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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

The McAdams Story

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
In 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 Jacinto.

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 The document remained unpublished until 1985, when it appeared in "The McAdams Family of Walker County, Texas," a privately printed genealogy book.

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 were Catholic.)

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 to Texas.

While his brother-in-law John McAdams, Jr. missed Sam Houston's decisive rout of Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at San Jacinto 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 triangle.

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
"Texas Tales" - April 20, 2016 Column

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