Though perhaps not as familiar a name as either Independence or Washington, there is a great deal of Texas history that is connected to the former residents of this small community. Gay Hill was named for Thomas Gay and William Carroll Jackson Hill. Gay and Hill were said to have been store owners in this Washington County settlement, though some accounts say that only Hill owned the store. The settlement was originally known as Chriesman Settlement after Horatio Chriesman (1797-1878).
Horatio Chriesman had been in Texas since 1822 as part of Austin’s Colony and was head of one of the families of the Old 300. He was active in the militia including several battles with local tribes and against those who were followers of the Fredonian Rebellion. He first settled in the area that became part of Austin and Fort Bend counties but later relocated to the area that became Gay Hill in Washington County. His first wife, Mary Kincheloe, with whom he had one child, died of an unknown illness not long after she arrived in Texas. He later married Augusta Ann Hope with whom he had a large number of children. Chriesman was involved in the Convention of 1836 in which the Texas Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the Republic of Texas were written. His name is not listed as a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. He was also part of the committee that was established to select the capital of the Republic of Texas and is known to have unsuccessfully promoted Washington to become the capital. The Burleson County settlement of Chriesman, now essentially a ghost town, was named for him.
Thomas Gay was believed to have been born in Georgia in 1805. This is the year he used in the application for his Austin Colony land grant. He arrived in Texas in 1830. Thomas married Eleanor Hope, a younger sister of Augusta Ann Hope, the wife of Horatio Chriesman. Gay fought in the Battle of San Jacinto under Captain Moseley Baker for which he received his land grant in Austin’s Second Colony. However, he died in a battle with Comanche on May 26, 1839 while serving under Captain John Bird and was buried at the location, said to be where the current town of Temple now is located. He was thirty-four years old at the time. Thomas and Eleanor had at least one child, a son named George E. Gay. Horatio Chriesman, who we now know was his brother in law, served as executor of Thomas Gay’s estate.
The parents of Augusta and Eleanor Hope were James and Mary Hope, originally from England. Mary died in 1821 after the couple had settled in West Feliciana Parish of Louisiana. Her date of birth is unknown but she was likely around forty years of age when she died. She and James had at least about nine children together during their marriage. James next married Elizabeth Bowering Jack, a widow, in 1822, but she died the following year. James was married once more, to Alethea H. Sorrels with whom he was married when he died. James had operated a leather shop in West Feliciana Parrish. The family story is told of Horatio Chriesman that he was in need of a new pair of boots and met his future wife Augusta while making arrangements to have boots made at the James Hope leather shop. James Hope had traveled back to England to take care of some business matters and is believed to have been lost at sea when his ship went down in 1931 during his return trip to America.
Another resident of Gay Hill who is mentioned from time to time is Judge Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor, veteran of the War of 1812 and a frontier judge and preacher. Baylor was a founder of Baylor University in 1845 and is its namesake. Judge Baylor is also credited for having founded a Masonic Lodge at Gay Hill, known as the Baylor Lodge #125. The lodges of Texas appear to have been numbered in sequence, so this lodge is not one of the very first lodges in Texas but dates back to 1854, which still makes it one of the earliest ones in the state.
William Carroll Jackson Hill was the son of Asa Hill and Elizabeth Barksdale Hill and was born in 1814. Asa Jolly Hill had come to Texas in 1834 and joined the Texas Army in 1836. Hill was away from his outfit on an Texas army courier assignment and did not participate in the Battle of San Jacinto. He was however an active participant in both the Somervell and Mier Expeditions. Asa was captured by the Mexican Army along with two of his sons, John Christopher Columbus Hill and Jeffrey Barksdale Hill at the Mier battle. Remarkably all three of them survived the so called “Black Bean Episode” and their subsequent imprisonment in Mexico. William Carroll Jackson Hill was born the same year as his brother Jeffrey B. Hill but they were not twins. Jeffery was born early in the year and William was born on Christmas Day. William had come to Texas with his father Asa in 1834.
William Carroll Jackson Hill served in the Mexican-American War, was a member of the local Presbyterian Church and was also a Mason. He was married to Elizabeth Bowering Jack. The names are somewhat confusing, but her mother (also named Elizabeth Bowering Jack after she married her first husband) was the second wife of James Hope after her first husband had died in England. Accordingly, her daughter Elizabeth Bowering Jack would have been a stepsister of Augusta and Eleanor Hope.
William Carroll Jackson Hill and his family lived continuously in Gay Hill. He and Elizabeth had three children: William Pinkney Hill, Green Hill and Elizabeth Hill. Elizabeth died while she was still a youth. Green was a medical doctor and died during the Civil War from having contracted measles. William’s wife Elizabeth died in 1866. He then married Amelia Williams with whom he had eleven children. He died at the age of eighty-two of pneumonia. His obituary said that he took sick after riding home in the cold wind as he returned to Gay Hill from spending the day in Brenham. Quoting from his obituary: “Thus passes from the walks of men one of the county’s most venerable and most venerated citizens. His long life of usefulness and honor serves as an example worthy the emulation of all, and in his death his family, community and county suffers a loss, the wounds of which time can heal, but never repair. His memory needs no chiselled marble to perpetuate its existence in the affections of his family and friends.”
Other notable organizations that once existed in Gay Hill were a Presbyterian Church and a Baptist Church, as well as a women’s college called Live Oak Female Seminary. The college closed down completely after the Civil War and is believed not to have merged with any other entity. The railroad passed by the town and got as close as two miles away so the old settlement became “Old Gay Hill.” It never rose to the level of a boom town. Residents gradually died or moved away as they were drawn to other towns and settlements.
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