Independence was originally called Coles Settlement or Cole's Hill
after early settler John P. Coles. Coles was the Alcalde under Mexican rule and
one of the first to venture west from Washington-on-the-Brazos.
Coles was also the county chief justice when Washington County was established
in 1841. Coles once rented a cabin to a Mr. Albert Gallatin Haynes, who is worth
mentioning if only because he named his sons Tom, Dick and Harry. Other settlers
arrived from North Carolina, Alabama and Kentucky including Nestor Clay - a nephew
of Henry Clay.
With the organization of Independence Academy in 1837
people started applying the name to the town as well. Other sources credit Dr.
Asa Hoxey with naming the town. Hoxey is also credited with naming nearby Washington.
In 1844 an election for county seat was held with four contenders - the then
county seat of Mount Vernon, Turkey Creek, Independence and Brenham. Brenham
won by a few votes - having just been renamed in honor of a popular doctor who
was killed in the ill-fated Mier Expedition in 1842. Brenham also had the advantage
of being more centrally located. Turkey Creek and Mount Vernon disappeared without
The Founding of Baylor
A Baptist church was established in September 1839 and shortly thereafter
(1846) Baylor University was founded. During the first few years the school was
coeducational but after 1851 the students were separated by gender.
four impressive columns to the right of town in Old Baylor Park are the rebuilt
columns of the female Department of the University. The Male Campus was located
on Windmill Hill.
The stream in between the two campuses was lightheartedly
referred to as The River Jordan - since the females (at least in the minds of
the boys) dwelled in "the promised land."
Afternoon in Spring at Old Baylor Park > next page
Old Baylor Ruins.
Columns in Old Baylor Park|
Photo courtesy Stephen
original Baylor Female College, early 1900s|
Photo courtesy texasoldphotos.com
Female College in Independence|
well of the former Baylor kitchen |
Hill and Recent Improvements
Recent improvements on Windmill
Hill include a walking path generously landscaped with native plants and a new
generation of live oaks, an observation tower and the former foundations of the
Much of the stone of the abandoned institution was appropriated
by remaining Independence residents and it remains "on permanent loan" in many
of the former male dormitory on Windmill Hill |
stage stop |
A well has been re-excavated and lighted for the benefit of twilight visitors.
The lighting offers a good look at the substantial limestone shelf the well diggers
had to break through.|
Visitors can orient themselves by using old photographs
(transferred onto metal) provided by Baylor University.
Across the street
from Windmill Hill is the former home (c. 1845) of General Jerome B. Robertson
- Captain in the Army of the Republic of Texas, Captain in the Somervell Expedition
and Brigadier General of Hood's Brigade, C.S.A. The house has been saved by an
owner willing to wait for a buyer who will faithfully restore the property.
Eight tenths of a mile North of the columns in Old Baylor Park on Coles-McCrocklin
Road is the Old Independence Cemetery which dates to the 1820s. Family plots include
the Clay and Coles families. Many inscriptions of places of birth show the geographical
diversity of the early settlers. The setting of the cemetery surrounded by live
oaks, pastures and ponds deepens an already strongly-felt timelessness.
to Stay - Independence Area Hotels:
Houston Family as Residents|
Sam Houston lived in Independence
after serving as Senator from Texas in the United States. He rented a house not
far from the Old Baylor Ruins and left his mark in the local church where a pew
still exhibits damage from his hobby of whittling during sermons - a once popular
past time that is frowned upon today.
Houston was also Baptized in Independence
- on November 19, 1854 - not in the church as planned, but in Little Rocky Creek
- between Houston's house and the church. Legend has it that young pranksters
learned of the impending Baptism and clogged the ceremonial font with mud and
debris the night before.
Margaret Lea Houston - Sam's third wife is buried
in Independence. She died of Yellow Fever in 1867 and law prevented her body from
being sent to Huntsville to lie beside her husband. Her mother is also buried
by James Haley
to the Civil War a debate was held in Independence on the thorny issue of secession.
The debate (comprised of Baylor University students) was won in favor of the Union.
A 50-foot "liberty pole" was erected and the U. S. flag unfurled, but within a
short time the pole was chopped down by the mayor of Independence (Tass Clay),
reflecting the feelings of the majority of citizens - debate or no debate. |
| Robert McAlpin
Willie by Bob Bowman ("All Things Historical" Column)
"The Republic of Texas, which existed only a decade, had its share of interesting
characters. But few of them were as colorful as Three Legged Willie, who passed
away some 146 years ago...." more
John A. Gilmartin
Note: In our original text on Independence, we mistakenly refered to John P. Coles
as John P. Cole and former Mayor Tass Clay as "Task" Clay. Our errors were noted
by Mr. Gilmartin who wrote the following letter:
First of all,
I genuinely compliment you on the wonderful information you have compiled and
published on-line. The accompanying photographs are excellent and I am honored
that you included a shot of the old General Store and Texaco Gas Pump that I own
that is on the fringe area of the original college site. I have owned property
in the Old Baylor Park at Independence the past 30 years. I was an officer and
member of the Independence Historical Society for many years and served on the
Executive Committee of the Washington County Historical Committee.
Prince Coles who was born in Rowan County, North Carolina in 1793 emmigrated to
Texas from Jasper County Georgia at Monticello in 1820. He became a close and
dear friend of Stephen F. Austin's. Austin rewarded Coles' friendship, service
and loyalty by insuring that Coles received the largest land grants of all the
original 300 colonists. He arrived at Independence in 1822 and constructed his
"double-pen log house. Only one-half of it remains today. The south one-half was
destroyed by the 1900 Galveston Storm and was not rebuilt.Coles also built and
owned a Public House (Inn), constructed a mill on the Yegua Tributary of the Brazos
and was an original Trustee of Baylor. Historically the town was known far and
wide as Coles' Settlement. After San Jacinto and the Texas Victory, Dr. Asa Hoxey
led the movement to change the town's name to INDEPENDENCE in commemmoration of
Texas's new independent status from Mexico. Coles died in 1847 and is buried at
the Old independence Cemetery. His widow Mary Eleanor had his tombstone carved
following his death.
The Mayor of Independence who chopped down the US
Flag on the eve of the Civil War was Tass Clay, named for the Roman Emperior Tacitus.
And in the Lea-Houston Family Cemetery, Margaret Lea Houston is buried with her
mother Nancy Moffette Lea and some former slaves. The Houston's first-born son,
Dr. Samuel Houston, Jr , is buried in the Old Independence Cemetery. Again, thank
you for your wonderful information and [magazine]!
John A. Gilmartin,
Attorney at Law (Retired), Independence Local Historian,
to Stay - Independence Area Hotels: |
Bibliography: Baylor at Independence: 1845-1886, Lois Smith Murray,
Baylor University Press, 1972
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