The Age: The Jacksons of Double Bayou, Texas

Alexander Jackson and George Willcox

By Marie Hughes, director of the Chambers County Museum at Wallisville

The name Jackson in Chambers County, Texas, is synonymous with Double Bayou, but to understand the scope of this multifaceted family, we must step back in time to the eighteenth century.  Travel with me as we make this journey to the distant Emerald Isle of Ireland where the Jackson family story begins. 

The Jacksons of the 1700s, with Hugh Jackson and Letitia Thompson Jackson as the head, had 14 children, with only 10 surviving infancy.  They lived in Ballybay, a small town in Northern Ireland outside of Belfast.  Ballybay had soil well-suited for flax and a favorable climate.  These factors, coupled with the abundant fuel and water supplies of the area to power mills, made it an excellent location for linen mills. 

Hugh, an apothecary by trade, being gifted with much wisdom and insight, recognized the opportunities the resources presented and quickly capitalized on it, opening both flour and linen mills. About the year 1773, he built the first Market House in the Square, which he used as a purchasing depot.  The two-story timber structure was used as a schoolhouse and was made available to local organizations for meetings, free of charge.  It was also used as Ballybay’s first Town Hall.  This prominent protestant family did much to improve the lifestyle of their community.

Despite the affluence of the Jackson family, the political unrest in Ireland and takeover by the British Government in 1801 cast a long shadow on the family and their interests. Humphrey was 17 years old at the time of the takeover and was studying to become a lawyer.  Members of Humphrey’s family had served on the Irish Parliament and had supported the revolt for Irish Independence. Jody Fuchs, in his book “200 Years, Crosby’s Bicentennial Story,” wrote of Humphrey: “In 1804 he and his brother fled the country to avoid retribution that followed.  It is believed that as the eldest son Humphrey received $75,000 for his share of the family business in Ireland.  Humphrey brought with him; family silver, china, linens, leather bound books, which included Blackstone law books from the Irish Parliament and jewelry with the family seal which was supposed to resemble a buck’s head.”  

Although freedom beckoned Humphrey, Hugh and Alexander from across the sea, Humphrey had no idea at what cost that freedom would come. He would face tragedy upon tragedy in the days and years that lay before him.  However, his first great heartache was leaving the beautiful land of his birth, and his loving parents and remaining siblings.

The first tragedy in the new land occurred soon after their arrivalJody Fuchs said, “Humphrey, Hugh, and their first cousin Alexander, sailed to either Philadelphia or Baltimore in 1805.” 

During the years of 1791-1805 there was a transatlantic yellow fever epidemic, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes.  Hugh contracted the disease and died on Sept. 15, 1805, soon after their arrival. 

“After Hugh’s death, Humphrey and Alexander supposedly traveled to Nashville, Tenn., to meet with their cousin Jamie, and then on to Louisiana,” concluded Jody. 

Humphrey takes a wife

In St. Martin Parish, Louisiana, Humphrey’s heart was captured by Elizabeth Gambill White, daughter of William and Amy White and niece of James Taylor White, the Cattle King of SE Texas.   Elizabeth, captivated as well by this lad with the soothing Irish lilt, joined her heart to his on Oct. 13, 1809.  Sadly, this union ended in sorrow as his young bride died the following month, Nov. 10, 1809. (White Bible Record.) 

She and Humphrey had no children together, but their families remain intricately connected even today.  To add to the burden of this tragedy, Humphrey’s father died the next year.  After his father’s death, his remaining siblings, except Isabella, followed Humphrey to America.  Isabella stayed in Ireland with her mother, who died in 1826.  Isabella died the following year.

A stand for freedom

To the patriotic Jacksons, indwelt with a heart for freedom, the year 1812 must have seemed like déjà vu to them.  They had fled from the oppression of the British in their Irish homeland when the Brits threatened and successfully took their freedom.  Now they find the British, once more, arrayed in battle against them, in the “Land of the Free.” 

