Rabb, Mary Crownover (1805–1882)

By: Pamela Fowler

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: June 1, 1995

Mary (Polly) Crownover Rabb, early Texas pioneer and supporter of Methodism, was born in Buncombe County, North Carolina, on April 8, 1805, the daughter of John and Mary (Chesney) Crownover. Her father, a hatter, took his family to Arkansas Territory in 1820. In 1821 Mary met and married John Rabb, with whom she eventually had nine children. In 1823 the young family left Arkansas to begin a new life in Stephen F. Austin's colony in Texas.

"Now my childern and gran childern I am going to try to tell you something about the way your Pa and me had to do to get land for you." So begin the reminiscences Mary Rabb wrote of her early years in Texas, which were published as Travels and Adventures in Texas in the 1820s. She and John settled first on the Colorado River a few miles upstream from the site of the future La Grange, where John's father, William Rabb, had claimed a headright in Austin's colony. Harassed by Indians, they moved eastward to the Brazos River, where John claimed a league of land below the site of present-day Richmond. Swarms of mosquitoes, sand flies, and gnats made living there impossible, and soon they moved again. Over the course of their first half dozen years in Texas, the family moved several times, with their few household goods, including chickens, tied atop a packhorse. The Rabbs established several temporary homes along the Brazos and Colorado rivers. During warm weather they camped out, their shelter a tent made of quilts and a sheet. During winters they built a cabin or stayed with relatives who had one, though Mary recalled spending one winter in a shed that was open on three sides. One of their houses was washed away by a flood. Often Mary and her children were left alone. On such occasions she tended the stock, saw to child-rearing and household chores, and continued the never-ending task of spinning. Karankawa and Tonkawa Indians remained in the area. Mary kept her spinning wheel going to drown out their sounds, which frightened her. Another recurrent fear was that alligators from the Brazos would eat her children.

The Rabbs sometimes visited Mary's parents, who had moved to Texas, or John's parents, or friends. Whenever a Methodist preacher came through the country, Mary and John attended the camp meetings. In 1832 they returned to Rabbs Prairie above La Grange and began operating a mill. In 1836 they were forced to flee the Mexican army as it moved to quell the Texas Revolution. Their infant child Lorenzo died during the Runaway Scrape. After the revolution the Rabbs and their neighbors rebuilt their homes and farms. The Texans prospered, and John and Mary accumulated a substantial amount of land in Fayette County. Following Mary's lead, John became a Methodist, and the two of them helped to finance and organize Rutersville College, the first college in Texas and a precursor of Southwestern University. Their final move was to a site near Barton Springs, outside Austin. They lived there in a log cabin until John's death in 1861 or 1862 and built a sizable herd of cattle marked with their Bow and Arrow brand. During the Civil War, one of their sons, John Wesley Rabb, served as a sergeant in the Eighth Texas Cavalry (Terry's Texas Rangers), and another, Virgil Sullivan Rabb, was captain of Company I, George M. Flournoy's regiment, Walker's Texas Division. In 1867 Mary hired workmen to build a two-story house of limestone near the old cabin. Safe at last from floods, alligators, and Indians, she continued to raise stock and to support the Methodist Church until her death, on October 15, 1882. She was buried beside her husband in Oakwood Cemetery, Austin.

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Ann Fears Crawford and Crystal Sasse Ragsdale, Women in Texas (Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1982). Thomas W. Cutrer, ed., "`Bully for Flournoy's Regiment...': The Civil War Letters of Virgil Sullivan Rabb," Military History of the Southwest 19, 20 (October 1989, March 1990). Thomas W. Cutrer, ed., "`We Are Stern and Resolved': The Civil War Letters of John Wesley Rabb, Terry's Texas Rangers," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 91 (October 1987). Fane Downs, "`Tryels and Trubbles': Women in Early Nineteenth-Century Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 90 (July 1986). Rabb Family Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
  • Religion
  • Methodist
  • Women
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • Pioneers

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

Pamela Fowler, “Rabb, Mary Crownover,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 08, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/rabb-mary-crownover.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995

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