminis on the estate of HUGH W ECTOR dec’d be premitted & authorized to keep the estate of said dec’d togather without division in joint common stock for the benefit of the family & heirs until the legal age or marriage of either or otherwise legally required—— and to continue to work the plantation, saw mill, balcksmith sop and carpenter at their discretion as they may think necessary.
  28. Georgia Almanac 1848:
    https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=emu.10002331251;view=1up;seq=29

    • Members of the Legislature in office July 1847, but whose term of office will expire November following. … Meriwether County: Allen Rowe & Mathew Ector.
  29. Georgia Legislature search 1846-1847:
    http://metis.galib.uga.edu/ssp/cgi-bin/ftaccess.cgi?location=fhtml/legis/simple.html&ls=fhtml/legis/simple.html&sessionid=714a5ff0-74b5354752-3138
  30. Affairs in Texas.; THE RECENT FIRES VIGILANCE COMMITTEES THE CROPS: http://www.nytimes.com/1860/08/27/news/affairs-in-texas-the-recent-fires-vigilance-committees-the-crops.html?mcubz=0s
    • A negro belonging to Mr. BARRON, at Science Hill, Henderson County, was hung on the 3d — strychnine having been found in his possession, and he having confessed to having a hand in the insurrection. A gentleman writing from Rusk, Cherokee County, 4th inst., gives an account of a plot to poison the whole community on election day. Poison was found in the possession of several of the negroes, and confessions are elicited of a determination to poison and murder the whole people. Similar plots have been discovered in Anderson and Henderson Counties.
  31. “Texas Terror” by Donald E Reynolds: https://goo.gl/kpCiTh
    • Ector’s view that an abolitionist plot was the cause of Henderson’s destructive fire was clearly shared by the town’s citizens.
    • They almost exclusively resorted to the use of vigilance committtees to carry out the investigations, conduct trials and execute punishments. … When they became convinced that there was the threat of a servile uprising, they never hesitated to suspend the regular legal procedures and collectively usurp the power of the state.
    • Fort Worth corresponded “And be not surprised when I tell you that we will hang every man who is not above suspicion. Necessity now reverses the rule for it is better for us to hang ninety-nine innocent (suspicious) men than let one guilty one pass, for the guilty one endangers the peace of society, and every man coming from a northern state should live above suspicious.”
    • “Indeed, one of the outstanding paradoxes of Southern life was the reverence for the Federal Constitution and law of the Bible which Southerners displayed, while they frequently ignored the legal courts in dealing with abolitionists and Negro insurrectionists.”  —”Mob Violence in the Old South” by Clement Eaton
  32. Marshall Texas Republican, 1860http://apps.uttyler.edu/vbetts/marshall_texas_republican_1860.htm
    • Henderson, Aug. 7, 1860.
      Judge Frazer:
      You have before this learned the fate of our town. All from McDonough’s Hotel to Smither’s office, taking that entire block, and from Redwine’s store to Likens’s corner, running back to the Presbyterian Church, (which was saved,) is a scene of ruin and devastation; 10 stores, 2 drug stores, 8 or 10 law offices, 2 family groceries, &c., were consumed. There was a stiff South wind blowing at the time, and in two hours at most, every house which had caught burned down. The sparks reached out fully a half mile. Judge, it is a sad picture to visit the scene, where all but yesterday was life and energy, fine buildings and every evidence of thrift and prosperity, now burnt and crumbling walls, lonely chimneys, chared [sic] shade trees, and the rubbish, as is generally to be seen after such a calamity. Owing to the failure of crops, such a misfortune never could have found us so illy prepared to meet it in a pecuniary point of view. And when we consider it has not been the result of accident, but that it was fired beyond any sort of question by some fiend in human shape, who had only acted the part allotted him in all probability, in a common purpose, to set on fire our towns and perhaps to murder or poison our citizens, it has driven us to a state of desperation which can scarcely be conceived by one who has not witnessed it. All is alarm and excitement with our women and children. Our men are in arms. The most vigilant investigation is being had. The plot was so well conceived, the time of the night, a little excitement between two gentlemen had just occurred which attracted the crowd just as our citizens were assembling at Church, and before the guard started out, the fire was put in some shape into an old shop where there had been none for months. It was burning in every part of the house at once, and in less than five minutes it was on fire all over. As yet we have not been able to find out who it was that did it, whether white or black. No traces have been discovered. My own opinion is, that the negroes had but little to do with it. I have given you these particulars in haste. I will write again soon. I see no chance for us to have a Court. We can scarcely provide for those of our people left. I would like to hear from you and advise with you. Be on your guard, for you cannot tell how soon you will share the same fate with us. Your friend,
      M. D. Ector.
    • [MARSHALL] TEXAS REPUBLICAN, August 18, 1860, p. 2, c. 2
      A negro woman has been convicted by the Vigilance Committee of Henderson with being concerned in burning the town, and sentenced to be hung on the 27th. Other parties are under arrest, and will be tried.
    • [MARSHALL] TEXAS REPUBLICAN, August 18, 1860, p. 2, c. 2
      Two Men Hung.—We learn that on last Saturday an investigation of some negroes was held at Tennessee Colony, and from their testimony sustained to the full satisfaction of the whole assemblage, by circumstances and other corroborative testimony, two white men—Wyrick and Cabelle,–were implicated in the proposed insurrectionary movements of the negroes of our county. A full, fair and impartial investigation was had, as we are informed, and the verdict was unanimous that they were guilty. They were then taken to the woods and expiated their crimes on the gallows. They had both been citizens of our county for years, and on one or two occasions heretofore had been charged with a degree of certainty, of having harbored runaway negroes. Their general character was bad. The citizens engaged in the investigation numbered about two hundred and was composed of some of the coolest, most impartial and respectable men in the county, and we have fullest assurance that they but discharged their duty to themselves, to their families, and to their country. Let no one judge hastily and harshly of their actions, but reflect upon the startling emergency, which called upon them for prompt and decisive action; circumstances admitted of no delay, and however much the necessity may be regretted, yet their course was the only one which presented itself as equal to the emergency.—Palestine Advocate of the 8th.
      The Rusk Enquirer contains the following letter relative to this denouement and tragedy.
      Palestine, Sunday Eve., 5th Aug.—News has just reached here of the hanging of two white men at Tennessee Colony; they had supplied negroes with a quantity of strychnine, and were instructing them as to the details of the plot which is now discovered, for the negroes to poison t-night, to-morrow kill the women and children, get possession of arms and kill the men on their return from the election. Some of the negroes here are engaged in it. I have heard nothing to implicate any one in your county. The plot is general north and north-west of us. The last news from Athens was that they were about to hang three negroes there, who had poison and arms. There have been some negroes arrested here. I do not think we need apprehend much danger as the plot is so generally made known and the people are on their guard. From Dallas, Fort Worth and other places above us, the same plan of action id developed, the negroes all tell the same tale; it is to be hoped that the worst is over.
      Yours truly,
      J. T. Eppinger.

