Story of the Spiller Family ~ From Virginia to Texas


Journey to Texas ~

The Spiller family, consisting of one-year old William Fielding Spiller (later known as "W. F.") and his parents, George Anderson Spiller and Susan (Diuguid) Spiller, arrived in Danville just in time for Christmas after an 11-week journey from Virginia in 1848. The young couple had married on May 16, 1844 in Susan's hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia.

Their first child, a daughter named Allace Lucy, was born April 26, 1845 but did not survive. William was their second child and had been born on January 6, 1847. The family tale is that William learned to walk on the journey. The route that they took was documented by George in a diary that he kept and in letters that he wrote home once they arrived in Texas and is marked in red on the map below. Click here for a larger view.

George Spiller's first land purchase after arriving in Danville was on 13 Dec 1849 when he bought 258 acres in the Joseph Lindley Survey from his brother, Dr. Samuel Fielding Spiller, who had arrived in Danville ca. 1846-'47. This land was located south of present-day Shepard Hill Rd. and adjacent to land owned by Iredell Reding. However, they didn't stay on this tract very long. The land that was to become the Spiller homestead was a 460 acre tract purchased on 20 Feb 1852 (Vol. P, pg. 344, Montgomery Co., TX deed records) from Jonathan S. Collard; part of which was located within the Joseph Lindley Survey. His home on this tract was located on the East side of Main St. in Danville within a 320 acre tract of land which Lindley donated to his daughter, Sarah McGary in 1845. The Town Lots adjacent to the Spiller land were also contained within the McGary tract.

William grew up in Danville at the Spiller homestead on Main Street, now known as Old Danville Rd. W. F.'s father had died from illness only six short years after their arrival in Texas. In addition to that traumatic loss, he also suffered the loss of his only two sisters; Mary Susan in 1850 at the age of 1, and Harriett Susan in 1867 at the age of 16. It is thought that both died of one of the rampant diseases of the day, Yellow Fever; possibly the same disease that took the life of their father.

So, William was left as an only child to be raised by his mother. Susan never remarried, although in a letter written by a brother of George's, it is revealed that Susan had a suitor in Danville whom her brother-in-law disapproved of. We can only speculate how that drama played out. But, we do know she did not marry him. William probably helped his mother carry out the many endless chores that were part of everyday life on a farm. George Spiller owned property when he died in 1854. There was the 460 ac. homestead tract primarily in the Joseph Lindley Survey but encompassing some neighboring surveys, and a separate 440-ac. tract of land in the J. B. Tong survey, along with a few slaves. Probate records reveal that half of his estate went to his widow and half went to the children. When W. F.'s sisters died, their portions of their father's estate passed to the remaining siblings which means that ultimately W. F. ended up with half of his father's estate. There is evidence that Susan Spiller rented out some of ther slaves for extra income. She is also enumerated on the 1860 census, 6 years after her husband's death, as a Hotel Keeper in the town of Danville. By 1860, W. F. is the head of househouse and enumerated as a Farmer. Susan is a member of the household and her occupation was listed as "Housekeeping."

In 1872, W. F. married a local beauty, Elizabeth Catherine "Betty" Irvine, daughter of the late Peter Belles Irvine, who'd been killed during the Civil War, and his wife, Minerva (Tabor). They had 12 children (only 10 lived to adulthood), all born at the home in Danville where they lived with his mother and a governess named Maggie Henry. The children called her "Miss Maggie" and existing letters suggest that she was much loved. Susan Spiller died in 1897 at the age of 71.


W. F. began construction on a new home in the neighboring survey to the east, the Samuel Lindley Survey, as their family grew larger. Present-day West Danville Rd., then called College Street, would have continued across present-day I-45 and Hwy. 75, neither of which was there at the time. This road, on the east side of present-day Hwy. 75 was the location that W. F. and Betty Spiller chose for their new home. W. F. supposedly asked his wife, Betty, what kind of new house she wanted and she told him that she didn't care - as long as he was there with her. Family tradition is that the original home in Danville was struck by lightening several times and finally burned, but it is not know when this took place.

W. F. Spiller and a Col. Openheimer had begun a venture to grow tobacco and cotton near the tract of land where W. F. chose to build his new home. As evidenced by their letterhead, the post office in the area of the plantation was originally called Ada, Texas. However, around 1899, W.F. then chose the name Esperanza for the local post office which can still be found on maps today. The railroad ran near the property which made transport of his crops convenient and cost efficient. It is not known the exact nature of their partnership or when it ended, but in 1900 W. F. sent examples of his Montgomery Co., Texas grown tobacco to the World Fair in Paris. After the demise of the cigar factory in Willis, it seems that he gave up on the tobacco crop and concentrated on cotton. Penitentiary labor from nearby Huntsville was used and well as hired labor. W. F. kept a Receipt Book of his sales and purchases. It is interesting to see that many of the goods they used were brought in by dray or the train. The Spiller's clothing, groceries, dry goods, etc. were purchased from merchants of the day mostly in Houston and Galveston. However, some goods were purchased out of state. It is surprising to see the purchase of a 'milk shake machine' in 1888! This book is now in the possession of descendant and webmaster, Karen Lucas Williams.

Esperanza (meaning "Hope" in Spanish) had a Post Office, a store, a doctor's office, dental office, a cotton gin, a smoke house, a hen house, a barn, and the Spiller's new home....a large Virginia-style wooden, two-story house with 10 fireplaces and a tin roof.

