CELTIC CLERIC

The first real evidence of change in Austin's Colony beyond proclamations, decrees, and such, came in the person of an Irish priest. Mexico was officially, by law, a Catholic Republic. When the national government chartered Austin's colony, they specified the colonists were to be practicing Roman Catholics. For the past ten years, Austin's colony was in violation of the terms of the agreement. There was no priest in the colony. When a colonist was not married or his children not baptized by Catholic clergy, and he died, the land could not legally belong to the heirs. Unbaptized children could not legally get grants of their own. Marriage and baptism by a priest were important in Austin's colony, they made wives and children eligible for grant's of their own, or to protect their inheritance rights. The general practice in the Austin colony was, however, to leave the land with the family of a deceased colonist. The colony also did grant land to the children of colonists.

Just months after the Teran decrees, there appeared in Austin's colony, a Catholic priest, the Reverend Father Michael Muldoon, a known close friend of Teran. His first task was to marry those colonists living together in bond and to baptize the children of these colonists.

Michael Muldoon's father was born in Ireland. He left for Spain after a fight with a British soldier. There he met and married a Spanish woman. Their son, Michael was sent to a Spanish seminary for his education. Father Michael Muldoon came to Nueva Espana as Viceroy Juan Odonoju's chaplain. He was in Texas earlier as the priest for the Irish colonies. He was a man familiar with politics in Mexico City and with the colonists in Texas. Was he sent to see if the colonists would abide by the original terms of their land grants and be Catholics? It was well known that most of the colonists, including Austin, were not Catholics.

If the colonists were forced to practise Catholicism, would strict government discipline be far behind such a tactic, or was the Catholic Church of Mexico reflecting the new mood in Mexico City and discharging its duty by sending the colony a curate? Perhaps some of both, as Father Michael Muldoon was still on a first name basis with those in power in Mexico and was appointed to his task by virtue of his being made "Curate and Vicar General for all the colonies" by General Teran.

Austin was in Saltillo when Father Muldoon was appointed. He described Father Muldoon to his Secretary, Samuel L. Wiliams, when he wrote:

....he has always been the warm and bosom friend of General Teran and I am told of Alaman

That Austin mentions Teran and Alaman together shows his political savvy and that he was aware of all the possibilities behind Father Muldoon's appointment. Indeed, Father Muldoon was a good friend of General Teran. The General wrote Austin he felt Father Muldoon's presence in the colony would bring moral advantages, but he was afraid the priest would find too great a difference in customs and ideas. Reading between the lines, one may be making more of all this than there was. The general's latter comment may not have been so much a comment on the political situation, as on the general's personal concerns for his friend. General Teran wrote further - he was afraid the priest would lack in the abundant means to live in a way in which he was accustomed. General Teran says that he told Father Muldoon none of the traditional means known for for the maintenance of parish priests in Mexico would be available or practicable in the Texas colonies. His principal resources would be offerings from the colonists and products raised and traded from his land grants. He also wrote to Austin of Father Muldoon's decision to serve the colonists, as if the priest had originated the idea.

Austin wrote Williams, " I am greatly pleased with him. He is a very intelligent and gentlemanly man, and quite liberal in his ideas. I must believe that if the general wished to harass us they would not have sent a man as Vicar General of Texas who is so liberal and so enlightened on religious subjects." Austin liked Muldoon. They got to know each other well. Father Muldoon began to teach Austin Spanish and lent him some money.

Austin stayed in Saltillo when Father Muldoon left for Texas. He wrote again to Williams and in this letter showed just how well the two had gotten along. He asked Williams to show the priest his plan in forming Texas into a territory. He also mentioned he discussed with Father Muldoon his reasons for opposing the articles in the 1827 State Constitution that called for the prohibition of slavery, and the cessation of immigration from the United States.

Father Michael Muldoon arrived in Texas at San Felipe De Austin in June of 1831. He was escorted into town by Austin's Secretary, Samuel May Williams and Luke Leassier. Two of the more prominent men in the colony. A contemporary of the period wrote:

The Padre was a hale gentleman of fifty-five, intelligent, good-humored, and liberal minded, and therefore considering the character of his flock, the right man in the right place. His reception by the colonists was very cordial and he was much pleased with his parishioners.

His assigned taks was Herculean, considering the area of the colony and that it was in existence for ten years prior to his arrival. Just to marry and baptize those colonists needing it and wishing to comply with their land grants over the vast colony would be a monumental endeavor. There was also the problem with those who resented his presence (even though all who entered the colony did so on terms they were or would become Catholic).