Uncategorized sources

  • Court of Appeals of Texas. Charles Frasher v. The State of Texas, The American Law Register (1852-1891) Vol. 26, No. 7, New Series Volume 17 (Jul., 1878), pp. 459-471 (13 pages) [link]
  • Homesteads Ungovernable: Families, Sex, Race, and the Law in Frontier Texas, 1823-1860 by Mark M. Carroll (2010) [link]
    • According to the statute, no “white person” could legally “marry a Negro, or person of mixed blood, descended from Negro ancestry, to the third generation inclusive. . . .” The octoroon provision certainly reveals the curious legal calculus involved in the arbitrary binary construction of racial categories in a radically expanding slave state. The explicit definition, however, worked quite well to dispel confusion about the racial credentials required for women and men to marry one another legally. It also defined which men and women could produce legitimate heirs.
  • What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America By Peggy Pascoe (2009) [link]
  • The original meaning of the 14th Amendment regarding interracial marriage by David Kopel on December 5, 2011
    • I don’t find the Indiana court’s 1871 reasoning persuasive, and, apparently, neither did the Alabama and Texas Supreme Courts in 1872. But courts cannot stand forever against the sustained will of the electorate. After four losses, the proponents of anti-miscegenation won on their fifth try in the Alabama Supreme Court. When the courts in the various states finally acquiesced to anti-miscegenation laws, Gibson was the essential citation, because it came from a state where slavery had never legally existed. The Texas intermediate Court of Appeals provided the legal reformulation that marriage was “status” and not “contract,” and was therefore not covered by the Civil Rights Act: “Marriage is not a contract protected by the Constitution of the United States, or within the meaning of the Civil Rights Bill. Marriage is more than a contract within the meaning of the act. It is a civil status, left solely by the Federal Constitution and the laws to the discretion of the states, under their general power to regulate their domestic affairs.” Frasher v. State, 3 Tex. App. 263 (Tex. Ct. App. 1877). (The regressive Frasher decision is one more data point in support of the observation in Henry Sumner Maine’s great 1861 book Ancient Law: “we may say that the movement of the progressive societies has hitherto been a movement from Status to Contract.” Maine’s book elaborates in great detail why marriage law fits this paradigm.)
  • “Establishing the Texas Court of Appeals, 1875-1876”, The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 47, July 1943 – April, 1944 Page: 17 [link]
  • Wiley B Ector, Ellen A Ector, and Wolf W Ector in Rusk, TX 1860 Federal Census [link]
  • A Guide to the Mathew Duncan Ector Papers, 1866-1879 [link]
  • “The Relic of A Barbarous Age: James Matthew Townsend and Indiana’s Black Laws” by Derek Henderson [link]
    • In southern Indiana on April 13, 1870, Thomas Gibson, a mulatto man,
      married Jennie Williams, a white woman. The couple’s marriage directly violated Indiana law, and just ten days after the ceremony Gibson was indicted by a Vanderburgh County grand jury. However, in light of both the 1866 U.S. Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, the trial judge quashed the indictment.

 

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