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Texas | Columns | "Wandering"

Boat races in
bay area go back
to the 1800s

by Wanda Orton
Wanda Orton

Pioneers of this bay area around Baytown and La Porte sailed through the 1800s, with nearly all residents owning boats or having access to them. There was no other way to get around - boating was a matter of necessity. The waterways were the highways.

For many, the water was a source of income not only in fishing but also in building boats and in transporting cargo back and forth from Galveston and Houston.

Even in those hard times, however, the water wasn't all work and no play. Early on, the people around here appreciated the recreational aspect of their bays and bayous, rivers and creeks.

They had fun on the water.

From information compiled by the La Porte-Bay Area Heritage Society, I learned there was a San Jacinto Yacht Club in the 19th century, based in Lynchburg, and it sponsored its first regatta on April 19, 1860.

The boats sailed from Lynchburg down the San Jacinto River (present-day Houston Ship Channel), whizzing by Baytown and San Jacinto Bay and then circling around the marker at Morgan's Point before heading back to Lynchburg .

Boats in the race included the sloop "Favorite" with Col. James Morgan at the helm and the sloop "Cassy Holt" with his son Kosciusko Morgan in charge.

Also racing were sloops bearing such labels as "Clementine," "Clara," "Lively Sally," "Calder" and "Mayflower" and a schooner named "Frolic."

Col. Morgan's "Favorite" lived up to its name, coming out on top in the race. Although 67 and blind, Morgan proved he still knew his way around a waterway.

Don't ask how he raced a boat, blindly.

Anyway, Col. Morgan - the blind boatman, won the race in the San Jacinto Yacht Club regatta April 19, 1860.

Fannie Belle Morgan Allen, in an interview with the Houston Post, told about her father, Kosciusko Morgan, competing in a regatta that featured 12 sailboats. Kos Morgan named his sailboat "Fannie Belle."

The date of this race is not mentioned but I bet it was held in the early 1860s when Sam Houston and his family were living full time at Cedar Point. Fannie Allen said that Houston participated in this race, sailing the "Favorite" with her grandfather, Col. Morgan.

I am wondering what those two old Texas revolutionaries talked about as they made waves down the river.

For starters, Col. Morgan might say, "I should not allow you on my boat, General. You never were big on the Texas Navy."

"That's right, Morgy. I'm an Army man, myself. Watch where you are steering."

"You watch. I can't see."

The race goes on and so does the talk.

"Remember the time Santa Anna's soldiers burned down my warehouse and hotel?" Morgan might ask Houston.

"Yeah, and you were not even there to mind the store when it all happened," Houston might respond, kidding the colonel.

"Hey, I was in Galveston in charge of fortifying the island. President David G. Burnet ordered me to."

"Good old Davey G.," Houston might say with a tinge of sarcasm. Thinking more about Davey G., the two men rocked the boat, laughing.

OK, I made up that exchange between Morgan and Houston, but the rest is real history. The boat actually capsized on the shores of Spillman Island and the occupants had to be rescued, according to files of the La Porte-Bay Area Heritage Society.

Kos Morgan won the race.

By the way, if you cannot place Spillman Island, think Baytown-La Porte Tunnel. The island is where the tunnel was dug less than a century after Morgan and Houston had their "ship wreck."

Here I go wondering again, but what caused the boat to turn over?

Maybe the conversation with Gen. Houston distracted Col. Morgan.

Or maybe, just maybe, Col Morgan could not see where he was going.




© Wanda Orton Baytown Sun Columnist
"Wandering" July 1 , 2017 column

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TX -  Houston Ship Channel , Trinity Bay & Galveston Bay 1920s map
1920s Texas map showing Houston Ship Channel
From Texas state map #10749
Courtesy Texas General Land Office

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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