Long, Jane Herbert Wilkinson (1798–1880)

By: Margaret S. Henson

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 19, 2021

Jane Herbert Wilkinson Long was called the "Mother of Texas," even during her lifetime, because of the birth of her child on Bolivar Peninsula on December 21, 1821. She was not, however, as she claimed, the first English-speaking woman to bear a child in Texas. Censuses between 1807 and 1826 reveal a number of children born in Texas to Anglo-American mothers prior to 1821. Jane was born on July 23, 1798, in Charles County, Maryland, the tenth child of Capt. William Mackall and Anne Herbert (Dent) Wilkinson. Her father died in 1799, and about 1811 her mother moved the family to Washington, Mississippi Territory. After the death of her mother around 1813, Jane lived with her older sister, Barbara, the wife of Alexander Calvit, at Propinquity Plantation near Natchez, where she met James Long when he was returning from the battle of New Orleans. The couple married on May 14, 1815, and for the next four years lived in the vicinity while James practiced medicine at Port Gibson, experimented with a plantation, and became a merchant in Natchez. When Long left for Nacogdoches in June 1819, Jane and their daughter, Ann Herbert, born on November 26, 1816, remained with another sister, Anne Chesley, a widow, because of advanced pregnancy. Twelve days after the birth of Rebecca on June 16, Jane hastened to join her husband. She left with her two children and Kian, a black slave. While with the Calvits, now living near Alexandria, Louisiana, Jane became ill. She continued on while still recovering, and it was August before she reached Nacogdoches. Within two months she had to flee with the other American families towards the Sabine when Spanish troops from San Antonio approached the frontier outpost. James Long was returning to the stone fort from a visit to Galveston Island and managed to meet Jane near the Sabine. Jane returned to the Calvits' where she found that little Rebecca had died. About March 1820 James Long took Jane to Bolivar Peninsula on Galveston Bay, and she claimed to have dined with Jean Laffite on Galveston Island. The Longs returned to Alexandria for their daughter on their way to New Orleans to seek support for Long's cause. Jane missed sailing to Bolivar when at the last minute she returned to Rodney, Mississippi, for her daughter Ann, whom she had left with Anne Chesley. Jane and Ann waited in Alexandria until Warren D. C. Hall came to guide her overland to Bolivar.

Jane Long was not the only woman at Fort Las Casas on the peninsula. Several families remained in the little community surrounding the military post when Long left for La Bahía on September 19, 1821. Instead of returning within a month as promised, Long was captured at San Antonio and taken to Mexico City where he was accidentally killed on April 8, 1822. Pregnant again, Jane stubbornly waited for her husband even when the guard and the other families left Bolivar. She was all alone except for Kian and Ann when she gave birth to her third daughter, Mary James, on December 21, 1821. Lonely and near starvation, Jane welcomed incoming immigrants heading for the San Jacinto River early in 1822. She abandoned her vigil and joined the Smith family at their camp on Cedar Bayou. By mid-summer she moved farther up the San Jacinto River, where she finally received word that James Long had been killed. She traveled to San Antonio in September to seek a pension from Governor José Félix Trespalacios, her husband's former associate. She arrived on October 17, 1822, and remained ten months without success in her quest, after which she returned, disappointed, to Alexandria in September 1823. Jane Long returned to Texas with the Calvits after the death of her youngest child on June 25, 1824. She received title to a league of land in Fort Bend County and a labor in Waller County from empresario Stephen F. Austin on August 24, 1824. She did not live there, preferring San Felipe until April 1830, when she took Ann to school in Mississippi. They lived with Anne W. Chesney Miller until January 1831, when Ann James married Edward Winston, a native of Virginia. The newlyweds and Jane made a leisurely pilgrimage back to Texas, where they arrived in May. Jane bought W. T. Austin's boarding house at Brazoria in 1832, which she operated for five years.

In 1837 the widow, age thirty-nine, moved to her league, a portion of which she had sold to Robert E. Handy who developed the town of Richmond, the county seat of Fort Bend County. Jane opened another boarding house and also developed a plantation two miles south of town. She bought and sold land, raised cattle, and grew cotton with the help of slaves (twelve in 1840). Her plantation was valued at over $10,000 in 1850. By 1861 she held nineteen slaves valued at $13,300 and about 2,000 acres. When the war ended, she continued to work the land with tenants and briefly experimented with sheep. In 1870 she lived by herself next door to Ann who had married James S. Sullivan; Ann died in June, leaving the care of Jane to the grandchildren. By 1877 Jane was unable to manage her diminished estate valued at only $2,000. She died on December 30, 1880, at the home of her grandson, James E. Winston, and was buried in the Morton Cemetery in Richmond. Folklore and family tradition hold that Jane was courted by Texas's leading men, including Ben Milam, Sam Houston, and Mirabeau B. Lamar, but that she refused them all. Her history depends primarily on her own story told to Lamar about 1837, when he was gathering material for a history of Texas. In 1936 a centennial marker was erected in her honor in Fort Bend County.

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Anne A. Brindley, "Jane Long," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 56 (October 1952). John Henry Brown, History of Texas from 1685 to 1892 (2 vols., St. Louis: Daniell, 1893). Charles Adams Gulick, Jr., Harriet Smither, et al., eds., The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar (6 vols., Austin: Texas State Library, 1920–27; rpt., Austin: Pemberton Press, 1968). Andrew Jackson Sowell, History of Fort Bend County (Houston: Coyle, 1904; rpt, Richmond, Texas: Fort Bend County Historical Museum, 1974).

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

Margaret S. Henson, “Long, Jane Herbert Wilkinson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 16, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/long-jane-herbert-wilkinson.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 19, 2021

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