Wickliff, Sylvester Sostan (1854–1959)

By: Patricia Prather and Jennifer Bridges

Type: Biography

Published: October 23, 2013

Updated: September 29, 2020

Sylvester Sostan Wickliff, blacksmith and pioneer, was born in St. Mary’s Parish, Louisiana, in 1854, to Michael and Lucy Wickliff. According to Wickliff’s own account, he was born in the year 1854, although his tombstone gives a birthdate of July 15, 1864. Wickliff was born into a free Black family with French and Indian ancestry. He had eight siblings: Frances, Mary, Clotilde, Astasia, Tom, Samuel, Gilbert, and Edward. His father, Michael, inherited forty acres of land from relatives. Wickliff’s uncle, Romaine Vidrine, owned approximately thirty-eight slaves and was one of a number of free men of color who owned slaves before the Civil War. Sylvester Wickliff’s early education was at a private school on his uncle’s plantation. After the war, Wickliff learned the trade of a blacksmith and established his own blacksmith business in St. Martin, Louisiana, by 1880. In 1889 in Houston he married Epheme Pradia (1879–1945) of Broussard, Louisiana. They had seven children, including four sons (Socrates, Plato, Edward, and Michael) and three daughters (Stella, Magdaline, and Frances).

In 1890 the Wickliff family and a handful of other freedman Creole families from Louisiana migrated to the Republic of Mexico. Disappointed to find no workable land there, they headed back to Louisiana, however, after disembarking a train in Liberty, Texas, they discovered cheap land for sale and decided to purchase. Wickliff, with fellow settler Terence Trahan, bought 248 acres three miles outside of Liberty for $3.75 an acre, and the Black Roman Catholic settlement of Ames, Texas, was established. Wickliff owned and operated a blacksmith and wheelwright shop in Ames as well as a cotton gin and syrup mill, and the family also worked their own farm. The Wickliff family was highly religious and devoted to the Catholic faith. In 1897 Wickliff, along with settler Joseph Cormier, donated the land for a church which eventually became Our Mother of Mercy Church in Ames. Wickliff also contributed money and supplies for a church building and donated land for a cemetery. In the early 1920s, when the road adjacent to the railroad became U.S. Highway 90, the family opened a café and later began operating a service station and grocery store that was still in existence on U. S. 90 in Ames in 2013.

Sylvester and Epheme Wickliff were married for more than fifty years before she died on August 27, 1945, of a heart attack. Fourteen years later, on December 31, 1959, Sylvester Wickliff died from pneumonia at the age of 105. Both are buried at the Ames Catholic Cemetery.

Cassandra Ashley, “Ames Texas—A jewel in Progress,” KPFT 90.1 FM: Black History Month (http://kpft.igc.org/blackhistory/ames.php), accessed October 10, 2013. "Lone Star Creoles—The Community of Ames, Texas," CreoleGen (http://creolegen.org/tag/wickliff/), accessed October 10, 2013. Thad Sitton and James H. Conrad, Freedom Colonies: Independent Black Texans in the Time of Jim Crow (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005). Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, American Catholics and Civic Engagement: A Distinctive Voice (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2004). “Sylvester Wickliff,” U.S. Interviews with Former Slaves, 1936­–1938, Copy of transcript online (http://bellsouthpwp.net/g/o/goodoowah/afram/Wickliff.htm), accessed October 10, 2013.

  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Business
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civil Rights, Segregation, and Slavery
  • Agriculture

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

Patricia Prather and Jennifer Bridges, “Wickliff, Sylvester Sostan,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 21, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wickliff-sylvester-sostan.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 23, 2013
September 29, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: