Rachel Patton, who also was known as Rachel Bartlett for some of her life, was an enslaved woman and freedwoman, born into slavery in Kentucky in approximately 1814 or 1820. Her relationship with Columbus R. Patton has been written about by numerous historians. Rachel was brought to Texas by Austin S. Tyler of Hickman, Kentucky, and was left with members of the Patton family, including brothers Columbus R. Patton and William H. Patton, in 1833. The Patton brothers moved from Kentucky to Texas in 1831. On April 4, 1834, Columbus purchased a league and a labor of land from Martin Varner for $13,000 on Varners Creek, just north of Columbia (now West Columbia), Brazoria County (seeVARNER-HOGG PLANTATION STATE HISTORIC SITE). According to the 1850 census and slave schedules, Columbus was a planter with real property valued at $75,000 and owned fifty-seven enslaved persons, one of whom was Rachel.
By 1840 Columbus had made Rachel his concubine and gave her preferential status in his household relative to the rest of the enslaved labor on his plantation. In testimony given later during will contest, neighbors compared Rachel and Columbus Patton’s relationship to that of husband and wife. This caused conflict with his mother, siblings, and nephew. Rachel’s privileged position became more pronounced after his mother’s death, and his sisters moved out of the Patton Place plantation home in 1845. Rachel lived in the plantation home with Columbus and ran the household. Columbus provided her with her own horse and buggy, and she often sat among White congregants in the Methodist church in Columbia. She had accounts at local stores where she traded meal, meat, and butter from the plantation for dry goods and purchased dresses, drapes, and other items for herself with cash. This type of material access was unusual for many rural White families of the period and rare for any enslaved woman. It is unclear from current available documents whether or not Rachel had children.
In 1854 Columbus’s brother, Charles F. Patton, his nephew Matthew T. C. Patton, and his brother-in-law David Murphree had Columbus declared non compos mentis by the Brazoria County court and confined him to the South Carolina State Insane Asylum in Columbia, South Carolina. The court named John Adriance as the guardian and administrator of Patton’s estate. Charles F. Patton, guardian of his brother’s care, moved onto the plantation, removed Rachel from the home, and put her to work in the cotton fields. This would have been a punishing change for any enslaved house servant and a punitive reminder that Rachel had lost Columbus’s protection.
Rachel remained in the fields until after Columbus Patton’s death in the asylum on September 26, 1856, and his will from 1853 was found by Adriance. In his will Columbus left the bulk of his estate to his nieces. He also stipulated that Rachel and three other enslaved persons each receive $100 per year throughout their lives, be given their choice of residence among Patton heirs, not be hired out, and they were to remain as property of his estate. Columbus did not emancipate Rachel in his will. His nephew, Matthew T. C. Patton, was noticeably absent from the document, possibly as retribution for whipping Rachel earlier in 1853 when he worked as an overseer on the Patton Place plantation.
In 1857 the Patton heirs contested the will in court and argued that Rachel had undue influence over Columbus. Within the year, the heirs reached a partial settlement that allowed Rachel the annual stipend from Columbus Patton’s estate. Probate records showed that she used the stipend to purchase beads, fringe, cloth, sugar, bar soap, and dresses for herself and other enslaved women. In 1858 and 1859 she was hired out for seventy-five dollars a year which largely paid for her stipend. In 1860 executor John Adriance and the Patton heirs “induced” Rachel to move to Cincinnati, Ohio, where they continued to lease her. They claimed her presence was disruptive to the estate and were concerned about controlling the plantation’s enslaved population. While living in Ohio, Rachel assumed the last name Bartlett.
By early 1868 Rachel had returned to Brazoria County. She continued to receive her annual allowance as prescribed by Columbus Patton’s will through purchase accounts at area stores charged to Columbus Patton’s estate. On April 16, 1868, Rachel Bartlett was assaulted by David C. Roberts, a Confederate veteran, and reported it to the Freedmen’s Bureau in Columbia. The Patton plantation was sold in 1869, and the estate account closed a few years later. The 1880 federal census, the last known record of Rachel, listed hers as Rachel Patton, a sixty-year-old widow from Kentucky with the occupation of keeping house. She could not read or write. Her date of death and place of burial are unknown.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.
Brazoria County Probate Records, Case No. 453 and Case No. 690, Brazoria County, Texas. Mark M. Carroll, Homesteads Ungovernable: Families, Sex, Race, and the Law in Frontier Texas, 1823–1860 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001). Anthony Christopher, Federal Writers’ Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 16, Texas, 1936, Library of Congress. “Columbus Patton and the Enslaved People of Patton Place,” Texas Historical Commission (http://www.thc.texas.gov/historic-sites/varner-hogg-plantation-state-historic-site/history/columbus-patton-and-enslaved), accessed February 19, 2019. Sarah Ford, Federal Writers’ Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 16, Texas, 1936, Library of Congress. Ann Patton Malone, Women on the Texas Frontier: A Cross-Cultural Perspective (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1983).“Varner-Hogg Plantation History,” Texas Historical Commission (http://www.thc.texas.gov/historic-sites/varner-hogg-plantation-state-historic-site/varner-hogg-plantation-history), accessed February 19, 2019.
Slaves, Freedmen, and Free Blacks
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
Gulf Coast Region
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