the late summer of 1935, Texans busied themselves ramping up for the
following year's celebration of the 100th
anniversary of Lone Star independence.
All of those who fought for Texas during the bloody winter and spring
of 1836 lay long dead, but some of their children still lived, including
Hiram McAdams and his four married sisters -- Eady, Alice, Margaret
and Mattie. They were the only living children of John McAdams, Jr.,
a Tennessean who served in the Texas army during the revolution against
Mexico, though too late to participate in the pivotal April 21, 1836
battle of San
Nearly a century later, the four surviving McAdams children provided
another family member with information she used in writing a short
family history plainly titled, "Life History of John McAdams Sr. and
Jr." The document remained unpublished until 1985, when it appeared
in "The McAdams Family of Walker County, Texas," a privately printed
The McAdams story is interesting, but it's what the third-generation
Texans remembered about the man who married their oldest sister that
catches the eye. In fact, it reads like a historical novel synopsis.
First, the back story: John McAdams Sr. was a Methodist preacher who
had known a young Tennessean originally from Virginia named Sam Houston.
In 1829, McAdams first visited Texas, then a Mexican province, to
participate in what colonizer Stephen F. Austin termed the "Methodist
excitement." (Mexico insisted that immigrants to Texas swear they
In addition to the son who bore his name, McAdams had seven other
children, including a daughter named Elizabeth. She was the oldest,
and before her parents and siblings moved to Texas in 1834, she married
an Alabaman named George Gillaspy. (While early documents use that
spelling, his sons later adopted the more common Gillespie surname.)
After Elizabeth and George's wedding -- a joyous event which ended
in tragedy when a horse kicked and killed Elizabeth's nine-year-old
brother -- the couple moved to Alabama. But when the Texas Revolution
began, with most of his wife's family settled there, Gillaspy bade
his bride farewell to join the fight and saddled up for the long ride
While his brother-in-law John McAdams, Jr. missed Sam
Houston's decisive rout of Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at
that spring of 1836, the remaining McAdams children maintained in
1935 that Gillaspy not only fought that day, he suffered a debilitating
wound. They also said he gave water from his canteen to a dying fellow
Texian soldier, Lt. George Lamb.
Gillaspy had been so badly wounded, the McAdams' claimed, that two
years passed before he had the strength to return to his wife and
family in Alabama. Elizabeth, however, had heard that her husband
had died of his wounds. Aggrieved but young and with children she
didn't want to raise alone, she married Henry Reed on Nov. 13, 1838
in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
One night, lying in bed with her new spouse, she dreamed that her
first husband stilled lived. The dream seemed so vivid, the family
story has it, that she dispatched her oldest son John to Texas to
see if he could find his father.
On his way west, the tale continues, the son encountered a rider headed
east from Texas. That man proved to be Gillaspy. Together, father
and son showed up at Mr. and Mrs. Reed's residence to demonstrate
that Gillaspy's "death" had been greatly exaggerated.
Doubtless, a lady whose preacher father is said to have known the
Bible by heart must have been more than a little taken aback to discover
she lived in unholy polyandry. The news must have been equally unsettling
for her new husband.
This detail, incidentally, did not get mentioned in the 1935 biographical
sketch of Rev. McAdams, his namesake and extended family. It surfaced
in 2000 in a genealogical website posting. In that telling, a descendant
related that Gillaspy and Reed talked things over man to man and that
husband No. 2 graciously offered to vacate the unintended polyandrous
Perhaps hoping to outride the scandal, or maybe because most of her
family lived in Texas, Elizabeth and George left Alabama for what
was then Sabine County.
Unfortunately, a good story is not always true. The most accurate
list of San
Jacinto participants does not include anyone named George Gillaspy.
George Lamb, though, indeed died in the battle.-
In Texas, Gillaspy applied for the land promised by the new republic
to any soldier who had helped make Texas independent, but his claim
was rejected. Later, he did receive a land bounty in what is now Panola
County for having been a resident of Texas before the revolution.
At some point in the 1840s, the couple moved to Walker
County, where most of Elizabeth's family lived.
Whatever Gillaspy's role in the revolution, he did not see old age.
He left Elizabeth a true widow in 1849 or 1850.
Elizabeth never remarried. She died at 89 on Feb. 8, 1895 and is buried
in Rancho Cemetery in Gonzales
County. Her first husband, either an unheralded Texas hero or
a wannabe who had sought unearned glory or free land or both, likely
lies in Walker County.
The grave location is apparently unknown.
© Mike Cox
- April 20, 2016 Column
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