Wright, Margaret Theresa Robertson (1789–1878)

By: Judith N. McArthur

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1995

Margaret (Marguerite) Theresa Robertson Wright, Texas pioneer and patriot, was born in New Orleans in 1789, reputedly of a French mother and an English father. Around 1805 she married James Williams Hays and settled with him in Opelousas, Louisiana. They had two daughters and a son. At some time after 1811 the family moved to Bayou Pierre in the Neutral Ground, disputed territory claimed by both the United States and Spain. Hays died sometime afterward; he may have been killed in the War of 1812. Margaret then entered into a common law alliance with Felix Trudeau (or Felix de Trudeau Pronounce), commander of the post of Natchitoches, by whom she had two more daughters. Some historians believe that she arrived in Texas in 1821, but it seems more likely that she arrived in 1825, three years after Trudeau's death. She was then using the name Mme. Trudeau. In Texas she may have initially joined DeWitt's colony. In 1826 or 1827 she settled in De León's colony at Guadalupe Victoria and applied for a league of land on the west bank of the Guadalupe River, five miles from town. In 1828, before title to the land was granted, she married John David Wright of Tennessee, who settled with her on the league.

The Wrights had two daughters, but the marriage was unhappy and marked by periods of separation. By the mid-1830s Wright had secretly obtained the title to Margaret's grant from De León. He took refuge in the Rio Grande valley the following year to escape prosecution for an old debt owed in Mississippi and lived there under the protection of the Mexican government for the next seven years, making occasional furtive visits to Victoria. Margaret remained on the headright at Mission Valley, where she raised cattle marked with her brand, CT, which was registered in 1838. She earned a reputation for courage during the Texas Revolution by secretly aiding fleeing soldiers who had survived the Goliad Massacre. She hid William L. Hunter, who made his way to her ranch, and took care of him until after the battle of San Jacinto. On the pretext of visiting the Guadalupe to draw water, she located other hidden refugees and arranged a secret system for supplying their needs: the men left notes for her in a hollow tree, and she hid food and medicine for them in her water pail. She also took advantage of the presence of Mexican soldiers encamped on her land to steal a gun for the Texans. She continued surreptitious aid until the wounded men were well enough to join the army. Sam Houston, in a gubernatorial campaign speech given more than twenty years later in Victoria, praised Margaret Wright's heroism and called her the "Mother of Texas."

In 1842 J. D. Wright returned permanently from the Rio Grande and found that in his absence Margaret had purchased an additional half league of land and had deeded 640 acres of it to her son, Peter Hays. Wright immediately filed suit to recover the land, arguing that control of their joint property was vested in him and could not be conveyed without his consent. He lost both the trial judgment and a preliminary appeal, the courts ruling that Margaret had at the time been a legally independent feme sole by virtue of being an abandoned wife. Before the second appeal came to trial in 1847, Peter Hays was killed in an ambush on the Rio Grande. Convinced that her husband was responsible, Margaret Wright filed for divorce on March 6, 1848, charging him with habitual cruelty, fradulent land title transfer, and the murder of her son. In a series of bitterly contested actions that ultimately included three appeals to the Texas Supreme Court, Margaret was granted a divorce. Half of the joint property-5,535 acres of land and 570 head of cattle-was awarded to her. This may have been the first divorce granted in Texas. Later Margaret sold the ranch and moved into Victoria. Margaret Wright died in Victoria on October 21, 1878, and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

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Mary Margaret Bierman, A History of Victoria, Texas, 1824–1900 (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1948). Bettye Welborn Cole, A Passing of the Seasons: The Life of Marguerite Wright (Ozark, Missouri: Yates, 1985). Roy Grimes, ed., 300 Years in Victoria County (Victoria, Texas: Victoria Advocate, 1968; rpt., Austin: Nortex, 1985). Victor Marion Rose, History of Victoria (Laredo, 1883; rpt., Victoria, Texas: Book Mart, 1961). Texas Mothers Committee, Worthy Mothers of Texas (Belton, Texas: Stillhouse Hollow, 1976).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Judith N. McArthur, “Wright, Margaret Theresa Robertson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wright-margaret-theresa-robertson.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1995

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