The Texas Residency of Doctor Amos Pollard


on Sunday, August, 05 2012 @ 06:31:00 am (2854 words)
In Brazoria County history [ 95896 views ]

 

This article was researched and written in the fall of 1994. It was written in the literary present tense as a study of extant documentary evidence as an assignment for a communications course I was then taking toward coursework fulfillment of requirements for certification to teach English at the secondary-level.  It was subsequently published (edited to historical past tense) in The Alamo Journal, the official publication of the Alamo Society, in the issue of February 1995 (#95).  I wish to convey my sincerest thanks to Mr. Micah Meche (Brazosport College Marketing and Communications) for his kindness in retrieving this article in its original form from the old MacIntosh-formatted disc upon which it was first written, thus making it once again available in its original form. Except for a few typos and misspellings, now corrected, the article in its original form is presented here.

 

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Since the publication of The Handbook of Texas in 1952, biographical sketches of Dr. Amos Pollard have stated that he had been a resident of the town of Gonzales prior to his martyrdom at the Alamo. A scrutiny of the two sources used in writing Pollard's biography for the Handbook reveals this assertion to be based upon an apparently mistaken assumption made by both of their authors. Furthermore, the author of one of these sources mentions a record which indicates that Pollard resided in the town of Columbia. This same author, however, disregards this identification and instead accepts the attribution of Gonzales as correct. A diary entry and several archival sources exist, however, which indicate that indeed Columbia was the place of Dr. Amos Pollard's residence in Texas.

The purpose of this article is to analyze pertinent segments of the two secondary sources which initiated the identification of Gonzales as Pollard's place of residence and to present evidence which I have located, chiefly in archival holdings, which proves that Pollard was actually a resident of the town of Columbia, today known as West Columbia. This information is presented in the interest of historical accuracy, as well as to illustrate the research value of local civil archives.

The identification of Gonzales as Pollard's residence was given currency through the publication of The Handbook of Texas. Pollard's biography therein is based upon Amelia William's dissertation "A Critical Study of the Siege of the Alamo and of the Personnel of its Defenders," published in several issues of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly in 1933-'34, and Dr. Pat Ireland Nixon's The Medical Story of Early Texas, 1528-1853 (published in 1946).

A sketch of Pollard's life is necessary to give context to the question of his place of abode in Texas, understanding of the events in which he played a part, and insight into why it has been assumed that he resided in Gonzales. Born in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, on 29 October 1803, the oldest of seven children (three sons and four daughters) of Jonas and Martha Martin Westminster Pollard, Amos grew up on a farm near Surry, New Hampshire.1 In 1825, he received his degree in medicine from the Vermont College of Medicine in Charleston, Vermont, and for a time thereafter, resided in Greenbush, New York.2 From 1828 until 1834, according to author Bill Groneman, Pollard practiced medicine in various Manhattan locales.3 An entry in Stephen F. Austin's Register of Families, though, indicates that he arrived in Texas on 23 December 1833. The register gives his occupation as physician and states that his family had remained in New York.4 Dr. Pollard married Fannie Oeela, though when and where this event occurred is not known. They were the parents of one daughter.5

Austin's register shows that Pollard's application for one-fourth of a league of land (approximately 1,100 acres) was made for him by Asahel C. Holmes, whose own entry in the register is directly above that of Pollard, on 6 April 1835.6 Pollard, as we shall see, made his home in Columbia.

