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  Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"
FIRST WHITES

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Thumb through almost any Texas county history and chances are you will run across a reference to the first white child born in that particular county.

Being known as an FWC was considered a mark of distinction, and because of the honor attached to it, sometimes became a point of controversy.

Consider this item in the Coleman Chronicle's Diamond Jubilee edition in the fall of 1951: "Jeff [Morgan]...was born July 1861, for a long time thought to be the first white child born in Coleman County, but later it was learned that a girl born to the Frank Tankersleys in June of the same year bears the honor of being the first white child born in this county."

In the days before desegregation and civil rights, no one boasted of being the first Indian, Mexican or black child born in a particular county.

The FWC claim continues to be popular. Enter the words "first white child" in any search engine and you will get several thousand hits. No corner of the nation seems uninterested in noting for posterity the name of the first Anglo child born thereabouts.

Texas having 254 counties, rounding up information on all the FWCs would take a book. But writing about Texas' FWC is not so hard.

That distinction belongs to Helena Dill Berryman, born Sept. 8, 1804 in what is now Nacogdoches County.

Helena was one of five daughters of James and Helena (Kimble) Dill, who came to Texas from Pennsylvania in 1793 when the future Lone Star state was still part of New Spain. Dill secured a license from the Spanish government to trade with Indians and settled on a creek in the northern part of present Nacogdoches County. The creek came to bear his name.

In 1821, Dill became alcalde of Nacogdoches. Two years later he was elected to a second term, but opted to move his family to Natchitoches, La. Not long after relocating to the United States, Dill died of injuries suffered in a fall from his horse.

Helena Dill had married Henry Berryman, a man she had met while going to school in Natchitoches, in 1823. They moved to Virginia, where they lived for the next two decades. When the Mexican War broke out following the U.S. annexation of Texas, Berryman served as a captain in the Army.

In 1847, the couple relocated to Helena's native Texas, settling on land she inherited from her mother in what is now Cherokee County. Berryman used slaves to clear the land and build a two-story log residence. They named their place, located near Alto, Forest Hill Plantation.

The couple planned to build a large stone house similar to the one they had lived in during their time in Virginia, but they never got around to it. Henry Berryman died in 1859, but Helena stayed on their plantation. She raised three children and took in as many as 30 orphans. Later, she was the first benefactor of the Buckner Orphans Home.

Helena Berryman lived until March 13, 1888. She was buried in the family cemetery on the plantation. A historical marker erected in 1969 notes her enduring claim to fame, the first Anglo child born in Texas.

July 2003
Published with author's permission
 
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