Sarah Ann Groce Wharton was born to Jared Ellison Groce II and Mary Ann (Waller) Groce in South Carolina in 1810. Her mother died in 1813 when Sarah was three years old. Her father was a wealthy planter in Stephen F. Austin’s colony and was possibly one of the first farmers to cultivate cotton in Texas. Jared Ellison Groce was also politically connected and served as a delegate to the Convention of 1832 as well as the Convention of 1833. Sarah Ann Groce spent her early years living outside of Mobile, Alabama, on a fortified estate known as “Fort Groce” which was often attacked during American Indian raids. She lived there with her father, her stepmother, and her brothers, Leonard Waller Groce and Jared Ellison Groce III.
In 1818, following the death of her stepmother, Sarah Ann Groce was sent to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend boarding school. In 1824 she moved to a school in New York City, where she studied art and music. She graduated at the age of seventeen. Following her graduation, she made the journey to her family’s new home in Texas and was escorted by her brother Leonard. They reached the mouth of the Brazos River and made their way to the family’s plantation, “Bernardo,” in 1827.
Her father had the house prepared for the arrival of his daughter whom he had not seen since she had left Tennessee. He, along with the head housekeeper Mira, prepared Sarah’s mahogany furniture and rubbed it with beeswax. Finding that the family’s china and silverware had been broken, her father had new dishes and utensils cast from the large stores of silver which he had accumulated by selling cotton in Mexico. The silverware was immortalized in Autobiography of A Spoon, 1828–1956 (1971), a book about the family’s history.
Sarah Ann Groce lived at Bernardo a short time, as she married William Harris Wharton on December 5, 1827. The newlyweds lived in Nashville, Tennessee, for a short time. In the effort to induce the couple to return to Texas, Sarah’s father gave them five leagues of land, dubbed “Eagle Island Plantation,” in Brazoria County. Jared Ellison Groce also had a large home constructed for them on the property; the residence was a replica of a home he had admired while living near Mobile, Alabama.
Sarah Ann Groce Wharton’s life in Texas was not one of peace and luxury, as her husband became involved in the struggle for Texas independence and served in the battle of Velasco and the siege of Bexar. William Harris Wharton served as a delegate to the Convention of 1832 and as the president of the Convention of 1833. While her husband, who was presiding as the commission to the United States in 1836, was away in New York with Stephen F. Austin and Branch T. Archer, Sarah Ann Groce Wharton left her home due to the threat of the invading Mexican army in what has been termed the “Runaway Scrape.” She, along with her young son, John Austin Wharton, fled to Bernardo to be with her family. While living again in Bernardo, she worked as a nurse to sick and injured soldiers.
After the fight for Texas independence was won, William Wharton was named the minister to the United States on behalf of the new Republic of Texas. Because of his duties, he and the family took a trip to Washington, D.C., where William Wharton persuaded President Andrew Jackson to acknowledge the independence of Texas, an achievement owed in part to Sarah Ann Groce Wharton’s participation in diplomatic meetings, dinners, and social engagements. In one letter (from “Judge Reagan” to Mrs. Kate Scurry Terrell) she was described as, “the greatest Statesmen that Texas ever had.” Mary Austin Holley wrote of her acquaintance with Sarah Wharton and of her visit to Eagle Island Plantation. In a letter, the author described a house full of “books and other curiosities” and characterized Sarah as a “charming woman.” In her diary, Holley also described her as “having a cultivated inquiring mind.”
In 1839 Sarah Ann Groce Wharton’s brother Jared Groce III fell ill and died, and only a short time later, William Wharton died after accidentally shooting himself with his pistol. Following their deaths, she devoted the next decade of her life to raising her son, who went on to become a successful lawyer and a captain of the Texas cavalry during the Civil War. There, he participated in the battle of Shiloh, the battle of Chickamauga, and finally was promoted to major general before leading the Red River campaign. He was killed in a fight over personal matters by Col. George W. Baylor. After her son’s death, Sarah Ann Wharton continued to aid in raising her granddaughter but died after an illness on February 12, 1878, while visiting the home of John W. Harris in Galveston. She was buried at her home at the Eagle Island Plantation.