Most of the Americans were Protestants, though they did not attend an organized church as none but the Catholic Church was allowed in the colony. There were a few Protestant preachers who ventured into the colony, some have been mentioned earlier. Peter H. Fullwinder is regarded as the first Presbyterian missionary in Texas. Records show he made his first trip into Texas the first year of Father Muldoon's arrival, 1831. Reverend Fullwinder was actively assisted in his work by his wife, the former Belinda McNair.

Another Protestant preacher who risked arrest by coming into Texas was the Reverend Sumner Bacon, a liberal Presbyterian. He wrote that the bible taught only one religion and it mattered not what name men gave to it.

In July of 1833, Samuel Doak McMahan came to Texas. He settled outside San Augustine. He was a follower of Methodist circuit preacher James P. Stevenson. Preacher Stevenson preached a series of sermons to a group of Texans who gathered at McMahan's home. The first Methodist "classes" held in Texas were also held in McMahan's home. His home became known as McMahan's Chapel. It became the first Protestant chuch in Texas (1835). Later a proper church was built using the same name.

On the frontier, religion became something of a private thing. There were no churches in most of Texas. Sunday, if you knew when it was, did not stop the weather, the Indians, planting, tending the land, the harvest, illness or critters from keeping the colonists busy.

The Austin colonists were able to accept the King of Spain as their Monarch and the Catholic Church as their religion, when they filled out a form in return for land. It was only pragmatic. They knew life on the frontier would mean neither king nor cleric would be a part of their life for some time.

Ten years passed, King and Emperor passed, but here in their midst was a Catholic priest asking them to step forward and profess to be Catholics. Father Muldoon did not push himself on anybody. Austin, who was highly respected by the colonists and was politically attuned to Mexico City, was the one asking the colonists to fulfill thier earlier pledges. Father Muldoon understood. The Catholic religion, with all its ritualism - Latin, rosaries, robes and statues was unfamiliar to most of the colonists. Father Muldoon did not force Catholicism on the colonists. He accomodated them as long as they accomodated him, by living good lives and going through the requisite rituals. Hs reason for being "reasonable" were never delineated. It could be that he felt he could gain some converts among the colonists with his approach.

Father Muldoon's monetary compensation to sustain his mission came in the form of a land grant he received in Mexico City and from fees he charged for various services. The land grant was for eleven leagues of land ( 48, 610 acres). Two of his leagues were in what is now Fayette County. There Father Muldoon built a stone hut to satisfy one of the requirements to properly establish his claim to the grant. Other leagues were in what is now Lavaca, Galveston and Wharton counties. The fees he collected for a marriage were twenty five dollars or something of equal value, and for a baptism he charged two dollars.

One of of those adult colonists whom Father Muldoon baptized remembered him as a "large, red-faced Irishman." Others did not think as fondly of him, they resented having to perform the rituals to obtain the land and protect it for their family particularly if they had been on the land for the past ten years. Others resented him because he was a foreigner, still others because it was percieved he was working for the Mexican government. Father Muldoon did not have an easy task.

Father Muldoon was not soft. He closed some Sunday schools that were teaching other approaches to Christianity and was firm in insisting marriages be performed properly.

There had been in place, by the 1824 Constitution, a method, devised by Austin, by which couples could be married "in bond" by an Alcalde; that is live together promising to formalize the arrangement as soon as a priest could be found to do it. Father Muldoon made good all the previous "in bond" marriages he could remedy, but he forbade the practice while he was in the colony. There had been some abuses of the "in bond" arrangement leaving fatherless children and unmarried mothers in difficult straits. Some of the men would agree to live "in bond" for a specified time, if things did not work out to their satisfaction at the end of the agreed period they just walked away from the relationship.

Father Muldoon married many a couple with their children as witnesses. Kin and neighbors were usually present as well. Father Muldoon encouraged the settlers to meet him at one place to accomodate as many as possible. These events were usually a community affair with dinner and dances a part of the festivities.

Father Michael Muldoon took seriously his task of administering to his diverse flock. Evidence can be seen in the following announcement Father Muldoon placed in the colony's newspaper:

The Reverend Doctor Muldoon, Parish Priest of Austin and Vicar General of all the Foreign Colonies already existing or that may be hereafter established in his time, invested with the Plenipotentiary Papal and Episcopal powers....begs to inform his beloved parishioners that on his visit through the colony he will baptize and marry the black race of both sexes, without receiving from them or their masters any gratification. He feels it is his incumbent duty and very cordial pleasure to succor and patronize distress in whatever color or condition it may appear.

