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The Hawkins Ranch in Texas

From Plantation Times to the Present

Margaret Lewis Furse

Publication Year: 2014

In 1846, James Boyd Hawkins, his wife Ariella, and their young children left North Carolina to establish a sugar plantation in Matagorda County, in the Texas coastal bend.
In The Hawkins Ranch in Texas: From Plantation Times to the Present, Margaret Lewis Furse, a great-granddaughter of James B. and Ariella Hawkins and an active partner in today’s Hawkins Ranch, has mined public records, family archives, and her own childhood memories to compose this sweeping portrait of more than 160 years of plantation, ranch, and small-town life.

Letters sent by the Hawkinses from the Texas plantation to their North Carolina family in the mid-nineteenth century describe sugar making, the perils of cholera and fevers, the activities of children, and the “management” of slaves. Public records and personal papers reveal the experience of the Hawkins family during the Civil War, when J. B. Hawkins sold goods to the Confederacy and helped with Confederate coastal defenses near his plantation. In the 1930s, the death of their parents left the ranch in the hands of four sisters, at a time when few women owned and ran cattle operations.

The Hawkins Ranch in Texas: From Plantation Times to the Present offers a panoramic view of agrarian lifeways and how they must adapt to changing times.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

Genealogy of the Hawkinses, Alstons, and Rugeleys

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pp. ix-xvii


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pp. xviii-xx

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pp. 1-12

In 1936 teachers in Texas used every means they could imagine to impress children with the importance of that year. It was the Texas Centennial, the hundredth anniversary of the independence of Texas from Mexico. From Jeff erson Davis Grammar School in Bay City, we were..

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I. Plantation Beginnings

According to Hawkins letters, the plantation established on Caney Creek was a busy workplace, not one of lazy self-indulgence for the planter and his family, as the word plantation may imply. J. B. Hawkins’s activities were not limited to the supervision of planting by his slaves. He took orders for his products...

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Chapter 1. North Carolina Roots

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pp. 15-18

In 1829 John Davis Hawkins was feeling that worrisome shudder that so often afflicts members of an older generation when looking at the young and finding them undisciplined. Hawkins was a North Carolina lawyer and planter, an alumnus of the...

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Chapter 2. Letters Written en Route

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pp. 19-23

Traveling to Texas, Ariella wrote to her mother on November 20, 1846, when she arrived in New Orleans from Memphis. The fact that New Orleans was a new and thrilling adventure for her suggests that Ariella probably had not been to Texas before the trip she now described...

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Chapter 3. Starting the Caney Sugar Plantation

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pp. 24-31

In Texas J. B. Hawkins went into partnership with another brother, John Davis Hawkins Jr., and on October 17, 1846, these two brothers signed a written agreement to buy and cultivate land on Caney Creek. While 1846 is the date of their written agreement, the two brothers had selected...

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Chapter 4. Ariella and Plantation Family Life

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pp. 32-38

Ariella had great confidence that her husband would succeed. She and the children knew all the details of her husband’s projections for the planting, harvesting, and marketing of his crops. Her own day-to-day responsibilities included the care of her children and managing the household...

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Chapter 5. The Case of Edgar and Ways of Thought in Slavery Times

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pp. 39-48

Although Spain and Mexico had opposed slavery, when Stephen F. Austin was colonizing Texas and about twenty- five years later when the Hawkins family came in 1846, the state was seeking settlers who could farm profi tably and contribute to a productive, stable citizenry. Successful...

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Chapter 6. Building the Ranch House (Lake House), 1854

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pp. 49-54

James B. Hawkins presented an impressive piece of news to the North Carolina family on January 12, 1854. To his mother- in-law he wrote: “I am very busy sawing out lumber for her [Ariella’s] Lake Auston House. She is going to put up a large and splendid building and I hope...

