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FONTAINE, JACOB

FONTAINE, JACOB (1808–1898). Jacob (Jake) Fontaine, Baptist preacher, political and civic leader, and newspaper publisher in Austin, was born into slavery in Arkansas in 1808. His several owners included the Tuttle and Isaacs families, but his best known and most influential master was Rev. Edward Fontaine, a great-grandson of Patrick Henry, who moved to Austin, Texas, in 1839 as the personal secretary of Texas president Mirabeau B. Lamar.

Jacob was Edward Fontaine's sexton at St. David's Episcopal Church in Austin in 1855, but in 1860 he was attending the First Baptist Church, which Sam Houston attended. While serving as Edward Fontaine's sexton, he would preach in the afternoons to blacks in the basement of the old Methodist church at Brazos and Tenth streets. Jacob Fontaine and other members of the black congregation began to meet secretly in 1864 to organize a break from the white church. In 1867, after emancipation, Jacob founded the First (Colored) Baptist Church in Austin. He was a janitor in the old Land Office Building, became active in Republican and Greenback party politics during Reconstruction in Travis County, operated a grocery, laundry, book, and medicine store, and in 1876 established the Austin Gold Dollar, one of the first black weekly newspapers in the South and the first newspaper under black ownership in Austin.

In 1867 Fontaine helped to found the St. John Regular Missionary Baptist Association, originally known as the Travis County Association, and was elected its first moderator. He also founded five churches in addition to the First (Colored) Baptist Church: Mount Zion (Williamson Creek), 1873; Good Hope (Round Rock), 1874; Sweet Home (Clarksville), 1877; New Hope (Wheatsville), 1887; and St. Stephen's (Waters Park), 1887. He and his minister son Israel Jacob Fontaine II later founded a local chapter of the Colored Brothers of the Eastern Star.

The Fontaine family lived on the Woodlawn plantation near the Austin home of ex-governor Elisha M. Pease. Jacob's wife Melvina (Viney) was a housekeeper there and had cooked at the Governor's Mansion, where their daughter Melissa married a custodian, Joe Gordon, on March 18, 1870. They had two other daughters. From 1875 to 1898 the Fontaines lived in a two-story structure at twenty-fourth and Orange (San Gabriel), now an Austin landmark. Fontaine started his newspaper there, with sixty dollars he earned from the investment of a gold dollar given to him in 1872 by his sister, Nelly Miller, when they were reunited in Mississippi after a separation caused twenty years before by slavery. In 1881–82 Fontaine emerged as Austin's leading black advocate for the establishment of the University of Texas in Austin. He traveled to San Antonio, Seguin, and Marlin to secure the black vote for his cause. Fontaine's work in the church and in newspaper publishing was continued by his son George, a depot porter in Austin, who published the Silver Messenger in 1897–98. George's son, Rev. Israel Jacob Fontaine III, founded the Fontaine Memorial Baptist Church in 1962 and published the Austin Express and the Fort Worth Community News before taking up advertising and insurance work in Austin.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Jacob Fontaine III and Gene Burd, Jacob Fontaine (Austin: Eakin Press, 1983). Charles William Grose, Black Newspapers in Texas, 1868–1970 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 1972).

Gene A. Burd

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Gene A. Burd, "FONTAINE, JACOB," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffo30), accessed October 20, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.