Those colonists the good Father did not convert, but who became Catholic merely to satisfy the law, became known as Muldoon catholics. The priest was most liked by his parishioners, but he did have some critics. He was called the Pope of Mexico by some. Henry Smith, later to be the first executive of Texas in its revolt, decribed Father Muldoon as "nothing but a common man and an Irishman at that." Others criticized his taking of offerings and fees to offset expenses, still others commented on his drinking. Most saw in the priest a tolerant and understanding man, who was doing the best who could under the circumstances.

Father Muldoon was a brave and compassionate man. Once, he went alone among the Comanche to rescue a woman colonist captured and carried off from the colony by the Indians. Father Muldoon succeeded in finding her and bringing her back to the colony. Father Muldoon was also a man of warm humor and, of verse. He often wrote of his travels in the colony newspaper when ever he returned to San Felipe. For example, he wrote of a big barbecue at the Abner Kuykendall home after baptizing and performing marriage ceremonies there:

...to see whole steers on spits a turning!

The dropping grease on the embers burning!

The whizzing stews, the broiling sound!

The air perfumed all around ...

He had a touch of poet in him as seen by is description of lightening and thunder:

The zig-zag dart! The astounding crash

made hairs to stand and teeth to gnash.

Another time he wrote of a toast he offered while at Anahuac:

May plough and harrow, spade and tack,

Remain the arms of Anahuac;

So that her rich and boundless plains

May yearly yield all sorts of grains.

 

May all religious discord fall

And friendship be the creed of all.

With tolerance your pastor views,

All sects of Christians, Turks and Jews.

The editor of the colony newspaper wherein this verse was found was Robert M. Williamson, called "Three Legged Willie." One of his legs was deformed due to a childhood illness and was bent back permanently at the knee. He had a wooden leg made, which he wore from the knee to the floor. R. M. Williamson was a cousin of Sam Houston. The "M" stood for McAlpin, his mother's maiden name. She was Rebecca Ann Mc Alpin who came from the Irish settlement in South Carolina founded by Patrick Calhoun, father of John C. Calhoun. R.M. Williamson's great, great grandfather was born in Ireland. Williamson came from a wealthy family and was highly educated. Besides being the owner and editor of the colony newspaper, he was also a practicing lawyer. Before Father Muldoon's arrival the colony newspaper was called, The Texas Gazette, Father Muldoon convinced Williamson to change it to The Mexican Citizen.

Robert McAlpin Williamson >

CELTIC CHARACTERS OF SAN FELIPE AND THE AUSTIN COLONY

Robert Williamson was also quite the entertainer. During those long days and nights in colony life he emerged as a nimrod, minstrel banjo player, juba patter, stand up comic and a revivalist. He was also known to take a drink.

Noah Smithwick, San Felipe's blacksmith, told of the time he was awakened in the middle of the night. Williamson was outside Smithwick's window yelling for him to come out. Someone broke their leg and needed his services. Wondering why he was being bothered for a medical problem, Smithwick went outside to find the problem was Williamson. During the evening's drinking he had somehow broken his wooden leg and needed Smithwick's help to fashion another one. More about this character later.

< Noah Smithwick

Other Celts in San Felipe included Joshua Parker, whose house was just up from Stephen F. Austin's. Michael Scanlon operated the colony's hotel. Jonathan Payton and his wife Angelina, operated a tavern at San Felipe. Angelina's mother was Peggy Hamilton and her maternal Grandmother was Anne Guffy. Peggy and a cousin murdered a man in Tennessee in 1822. His name was Stephen W. Thompson. The Governor of Tennesse before and after Sam Houston, William Carroll had issued an arrest warrant for them. They fled to New Orleans and then to Texas at Ayish Bayou. There they boarded on the Neal McNeal plantation. By 1827 Peggy, was in San Felipe married to Jonathan. Father Muldoon baptized their first born child and Stephen F. Austin was the Godfather. The nearby store was run by Seth and Ira Ingram, two Irish brothers. Ira later became the first Alcalde of Matagorda. He was also one of the attendees of the first Masonic meeting in Texas. The meeting was held in San Felipe on January 1, 1828. It was decided at that meeting to found a lodge at San Felipe. An application for a charter was sent to the Mason hierarchy in Mexico City.

Seth Ingram, a surveyor, laid out the town of San Felipe. Another merchant, James Cochran, later founded Cochran, Texas. Jane Long was in San Felipe, as was Josiah H. Bell. He was the Alcalde of San Felipe. The "H" stood for Hughes. His mother was the former Elizabeth Hughes. Josiah Bell's wife was the former Evelyn McKenzie. Eli Finn was the colony's doctor. When he died, his wife, the former Sarah Catherine Fitzgerald, became the town doctor. Still more Celts included Patrick Dolan who was listed as a tailor and John Montgomery who operated a laundry in San Felipe.