It is stated by Groneman that Pollard was a participant "in the fight for the Gonzales cannon."7 This clash resulted from an attempt by Mexican soldiers to re-claim the small, brass cannon that in 1831 had been given to the settlers of DeWitt's colony for defense against Indian attacks.8 The battle, which took place on 2 October 1835, has come to be known as the "Lexington of the Texas Revolution."9 Perhaps Groneman assumes that Pollard, allegedly a resident of Gonzales at the time, would thus have become involved in the battle. As a resident of Columbia, it is more likely that Pollard was a member of that area's detachment of volunteers that originally had set out for James Kerr's residence on the Lavaca River (probably to intercept the force commanded by General Cos) but instead diverted to Gonzales, arriving the day following the battle.10 The earliest documented evidence of Pollard at Gonzales is a letter to Stephen F. Austin, written at Gonzales on 6 October 1835, which Pollard cosigned with seven others.11 Pollard was among the army of approximately 300 Texans which on 13 October took up the line of march for San Antonio de Bexar to attack the Mexican garrison there.12 Stephen F. Austin, commander-in-chief of the Army of Texas, on 23 October announced his appointment of Dr. Pollard as surgeon of the regiment.13 Following the Siege of Bexar, in which Pollard participated,14 he remained in that place and served there, as surgeon of the garrison, until his death in the fall of the Alamo on 6 March 1836.15

Amelia William's attempt to reconstruct a roster of Alamo victims contains a segment dealing with the entrance into the Alamo of thirty-two men from Gonzales on 1 March 1836. "It appears from the records at the General Land Office that forty men from Gonzales died at the Alamo,"16 she states. In attempting to identify these thirty-two men, as well as eight others alleged to have been residents of Gonzales, Williams cites Miles S. Bennet's list of nine men who, he says, came from Gonzales and who died at the Alamo. Among those listed by Bennet, son of Texas pioneer Valentine Bennet, is Dr. Pollard. Williams notes "It may be argued that Pollard and Dickenson...had previously left the Alamo as messengers and returned with the reinforcements."17 In rejecting this idea, she states that

 

Both men were prominent in the political affairs at the Alamo,

both held important military positions there, Pollard being the chief surgeon of the fort

and Dickenson being master of artillery; moreover, Dickenson had his wife and child in the Alamo.18

 

Though Williams states that the Texas General Land Office records indicate that forty of the Alamo martyrs had lived in Gonzales, she does not specifically state which records give this information. Obviously, since she attempts to identify these forty men using other sources, the land office records to which she refers do not identify these men by name. Bennet does not state explicitly that the nine men he lists were residents of Gonzales. He simply states "I record here the names of some of those who went from Gonzales."19 It is very probable, however, that that is his intended meaning. If so, evidence exists which shows his assumption to be mistaken. Bennet's list, then, constitutes William's only evidence that Pollard lived in Gonzales. Williams thus states in her annotated list of victims that Pollard was a "resident of Gonzales."20

There is a possible explanation for the contention that Pollard was a resident of Gonzales, if, that is, that is what Bennet meant to say. Valentine Bennet, Miles' father, once resided in the Municipality of Brazoria. In fact, Valentine Bennet was building a house in the town of Brazoria at the time of the Battle of Velasco (1832), in which he fought.21 Shortly after the battle, Valentine Bennet moved to Gonzales.22 Possibly Miles presumed that his father, who fought in the Battle of Gonzales, had known Pollard while living in that area.

Dr. Pat Ireland Nixon follows William's lead in identifying Gonzales as Pollard's home23; however, he gives no specific documentation for doing so, unless the information came from the correspondence with Williams, which is cited in a footnote on page 186 of Nixon's book. (This note appears to relate, though, only to the remark that Pollard's family remained in New York.) Nixon seems to think that in 1835 Pollard was residing in Gonzales. He states "Heretofore it has been believed that he came in 1835 and that Gonzales was his first home."24 He follows this remark with a quote from Benjamin Lundy's Life, Travels and Opinions. At Bexar on 30 August 1834, Lundy writes in his journal "I met today Dr. Amos Pollard, lately of New York but now of Columbia, Texas. He is a decided friend of our cause."25 Nixon explains that the cause to which Lundy refers is the abolition of slavery. A famed abolitionist, Lundy had "come to Texas with a view to the establishment of colonies of ex-slaves in Texas and Mexico."26

Following quotation of Lundy's comments on Dr. Pollard, Nixon makes the unsubstantiated assertion that Pollard "came to Gonzales in 1835 as a land speculator."27 Discussing the involvement of doctors in the early stages of the Texas Revolution, Nixon states categorically, but without documentation, that "One of these, Dr. Amos Pollard, was living at Gonzales."28 In light of such seeming certainty, there is little wonder why the unnamed author of Dr. Pollard's biography in The Handbook of Texas states that Pollard settled in Gonzales.

