Martha Evans Gindrat Wood, first lady of Texas, plantation owner and silk expert, was born in 1809 in Georgia. On October 25, 1827, Martha Evans married Joseph Henry Gindrat in Baldwin County, Georgia. Together they owned a plantation and approximately thirty enslaved people. The couple had three children, Henry (1829), David (1831), and Elizabeth (1834). After Joseph’s death in 1834, and according to family information, Martha met George T. Wood in 1837 as he was travelling through Milledgeville, Georgia, on his way to New York to set up a mercantile exchange. The couple became engaged, and the two were married upon his return on September 18, 1837, at the home of Maj. Richard Rowell in Milledgeville. Within a year of their marriage, Martha gave birth to a daughter named Georgia Anne Wood. George ran for the Georgia state senate in 1838 as a Unionist candidate for Randolph County, but it is likely that he did not win because by February 1839 the family was on the way to settle in Texas. They travelled by making their way along the Chattahoochee River to Apalachicola, Florida, where they secured the sloop Marshall and set off to Galveston, Texas. The couple took approximately thirty enslaved laborers to Texas when they moved, likely many of whom she owned prior to their marriage.
The couple bought a plantation about 100 miles north of Houston near the Trinity River and present-day Point Blank in San Jacinto County. They immediately began clearing space for farmland for planting as well as the construction of a main house and a number of small cabins and storage buildings. Martha brought mulberry trees that she planted on the property; the trees quickly thrived in the moist warm climate and served as food and habitat for silk worms. She had become an expert at silk culture and business, and she planned to continue her successful enterprise after moving to Texas. The cloth that she produced was valued at ten dollars a yard.
George was elected to serve in the Congress of the Republic of Texas from 1841 to 1842, and after his return, their daughter Mary was born in January 1843. Sometime during these first years in Texas, the couple’s daughter Georgia Anne died. George served in the Convention of 1845, which met to consider the United States Congressional annexation proposal and subsequently to write the new state constitution. In 1846 George served in the first state legislature, and the couple welcomed a son, George Tyler Wood, Jr. In 1847 he resigned his seat in the legislature to serve as colonel in the Second Texas Mounted Volunteers in the Mexican War.
Upon his return, George was elected as the second governor of the state of Texas, making Martha the first lady. Just as she had during his legislative and military years, Martha remained at their home and managed the plantation. There was not a gubernatorial mansion built until the Pease administration in the 1850s, so George lived at the Bullock Hotel in Austin. Even though he purchased two lots in the capital city, Martha only visited him there once and preferred country life instead.
After running unsuccessfully two more times for re-election, George left political life and returned to being a merchant. He set up partnership in Galveston in the firm of Wood & Powers and travelled back and forth to Point Blank as he had when in Austin. In the years that he was governor and those following, Texas was hit by a series of epidemics, including cholera in 1848–49 and a number of yellow fever outbreaks. Mortality schedules show that typhoid and malaria were also common illnesses near the river bottoms where the Wood family built their first plantation. Seeking a healthier location, likely away from the river and the boat traffic that could carry illness, the couple began building a new main house a few miles away from the river. During their marriage, George and Martha had six children together, three of which died in childhood, including a daughter, Martha, born in 1849, and at some point later their youngest child named Marshall. Even though he sold their old homestead, he retained the rights to have future family burials in the cemetery, probably because their children were interred there. In 1858 before their new home was finished, George died suddenly. His death left Martha to care for her children, her aging mother-in-law, the plantation, and a large share in Wood & Powers. In the 1860 census, Martha is listed as owning thirty-six enslaved persons and six slave cabins.
On January 5, 1861, Martha Evans Gindrat Wood died. She was buried alongside her husband and those children that preceded her in death in what became known by the late nineteenth century as the Robinson Family Cemetery located on the Wood family’s first plantation near Point Blank, San Jacinto County, Texas.
In 1911 a state-funded monument was placed at the burial site. Since none of Martha’s clothing survived, an 1850 handmade gown representative of the style of formal women’s attire around the time Martha was first lady was donated to represent her in the Texas First Ladies Historic Costume Collection at the Texas Woman’s University. The fabric was especially chosen to highlight her success at silk production.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.
Mary D. Farrell and Elizabeth Silverthorne, First Ladies of Texas: The First One Hundred Years, 1836–1936 (Belton, Texas: Stillhouse Hollow Publishers, 1976). S. H. German, “Governor George Thomas Wood,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 20 (January 1917). Texas First Ladies Historic Costume Collection, Texas Woman’s University, Denton Texas (https://twu.edu/gown-collection/dress-collection/martha-evans-gindrat-wood/), accessed May 3, 2019. Louella Styles Vincent, "Governor George Thomas Wood," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 20 (January 1917).
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