Faison, Nathaniel W. (ca. 1817–1870)

By: Walter F. Pilcher

Type: Biography

Published: September 1, 1995

Nathaniel W. Faison, Dawson and Perote prisoner, was born about 1817 in Tennessee. He immigrated to Texas sometime in the 1830s and arrived in La Grange in 1839 to work as a land surveyor. He purchased land there and seems to have been a merchant as well as a surveyor. Records show that he was given a license as a retailer of liquor by the drink in 1841, and most records of the prisoners of Perote kept by the prisoners themselves show him as a merchant. In the fall of 1842 a force of Mexicans under Gen. Adrián Woll captured San Antonio, and all over the Republic of Texas citizens heeded the call to battle. In Fayette County Capt. Nicholas Mosby Dawson organized a company of volunteers under the live oak tree on the courthouse square in La Grange, and Faison was one of the first to join. Fewer than fifteen men joined Dawson at the square, but by the time they reached the edge of the county on their way to San Antonio, their number had risen to fifty-three. The company rode fast and hard and so were tired when they heard the sounds of battle. Faison and Alsey Miller were scouts for the group, and they rode ahead to check on the condition of the battle of Salado Creek in progress between the Mexicans and the Texans. The two scouts misread the balance of the battle and believed the Texans badly needed help. Dawson gave his men the option of rest, but believing they were needed, they chose to join the main body of Texan forces. This proved to be a fatal mistake, as they advanced directly into General Woll's retreat. Faison was one of those captured in what came to be known as the Dawson massacre. There is a story told by a fellow prisoner, Capt. Edward T. Manton, of their capture and questioning by the Mexicans. The Mexicans asked the prisoners if they had any money, and Faison was the only one with any, having two dollars. He was also wearing a gold ring, which one of the Mexican soldiers was interested in. Faison acted as if the ring would not come off his finger, but when the Mexican guard drew a knife to cut it off, Faison slipped it right off and handed it over.

Those captured after the massacre were briefly imprisoned at San Antonio, where Faison had time to inscribe the names of the surviving prisoners on the walls. The Dawson prisoners were then forced to flee with the Mexican army as it retreated to Mexico. Along the way, the five Dawson prisoners who were injured were left at a small border town to heal their wounds, but Faison and the other nine continued on into the heart of Mexico. They were joined with another group of prisoners from Texas and forced to march on towards Mexico City. Faison and the other prisoners arrived at Perote prison on December 22, 1842, and settled in for a stay that would prove to be much longer than any of them expected. It should be noted that local folklore at one time placed Faison and the Dawson prisoners as present at the black bean episode, but this is not accurate. The story was that Faison had mixed a Mexican guard a cup of eggnog the morning of the drawing of the beans, and the guard had told him that the white beans were rough and the black beans were smooth, and he had thus been saved from execution by drawing a white bean. Faison was held at Perote prison until March 23, 1844, when Gen. Waddy Thompson secured his release and that of the rest of the Bexar prisoners. Faison returned to La Grange and served as county clerk of Fayette County from 1846 to 1854. In 1848 Faison and Manton went with an expedition to bring back the bones of the Dawson men and others from the battle of Salado Creek to be interred at Monument Hill (see MONUMENT HILL-KREISCHE BREWERY STATE HISTORIC SITE). He bought a house a half mile from this monument in 1866. Faison died in June 1870. He had speculated on land all over Texas and at his death owned more than 50,000 acres in various parts of the state. He had never married, and his brother, Peter, and his family moved into his home after his death. This house, along with much of its original furniture, was purchased by the La Grange Garden Club in 1961 and restored to its original condition. It is registered with the Texas Historical Commission and can be visited in La Grange.

Houston Chronicle, May 5, 1963. Houston Post, April 28, 1963. Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. Joseph Milton Nance, Attack and Counterattack: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1842 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964). James L. Trueheart, The Perote Prisoners; Being the Diary of James L. Trueheart (San Antonio: Naylor, 1934). Houston Wade, comp., The Dawson Men of Fayette County (Houston, 1932). Leonie Rummel Weyand and Houston Wade, An Early History of Fayette County (La Grange, Texas: La Grange Journal, 1936).

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

Walter F. Pilcher, “Faison, Nathaniel W.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/faison-nathaniel-w.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 1, 1995