early_texas_sylvanus

Sylvanus Castleman

One of the first into Tejas was Sylvanus Castleman. He owned land in Sumner County, Tennessee as early as 1794 and in 1797 bought land on "the waters" of Richland Creek, Williamson County, Tennessee.

On 19 August 1803 Sylvanus married Elizabeth "Betsy" Lucas in Davidson County, Tennessee, their first five children, Nancy, Andrew, Sarah, Elizabeth and LaVina were probably born there in Davidson County.

During the War of 1812, Sylvanus enlisted in Captain John Crawford's Mounted Rangers of Tennessee Militia on 9 June 1812 and was discharged 27 August 1812, Shortly after then he moved his family to Saint Genevieve, Missouri where two more children, Benjamin and Jacob were born. There Sylvanus became acquainted with Moses Austin who was at that time engaged in negotiating a deal with the Spanish Government to settle a colony in South Central Tejas. Moses Austin died before this could be accomplished and his son Stephen took up the cause. Sylvanus was in Tejas as early as 26 January 1821. He brought his family to Spanish Texas in 1822/3 and with John Rabb became one of the first two settlers given land grants on 6 June 1824 by Le Baron de Bastrop, commissioner and representative of the King of Spain, Castleman had been living on the land prior to the final grant. A list of American settlers in the Colorado District of San Felipe de Austin on 4 March 1823 included Sylvanus 46, Elizabeth 37, Nancy 19, Andrew 18, Sarah 17, Elizabeth 13, LaVina 11, Benjamin 7, and Jacob 2. They also had two "domisticks", Guy 18 and Beck 5.

According to The Handbook of Texas: "Two of the seven colonists included in the "Old Three Hundred" who settled in what is now Fayette County received more than one league of land (according to the grant rules, each family was to receive one league and one labor). They were Sylvanus Castleman and William Rabb. The larger allotment was granted to Rabb because he promised to build a gristmill. As to the reason why Castleman was treated so generously the records are silent; revealing only that he was a man of family." The exact location of Castleman's home is unknown. However, in information obtained from Mrs. Marjorie Williams during an interview, the spot was said to be somewhere in the first big loop of the Colorado, above La Grange.

From: FAYETTE COUNTY, Past & Present. Article by David Joost.

Sylvanus Castleman was a member of Stephen F. Austin's "Old Three Hundred", and was a personal friend of Austin's. He also was a friend of Baron de Bastrop's. Being all these things, there are few Texas families that can boast of better connections in the (Texas) past.

So, it is apparent that Sylvanus Castleman came to Texas in 1821. On March 1822, he paid Stephen F. Austin with a lot he owned in Sainte Genevieve, Missouri, for the surveying of his Texas property, located in what was to later become Fayette County, Texas. Castleman's property, found on the West Bank of the Colorado River about five or six miles above La Grange, was surveyed by Seth Ingram in 1823.

On 7 July 1824, Sylvanus received grants of two sitos of land in Present day Wharton County, one half sito in present day Fayette County and two labors in present day Austin County. Evidently Sylvanus built a home first on the one half sito near present day LaGrange as in an account written by Mary Crownover-Rabb, dated 15 December 1823, prior to the finalized grant that, "She and her husband John had gone to visit the Castleman's at their home, Indian Hill, about six or seven miles North of LaGrange.

A census of Austin's Colony taken March 1826 lists Mr. Castleman as a farmer and stock raiser between the ages of forty and fifty with a household of wife, 2 males aged 1 to 7 (Jacob & John), 1 male 7 to 16 (Benjamin), 1 male 16 to 25 (Andrew) and 2 females aged 7 to 16 (Elizabeth & LaVina) in the household., one servant (Guy?) and one slave (Beck?).

Obviously Nancy & Sarah had married by this time and were enumerated elsewhere.

In August of 1828, Sylvanus and his son Andrew were working in the fields when they were surprised by Indians and were forced to accompany them into the Colorado River bottoms where another group of Indians already had captured Nancy, Andrew's wife, and three week old Milly the daughter of Andrew and Nancy; Sylvanus's granddaughter. The Indians had come to their home and Nancy, being alone with the baby had fled to the River Bottoms with her daughter to hide and there they were captured. After much pleading by Nancy and with the interpretation of an Indian boy living with Sylvanus, the Indians released all unharmed.

An excert from The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Society:

A very common notion of pioneer life in Texas is that the colonists were in constant danger of being exterminated by hostile Indians. This is scarcely correct. It is true that the early settlers were much annoyed by the great propensity of the Indians to thievishness. These untutored children of the forest had little compunction of conscience in regard to appropriating to themselves the possessions of others; and the more value they placed upon an object, the greater zeal they were willing to bestow upon it's acquisition. Perhaps the dearest ambition of an Indian's life was to be the master of a good horse, and the Americans often brought with them a grade of horses much superior to the Spanish Stock. The Indians, therefore, so often yielded to temptation that the colonists were constantly reminded of their proximity, and this alone was sufficient to create a feeling of insecurity. But as a matter of fact, they felt at first little personal animosity toward the colonists. It was not until the latter, becoming exasperated with the Indians thieving, inflicted severe punishments upon them that they became hostile to any great extent. The most serious trouble experienced from Indian depradations came after the Texas Revolution.

