On this day in 1982, blues singer Sam (Lightnin') Hopkins died of cancer. Hopkins was born in Centerville, Texas, in 1912. At age eight he made his first instrument, a cigar-box guitar with chicken-wire strings. By ten he was playing music with his cousin, Alger (Texas) Alexander, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, who encouraged him to continue. By the mid-1920s Hopkins was playing the blues anywhere he could. He served time at the Houston County Prison Farm in the mid-1930s, and after his release he returned to the blues-club circuit. In 1950 he settled in Houston. Though he recorded prolifically between 1946 and 1954, it was not until 1959, when Hopkins began working with legendary producer Sam Chambers, that his music began to reach a mainstream white audience. Hopkins switched to an acoustic guitar and became a hit in the folk-blues revival of the 1960s. During the early 1960s he played at Carnegie Hall with Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, and by the end of the decade was opening for rock bands. He was also the subject of a documentary, The Blues According to Lightnin' Hopkins, which won a prize at the Chicago Film Festival in 1970. Hopkins recorded a total of more than eighty-five albums and toured around the world. His songs were often autobiographical, making him a de facto spokesperson for the southern black community that had no voice in the white mainstream.
On this day in 1862, Maine native Leonard Pierce arrived in Matamoros, Mexico, to take up his post as United States consul. As the Civil War raged to the north, Matamoros became a center of Confederate commerce. Texans shipped cotton from the unblockaded port, while Unionist refugees fleeing Texas collected in the town. Pierce's principal responsibilities were the care of refugees from Confederate territory and the military enlistment of Union sympathizers. During his service he relocated about 700 refugees and sent about 300 men to enlist in the Union army. These men served in the First and Second Texas Cavalry regiments, which were eventually merged into the First Texas Volunteer Cavalry. After the war Pierce settled in Brownsville, Texas, where he died in 1872.
On this day in 1840, British lawyer and writer Nicholas Maillard arrived in Texas. He settled in Richmond, where he acquired a reputation as a mixer of excellent drinks and became coeditor of the Richmond Telescope. In May and June 1840 he made several trips to Houston and one to Austin, but by mid-August had returned to London, where he immediately began writing letters to the press and to British officials condemning Texas. In 1842 he published a book, The History of the Republic of Texas, from the Discovery of the Country to the Present Time and the Cause of Her Separation from the Republic of Mexico, in which he claimed that the Texans were "a people whose existence as an independent nation is owing, first, to their own base treason, and secondly, to a political juggle of Andrew Jackson." Texas, he continued, was "filled with habitual liars, drunkards, blasphemers, and slanderers; sanguinary gamesters and cold-blooded assassins; with idleness and sluggish indolence (two vices for which the Texans are already proverbial); with pride, engendered by ignorance and supported by fraud." He warned against the recognition of Texas by Great Britain and against British emigration to the wretched, sickly place. Though biased, the book nevertheless contained an excellent account of the Indians. Ashbel Smith, chargé d'affaires to Great Britain, stated that the book failed to "produce the slightest effect" upon the British recognition of Texas independence, which was accomplished on June 28, 1842.
On this day in 1938, violinist Carl Venth died in San Antonio after a distinguished career as a musician and composer. Born in Germany in 1860, he studied the violin at Cologne Conservatory. He came to America in 1880 and soon toured from Boston to St. Louis. In the late 1880s he organized the Venth Violin School in Brooklyn. Venth arrived in Texas in the early 1900s to direct the violin department of Kidd-Key College at Sherman. Thus he began three decades of musical service in the Lone Star State, including stints as the dean of fine arts at Texas Woman’s College (now Texas Wesleyan University) at Fort Worth and as head of the music department at the University of San Antonio. At the time of his death, Venth’s published work included 100 piano and violin pieces and songs.