Chapter 3: Intimacy and Subjugation: Property Rights and Black Texans
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Name /T1405/T1405_CH03 12/06/00 06:07AM Plate # 0-Composite pg 51 # 1 Circumstances in early Texas prompted men to form complicated relationships with their slave women that white society in the more settled South would have considered at least highly unorthodox. Columbus R. ‘‘Kit’’ Patton of Kentucky and his brothers pulled up stakes and immigrated to Mexican Texas in the late 1820s. After obtaining an inexpensive tract of land along the Brazos River, young Kit and the few slaves he brought with him began carving a farm out of the wilderness. Amid the difficulties of establishing a new sugarcane and cotton-growing operation in a swampy coastal terrain, Kit began a sexual involvement with Rachel, his mulatto slave. Over the next several decades the relationship deepened . An intelligent and rather haughty woman, Rachel became Kit’s supreme confidante and acknowledged mistress of the plantation.1 Name /T1405/T1405_CH03 12/06/00 06:07AM Plate # 0-Composite pg 52 # 2 Over the years, Rachel’s relationship with Kit became unacceptable to his mother, younger brother Charles, and nephew Matt. Especially galling to them were the open and relatively reciprocal aspects of the connection. That Kit maintained a slave woman, a ‘‘Negro,’’ virtually as his wife and permitted her to assume all the prerogatives of that role, within the precincts of the plantation at least, became more than the Pattons could bear.2 The Patton family resorted to the courts to fix the problem. By 1853, Kit’s impractical plans for the plantation and strange religious ideas disturbed the Pattons, leading them to conclude he had become ‘‘eccentric .’’ It was Kit’s open involvement with Rachel, however, that most consistently upset the family. While Charles himself was a bachelor who kept a slave mistress on his farm at nearby West Columbia, Rachel’s unusually assertive behavior and high position so outraged him that he conspired successfully with Matt Patton in 1854 to have Kit declared non compos mentis. Shortly thereafter, Charles had Kit committed to an insane asylum in South Carolina, where the thirty-nineyear -old died rather mysteriously on 29 September 1856. Having taken charge of his brother’s land and slaves, Charles quickly sent Rachel back to the fields.3 Not long after Kit’s inexplicable death, the appearance of a secret will marred Patton family designs on the property of its errant kinsman . The legal rights of the clan to Kit’s estate seemed quite secure initially. In 1857, however, new estate administrator John Adriance produced a will in Brazoria County Court bluntly disinheriting both Charles and Matt and leaving almost the entire estate to a young niece. More outrageous to the Pattons were other provisions in the will providing Rachel a substantial lifetime yearly allowance out of Kit’s property and permitting her to live wherever she chose. According to Adriance, furthermore, Kit had drafted the will in 1853 before his declared incompetency and institutionalization.4 All hell broke loose during probate administration of the belated will as the Patton family mobilized to suppress it. The thrust of their challenge was that Kit had been deranged when he drafted the document. Of equal importance, they argued, Rachel, his ‘‘slave concubine,’’ had improperly influenced him. In their official statement, the Pattons claimed the will had been extorted from Kit by the ‘‘threats, fraudulent conduct, and artful devices of a certain negro woman slave named homesteads ungovernable   52 Name /T1405/T1405_CH03 12/06/00 06:07AM Plate # 0-Composite pg 53 # 3 Rachel’’ with whom he had ‘‘lived in disgraceful intimacy, and who had undue influence and control over [him].’’5 The Brazoria County Court ultimately capitulated to the pressure. The Pattons worked out a compromise settlement securing most of Kit’s estate for Charles. The court, however, honored those portions of the will concerning the supposed Jezebel whom the Pattons claimed had unduly influenced its preparation. Adriance rescued Rachel from the fields, and the court compelled Charles in 1857 to provide her with a separate house. Regardless of her reduced status, Rachel continued to live like the lady of a great plantation. Her undiminished influence among the slaves, however, prompted Adriance in 1860 to relocate her to Cincinnati, Ohio, as Texas braced for war against the North. Taking the name Rachel Bartlett, she lived there independently and with the benefit of her allowance until at least 1868.6 Although white immigrants in Mexican Texascertainlylookeddown on blacks, few witnessed any...


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Subject Headings

  • Domestic relations -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Texas -- Race relations.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Sex role -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Texas -- Social life and customs.
  • Families -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
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