Reed, Michael (1777–1859)

By: Emily Grover

Type: Biography

Published: May 5, 2016

Updated: April 21, 2021

Michael Reed, an early settler of Robertson’s Colony, was born in Pennsylvania in 1777 to James Reed, Jr. (1735–1808, son of an Irish immigrant) and Sarah (b. 1745, last name unknown). In 1800 he married Martha Burnett (1780–1855), and they had seven children: Sarah (b. 1807), John Burnett (b. 1809), Wilson “Wiltz” (b. 1811), William Whitaker (b. 1816), Jefferson (b. 1818), Harriet (b. 1820), and James (b. unknown, died at an early age).

Over the course of his life, Michael Reed moved to many different places. From Pennsylvania, he traveled to North Carolina, and from there he moved to Tennessee, where several of his children were born in Bedford County. One of Reed’s bills for the purchase of a female slave indicates that he was in Tipton County, Tennessee, on January 23, 1832. According to family lore, Reed’s family was so poor that they walked on foot with their belongings seventy-five miles from Tennessee to Mississippi. While in Mississippi, Reed perfected his art of growing corn in the American Indian style.

The story of Michael Reed’s journey to Texas begins with Robertson’s Colony. This Texas settlement enterprise had changed hands and names several times before coming under the empresario Sterling Clack Robertson and taking his name on May 22, 1834. On January 14, 1834, Michael Reed applied to S. C. Robertson to become a member of what was then the Nashville Colony. Historian Malcolm D. McLean deemed Reed the “patriarch of Robertson’s Colony” because he and his immediate family were the “first settlers to receive land grants under Robertson”; they were the first American settlers of present-day Bell County in Texas. The first land grant in this area was issued on October 20, 1834, to William C. Sparks, who was Michael Reed’s son-in-law and husband to his daughter Sarah. Subsequently all of Michael’s sons except John Burnett Reed, who had land surveyed but who did not move to Texas until much later, received grants before Michael himself received a league on December 29, 1834. The Reed patriarch’s land was located near the properties of his sons and sons-in-law on the northeast side of the Little River between the present-day Texas towns of Holland and Rogers. Before the outbreak of the Texas Revolution, Reed was a prominent member of the colony and also made land transactions with at least nine other Americans that allowed them to become his fellow colonists.

The next major event in the lives of the Reeds was the Runaway Scrape of 1836. Members of Michael’s family buried many of their household goods before fleeing, and tragedy struck when daughter Sarah Reed Sparks died in childbirth during the flight from the Mexican Army. During the Texas Revolution, Michael Reed’s sons William and Jefferson and his son-in-law Wiley Carter were members of L. H. Mabbitt’s Texas Army company of volunteers, who were notable for burying the dead after the Goliad Massacre. After the victory of the battle of San Jacinto, the Reed family and other White settlers attempted to return to their original holdings, but Native American raids prevented them from staying long. Michael and his family did not permanently return to the Little River area until about 1845, and in the meantime, they raised livestock and farmed in Wheelock, Texas.

In his later life, Michael Reed became fairly prosperous. Upon his death, his heirs inherited about 23 slaves, 43 horses, 126 cattle, and $1,758.50 in cash. He lived in a home constructed by slave labor and made with local wood. On his farm, his primary crop was corn, which he fed to his livestock; he also grew wheat and cotton. He owned a mill for grinding corn and wheat, and in 1851 he built the first cotton gin in the area. Reed, his friends, and his family were prominent members of the community who established the first roads, farms, schools, and churches. In the early days of Robertson’s colony, Primitive Baptist services were held in Reed’s home. His family also boarded local children so that they could attend the first schoolhouse in Bell County.

On March 26, 1859, Michael Reed passed away in his Little River community. Per his request, his children buried him next to his wife on his property in Bell County. For nearly a century the graves were unmarked because the Reed descendants had lost track of the burial location. However, by 1947 the grave was rediscovered, and the living descendants erected a marker.

Malcolm D. McLean, comp. and ed., Papers Concerning Robertson's Colony in Texas (19 vols., Arlington: University of Texas at Arlington Press, 1974–93). Malcolm D. McLean, Stella McKay Mewhinney, and Lina Rogers Kemp, The Reed Family in Central Texas: A Memorial on the Marking of the Graves of Michael and Martha Burnett Reed, July 13, 1947 (Austin?: Publisher not identified, 1947). Michael Reed Papers, Special Collections, A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library Center, Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas.

  • Agriculture
  • Farmers
Time Periods:
  • Mexican Texas

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

Emily Grover, “Reed, Michael,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 5, 2016
April 21, 2021

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