Thomas Drummond, a Scottish botanist, made a a trip to Texas and wrote a scientific report about the Texas Bluebonnet. The trip was in 1834. He collected specimens of the Bluebonnet and other native plants at San Felipe and sent them back to Scotland. Other Texas flora discovered by Drummond carry his name in their Latin description: Cooperia drummondi (Rain Lily) and Alophia drummondi (Pleat-leaved Iris) as well as 28 more.

< Thomas Drummond

Smithwick in his book, The Evoluiton of a State or Recollections of Old Texas Days , shared some of his storeis of the Celts in the San Felipe area. One of whom, Isaac McGeary, took a greenhorn friend camping with him. One night as they were around the campfire about to bed down, McGeary told his friend the coyotes in this area had a peculiar appetite for boots and hats. He suggested Dickerson do like him and and place his boots and hat under his head and sleep on them.

Later, after he was sure Dickerson was fast asleep, McGeary gently stole the hat and and boots from beneath Dickerson's head. Then, together with his own he hid them in the nearby brush in some high grass. Next morning, the pair woke up to find the "sneaking coyotes" made of with their boots and hats! After a time McGeary walked nonchalantly to where he put the boots and hats. His intention was to retrieve the items and let Dickerson know the joke was on him. Well.......as you have probably already guessed, when McGeary got to the spot, all he found were pieces of hat and no boots. McGeary showed Dickerson where the coyotes had taken the hats, or what was left of them, but he never offered up any more.

For several years thereafter, Dickerson warned newcomers of the stealth of the coyotes in that area by telling the story as he knew it. Then when Dickerson moved out of earshot, McGeary went to the newcomers and told the rest of the story. This went on for enough years that it became sport to watch the faces of the newcomers as first Dickerson and then McGeary told the coyote story.

Another story involved Colonel Joseph Washington E. Wallace, a Scotchman and the U.S. Consul for the colony. To enhance his reputation as a marksman, he would go squirrel hunting with a group of men who did not go to town very often. When they divided the days kill, Wallace would always ask to take those shot in the head. When he got back to town, he never said a thing, just dropped the squirrels off quite neighborly on someone's porch.

Another time Smithwick wrote about Old Joe Callahan. Callahan staggered up to where Smithwick and some others were having a shooting match. The closest to the center of the target won the pot of money from all who paid to enter the contest. When Callahan staggered up to the group, Smithwick's shot was the closest to the middle. Callahan asked if he could have a shot. Smithwick explained the rules and Callahan handed him his entrance fee in cash. Smithwick explains what happened next:

He (Callahan) was too drunk to stand still, but after several lurches he made a supreme effort and blazed away. The ball struck the ground ten feet short of the target and glanced up the tree catching the edge of the target board and ploughing through the center of it tearing it in half. Uncle Joe won the money.

One more story from Smithwick, this one not very humorous. Two men, Moore and McKinstry, had an argument and decided to settle it with a duel. The went to Smithwick for the proper instructions in dueling and for help in target practice. The method of target practice for a duel in those days was to stretch a tape on a tree the height of your opponent, and shoot the tape. Moore hit the tape more than he missed it. Mckinstry often missed the tree! As the appointed day approached with no relative change in their shooting skills, Smithwick thought McKinstry a dead man. When the two faced each other, Moore missed and McKinstry fired a shot that broke both of Moore's legs.

Andrew Jackson Sowell, another Scotman who also wrote of his days in Texas told of the time in 1832 that a man named McClure, Matthew Caldwell, Jesse McCoy, Malone White and Almeron Dickerson were all in Gonzales when they got word that a Frenchman and a Mexican were being attacked by Indians just outside of town. The men, with McClure as Captain, acted as a posse and tracked the Indians and then attacked them. They killed several of the Indians without losing a man. Three years later many of these same men would stand together again in Gonzales in an event wich would became known as the "Lexington" of the Texas Revolution.

Freemasonry was finally established in Texas in March of 1835. The charter application for the San Felipe Lodge that was sent to Mexico City got lost in the fast changing events there and another lodge was to be the first to be chartered in Texas. John A. Wharton, Anson Jones, Asa Brigham, James A. E. Phelps, Alexander Russell, Warren D. C. Hall and J. P. Caldwell met in a peach grove near Brazoria, Texas and they formed a Lodge called the Holland Lodge. It was named for the Most Worshipful Grand Master of Louisiana to whom they sent the application for a charter. It was granted and the Holland Lodge became the first Free Mason lodge in Texas.