Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mary Ann (Adams) Maverick

            Not long ago, a correspondent recommended to me that I read The Memoirs of Mary A. Maverick: A Journal of Early Texas (San Antonio: Maverick Publishing Co., 2005), and I am happy to pass along the suggestion with my endorsement. It’s a short and very readable book, only about a hundred pages of text (including illustrations), with a few more pages of front and back matter. This is the fourth version of the work: the first was the original manuscript, completed in 1881, but known only to family members; the second was an edited version of the manuscript, prepared by one of the author’s sons, George Madison Maverick, and duplicated in a small number of copies in 1896; the third was prepared by Rena Maverick Green, a daughter of the first editor, and was privately published in 1921; and the fourth, which I read, was edited by Maverick Fairchild Fisher, a fifth-generation descendant of the author. Mr. Fisher has provided very helpful illustrations, explanatory notes, and an index.

            The book is about Texas, but it has more to do with southwest Virginia than you might suppose, as will be clear in next week’s post. The story begins: “My maiden name was Mary Ann Adams. I was born March 16, 1818, in Tuskaloosa County, Alabama. My parents were William Lewis Adams of Lynchburg and his wife Agatha Strother Lewis of Botetourt County, both of the state of Virginia.” Mary Ann Adams was a great-granddaughter of General Andrew Lewis, an early settler in the region and a military leader in the American Revolution. In my youth, his name was attached to the Roanoke County High School in Salem, which now bears the ho-hum designation Salem High School. At least the local hero is still commemorated in the name of Fort Lewis Mountain.

             In the early 1800s William and Agatha Adams moved to Alabama, where Mary Ann was born and raised. She married Samuel Augustus Maverick on 4 August 1836 at her widowed mother’s home near Tuscaloosa. Samuel was from South Carolina, but had already taken up residence in Texas; in fact, Mary Ann says that he had been presumed lost at the fall of the Alamo earlier in 1836. After the wedding, the couple paid farewell visits to friends and family, including the groom’s father, who tried in vain to persuade his son to settle in South Carolina. They were still in South Carolina when their first son was born, but set off on 7 December 1837 for Texas. Their destination was San Antonio, where they arrived on 15 June 1838.

Samuel Augustus Maverick

            This was very much a frontier region, contested both by Indians and by Mexicans. In the last stages of the journey, the travelers were accosted by a band of Tonkawa Indians, who said, “Mucho amigo” but looked very menacing wearing war paint and carrying Comanche scalps from a recent battle. The Comanches were still more threatening, and harassed the community in raids and battles from 1838 until 1842, when the Mavericks were forced to evacuate their home in San Antonio for a while. Mary Ann tells an amusing tale of meeting the Cherokee chief Bowls and declining his invitation to dance, and heart-rending stories of recovering captive children from the Comanches after they had been tortured and mutilated.
            It was conflict with Mexico, however, that led the Mavericks to flee their home. Between its revolution against Mexican rule in 1836 and its annexation by the United States in 1845, Texas was in principle an independent republic. Mexico, however, continued to claim sovereignty, and periodically sent armed forces into Texas. One such invasion in March 1842 provoked the evacuation of many women and children; another in September 1842 resulted in the capture of Samuel Maverick and about fifty others. The prisoners were taken to Vera Cruz and Mexico City, but ultimately released on 30 March 1843, after an intervention by the American ambassador, General Waddy Thompson.
            Mary Ann and her children spent the first two years of their exile from San Antonio, 1842-44, on a ranch near La Grange on the Colorado River, east of Austin. The climate seemed unhealthy, however, and after Samuel’s liberation they moved to the Matagorda Peninsula on the Gulf Coast. They stayed three years on the coast, but Samuel was spending more and more time in San Antonio on business, so they all moved back there in 1847. Texas had joined the United States, and settlers were flocking to the state. One chapter of the memoir covers all the events from 1847 to 1859, and both the Civil War and the death of Mary Ann’s husband Samuel in 1870 are dealt with in an epilogue.

Mary Ann (Adams) Maverick (center), c. 1852, 
with her children, clockwise from the top left: 
Sam, Lewis, William, Mary, and George

            Obviously, the chaotic and often terrifying days of the early settlement of Texas most interested the memoirist. To a 21st-century reader, the ordinary hardships of the time, which also afflicted the friends and family left behind in civilized Virginia, South Carolina, and Alabama, are just as difficult to imagine living through. Between 1837 and 1857, Mary Ann Maverick bore ten children. Of her pregnancies and the deliveries, she says nothing; her account of her firstborn’s arrival is typical: “Here on Sunday, May 14, 1837, was born our son Sam.” The list of diseases they suffered from or were threatened by, however, is given at appalling length – yellow fever, brain fever (meningitis), congestive chills (malaria), ague, whooping cough, measles, dysentery, bilious fever (typhoid), influenza, scarletina, cholera, smallpox, mumps – not to mention accidents like broken bones, blows to the head causing convulsions, and snakebites. They were beset by floods, snowstorms and hurricanes. I suppose that children who survived into adulthood had to be hardy and resilient; Mary Ann Maverick certainly was, but even her sturdy health began to fail with her last pregnancies, when she was weak, fainted, and could not nurse her newborn infants.
            She nonetheless lived on until 24 February 1898. During her last years, she donated stained glass windows and other important items to Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio. She was also active in civic organizations, especially a historical society campaigning to preserve the Alamo church. When she died, a local newspaper called her the city’s “best beloved friend”.

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