In citing Lundy's comments about Dr. Pollard, Dr. Nixon provides reliable primary evidence that Pollard lived for a time in Columbia. Other sources exist, however, that not only verify Lundy's words but strongly suggest that Dr. Pollard remained a resident of Columbia up until the time of his military service. Lundy's statement is the earliest record to expressly state that Pollard lived in Columbia. However, the aforementioned land applications of Pollard and Asahel C. Holmes (made in 1835) give the earliest date (23 December 1833) for Pollard's presence in Texas. Taken together these two register entries provide a hint, though not a glaringly apparent one, that Pollard had an interest in the Columbia area.

Holmes' application (made 5 April 1835) is the register entry just above that of Pollard. The entry states that Holmes "Wants land between the Brazos & Bernard surveys above Bell."29 This notation refers to land between the Brazos and Bernard rivers , north of land granted to Josiah Hughes Bell. Bell was the founder of the towns of Marion (now called East Columbia) and Columbia, both towns being located on the Bell survey, which is located on the west side of the Brazos River, approximately twenty-three miles above the mouth of the river.30 Because Holmes made application for land in Pollard's behalf,31 one might conclude (especially in light of Lundy's statements) that Holmes and Pollard were friends living in the Columbia area. While this evidence is far from conclusive proof of the residence of Pollard, it certainly compliments more explicit evidence that exists.

Mary Austin Holley, first cousin of Stephen F. Austin, made five trips to Texas.32 A diary she kept during her second and third visits has been published as The Texas Diary, 1835-38. While visiting her brother Henry and his family on her second stay in Texas, Mrs. Holley entered into her diary the following notation for Sunday, 24 May 1835: "Dined this day at Dr. Phelps. Dr. Pollard there."33 Dr. Phelps was the owner of Orozimbo Plantation, which was on the west side of the Brazos River about twelve miles northeast of Columbia and across the river from Henry Austin's Bolivar Plantation. Interestingly, J. P. Bryan, editor of the diary, notes that Dr. Pollard "came to Texas in 1834, settling near Gonzales,"34 obvious misinformation from The Handbook of Texas.

A further clue that Pollard was a resident of the Columbia area is found in a worn volume called A General Docket of All the Suits Instituted Before the Primary Court of the Jurisdiction of Columbia Since its Organization, 1835, located in the office of the county clerk in the Brazoria County courthouse in Angleton, Texas. This volume indicates that a case (number 439) against Pollard involved a debt of seventy-five dollars. The entry simply states: "439 Proprietors of Columbia vs Amos Pollard 2 notes for 75.00." As with the diary entry and the land application, this record alone does not prove Pollard's residence; however, together these records make a good circumstantial case that Columbia was indeed his home.

The most substantial evidence concerning Pollard's residence comes from Brazoria County probate records. A legal instrument, dated the "29th day of September 1836," in the probate file of Dr. Pollard shows that "Leman Kelcey and Josiah T. Harrell both of the County & Jurisdiction of Brazoria in the said District are held and Bound unto Benjamin C. Franklin Judge of the District of Brazos"35 in the amount of $2,000. The document further states

 

The Condition of the above obligation is such that whereas the
above bound Leman Kelcey has been appointed by the said
Benjamin C. Franklin Judge as aforesaid to administer the estate of
Amos Pollard deceased late of the said District---as curator for the
benefit of the absent heirs.36

 

Pages 46 and 47 of Volume A (1829-1852) of marriage records of Brazoria County, for some reason contain a copy of this bond.37 Kelcey, a property owner in the town of Columbia,38 would likely have been an acquaintence of Pollard and likely would have had some knowledge of Pollard's business affairs. Like Pollard, Kelcey was from New York.39

