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COLONY OF KENT

COLONY OF KENT. The Colony of Kent (City of Kent) was a short-lived mid-nineteenth-century British settlement on a horseshoe curve of the Brazos River, now known as Kimball's Bend, three miles north of Kopperl on Lake Whitney in what is now Bosque County. Its founders envisioned Kent as the commercial center of an elaborate colonization project of the Universal Emigration and Colonization Company of London. The colonists planned to sell cooperatively produced grain to nearby Fort Graham as well as in an expected export market. In addition, the colonists imagined Kent as a "Philadelphia on the Brazos," a manufacturing center with a navigable link to the Gulf of Mexico, and hence to world markets. In early September 1850 thirty families left Liverpool, England, and sailed for Texas, where they landed in Galveston. Apparently a second ship of colonists left England a short time later. The colonists included people of the middle class such as shopkeepers, bank clerks, bakers, and tailors. Sir Edward Belcher was to be in charge of overseeing the settlement, and Lt. Charles Finch MacKenzie was to be an on-site leader in charge of government. In November 1850 Jacob De Cordova accepted a downpayment from Belcher, who represented the company and the roughly 100 emigrants already moving inland, as well as a similar number soon to disembark in Galveston, for 27,000 acres of Brazos riverbottom belonging to Richard B. Kimball, De Cordova's partner. Belcher had preceded the first of numerous proposed groups in order to inspect 60,000 acres now in Coryell County belonging to James Reily, which company officials in London provisionally had purchased. De Cordova, Reily's agent as well, had guided Belcher to the Reily tract on Cow House Creek imagined by the vaguely communitarian colonists as "New Britain," but Belcher deemed it unsuitable. De Cordova then suggested the Kimball Bend lands, which Belcher and the emigrant leaders accepted after a survey by George B. Erath and Neil McLennan.qqv As the first group of colonists moved inland from Galveston, cold, wet weather made travel difficult. Some became discouraged and turned back to go to Houston or New Orleans. The colonists, perhaps revealing diminished expectations after a very difficult month in Texas, selected an old name for the new site, "Kent." Kent was officially founded in January 1851 at the foot of a hill called Solomon's Nose. The townsite itself consisted of about forty acres. Belcher promptly returned to England, stopping briefly in New York City to finalize conditions of sale with Kimball. From London, Belcher foresaw Kent "at no very distant period" as the "chief city in Texas."

The colonization project reflected not only pervasive English emigration impulses of mid-century but specifically two years of constant promotion by George Catlin, the preeminent American painter of Indians. Since 1840 Catlin had displayed his "Indian Gallery"-nine tons of artifacts and 600 oil paintings, enhanced periodically by Indians performances-throughout Britain and the continent, by which he had gained considerable attention, though not always respect, and no financial security. Despondent from the loss of his wife and son and decreasing interest in his gallery, Catlin turned to a new career as colonization expert, building on his reputation as one who knew the West. He mortgaged his gallery in order to promote and speculate on the proposed project in Texas. After two years of intensive, unremunerated promotion, Catlin abruptly resigned in August 1850 as Texas superintendent of the company, just weeks before departure of the first group of colonists. After the company refused Catlin his anticipated per capita recruitment fees, he continued to borrow in order to repay earlier creditors. When the Texas project failed and with it the company, Catlin faced creditors demanding several times the gallery's value, and the gallery passed in 1852 to an American industrialist, Joseph Harrison. Though not as tragic as the avoidable loss of dozens of settlers' lives, perhaps the most historically significant casualty was the Catlin Indian Gallery, which eventually reappeared in the Smithsonian.

Kent did not survive 1851; many of the settlers died before summer from exposure to bad weather. By the summer of 1852 only one immigrant remained in the Kent colony; the other survivors had departed for more developed areas. The land reverted to Kimball and De Cordova, in accordance with the verbal agreement between Kimball and Belcher. The expectant capitalists failed for several reasons. Because Belcher had made no arrangements for living quarters or provisions, his middle-class would-be farmers were stranded without the necessary means for production. Most settlers lived in mud and straw huts or dugouts. Only the on-site leader, MacKenzie, lived in a log house. Water was obtained from a large spring near Solomon's Nose. The settlers knew little about farming. Even so, De Cordova had proposed a demonstration farm to familiarize the colonists with local practices, but Belcher had blocked this offer, which could have saved the colony. MacKenzie regimented daily routine according to his military training, thereby provoking hostility and wasting time and energy. Essentially, the Kent settlers, described by one potential colonist as "persons of means, education and perhaps I may add delicate habits," were not accustomed to the deprivation and sacrifice necessary for the first years in a remote settlement, and, had not been made aware beforehand. Catlin had painted an image of Texas frontier life that emphasized the glories of a presumed natural life, not the requisite hardships and hard work. Even if the colonists were not what De Cordova saw-"broken down English clerks, Superanuated Scotch officers or dissipated Irish boys"-the lamentable but predictable result was the death of ill-prepared and ill-selected British emigrants.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Thomas W. Cutrer, The English Texans (San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1985). Brian W. Dippie, Catlin and His Contemporaries: The Politics of Patronage (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990). Dorothy Waties Renick, "The City of Kent," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 29 (July 1925). Richard H. Ribb, George Catlin's Crash: "Texas Gamblings" and the Loss of His Indian Gallery (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1992).

Richard H. Ribb

Citation

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

Richard H. Ribb, "COLONY OF KENT," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/uecvj), accessed August 21, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.