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Chapter 7. Effects of Civil War and Emancipation

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pp. 55-60

The two major events that marked the years 1861 to 1865, the Civil War and the Emancipation, affected the J. B. Hawkins plantation in opposite ways. During the Civil War the plantation thrived. But when the Emancipation took full effect (and it was not immediate), it ended the...

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Chapter 8. Frank Hawkins and the Development of Cattle Ranching

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pp. 61-68

Frank Hawkins did not join his father immediately in the cattle business. First he had to attend to his formal education. He was about nineteen in 1866 when the question of his education was raised in the family. His father discussed the matter with a family named Kirkland, ...

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Chapter 9. Ariella's Fight for Her Rights

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pp. 69-74

One day about three years after her husband’s death, Ariella took a good look at her husband’s will. She understood immediately that it abridged her own property rights, and anger surged through this strong-minded woman. She found that her husband had simply dismissed from...

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Part II. Young Lady Ranchers

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the story of the Hawkins Ranch hinged upon the generation of the five children of Frank and Elmore Rugeley Hawkins. After their marriage on November 23, 1887, Frank and Elmore lived at the Hawkins Ranch House, where their children were born. They were Henry Boyd (Harry), Meta, Janie, Elizabeth, and Elmore (Sister)...

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Chapter 10. A Birth, a Death, and the Move to Town, 1896

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pp. 77-80

Within a six-year period from 1896 to 1902, James B. Hawkins, Ariella, their son Frank, and his wife Elmore were all gone. Ariella’s death in 1902 swept away the last but one of the Hawkinses who had come to Texas from North Carolina in the 1840s. Only Frank’s sister, Virginia Hawkins...

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Chapter 11. Schooling and a House of Their Own, 1913

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pp. 81-87

Living in town with the Rugeleys, the young Hawkins children had only to cross the street to attend classes with Mrs. J. D. Holmes, who was assisted from time to time by her daughter, Miss Tenie Holmes, who many years later would be my teacher. Mrs. Holmes was a widow who had written...

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Chapter 12. Young Lady Ranchers in Charge, 1917

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pp. 88-92

When the Hawkins children were still very young, still living with their grandparents and attending Mrs. Holmes’s classes, their father, Frank Hawkins, had begun to be troubled with symptoms indicating a kidney ailment called Bright’s disease. His father- in-law Dr. Rugeley had suggested...

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Chapter 13. Courtship and Marriage

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pp. 93-96

Although living in their own house with their brother, the Hawkins girls in their social engagements were under the scrutiny of their Rugeley grandmother until her death in 1923. Sister, growing up with her grandmother, described her as an exceedingly gregarious person. “Just sit up...

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Chapter 14. Lizzie

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pp. 97-106

Those who knew Lizzie in her twenties and thirties, before her troubles began, remembered a beautiful young woman with gloriously golden hair and an air of confident sociability. During the 1930s and early 1940s she loved giving parties for young people—for my brother Frank and his high...

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Chapter 15. The Conversations in the Family, 1935

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pp. 107-111

From childhood I remember that Lizzie’s troubles were discussed with more worry by the Hawkins family than any other issue, because of being so painful, so long in duration, and so beyond their control. But another issue preoccupied them in 1935. Should the Hawkins siblings let the...

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Chapter 16. Janie and Harry

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pp. 112-120

While the Hawkins family often spent Sunday afternoons together at some county beach or wooded spot on the ranch itself, they were also likely to gather on a week day in the evening on the screened porch at Janie’s house in Bay City. The time of day chosen would have been “after...

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Chapter 17. Sister and Esker

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pp. 121-124

When Sister and Esker arrived at any family gathering, it almost always created a little laughter, a little stir of delight that everyone felt when they joined the group. Esker’s charm derived from a capable, takecharge generosity. Sister’s came from a captivating vulnerability and the...

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Chapter 18. Meta and Jim

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pp. 125-127

My mother Meta, the eldest Hawkins daughter, was highly in favor of proceeding with renovation of the Ranch House and impatient to get on with the project. If Sister was propelled by dismissing the practicalities, Meta was propelled by the consideration of them. She thought dithering...