For a full understanding of a later probate document, a bit of judicial history is necessitated. On 16 March 1836, the members of the Constitutional Convention, then convened at Washington-on-the-Brazos, passed what was denominated "Executive Ordinances, Preliminary to the Establishment of a Constitution for Texas."40 The ordinances grant the ad interim government 'full, ample, and plenary powers to do all and everything which is contemplated to be done by the constitution, saving and excepting all legislative and judicial acts."41 Section 3 of Article IV of the Constitution of the Republic of Texas prescribes that "In all admiralty and maritime cases...the district courts shall have exclusive original jurisdiction."42 The court for the District of Brazos was set up consequent to the need for an admiralty court, and Benjamin C. Franklin was appointed judge.43

During his tenure in this position, Franklin also presided over probate cases and officiated at one marriage.44 The Congress of the Republic of Texas, convened at Columbia (the first capital of the republic), passed an act creating twenty-three counties on 20 December 1836.45 Brazoria was one of these. That same day Benjamin C. Franklin was made judge of the Second Judicial District, which included Brazoria County.46

Leman Kelcey, by his lawyer Henry P. Brewster, brought to the attention of the Brazoria County probate court his appointment by Franklin as administrator of Pollard's estate. Noting that "Doubt being entertained of the legality of such appointments," Kelcey "late a resident of this County and now a resident of the County of Harrisburg"47 requested that the court confirm or renew his appointment. Judge George B. McKinstry's decision, recorded as part of the same document, states, in part

 

Having read and considered the foregoing petition of L Kelcey..., I
do order and decree that the Said L Kelcey make a return to the
Court of his acts and doings as administrator of the Succession of
Amos Pollard late of this County deceased, this Court not having
recognised any acts of the Hon Benjamin C Franklin as Judge of
Probate cannot confirm any of his acts and it is further ordered that
Thomas Blackwell a citizen and resident of this County be
appointed administrator of the Said vacant Succession of Amos
Pollard late of this _____ decsd...and that Charles D Sayre be
appointed Curator to represent the absent Heirs in conformity to
law.48

 

This last piece of evidence explicitly states that Dr. Amos Pollard was a resident of what became Brazoria County. The bond instrument that mentioned Kelcey's appointment as administrator of the estate carried the heading "Brazoria/District of Brazos,"49 reflecting the change of the name of the municipality from Columbia back to Brazoria, and its "capital" from the town of Columbia back to the town of Brazoria, an action taken by the General Council of the Provisional Government of Texas. The bond instrument simply stated that Pollard was "late of said District,"50 and since the boundaries of that district were never established, one could argue it was not sufficiently precise to prove Pollard's residence in Brazoria County.

Lundy's journal entry explicitly states that Pollard's home was in Columbia. This was probably a reference to the Mexican municipality of that name, which was larger than present Brazoria County, rather than the town of Columbia specifically.51 Judge McKinstry's ruling states distinctly that Pollard was a resident of what became Brazoria County. These specific statements, together with other primary evidence cited herein lead this writer to conclude that Pollard came to Texas in 1833, that he settled in what was once the Municipality of Columbia (probably that area between Columbia and Orozimbo Plantation) and that he remained a resident of that area until the time of his military service in the Texas Revolution. Meager as the evidence presented herein is, it is still more substantial than the allegation, based on one piece of evidence, that Pollard was a resident of the town of Gonzales.

 

(Works Cited and Notes)

(Addenda in this blog on Pollard's Columbia, Texas, residency.)

 


3 comments

Comment from: kimberly [Member]  
KimmyVery well done. I think the case you present is very sound and I would agree with your conclusion.
08/05/12 @ 13:29
Comment from: Augie Doggy [Visitor]
Augie DoggyNicely reasoned and documented.
08/05/12 @ 14:04
Comment from: Kobi Ko [Visitor]
Kobi KoAs a non-historian, I cannot say whether I agree with your conclusions or not, but you do make a compelling argument. It's a little difficult for someone my age to read the smaller, indented text against the speckled background, though :) By the way, I once taught a computer class to adults who may or may not have been able to do the algebraic calculation in your antispam test.
08/06/12 @ 01:31

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