The home also boasted an unusual, iron spiral staircase on the outside of the side of the home, leading up to the second-floor balcony. There were wooden floors and plenty of bedrooms for the 12 children; two of which did not live to adulthood. As was typical for the times, the original kitchen was a separate structure believed to have been behind the main house. At some point, the kitchen was moved into the house which is where I have memories of my great grandmother, Mary Lucy (Spiller) Garrett, making batches of "Tea Cakes" to send home with us on our car ride back to Beaumont when I was a small child. The smell of the old house was marvelous; unlike any I can describe. My "Grandma" kept a miniature china tea set for me to play with in the upstairs hall closest. My mother gave the tea set to me a few years ago and it is one of my most treasured possessions because of the memories associated with it. There was a long, circular drive in front of the house made of the red gravel typical of the area. The same gravel was on the road running past the front of the house which has been since paved over and named Esperanza Rd. Across the road was the cotton gin and pond. My mother spent every summer at Esperanza and remembers old shacks in the field to the west of the house. We've speculated that these houses were for the hired farm help. Three of the Spiller daughters had homes around the main house at varying times. Mary and Alex Garrett lived in a house across the road after their marriage in 1904 before moving to Willis so that their daughter could attend High School there. Allie and Arnold Smith had a house on the west side of the main house. And, in the 1960s, Irma and Luther Tyree built a brick house just to the east which still exists. Esperanza still stands as well. A testament to the fine craftsmanship of the home.

A Granddaughter's Memories...
by Carolyn Terrell, 2008 ~

I have many wonderful memories of my great grandmothers home, Esperanza, near Old Danville. When I was growing up I spent almost every weekend and part of every summer there with my grandparents, Mary Spiller and Alexander Elton Garrett and my great aunt, Elizabeth Irvine Spiller, who we called Aunt Bess. It was a big old house with many places to explore. I had my skeleton key that unlocked every door and closet. There were nine bedrooms and ten fireplaces. There were usually cousins and aunts and uncles visiting. Every Sunday dinner was a big event with a lots of family around the table for fried chicken, potatoes, fresh vegetables from my grandfathers garden and cakes, cookies and jams and jellies. Early on Sunday morning I would always go with Big Betty, the cook, to the chicken yard. She had a noose to catch the hens and then she would sling the chicken round and round over her head and dunk in boiling water in a big iron pot and pluck the feathers. I was fascinated watching this production and anxious for the outcome... a big black iron skillet of delicious fried chicken. I tried my hand at milking the cows, churning butter and freezing the ice cream. Christmas was another wonderful event. Everybody went to the kitchen to make the ambrosia... cracking coconuts, peeling oranges, cutting fresh pineapples and then to the dining room for a cup of egg nog made by my Kentucky grandfather and salted pecans roasted over a wood stove. In the summer there were gatherings for canning and preserving all the summer fruits and vegetables. Cousins and aunts gathered to peel tomatoes, cut the green beans, shell the peas and husk the corn and have cold watermelon on the porch in the afternoon. There was always a closet filled with these canned vegetables and jars of dewberry, strawberry and pear preserves and tomato relishes of every kind. Old Monk, whose family had come from Virginia with the Spillers, was there to take us in the old wagon on picnics by Caney Creek and out to the fields to watch the hay baling in the summer. He would take me on rides on the "slide" pulled by the mule, and fishing in the tank with a cane pole. Sometimes we kids would take hikes with miles to explore. I remember seeing a group of cabins in decay and wondering who had lived there, and wading across creeks and running to keep up with the big kids, knowing if I got left behind I would never find my way home! Sometimes I would go out and climb the pear trees and sit on a limb eating green pears or swing on the grape vines in the trees. There was an old rusty car near the pear trees with a big steering wheel which I would pretend to drive. Russ Clanton told me the Spillers had the first car in the county. Their driver was called 'Love.' Then there was the big old barn they called 'The Commissary' to explore and my grandfather's blacksmith shop and his beautiful horse to take a ride on. My great grandparents, William Fielding and Elizabeth Catherine Irvine Spiller had twelve children of which ten survived to adults. They were all sent to college, Southwestern in Georgetown, University of Texas, Rice University, Texas Presbyterian College for girls. Three sons were doctors, one was an engineer, one continued farming, and the girls were teachers. My mother, Irma Louise Garrett, a granddaughter, was sent to Kid Key College in Sherman which was a forerunner of Southern Methodist University. Kid Key was a finishing school and music conservatory. The students were later officially given the status of Alumnae of SMU. As I grew older and realized how fortunate I was to have had these childhood experiences I became interested in learning more about this big, loving family in this great old home where the dining room was the biggest room in the house. Genealogy is my prime interest now with lots more to learn about this area of Old Danville, Montgomery County and the families that lived there.
The End

Bess Spiller, became a schoolteacher and taught in Willis. She inherited Esperanza and lived there until her death in 1967. Mary (Spiller) and husband, Alexander Garrett, moved back to Esperanza to be with Bess in their later years after renting out their home in Willis. Alexander died in 1961 and Mary eventually went to live with her daughter in Beaumont where she died in 1967. Another sister, Irma, built a small brick home on the property. She passed away in 1980.

In 1963, Bess applied for and received a Texas Historical Medallion for the house.

After Bess died, the house was rented out for many years and was finally sold out of the family ca. 2002. The new owners have renovated the home but kept many of the original features. A Spiller Family Reunion was held in May of 2006 and the new owners of Esperanza were gracious enough to open their doors for a tour during the Reunion. It was a great opportunity, and perhaps the last opportunity, to share our memories of Esperanza with a generation of Spiller descendants who never had the special opportunity to spend time there.



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Created August 10, 2008

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