Humphrey, Alexander, and Henry enlisted in the Battle of 1812 on Nov. 16, serving almost 14 months.  Jody Fuchs recorded in his Crosby Bicentennial book, “Humphrey served as a private with Baker’s Louisiana Militia Regiment at the Battle of New Orleans led by Andrew Jackson.  There is speculation that the two were distant cousins,” added Jody.  Humphrey, after returning from battle, wed again on Oct. 13, 1814, to Sarah Merriman, first cousin of Elizabeth.  Humphrey and Sarah had four children born to them on the sugar plantation Humphrey had purchased in Vermilionville Louisiana: Letitia, Hugh, John, and James. 

A new land

In 1823, Mexico began a colonization effort to secure the land in their northern regions.  Stephen F. Austin struck a deal with Mexico to settle the land with Anglo families to help protect the area from those who wished to claim it.  With the enticing promise of large sections of land, Humphrey sold his Louisiana plantation, packed up his family, including his cousin Alexander, and joined Austin’s group, traveling west by wagon train.  

Humphrey chose a section of land just outside the borders of the colony in what would later become the town of Crosby, making him and his family the first settlers there.  Jody Fuchs gives a wonderful account of the trip to Texas and claiming of the land grants in his book.  Humphrey was appointed the position of Alcade (mayor or chief magistrate) in the new colony, perhaps due to the wisdom he had acquired as a youth in law school.

Tragedy struck again a year after their arrival in Texas.  Sarah died on July 19, 1824, at the age of 28, leaving Humphrey with four small children under the age of 8.  How great must have been the depth of his sorrow as he laid yet another young wife to rest.  Perhaps that is why he petitioned Amy White, the mother of his first wife, to move her family to the area.  Amy and family arrived a month after Sarah’s death, receiving land grants below Humphrey’s.

Humphrey Jackson, patriarch of the Double Bayou Jacksons, was killed on Jan. 18, 1833, when a tree fell on him, while clearing his land. One can only imagine what the fleeting thoughts of this staunch brave Irishman were as he lay dying.  Born into a life of affluence, did his thoughts drift back to the emerald-green fields of his native Ireland, to the life that might have been had the British not prevailed?  Did he ask “why,” when he tallied the score of losses in the hand he had been dealt?  Or, like the many brave pioneers who had gone before him, did he give thanks for the opportunity to make a new life for his family and the grand adventure he had doing it?

Destination Double Bayou

After Humphrey’s death, his daughter Letitia, who had married Meredith Duncan the year before, took in her younger siblings, ranging in age from 11-16.   Letitia then took Hugh, James, and John to live with the R. E. Booths in Double Bayou, relatives of their mother.  Whether that was before or after the skirmish at Fort Anahuac, I have not been able to determine.  Letitia and Meredith never had any children of their own. 

If you are fortunate enough to have the rich Irish blood of Humphrey Jackson coursing through your veins, I encourage you to look back, down the corridors of time, and whisper a reverent, “thank you.”  You owe your very existence to this courageous young pioneer.  Had he not sacrificed all to come here, you would not be!

Letitia Jackson

The Humphrey Jackson boys

Hugh – 1817-1854

Hugh Jackson, eldest son of Humphrey, left Double Bayou when he became of age.  He married Sophia Bond and they settled in Liberty, Texas, where he was a real estate broker.  The character of his father, Humphrey, was indelibly marked on Hugh, who was highly respected in the town of Liberty. 

It was said of him that he always enjoyed the friendship and esteem of all who knew him to be a man of integrity and morality.  Tragedy once again struck the Jackson family when Hugh contracted an illness and died shortly thereafter at the young age of 37.  He left behind his wife, Sophia, and five small children: Alexander, James “Jim”, John Henry, and twin daughters, Alice and Decandia.   

Tragedy did not stop with his death, for Alice, one of his twin daughters, died at the age of 3, a year after her father’s death.  The following year Hugh’s wife Sophia died.  Alexander, who was 10 at the time of his father’s death, died tragically at the age of 22 by gunshot at the hand of a Willcox.  The two remaining children, John and Decandia, orphaned as their father had been, were taken in by Hugh’s sister Letitia and her husband, Meredith, who raised them in Double Bayou.

