Thursday, February 10, 2011

Deep in the Heart of Texas

If you've ever met anyone from Texas, you know how deeply the devotion to the state runs. For those of us not "privileged" enough to have been born in Texas, the devotion may seem slightly overstated. However, as the commercial says, "It's like a whole other country," and for those from Texas, this statement runs especially true. So, for my husband, who is a proud Texas native, finding a genealogical link to the Republic of Texas would be the ultimate in family history status, competing (for him) with membership in the Sons of the American Revolution.

During my research on my husband's family, it seemed as if the Sons of the Republic of Texas membership was quickly slipping through his hands. Everyone was from some place other than Texas, and I had yet to discover any evidence that his family arrived in Texas before the late 1800's, well past the Republic of Texas' time frame.

For those of you not familiar with the Republic of Texas, the Republic was an independent nation in North America, bordering the United States and Mexico between the years 1836 and 1846. It encompassed what is today Texas, as well as smaller parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Kansas. In fact, then President Andrew Jackson even sent diplomatic agents to the Republic, thereby recognizing it as an independent and sovereign nation.

Map of the Republic of Texas, ca. 1836

Remember the Alamo? That battle, in which famous men such as Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett died at the hands of the Santa Anna and his Mexican Army, was fought right after Texas became a Republic (in fact, the Republic of Texas was officially declared on March 2, 1836, and the Alamo fell four days later).

Now, we've all seen the images from that famous John Wayne western, The Alamo, in which gloriously brave men fought the evil invading army, holding onto their new Republic until the bitter end. Who wouldn't want to be a part, at least through family history, of that event? I believe it is equal to the American Revolution for images of drama and glory and courage.

So imagine the surprise and jubilation when I did discover a family link to the Republic of Texas. Oh, happy day! Cautiously (and after many hours of shouting from the rooftops over this illustrious event) I double checked my research to ensure that I had not overstated my husband's connection.

My research appeared as if it was holding. And while my husband's connection to the Republic of Texas does not involve the Alamo, it seemed as if I was able to establish a connection nonetheless. My husband's fifth great-grandfather, Benoni Middleton, settled in Texas, dying there in 1842.

Benoni Middleton, originally named Benjamin Middleton, was probably born in Kentucky about 1776 (why he changed his name from "Benjamin" to "Benoni" is unknown; he may have been wanting something with a more international flair). Using a United States Land Grant for his service in the War of 1812, he and his family moved to Illinois around 1820, where he purchased 160 acres for $1.25 per acre in 1830.

Not all of Benoni's family moved to Texas with him. Many of his daughters had already married and stayed behind in Illinois. Hannah Elizabeth Middleton, identified as one of Benoni's daughter's, and my husband's 4th great-grandmother, did indeed stay in Crawford County, Illinois with her husband Ithra Brashear, dying there in 1846.

Around 1837, the opportunity to own more land, specifically 1,280 under a Republic of Texas Land Act, probably pushed Benoni and many of his family south, into what is today Leon County, Texas. There he settled with his wife and children near Fort Boggy. The Fort was established in 1840 by President Lamar and built by the Texas Rangers to protect the local white settlers from Kikapoo and Kichai Indian attacks. Benoni did not get to enjoy his new home for long as he died in January 1842, allegedly from an Indian attack.

Benoni's three sons, William, Thomas and Benoni, Jr. went on to participate in the Mier Expedition, in an effort to defend Texas from the invading Mexican Army. All three men were imprisoned by the Mexicans and sentenced to death by the Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Deciding to make the idea of execution more interesting, Santa Anna instituted death-by-lottery. The prisoners selected beans out of a jar and those selecting black beans were blindfolded and shot. The three brothers were spared from death by the lottery and were taken to Mexico City as prisoners. William and Thomas eventually made it back to Texas, but Benoni, Jr. died in prison in Mexico City.

Now, as with many great stories, the ending is not one that ends in triumph, but in great tragedy and disappointment. I am not referring here to Benoni, Jr. dying in prison, but something that hits much closer to home. So eager was I to discover a Texas connection, that I didn't look as carefully as I should at the evidence. Oftentimes in the pursuit of an exciting connection in family history, we overlook details that should be the very first thing that we verify.

The birth date of Benoni and his alleged daughter, Hannah Elizabeth Middleton, who married Ithra Brashear, didn't add up. Benoni would have been 8 years old when Hannah was born, which, even back then, is nearly impossible to believe. The evidence points instead to Hannah being Benoni's sister, making Benoni Middleton my husband's 4th great-granduncle.

Obviously, I am disappointed with the outcome, but my husband can still be proud of the adventurous and courageous spirit that Benoni and his family had. And although my husband may never be a member of the Sons of the Republic of Texas, he may be assured that the same brave spirit that ran through their blood runs through his as well, just slightly more diluted.