John V. Singer, entrepreneur, son of a millwright, was born probably in 1793 in Rensselaer County, New York, the birthplace of his younger brother, Isaac Merrit Singer, who developed the sewing machine. Facts concerning Singer are open to conjecture, for much of his life is clothed in legend. He supposedly severed ties with his family, although years later he invested $500 in his brother's sewing machine company and reputedly received a large sum of money in return in the 1850s. He sailed to Texas about 1847 with his New Orleans-born wife, Johanna Shaw Singer, and possibly some children, to establish a shipping business in Port Isabel. Their three-masted schooner, the Alice Sadell, was wrecked on the coast of Padre Island in a storm. The family survived, came ashore, and salvaged materials, food, and furniture from the wrecked boat. They lived in a tent made of canvas sails until they could build a small house. In 1851 the Singers bought the old Santa Cruz ranch from the Padre José Nicolás Ballí estate, built a home on the foundation of the old house, and renamed the ranch Las Cruces. They went into the cattle business, and Singer bought and sold land on Padre and Brazos islands. They also grew vegetables, which Mrs. Singer took to Port Isabel in a skiff and to Brownsville by ox cart. Singer was appointed wreckmaster of the island and profited from salvaged materials, which may have included bars of silver. In the 1860 United States census for Cameron County it is recorded that Singer's wife was thirty-six and that they had seven Texas-born children, the oldest a girl of fourteen. When the Civil War broke out, the Singers were ordered to leave the island because of their Union sympathies. They buried their collected treasure (said to have been over $80,000 in Spanish coins, silver bars, jewelry, and paper money). They lived for a time at Flour Bluff, south of Corpus Christi, and then on Brazos Island. Federal troops occupied the Las Cruces ranch and subsisted on the Singer cattle. When the war was over, the Singers returned to Padre Island and tried, unsuccessfully, to find their buried treasure, for wind and water had erased any remembered landmarks. After his wife's death in 1866, Singer went to Honduras; on his return he took his family to New Orleans. With his oldest son, Alexander, he went back at least twice to his "Lost City," but all attempts to find the treasure failed. John Singer supposedly died in Mississippi.
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J. Lee and Lillian J. Stambaugh, The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas (San Antonio: Naylor, 1954). William Mahan, Padre Island, Treasure Kingdom of the World (Waco: Texian Press, 1967). Vernon Smylie, The Secrets of Padre Island: An Informal History of America's Most Fascinating Island from 1845 to Present (Corpus Christi: Texas News Syndicate Press, 1964). Writers' Roundtable, Padre Island (San Antonio: Naylor, 1950).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Singer, John V.,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 17, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
November 25, 2020