On April 29, 1900, the Houston Post carried an article commemorating an address in Brenham given by the Hon. Harry Haynes, formerly of the state legislature serving Washington County the previous San Jacinto Day. Haynes recounted some of the early history of Washington County. In it, he said that on June 17, 1819, a force of 30 men under General James Long left Natchez, Mississippi for the area to the west that was then under the control of Spain. By the time they arrived at Nacogdoches, they numbered 300 men. Long split the forces to explore both the Brazos and Trinity Rivers and establish fortifications. Along the way some of the troops encountered Spanish or Mexican troops, dispersed and returned to Louisiana. Among those who remained, some of them serving under a Captain James Walker came to a place on the Brazos which Walker initially called La Bahia. Captain John W. Hall had also passed through the area several years earlier and had been attracted to it but there was little or no settlement there by Anglos until the early 1820s.

Andrew Robinson is stated in many sources to be the first of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old 300” settlers to reside on Austin’s land grant property. Robinson came in 1821 with his wife, Nancy and their two children. By then, Robinson was about 58 years old, his wife Nancy was in her upper 40s, daughter Patsy was about 21 and son Andrew, Jr. was about 11. They settled near the La Bahia crossing where Robinson established a ferry to cross the Brazos. Robinson also farmed and raised livestock. He acquired a half league of land (2,214 acres) in 1824 as a colonist. Their daughter Patsy was likely married by that time to Captain Hall, mentioned above. In some accounts he was said to have arrived with the Robinsons. This La Bahia is not to be confused with the presideo of the same name near Goliad and located on the San Antonio River. However, is related to it in that the old pioneer road took its name for a much longer Indian trail that is said to have extended all the way from Opelousas, Louisiana to Goliad, Texas and the Spanish presideo that dated back to the 1700s.

There is a Texas historical marker in Washington that states that Andrew Robinson fought in the Battle of Gonzales in 1835, where his unit first carried into battle the original Lone Star flag made by Sarah Dodson. Not a great deal more is known about Andrew, Sr. and he died in 1852. Nancy’s date of death is unknown. Daughter Patsy died around 1844. Her husband John Hall died in 1845. Son Andrew, Jr. died in 1854. At this point, none of their burial places are known.

As noted, Patsy Robinson had married John W. Hall, known as “Captain Jack” Hall, who was possibly about 13 years her senior. Hall had been born in South Carolina. He was a veteran of the War of 1812 and was also an early Old 300 settler. In 1832 Hall acquired 640 acres of the Robinson’s land for cash. Hall is usually credited with having co-founded Washington about 1835 along with fellow early residents Asa Hoxie, Thomas Gay, Alexander Somervell and James B. Miller. Hall is said to have conveyed seventy-five percent of his land to the others, not including the ferry property, to form a land company. Lots were first sold at auction on January 8, 1836 and the town was laid out near Robinson’s ferry landing.

The new settlement was named Washington by Dr. Hoxie after Hoxie’s home town of Washington, Georgia and was not referred to as Washington-on-the-Brazos until after the Civil War. The provisional government of Texas selected the new settlement to be the site of the constitutional convention that was held during the siege and battle of the Alamo. The delegates congregated and began to meet in a simple frame building where they composed the declaration of independence from Mexico, the early constitution and organized the early government. By the middle of March, the delegates and other residents fled fearing the advance of Santa Anna’s troops, fresh off of their victory at the Alamo. The residents returned after the Mexican defeat at San Jacinto.

The county that included it was designated Washington County in 1836. For a short time, Washington began to modestly flourish. It once was the seat of county government but Brenham was selected as the county seat. Washington briefly served as the state capital during the tenure of Sam Houston. It was also once suggested for the capital of Texas but was not selected, as the consensus favored Austin (then known as Waterloo) in the 1840s. Washington suffered yet another economic blow in the 1850s when rail line passed it by. The story is that citizens declined to pay the Texas Central railroad $11,000 to help fund the rail line’s proposed river crossing to the town. Instead, the railroad continued some distance east of the river and established a depot at Navasota which led to its commercial growth. Washington’s decline was further contributed to by the economic effects of the Civil War.

Our extended family history includes early residents of Washington and Washington County. The family legend was that ancestors were to have landed in Galveston on the day of the Battle of San Jacinto and settled in Washington shortly thereafter. One ancestor was given his middle name after Dr. Asa Hoxie who delivered him. The family resided in or near Washington for a number of years, but later moved a few miles to the west to Independence to be nearer to the “new” school there, named Baylor.

Going back to the 1900 Houston Post article, Haynes recounted more of the early history of the settlement. He said that in 1837 Patsy Robinson Hall was a teacher in what may have been the first school in a log building two miles west of the old town. Judge J. W. Ewing established a school in the town in 1839. In 1841, J. P. Rucker set up an institute in a post oak grove just west of town known as the Masonic academy. Rucker was succeeded by John H. Nash and the school had a state wide reputation during its life. Haynes concluded by naming Washington as one of the oldest towns in the state along side San Felipe, Liberty, Brazoria and Columbia and had the honor of being the state capital for nineteen days.

Sources include “Little Towns of Texas” by Kathleen St. Clair and Clifton St. Clair, “A Friend of God” by Annie Jenkins Sallee and various newspaper articles.

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2 thoughts on “Washington-on-the-Brazos”

  1. I like to write a bit myself and with a somewhat aggravating eye disorder. I try to make disclaimers to the few readers I share with. But the misspelled words almost made me stop doing something I really enjoy. I hate to admit it but I try to do my corrections as I go and then pull the trigger. For someone who has been a stickler my whole life I just had to let it go. On one occasion I was writing something to one of my historical areas I’m in concerning a complaint about the fact that religion was mentioned alot in the group and the member didn’t like that. The two should not mix. While explaining that the reason we were here had to do with religious beliefs and aggression from the King of France. So ending I was explaining the root of our Quaker/Luther beliefs. I mentioned the name Dunkards an especially particular part of the beliefs in our group. I didn’t get too much feedback and it worried me that I spoke up. I went back to check for responses and realized autocorrect had declared my family a very faithful and devout bunch of Drunkards. 😱

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