I doubt if we of today understand or appreciate the true pioneer spirit the inner urge that sent our forefathers into the wilderness to wrestle with almost insurmountable difficulties and hardships in order that they and their descendants may have freedom to live a new life and create a new nation founded upon democratic principles. And even after the land of the free became a reality, that same inner compelling force pushed men ever and ever on to changing scenes and different environments.
It must have been something of the recurring pioneering instinct of his colonial ancestors that gave Dr. Laurence Augustine Washington first the desire, then the determination to leave a beautiful home and prosperous living in western Virginia to move to Texas, when it had been part of the Untied States for only five years and at best could boast of being only half settled. Nothing less than a very courageous man would have gathered together his possessions, composed of a wife and five children, over one hundred slaves, his stock of blooded horses, cattle and dogs, household furniture and effects, which included a large library, a grand piano and many valuable relics inherited from his great uncle General George Washington, and set out on a hazardous journey 1500 miles long.
Dr. Washington was the son of Laurence Augustine Washington and the grandson of Col. Samuel Washington who served with distinction in the Virginia line during the War of the Revolution. Colonel Washington was a younger brother to the First President and preceded him in death by eighteen years. General Washington was named executor and guardian in his brothers will, so the son, Laurence Augustine, was reared at Mount Vernon and for a short time was his famous uncles secretary. Upon the death of the First President his nephew and ward, Laurence, inherited land in Virginia and much of his personal property including his inaugural suit of brown silk rep, a mahogany clock eight feet tall, a sword, silver spoons, kneebuckles set with brilliants, a barometer and surveying instruments.
Dr. Laurence A. Washington son of the above mentioned Laurence was born in 1812 on his fathers estate, Harewood near Wheeling, Virginia (Now West Virginia). The father died in 1824 and his widow moved to the town of Winchester. This was the year that LaFayette, now an old man made his farewell trip to America. He made a special journey to call upon the widow of his friend of many years ago. When the youthful Laurence aged twelve was presented to the great man, Lafayette took a fob from his watch chain, passed a ribbon through it, and hung it about the lads neck.
Laurence grew up as any other well to do boy of that period. He was surrounded by a comfortable home, loving sister and mother, cultured friends, was educated by private tutors and spent his leisure hours riding, hunting, swimming and fishing. No doubt his youthful imagination was fired by interesting tales of a new region called Texas. When time for college arrived he attended the University of Virginia, the deciding on medicine as a profession, studied at the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.
In 1839 Dr. Washington was married to Miss Martha Shrewsbury of Charleston, Virginia and they resided in that city until the momentous day arrived when the family set out for Texas early in 1850. Imagine, if you can, the hustle and bustle that took place while loading a family and all its numerous effects on flatboats on the Kanawha River. They were floated down the Kanawha to the Ohio, down the Ohio to the Mississippi, down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Red, then up the Red River until it touched Texas. The task of navigating this convoy of flatboats was delegated to an old sea captain named Buckle, who was a pensioner of dr. Washington until his death. When they finally reached Texas the load had to be transferred to wagons and carriages for the long trip overland to Colorado County.
According to county records the first tract of land bought by dr. Washington was located in the southwestern part of Colorado County near the town of Oakland but there is no evidence of the family ever having lived there. The following year, 1851, the doctor bought a plantation on the Colorado River about fourteen miles south of Columbus and there made his home for nearly twenty years. Two more children were born in Texas, Julia in 1850 and several years later another daughter called Woodie.
For one reason or another, Dr. Washington did not operate his plantation but rented his land and hired out his field hands to others. The revenues received from them brought what was considered a handsome income in those days. Cotton was the principal crop and the Moccasin Belle, a river steamboat that plied the waters of the Colorado often stopped at the Washington Plantation wharf to take a cargo of cotton on down to Matagorda.
The Washington home though not elegant or palatial was nevertheless large, roomy and comfortable. The grand piano and handsome walnut and mahogany furniture made the parlor quite elegant. An added touch of distinction was George Washingtons inaugural suit on a wax figure in a class case. The doctor is said to have been social and genial in disposition and extremely fond of company. He kept open house and often had it filled with young men from Virginia who came to fish and hunt. In the evenings the young people of the community were invited in for dancing to the music of negro fiddlers. On special occasions Miss Julia used the First Presidents brilliant studded knee buckles for ornaments.
The doctor was very fond of playing cards. Mrs. Jennie Bowers Adkins of Columbus says that her clearest memory of him is seeing him sitting in the open hall playing solitaire with a slave standing by plying a fan. As fond as Dr. Washington was of playing games he would not bet a cent on any. If he ever caught a person cheating he would immediately cease to play and frankly tell the offending person that he would never join him in another game.
Dr. Washington was a perfect type of the old school Virginia gentleman, was very rigid in his ideas of propriety and scrupulously observed all the rules and amenities of good breeding and refined society. He was well known throughout south Texas for his intellectual attainments, his noble and generous nature. It has been stated by those who knew him that he possessed in a marked degree all the characteristics of the Washington family. He was a devout Episcopalian and drove regularly into Columbus to attend services which were held either in the court house or at Col. Robsons Castle.
At the close of the War Between the States with his slaves freed and his fortunes sadly depleted, Dr. Washington decided to move to California by the overland route. Travel was very difficult and money was scarce so he left some of the Washington family relics with his close friend Dr. John H. Bowers of Columbus. For one reason or another the Washingtons never reached California. They moved to Denison, Texas, then to Junction City, Kansas and back to Denison where the doctor died of heart failure on August 10, 1883. His wife passed away nine years later; both are buried at Denison.
It may be interesting to trace briefly the history of the Washington relics. The handsome mahogany clock which General George Washington had had made to order remained in the possession of Dr. Bowers until his death in 1908. It was then returned to the family in the person of Mrs. Julia Washington Fontaine. She sold it to the Scottish Rite Masonic Order in Dallas, Texas, from whence it found its way back to Mount Vernon after more than one hundred years of wandering. The inaugural suit is in the custody of the Historical Association of Morristown, New Jersey. The compass and surveying instruments have been placed in various museums; but the First Presidents mahogany framed shaving mirror is the property of Mayor O. A. Zumwalt of Columbus, a gift from Dr. Bowers; and Mrs. Adkins owns part of the library.
Several years ago Mayor Zumwalt visited the site of the Washington home. The house had long since been torn down but from a negro cabin in the vicinity he purchased a portrait painted in oil on wood of Miss Woodie Washington and an iron mortar and pestle that had belonged to the doctor. Mr. Zumwalt very generously donated these finds to the Wynne Museum in Austin, Texas. Lola Washington Johnson, a colored woman whose grandparents were slaves and house servants of the Washingtons, owns a rock crystal cruet that was part of the familys castor set.
The information given in this paper was gathered from the following sources:
1. Records of Colorado County.
2. Washington family papers in possession of Mrs. Shirley Fontaine von Meyer, a granddaughter of Dr. Washington.
3. Personal recollections of Mrs. Jonnie Bowers Adkins.
4. Interview with Mayor O. A. Zumwalt.
5. Newspaper clippings from the scrapbook of Mrs. Malzina Zumwalt.
6. An article published in The Galveston News, August 24, 1906 secured by Miss Lee Nesbitt from the Library of the University of Texas.
Colorado County Citizen, March 6, 1941
Transcribed by Judy Talkington