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Chapter 19. Rowland and Daughty

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pp. 128-130

On evenings when Rowland and Daughty joined the family on the porch at Janie’s, they had only to walk up the alley a half block to come through Janie’s back yard and enter the porch through its screen door. They lived in the house of Rowland’s late father, Dr. Rugeley, where the Hawkins children had grown up...

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Chapter 20. The Lady Visitor and the Decision

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pp. 131-135

The family's decision about the Hawkins Ranch House came one day in 1935 after the arrival in town of a lady visitor, Vera Prasilove, and her young daughter Kytja, who was about my age. I was pleased to be asked to come to Aunt Janie’s during the day to be company for Kytja. As the...

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Chapter 21. The Ranch House and Mr. Norcross

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pp. 136-142

Everyone knew that the only way to deal with C. K. Norcross was on his own terms. His workmanship and integrity were so respected that most people needing a job done would wait until he was ready—wait for his crankiness to subside. Sometimes a pint bottle prolonged negotiations...

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Part III. The Instruction of Town and Country

Once it was built in 1854, and especially after it was saved from decay in the 1930s, the Hawkins Ranch House served as a special place that bonded the family. But another place of allegiance was the town of Bay City, where my mother and her siblings grew up and from which they managed their ranch by...

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Chapter 22. The Courthouse Square and Depot

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pp. 145-150

When James B. Hawkins said he was going “to town,” he meant the town of Matagorda. In his earliest days in Texas, Bay City did not exist. When the five children of Frank Hawkins were brought “to town,” after the death of their mother in 1896, they came to Bay City. It was...

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Chapter 23. The Alley Way

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pp. 151-157

My parents' house, which they built in the 1930s, fronted like Aunt Janie’s on Avenue G and was only a block from hers—a block closer than hers to the Depot. Our house was red brick with a center hall, an early American design with the front door near the middle and the upstairs...

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Chapter 24. Miss Tenie

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pp. 158-164

My almost daily trips up the alley for visits to Miss Tenie made me her pet even before I started to school at Jefferson Davis Grammar School. She had a screened porch at the front of her simple one-story wood frame house, and on it was a two-seater porch swing, the kind that in movies...

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Chapter 25. Good People on the Place

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pp. 165-177

When the Hawkins sisters undertook management of the ranch, Janie assumed the duty of attending to the cattle. Meta was in charge of what was called “the farm,” a strip of corn, cotton, and sorghum fields along the west bank of the Liveoak Creek, the easternmost boundary of Hawkins...

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Chapter 26. Frank Hawkins Lewis, Cattleman

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pp. 178-186

The good people on the Hawkins Ranch were the almost daily companions of my brother Frank in every stage of his life. When he was about five, Dode Green supervised him in ranching occupations, letting him join the other hands in holding a rope that held down a cow. Later, when he...

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Chapter 27. The Future of the Sense of Place

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pp. 187-194

While my brother’s daily occupations after World War II were centered on the ranch and in Bay City, mine stretched from the family center—to college, working in a Houston bank, graduate school and teaching, and then to sharing the life of my husband and our four children in places...


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pp. 195-196

Appendix. Sketches and Letters of the Antebellum Children

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pp. 197-204


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pp. 205-218


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pp. 219-222


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pp. 223-232

Back Cover

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p. 233-233

Image Plates

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pp. 234-253

E-ISBN-13: 9781623491734
E-ISBN-10: 1623491738
Print-ISBN-13: 9781623491109

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University

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Subject Headings

  • Hawkins Ranch (Tex.) -- History.
  • Plantation life -- Texas -- Matagorda County.
  • Ranch life -- Texas -- Matagorda County.
  • Ranchers -- Texas -- Matagorda County -- Biography.
  • Women ranchers -- Texas -- Matagorda County -- Biography.
  • Hawkins family.
  • Matagorda County (Tex.) -- History.
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