Z. N. Morrell

Zacharius Nehemiah Morrell is generally given to be his full name, though his exact name and spelling may vary in accounts. Often only his initials Z. N. are used. He was born on January 17, 1803 in South Carolina to John and Darcus Morrell. In his early years, he lived in Tennessee before coming to Texas. He became a Christian as a youth and though he was not formally educated, was an effective minister and a good writer. He was able to chronicle his own life and experiences on the Texas frontier. Though he was a minister, his experiences were similar to those of any other early settler.

His family moved from South Carolina to Tennessee when he was still a youth. In 1821, he married Clearacy Haynes with whom he had at least four children. He made his living and supported his family by serving as a preacher while in Tennessee. After a brief stay in Mississippi, Z. N. found his way to Texas, initially settling at the Falls of the Brazos, near the current town of Marlin, now in Falls County. Morrell relocated to what later became Washington County shortly afterward, due to attacks from the area tribes. Also noted as a reason for his move was the fall of the Alamo to Santa Anna and his troops. While living near Washington, Morrell established the first missionary Baptist Church.

Morrell’s book:

Morrell’s account of his experiences is entitled “Flowers and Fruits from the Wilderness; Or Thirty-Six Years in Texas and Two Winters in Honduras” and was first published in 1872. It was dedicated to his “early associates and co-workers” R. E. B. Baylor and Hosea Garrett.

He begins his narrative by recounting his early days as a minister in Tennessee, his brief time in Mississippi and his motivation to come to Texas. On the first page of this text, he tells of suffering a “hemorrhage of the lungs” and being advised by doctors in Tennessee to seek a more favorable climate and to rest.

The religious orientation of Texas at that time was Catholicism, by Mexican law. Morrell saw this as challenging but also viewed it as reducing the appeal of the area. So, Morrell moved his family to Yalobusha County, Mississippi while looking for a more permanent place to settle. He wrote that he learned of Sam Houston and Houston’s desire to set up an Anglo republic in Texas from a mutual acquaintance back in Tennessee by the name of McIntosh. Though Morrell was advised for heath reason not to preach, while in Mississippi he continued to do so, though declining offers to serve as pastor of one of several churches which he founded.

Morrell mentions a theological division in religious circles having to do with the groups’ attitude concerning theological mission work and their members’ participation in outside groups such as the Odd Fellows or the Masonic Lodge. Some favored these groups and mission activities while others were rigorously opposed to them. Morrell was on the side of those who favored the groups and activities but he found himself in the minority.

In late 1835, friends from Tennessee arrived in route to Texas, mentioning to Morrell that Sam Houston had put together a group of men and was, in Morrell’s words, “calling on his friends in Tennessee and elsewhere for more; the war was in progress; troops were collecting at San Antonio; the independence of Texas was among the certainties of the future…” The Falls of the Brazos was pointed out to Morrell on a map as being a desirable location to settle and form a colony. Morrell was inspired to join the group, and he did, leaving his family there in Mississippi after a few days of preparation.

Morrell recounted a story about crossing the Sabine River, the dividing line between Louisiana and Texas, on a ferry. As they loaded up, the ferryman told them of a another individual who had crossed the river only a few days earlier. The man had arrived and ordered the ferryman to hurry up and get him across from Louisiana, which the ferryman did. As he approached the Louisiana side again, an lawman with a posse rode up looking for the ferryman’s previous client. The lawman and the wanted man spoke across the river after which the man being sought bent down to kiss the Texas ground. After telling Morrell’s group the story, the ferryman jokingly asked, “And, gentlemen, what have you done that you have come to Texas?” They paid their charges and crossed the Sabine.

They continued on into the interior of Texas and in so doing encountered more former residents of Tennessee. Morrell said he took the opportunity to preach his first sermon in Texas on December 13, 1835. The Falls area was located at a point in which the Brazos River fell about ten feet. It served as an old meeting place for the native tribes and was the location of several early Anglo settlements that had each failed to take hold for one reason or another. Morrell liked the place and felt that the climate would be good for his lung ailment. They found that the land around the Falls seemed to be quite fertile and it once been the site of the headquarters of a land grant obtained by a Sterling C. Robertson. A settlement had been organized and named Sarahville but attacks from area tribes had influenced many of the colonists to leave the area and relocate elsewhere. However there were still some people living there. Morrell returned to Mississippi for his family and brought them back with him. The other residents consisted of a number of settlers and rangers who were occupying a fort called Griffin’s Fort and another called Fort Milam where Sarahville was formerly located. Continued confrontations led Morrell to trade his land for other property on the Guadalupe north of Victoria.

Morrell had been farming to support his family as they and the other settlers dealt with raids from the tribes. He told of raids happening during church services such that the worshipers and ministers carried their guns with them at all times.

Morrell briefly discusses what we now refer to as the Council House Fight of March 19, 1840 in which a peace council had been proposed in San Antonio but the talks broke down and a fight broke out in which thirty of the trapped Penateka Comanche leaders and warriors, along with five women and children of the tribe, were killed by Anglo forces. A few months later, in early August, the Comanche retaliated by leading a great raid all the way to the Gulf Coast. Morrell gives an account of the aftermath of the Linnville part of the raid in which he served as a scout under Colonel Ed Burleson. In pursuing the raiders, he came across a wounded woman, a Mrs. Watts, whose husband had been killed in the raid. Mrs. Watts had been shot in the chest with an arrow. She had briefly been a captive, and he helped her get medical treatment from a Dr. Brown of Gonzales. He recounted that she survived and that though he received many letters from her over the years, he never saw her again.

The Indian conflicts eventually declined somewhat and Morrell and his family settled near Washington. Morrell farmed during the week and preached on Sunday. Eventually the little congregation elected to form a church and asked Morrell to be its pastor. The church at Washington is said to be the first Baptist church organized in the Republic of Texas around 1837. In his memoirs, Morrell also recounts performing his first marriage ceremony there.

As noted earlier, the couple had four children, two daughters and two sons. Both of the daughters passed away in the early 1840s and Clearacy, Morrell’s first wife, died in 1843 of an undisclosed illness. It was a dark time for Morrell. His farm and his church in Washington had failed. He then relocated to Houston, after which he served in various capacities for the Baptist denomination in Texas and abroad. Over the next twenty years he would see both of his sons also die. He married again, but the relationship ended in divorce. Morrell paused his memoirs around 1870 but resumed writing them about ten years later, shortly before his death.

Morrell died December 19, 1883 in Kyle, Hayes County, Texas at the home of R. J. Sledge. Morrell was first buried in the yard of the First Baptist Church of Kyle. In 1946 his remains were removed to the State Cemetery in Austin.

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