In a letter that Sylvanous wrote to Austin after one of these early "Raids", one can sense the frustration the settlers felt with the indigineous natives:

I wish to inform you that in my absence the Waco Indians came to my house and plundered and carried off the following articles. 2 sheets, 2 quilts, a wagon cover and nearly all our wearing clothing and table furniture. It appears from the conduct of those Indians that we cannot settle the frontiers of this colony unless we have an understanding with them, for if they are allowed to rob and plunder it will be impossible... I am determined to kill the first one that undertakes to rob me again, which will commence a war.

Another erroneous impression that one usually forms from "Indian Stories" that are told of early days is that Texas was filled with these savages. In Reality, the total number of Indians in Texas, even before the coming of the Anglo-American, was relatively small, and after that time they diminished rapidly. According to the estimate made by Morse, the United States Indian Commissioner, there were in 1822 only a little more than 45,000 in the country between the Red River and the Rio Grande, about one Indian for every sixty seven persons now (1968) inhabiting the same territory. Of these, 30,000 belonged to the so called Commanche tribe who roamed as far north as the sources of the Missouri, and of whom there must have been only a small part in Texas at any one time. The other so called Texas tribes were comparatively small and weak even in 1822, and after that time, during the colonization period, many of them almost disappeared. For instance, the Cocos, whose number in 1819 is estimated at 400, were by 1834 reduced to about a dozen scattered families. The Karankawas, who were never numerous, consisted in 1834 of some ten or fifteen families.

Only the Commanches, therefore, could have mustered a comparatively formidable body of warriors, and this they never did for they recognized no regular chief over all the groups, but moved around the country in small bands under minor chieftains. Secondly, they depended upon the chase for subsistence, and large bodies would have found it difficult to maintain themselves.

The Commanche, a derivative group of the Shoshonean branch of Uto-Aztecan linguistic families, did not exist as a tribe in early prehistory. The name Kamanche, a Ute word meaning "Enemy" or "He who always wants to fight me" was given to a group of about 1700 exiled young rebelious warriors of Shoshonian language tribes. The exiled warriors went to the plains of western Oklahoma and Texas where other rebelious young men, and a few women joined them. They mostly raided other Indian villages but were not particular as to whom they killed, kidnapping women as "wives", and they eventually became a fairly large body (45,000) of Indians scattered over a large area. In movies you will hear such dialouge as "Chief Ten Bears will not be moved from his land"! That must have meant the entire plains states area because the Commanche (they called themselves "The People") never stayed in one place. They were of the first to discover, capture and utilize horses as mounts and became very adept at using them in raids, masters of the "Hit & Run" tactic. They soon became one of the most powerful and hostile tribes in North America, and wandered from the sources of the Brazos and Colorado Rivers to the sources of the Red, Arkansas and Missouri Rivers, they were especially notable in early Texas simply because that was were they encountered the Spaniards and pioneers consequenty making it into the history of the area.

Stephen Austin evidently stayed with the Castleman Family when he was in the Northern part of the Colony as did Le Baron De Bastrop. Letters written to other hopeful colonists by the Baron and Stephen Austin, after his return from imprisonment in Mexico City in 1823 carried the salutation: "From Castleman's on the Colorado".

Sylvanus was not only a rancher, records show that he was also an Indian Fighter, a surveyor, and a "Politico", having been elected Alcalde of the colony on 26 January 1824. The exact date and place of Sylvanus's death has not been determined and may never be, and it is likely his gravesite will never be discovered. In Wharton County land records in June of 1837, Elizabeth completed a sale of 1000 acres of land, a sale that Sylvanus had started earlier, to Horatio Chiesman. 1840 probate court records of Austin County, Texas show that his widow Elizabeth Castleman appeared before Judge John H. Money and stated that Sylvanus had died in 1831 and she was then appointed administrix of his estate. Sylvanus died in testate and the estate was partitioned by the probate court at the July 1841 term.

Evidently, by this time most of the land had been disposed of, as the only land mentioned in the probate was the property near LaGrange. The probate apportioned the land as follows: 911 Acres to the widow Elizabeth and 250 acres each to the seven children (Unknown if one of the seven children was Benjamin or Andrew had died by this time and his 250 acres was divided between his three children. Nothing is mentioned about his wife Nancy who had remarried by this time). All the land was described as "Part of the grant lying about six miles above LaGrange and the total acreage was one half league more or less (about 2,411 acres). They set the value of Elizabeth's 911 acres at $3.00 per acre and the 250 acre plots at $4.00 per acre and there is a codicil at the bottom that reads: "And whereas the total value of the land before assigned as by appraisement appears is nine thousand, seven hundred and thirty three dollars. And whereas the aforesaid Elizabeth, Widow as aforesaid is in law entitled to one half of the land or equivalent; yet in consideration of a certain Deed of Relinquishment here appended and duly proved and ordered of record, bearing date the twenty second day of May last past and executed by the said Elizabeth, Widow as aforesaid it appears that the said Elizabeth, Widow &c. relinquishes all her right and title, in and to any share of the above assigned tract of land over and above the tract or parcel of nine hundred and eleven acres assigned and set over to her: etc. etc. (Which simply means that even though her 911 acres were not valued at half of the estate to which she was legally entitled, she was satisfied with the apportionment and wouldn't try to get more later).

The only other clue to Sylvanus's death comes from an article in the July 1956 Lavaca County Tribune where A. Rabb gave information from the "Papers of Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar, vol. IV, part 1, p 216 that, "Sylvanus Castleman obtained the first head rights in Austin's Colony. It was located on the West side of the Colorado near LaGrange. He later moved to land on the Brazos about 10 to 12 miles above San Felipe on the West side where he became deranged and committed suicide. He was esteemed one of the best of men."

 

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