Decandia, better known as “Dee,” married Solomon Barrow and founded the Barrow Ranch.  They had 10 children with the first four dying, three as toddlers and one as an infant.  I cannot imagine the heartache.  Son, Ralph James Jr., grandfather of Janet Lagow, carried on the Barrow Ranch legacy, now under the ownership and management of the Lagow family.

Decandia “Dee” Jackson Barrow
Montie Humphrey and Jim Jackson

John, better known as “Double Bayou John,” married Charlotte Lewis and raised five children: Lena, Felix, Arthur, Mamie and Ocie.  John left a heavy footprint in Chambers County and, like his great-grandfather before him in Ballybay, Ireland, did much to improve the quality of living in Double Bayou.  He founded the Jackson Store in Double Bayou, becoming the first postmaster of the town.  He also was prominent in the political realm holding the position of Chambers County Justice of the Peace and Commissioner. 

The apples of the Jackson family certainly did not fall far from the patriarchal tree.  Ralph Semmes Jackson, in his book, Home on the Double Bayou, wrote, “Much of the community life centered around the Double Bayou Store, established sometime before 1900 by my father’s cousin, John Jackson, and later operated by Uncle John Claude Jackson.” 

The store, located at the present time by the Double Bayou bridge on FM 562, originally hung over the bank of Double Bayou with a wharf available for the Galveston merchant boats to dock.  When boat trade began to dwindle and FM 562 was built, the store was moved closer to the road.  The store is now owned by the Chambers County Museum at Wallisville.

Jackson’s descendant, Angelina Davis, wrote that John accumulated a small amount of money as a merchant and began buying land, in time becoming the leading landowner who was rated as the wealthiest man in Chambers County.  He inherited one-sixth of his Aunt Letitia Jackson Duncan Long’s estate and acquired another 29,000 acres through a government grant. 

Upon his death, he left 20,000 acres to his nephew, Ralph James Barrow, and 10,000 to his three sons, Felix, Arthur, and Ocie.  Oil was later found on his land with the majority of it found on his sons’ land.  His sons, who founded the Jackson Brothers Ranch, eventually purchased an additional 4,000 acres from the Barrows.  Of his remaining Double Bayou descendants, grandson Felix Jackson manages his portion of the Jackson Brothers Ranch and great granddaughter Karla Jackson Dean, along with husband Clay Dean, run and manage cattle on their Jackson land. 

John Henry “Double Bayou John” Jackson

John – 1820-1877

John, middle son of Humphrey Jackson, was referred to as “Smith Point John” to differentiate between him and his nephew, Double Bayou John. In 1843, he married Sarah Wallis, daughter of E. H. R. Wallis, original settler of Wallisville.  John and Sarah lived on the south fork of Double Bayou next to John’s brother, James.  Together Sarah and John had nine children with son, Hugh Edward, dying as an infant, living only 9 days. Sarah died of consumption at the age of 44.  After her death in 1869, John relocated his family to Smith Point.  John had another daughter, Cecilia “Celia” Rivers, who married Solomon Gill. 

Following the family pattern of taking leadership responsibility, John was also involved in politics serving as election judge, notary public, and commissioner.   He was also listed as a merchant and a farmer.

John Henry “Smith Point John” Jackson

John’s daughter, Charlotte “Lottie”, on Jan. 22, 1877, died at her Uncle James’ home in Double Bayou during the smallpox epidemic, at the age of 21.  John died five months later, June 15, 1877.  One report states he died of smallpox and another of biliary colic.  His brother James wrote, “At 10 A.M. learned my brother John was very sick at Smiths Point.  Mr. Moss and I got Dr. Bunk Campbell and started at 12 M. on Sloop MARIE, got to Smiths Point about 4 P.M., found brother had died at about 4 A.M. that morning and he was in a coffin on the bank of the Bay waiting for the MARIE to arrive . . . Taken the corpse,  Joney, Rachel, Lula, and Ely on board and proceeded to Double Bayou where we reached S. Barrow’s  at 9 P.M. . . . and next day prepared vault and buried at 2 P.M. on the 10 of June A.D. 1877.  John’s age 57 years 5 mo. & 5 days at Death.  The following lines were found in Brother John’s pocket book after his death in his own hand writing.  The promise of future rest, on that my trembling [soul] relies, my trust the Cross, my hope the Skyes, my feeble bark has reached the shore.  Trembling I trace my perils O’er and yield my dread account at last.”

