August 25, 2009

Frank Everson Vandiver (1925-2005)

Frank Vandiver, noted military historian, professor, and university president, was born on December 9, 1925, in Austin, Texas. He was the son of Harry S. Vandiver, a mathematics professor who taught at the University of Texas, Princeton, and Cornell. Initially Frank Vandiver attended public schools but was eventually pulled out of the school system for private tutorship. At an early age he displayed a great interest in Confederate history, and while still a teenager, he published an article on the subject in a scholarly journal. Vandiver did not receive a high school diploma or a bachelor’s degree, but through examinations he was admitted to graduate school at the University of Texas and received a Master of Arts in 1949. He received his Ph. D. from Tulane University in 1951 and an M.A. by decree from Oxford University.

Vandiver received recognition as a prominent young scholar when, at the age of twenty-four, his biography was included in Who’s Who in America. His early accolades included two Rockefeller Fellowships in 1946 and 1948 and a Fulbright Fellowship in 1951. His first book, Ploughshares into Swords: Josiah Gorgas and Confederate Ordnance, was published in 1952. Vandiver taught at Louisiana State University and Washington University before joining the history faculty at Rice University in 1955. He filled many positions at Rice University including chairman of the history and political science department, provost and vice president, and acting president from 1969 to 1970. From 1979 to 1981 Vandiver served as president of North Texas State University (now University of North Texas), and he was president of Texas A&M University from 1981 to 1988. After stepping down as president, he became founder and director of the Mosher Institute for International Policy Studies, a defense think tank at Texas A&M. Vandiver was active in numerous organizations and served as president of the Southern Historical Association, the Texas Institute of Letters, the Philosophical Society of Texas, Association of American Colleges, White House Historical Society, and the American Council on Education. He taught at Oxford as the Harmsworth Professor of American History from 1963 to 1964. One of his main focuses was on the papers of Jefferson Davis for which he was chief advisory editor from 1963 until his death.

His many works include Mighty Stonewall (1957), Their Tattered Flags: The Epic of the Confederacy (1970), Black Jack: The Life and Times of John J. Pershing (1977), Blood Brothers: A Short History of the Civil War (1992), Shadows of Vietnam: Lyndon Johnson's Wars (1997), 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About the Civil War (2000), and 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About World War II (2002). He contributed to numerous other books about American military history.  Frank Vandiver married Susie Smith on April 19, 1952. They had three children. After her death in 1979, he married Renee Carmody in 1980. He died on January 7, 2005, in College Station, Texas. He was buried at Memorial Oaks Cemetery in Houston. Source

COORDINATES
29° 46.856
-095° 36.898

Section 12
Memorial Oaks Cemetery
Houston

August 18, 2009

Walter Prescott Webb (1888-1963)

Walter Prescott Webb, historian and author, was born on a farm in Panola County, Texas, on April 3, 1888, the son of Casner P. and Mary Elizabeth (Kyle) Webb. His father was a schoolteacher and part time farmer. The Webb family had moved from Aberdeen, Mississippi, to Caledonia in Rusk County, Texas, then to Panola and westward past the 100th meridian to the Stephens-Eastland counties area. These moves from the woodlands to a new and arid environment made a distinct impression on the young boy, and the geographic dichotomy formed the basis for his later writing about the Great Plains. Webb found farm life on the family homestead in the Cross Timbers area near Ranger harsh and unappealing. In desperation he wrote a letter to the editor of a literary magazine, the Sunny South, asking how a farm boy could get an education and become a writer. William E. Hinds, a toy manufacturer from New York, responded to the boy's query and encouraged him to "keep his sights on lofty goals." Webb finished at Ranger High School in Eastland County and earned a teaching certificate. He taught at various small Texas schools and, with the assistance of his benefactor, William Hinds, eventually attended the University of Texas, where he received his bachelor of arts degree in 1915 at the age of twenty-seven. Webb interrupted his teaching career to work as a bookkeeper for Southwest Texas State Teachers College in San Marcos and to serve as an optometrist's assistant in San Antonio.

He was teaching at Main High School in 1918, when he was invited to join the history faculty of the University of Texas. Webb wrote his master's thesis on the Texas Rangers in 1920 and was encouraged to pursue the Ph.D. His year of "educational outbreeding" (as he referred to it) at the University of Chicago was unsuccessful, and he returned to Texas determined to write history as he saw it. The result was the publication in 1931 of The Great Plains, acclaimed as "a new interpretation of the American West," acknowledged by the Social Science Research Council in 1939 as the outstanding contribution to American history since World War I, and winner of Columbia University's Loubat prize. On the basis of this book Webb received the Ph.D. from the University of Texas in 1932. In 1939, after a year as Harkness Lecturer at the University of London, Webb became director of the Texas State Historical Association. During his tenure (to 1946), he expanded the Southwestern Historical Quarterly and launched a project to compile an encyclopedia of Texas, published in 1952 as the Handbook of Texas. With the assistance of H. Bailey Carroll, he established a student branch of the association, the Junior Historians of Texas, in 1940 to encourage secondary school teachers and students to investigate local and regional history. Respected as a teacher both at home and abroad, Webb returned to Europe in 1942 as Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford.

