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POWELL, ELIZABETH

POWELL, ELIZABETH (?–?). Elizabeth Powell, a widow with five children, four of whom came with her to Texas, was reportedly born in Pennsylvania. She entered Texas in 1828 as a colonist of Stephen F. Austin and in 1831 received a league of land from the Mexican government. This was grant number one in Austin's second colony and was located on Turkey Creek and the San Bernard River in what is now Fort Bend County. Her house was situated on the trail from Brazoria and Columbia to San Felipe near where it crossed one of the routes to San Antonio. The Mexican general Vicente Filisola left the only contemporary description of Madam Powell's place. The house he described was in the style that early Americans called double pen or dog-run houses. This style, typical of many homes in early Texas, was two rooms separated by a hallway open at both ends. The kitchen was separate from the main house along with several smaller buildings.

Madam Powell, as she was known, had operated a pension or boarding house in New Orleans prior to coming to Texas. At an early date travelers began to stay at her new home in Texas for a small fee. William B. Travis and Anson Jonesqqv were two of her more famous guests. The irrepressible Noah Smithwick wrote that he was not concerned that he had to spend a night at Madam Powell's as she "had two attractive daughters." These daughters were Elizabeth, who first married Lemon Kelsey, and Ellen, who first married a near neighbor, Isaac McGary. Both men served in the Texian Army. Another daughter, Julia, had married a man named Leeds and remained in Louisiana. Madam Powell had two sons, Joseph J. and Samuel Graves Powell. It was Joseph who brought word to Sam Houston and the Texians of the Mexican Army's advance across the Brazos in April 1836; the previous October, Samuel had written his mother from the coast warning of a Mexican invasion.

On 10 April, 1836, Santa Anna's column visited Mrs. Powell's farm briefly on its way to Harrisburg. General José de Urrea and his units were there on April 20 and again on April 24. At this time he joined up with General Filisola, the other Mexican generals, several thousand soldiers, women camp followers, and wagon teamsters, all camped about Madam Powell's property. Here the generals planned the Mexican army's retreat after learning that the Texians had defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto. On April 26 as the army began moving out, the rear guard burned the house and outbuildings. Elizabeth Powell was one of the first to place a claim before the new Texas government for losses incurred during the war. Her claim was for $4,454.12. Of this amount $500 was for "Dwelling and out houses," "destroyed by the Mexican Army." However there is no record that the claim was ever paid. She sold the cypress timber from her land and twenty-five acres to her neighbor Samuel Damon to build a sawmill. In the first of two agreements with Damon, she reserved 2400 "slabs" from the mill. It is thought she rebuilt on the property, for a later owner in 1943 wrote that there had been an old house on Turkey Creek made from native cypress, two stories in height and of seven or eight rooms.

Between 1839 and 1843 the Fort Bend County Court found several money judgments against Elizabeth Powell. During this time, she sold her land to her remaining children (Joseph having been murdered in Columbia) and was said to have moved to Matagorda with a daughter where she lived the rest of her life. On or near the site of her old home place, the Texas Centennial Commission erected an historical marker in 1936. No building stands there now, and in 1999 archaeological testing began at the site.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Gregg J. Dimmick, Sea of Mud (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2004). General Vicente Filisola, Evacuation of Texas, Translation of the Representation. (Originally published at Columbia, Texas: G. and T.H. Borden, 1837; Reprint, Waco: Texian Press, 1965). Robert E. Davis, ed., Diary of William Barret Travis, August 30, 1833–June 26, 1834 (Waco: Texian Press, 1966). Villamae Williams, Stephen F. Austin's Register of Families (Nacogdoches: Ericson, 1984). Eugene C. Barker, ed., The Austin Papers (3 vols. Washington: GPO, 1924–28).

Robert T. Shelby

Citation

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

Robert T. Shelby, "POWELL, ELIZABETH," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpo72), accessed September 17, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.