Colorado County Biographies


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Isaac Toland

The History of “Isaac Toland
– Father of –
Toland Hill, Toland Chapel, & Toland Cemetery”

Written by:
Tracy Lightner (Toland-Haynes-Burton-Lightner: great-great-great granddaughter)
August 15, 2001

Columbus Texas is located within Colorado County and is home to approximately 3,367 people today. According to the 1997-98 Census of Colorado County demographics are: 67.50% White, 16.65% African American, 15.41% Hispanic and .29% other. It is essentially located approximately seventy miles west of Houston and is rich with various cultures. Countless documents housed at the Nesbitt Memorial Library, in Columbus, date back to 1836 when Stephen F. Austin established Colorado County as one of the first counties in Texas “The Big 300.” As written on the back of the town’s Visitor’s Guide, the city prides itself as, “the oldest surveyed and platted Anglo-American town in Texas.” These documents proudly represent the lifestyle and culture of the Anglo-Saxon. There are monuments and historical markers, which provide history for Anglo-Saxon culture and other relevant information as well. A well-developed listing of Anglo landmarks can be found by visiting online at:

Sadly, there is very little if any literature, which depicts the lives of African-Americans who, settled in Columbus. Though there were many African-Americans who migrated to Columbus, one family supersedes in contributions made to the quaint community – the lineage of Isaac Toland. Isaac was born into slavery; the 1870 Census records his birth in South Carolina. The actual birth date of Isaac Toland is not known, nor do we know who mothered and fathered him. Since the 1870 census records him to be 65, his birth year would have been 1805. Probate Records at the Colorado County court house records that his will was filed on March 21, 1892. He would have been 87 at the time.

Through the slave trade, Isaac was brought to Mississippi where he married Mathilda Purvis. Though Mathilda was listed as Isaac’s wife at the time of the 1870 census, she was not his first wife. Because Isaac’s previous master did not recognize his marriage to his first wife, she was sold into slavery. Isaac later married Mathilda Purvis who gave birth to two children (boy & girl) in Mississippi. Soon they moved to Columbus, Texas where Toland Hill was established and were the first African Americans to live there. Years later other African Americans would call Toland Hill home.

Isaac was emancipated from the ties of slavery with countless others on December 18, 1865. As these recently freed Africans were up against harsh discrimination and deep seeded hatred, they sought to build new lives for themselves. Though times were exceedingly unfavorable for former slaves, Isaac Toland excelled far beyond expectation. He acquired approximately seventy acres from his slave master (a rare gesture). While searching through countless records located at the Colorado County Courthouse, documents relating to this dynamic individual were uncovered. One document in particular is his probate record. Isaac Toland’s last will and testaments stands proof to the intelligence of a man, who once was held physically captive, but whose mind was not restrained by the constitution of human bondage. (Book J. Page 175-181).

On several acres of land legally held by Isaac, oil was discovered. In exchange for rites to the oil, Isaac received a monthly premium. Shortly, the generosity of Isaac Toland would benefit his entire community. He soon donated land for the first church and school for people of color. They named it, “Toland Chapel.”

While held captive, Isaac could not be taught to read or write by law or practice any religion without the permission of his master. Slaves could not meet with other slaves for religious or any other purposes except in the presence of a white. Toland Chapel provided a place where African American people could worship the Methodist faith and gain public education as well. On Sundays, Toland Chapel was full of believers of Christ led by Pastor Caesar. Sunday school and regular church services were the order of the day. On Monday through Friday, Toland Chapel became a school, which housed the community’s young. Mrs. Clayton was the reputable teacher who taught her students through to the sixth reader. Books used for study were hand-me downs provided by white educational institutions.

On Saturday nights, the local African-American community would entertain themselves with such games as “Fireball.” This is where one would take a rag soaked in coal oil and light it. Children tossed it from one another as they stood in a circle. During Christmas, Toland Chapel provided a place where the African-American community could gather for Christmas programs. Susie Lee Burton; direct descendant of Isaac Toland, recalls a Christmas tree which brightly glowed from candles that were lit. “I remember singing’ in the choir, and I stood by the Christmas tree and wondered what was stinging me. It was wax falling from the candles on the Christmas tree.”

A. Dorothy Coats remembers having to cross a log that was placed in the riverbed to attend Toland Chapel. “For lunch, we carried syrup buckets with bacon & eggs and sometimes we ate chicken. Oh, we had lots of fun. We played at school and I remember one time someone fell in the river and I jumped in after them, even though I didn’t know how to swim. But the Lord always took care of us.”

Toland Chapel was a place where many first publicly professed their belief in Christ. Innumerable marriages, baptisms and other life changing events took place there. Toland Chapel provided a sense of togetherness for African-American inhabitants of Columbus. It was a place where people could collectively learn, worship and create lasting ties. For many, relationships that still persist ‘til this day. Toland Chapel is a monument to African American people who chose to live in Columbus, Texas-far after freedom from hundreds of years of oppression.

Descendants of Isaac Toland are numerous. The eldest living family members include Susie Lee Burton and A. Dorothy Coats who provided information for reference. As time continues on its natural course, so will the time come when these expert witnesses to Toland Chapel will not longer be amongst the living. They will be laid to rest as was Isaac Toland who is buried at Toland Cemetery. Yes, Isaac has continued to leave his mark in this world with a cemetery named after him. It is located about one half mile south of a point on Schobel Road about three-fourths of a mile west of its intersection with Brunes Mill Road, but on a private property and thus inaccessible to public traffic. Mathilda Purvis, Billie Haynes and Susan Toland-Haynes as well as other members of the family and citizens of Toland Hill are buried there.

The history that Columbus so proudly displays, omits the contributions of African-Americans who contributed to its being. A landmark will preserve the history of Toland Chapel. Great-great-great-grandchildren like me will be able to know a part of their history. We will be able to grasp a piece of our past. For many of us, this will be the only history available where we will know for certain whom we really are. American slavery has taken so much from African-Americans, enabling us to landmark this portion of our history is certainly a step in the right direction.

Contributors to the Toland history:
Cannie Winn (Toland-Haynes-Winn)
Marcella Haynes (Toland-Haynes)
Susie Lee Burton (Toland-Haynes-Winn-Burton)
Lucille Chase (Toland-Haynes-Chase)
Betty Robinson (Toland-Haynes-Burton-Robinson)
A.Dorthy Coats (Toland-Haynes-Coats)

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