James – 1822-1895

Most of the information on James was found in Ralph Semmes Jackson’s wonderful book, Home on the Double Bayou, where he chronicles the life and times of his grandfather, James Jackson.  It’s a great read.

James Merriman Jackson, youngest son of Humphrey Jackson and Sarah Merriman, married in 1877 to Sarah Cade White, youngest daughter of James Taylor White, Cattle King of SE Texas.  Sarah was 15 years of age when they married, and James 2 months shy of his 26th birthday.  They settled on the banks of Double Bayou where they bore and raised 11 children: Ellen, Humphrey, May, Alice, Robert, Edward, Humphrey (named for his deceased brother who died the previous year at the age of 12), Claud, Ralph, Guy, and Ula Jean. 

James built a total of five homes on his Double Bayou property.  The first, a crude log cabin, was replaced by a larger log cabin after a few years, which he built a mile from the first.  To accommodate his growing family, he built a third house, a two-story frame house held together with wooden pegs.  Later this home was torn down and replaced with a more modern one, which was destroyed by fire in 1918. Then the fifth and final home was built. 

James Merriman “Jim” Jackson
James Merriman Jackson

James, true to the character, fortitude and aptitude of his father, Humphrey, did much to enhance the lifestyle and education of the community of Double Bayou.  Ralph S. Jackson documented that in James’ lifetime, he served Chambers County as chief justice, county judge, sheriff and notary public; and within his own community of Double Bayou, he served as doctor, dentist, druggist, scribe, commissioner, surveyor, assessor, postmaster, private banker and cotton ginner.  Being a great believer in education, he hired private tutors for his children and also allowed local children to attend the classes.

James, among his many roles in the community, found time to manage a very profitable cattle ranch.  He recorded his brand “JHK” in 1854, 169 years ago.  It has been in continuous use for the JHK Ranch since.  It is recorded that James began his herd in 1842 with 172 head of cattle.  He added to his herd at the time of his marriage, as his bride’s dowry consisted of a few head of cattle. 

Mary Jean Jackson Abshier wrote of James in the forward of Jim Bob Jackson’s book JHK Ranch 1940-1963, “…by the time of his death in 1895, had fathered eleven children and acquired almost 27,000 acres of land, 3,000 head of cattle and 100 horses.  After James’ death, the seventh son, Guy Cade Jackson, became the manager of the ranch in partnership with his brothers and sisters.” 

Guy eventually handed the running of the ranch over to his oldest son, James Bert Jackson, Mary Jean’s father.

James, with a profound ability to evaluate the measure of a man, appointed Monte Humphrey, a former black slave, who had been born on the ranch, as foreman of the massive JHK Ranch.  This practice was unheard of during that era of history, but James, one to stand on principle rather than protocol, made what he determined was the best choice for the ranch.  Monte, who earned the respect of black and white alike, would prove James’ confidence was not misplaced.

James kept a journal, beginning in 1874, chronicling the day-to-day activities and conditions in Double Bayou and surrounding areas.  Descendant Angelina Scott Davis has made his journal into a book. It is an invaluable resource of the life and times of James Jackson.  In his journal, he records the events of the smallpox epidemic of 1877.  John secured the vaccine for the disease from Galveston and vaccinated his entire household and servants.  None died from smallpox.  He tried to encourage others in the community to take it, but most would not out of fear; those who refused, died. 

James broke his leg while loading longhorn cattle on a steamboat at Sabine Pass to ship to New Orleans.   One of his sons and the cowboys who were with him rigged a travois and transported him back home through the marshes and swamps.  His leg never healed properly, and infection eventually took his life on June 5, 1895.  The ranch he founded in 1874 remained in operation under the management of his great grandson, Jim Bob Jackson, until his death in 2018.

Note: The Age continues with the descendants of the first Jacksons in next month’s column.


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