At the University of Texas he became famous for his books and seminars, especially those on the Great Plains and the Great Frontier, in which he developed two major historical concepts. He proposed in the Great Plains thesis that the westward settlement of the United States had been momentarily stalled at the ninety-eighth meridian, an institutional fault line separating the wooded environment to the east from the arid environment of the west. The pioneers were forced to pause in their westward trek while technological innovation in the form of the six-shooter, barbed wire, and the windmill allowed them to proceed. The Great Frontier thesis became the crux of a book of the same title, published in 1952, that Webb declared to be his most intellectual and thought-provoking. The Great Frontier proposed a "boom hypothesis": the new lands discovered by Columbus and other explorers in the late fifteenth century precipitated the rise of great wealth and new institutions such as democracy and capitalism. By 1900, however, the new lands disappeared, the frontier closed, and institutions were under stress, resulting in the ecological and economic problems that have plagued the twentieth century. Although not universally well-received at the time, the Second International Congress of Historians of the United States and Mexico examined the Great Frontier thesis as its sole topic during its 1958 meeting, and the concept was again an object of discussion at an international symposium in 1972.

In all, Webb wrote or edited more than twenty books. In 1935 he published The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense, the definitive study of this frontier law enforcement agency, but regarded by Webb as being filled with "deadening facts. Divided We Stand: The Crisis of a Frontierless Democracy (1937) analyzed the practices of modern corporations, which Webb contended promoted economic sectionalism to the disadvantage of the South. More Water for Texas: The Problem and the Plan (1954) reflected Webb's interest in the conservation of natural resources. A collection of his essays, An Honest Preface and Other Essays, appeared in 1959, and at the time of his death he was working on a television series on American civilization under a grant from the Ford Foundation. Webb was one of the charter members and later a fellow of the Texas Institute of Letters. He was also a member of the Philosophical Society of Texas and president of both the Mississippi Valley Historical Association (1954-55) and the American Historical Association (1958). He received honorary degrees from the University of Chicago, Southern Methodist University, and Oxford University in England. He held two Guggenheim fellowships, acted as special advisor to Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson on water needs of the South and West, and received a $10,000 award from the American Council of Learned Societies for distinguished service to scholarship. The United States Bureau of Reclamation also gave him an award for distinguished service to conservation. Webb was married on September 16, 1916, to Jane Elizabeth Oliphant, who died on June 28, 1960. They had one daughter. On December 14, 1961, he married Terrell (Dobbs) Maverick, the widow of F. Maury Maverick of San Antonio. Webb was killed in an automobile accident near Austin on March 8, 1963, and was buried in the State Cemetery by proclamation of Governor John B. Connally. A statue of Webb and his old friends J. Frank Dobie and Roy Bedichek stands in Zilker Park in Austin. Source

COORDINATES
30° 15.920
-097° 43.613

Republic Hill
Texas State Cemetery
Austin

August 11, 2009

Samuel May Williams (1795-1858)

Samuel May Williams, entrepreneur and associate of Stephen F. Austin, was the eldest child of Howell and Dorothy (Wheat) Williams. He was born on October 4, 1795, in Providence, Rhode Island, where his father, a descendant of Robert Williams, the founder of Roxbury, Massachusetts, was a sea captain. Three of Williams's four brothers lived in Texas during the 1840s and 1850s, and two of his three sisters made an extended visit. Henry Howell Williams of Baltimore served as Texas consul from 1836 to 1838 and moved to Galveston in 1842 to assume control of the McKinney and Williams commission house, where he remained off and on until the 1850s. In 1838 Matthew Reed and Nathaniel Felton Williams opened a sugar plantation on Oyster Creek in Fort Bend County purchased from their brother; it became Imperial Sugar Company in the twentieth century.

Samuel Williams was educated in Providence and apprenticed around the age of fifteen to his uncle, Nathaniel F. Williams, a Baltimore commission merchant. He journeyed as supercargo to Buenos Aires, where he remained for a time mastering Spanish and Latin American business practice. He settled in New Orleans in 1819 before departing for Texas in 1822 using an assumed name, E. Eccleston. He resumed his true identity in 1823 when Stephen F. Austin employed him as translator and clerk. For the next thirteen years Williams was Austin's lieutenant; he wrote deeds, kept records, and directed colonial activities during the empresario's absences. In 1826 he was named postmaster of San Felipe and was appointed revenue collector and dispenser of stamped paper by the state of Coahuila and Texas the following year. He became secretary to the ayuntamiento of San Felipe in 1828. For these services he received eleven leagues (49,000 acres) of land which he selected on strategic waterways including Oyster Creek and Buffalo Bayou.

Williams earned notoriety in 1835 while attending the legislature at Monclova by contracting for two of the 400-league grants offered by the state government as a means to raise funds to oppose President Antonio López de Santa Anna. He and six others were proscribed as revolutionaries, but he escaped arrest by going to the United States. He entered a partnership with Thomas F. McKinney in 1833 and used his family's mercantile contacts in the United States to secure credit for the firm. Their commission house, located at Quintana, dominated the Brazos cotton trade until 1838, when they moved to Galveston. The firm of McKinney and Williams used its credit in the United States to purchase arms and raise funds for the Texas Revolution in 1835-36. Neither the republic nor the state was able to repay the $99,000 debt in full, and the partners realized only a small portion of their investment in addition to the passage of favorable relief legislation. As investors in the Galveston City Company, McKinney and Williams aided in developing the city by helping to construct the Tremont Hotel as well as the commission house and wharf. McKinney withdrew from the partnership in 1842, when Henry Howell Williams assumed his brother's interest in the firm, which became H. H. Williams and Company.

Sam Williams concentrated on banking after 1841, when the commission house received special permission from the Texas Congress to found a bank to issue and circulate paper money as an aid to commerce. In 1848 he activated his 1835 charter, obtained from Coahuila and Texas and approved by the republic in 1836, to open the Commercial and Agricultural Bank of Galveston, which also printed its own money. Jacksonian anti-banking sentiment inspired his enemies to attack the bank through the state courts on the grounds that it violated constitutional prohibitions against banks. The Texas Supreme Court sustained the bank in 1852, but subsequent suits brought its demise in 1859. Williams, a political supporter of Sam Houston, represented the Brazos district in the Coahuila and Texas legislature in 1835 and Galveston County in the lower house of the Texas Congress in 1839. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the United States Congress in 1846. In 1838 he received a commission to negotiate a $5 million loan in the United States and to purchase seven ships for the Texas Navy. President Houston sent him to Matamoros in 1843 to seek an armistice with Mexico, an unsuccessful ploy. Williams lived quietly with his wife, Sarah Patterson Scott, on a country estate west of the city. His home, a one-story, frame, Greek Revival residence on brick piers, is operated by the Galveston Historical Foundation as a house museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built between 1839 and 1844, it is among the oldest structures on the island. Williams died September 13, 1858, and was buried by the Knights Templars whose chapter he had founded. He was survived by his wife and four of his nine children. One son, William Howell Williams, was Galveston county judge from 1875 to 1880. Source

COORDINATES
29° 17.588
-094° 48.697


Trinity Episcopal Cemetery
Galveston

August 4, 2009

John Kirby Allen (1810-1838)

John Kirby Allen, founder of Houston, legislator, and backer of the Texas Revolution, fourth son of Roland and Sarah (Chapman) Allen, was born at Orrville, near Syracuse, New York, in 1810. He took his first job - that of callboy in a hotel at Orrville - when he was seven. Three years later he became a clerk in a store. At sixteen he went into partnership with a young friend named Kittredge in a hat store at Chittenango, New York, where his brother, Augustus C. Allen, was professor of mathematics until 1827. John Allen sold his interest in the hat store and followed his brother to New York City, where they were stockholders in H. and H. Canfield Company until 1832, when they moved to Texas. They settled in Nacogdoches around 1833 and engaged in land speculation.

At the beginning of the Texas Revolution the Allen brothers did not join the armed forces but rendered more valuable, and equally dangerous, service in other ways. At their own expense they fitted out the Brutus for the purpose of protecting the Texas coast and for assisting troops and supplies from the United States to land safely in Texas. When some of the members of the Texas provisional government objected to the activities of privateers under letters of marque, the Allens, in January 1836, sold the Brutus to the Texas Navy at cost. The brothers also served on committees to raise loans on Texas lands and became receivers and dispensers of supplies and funds without charge to the republic. In spite of these services there was considerable gossip and censure concerning the Allens because they were not in the armed services.

In August 1836 the Allen brothers purchased more than 6,600 acres of land around Buffalo Bayou and founded the city of Houston. In September 1836 John Allen was elected a representative from Nacogdoches to the Texas Congress. He served as congressman from Nacogdoches and was on the president's staff with the rank of major. In partnership with James Pinckney Henderson he operated a shipping business. Allen was never married. He contracted a “bilious fever” (possibly yellow fever or malaria) and died at his brother’s home in Houston on August 15, 1838. He was buried in Founders Memorial Cemetery, Houston. A Centennial marker was erected in his honor in 1936, and a Texas Historical Marker was erected in 1968. Allen Parkway in Houston is named for Allen and his family. Source

COORDINATES
29° 45.468
-095° 22.760


Founders Memorial Cemetery
Houston