Facebook had been around in Soloman Barrow's time, he likely would
have listed his relationship status as "complicated."
Born in Louisiana on Christmas Day 1801, Barrow came to Texas in
1824. The then 23-year-old was married to Elizabeth Winfrey, a young
woman of 18.
Selecting high ground overlooking Trinity Bay in what is now Liberty
County, Barrow built a two-story house large enough to accommodate
his soon-to-be-expanding family. He and Elizabeth already had one
daughter and between 1826 and 1846 they would have 9 more children-5
daughters and 4 sons.
In 1831, Barrow sought and received from the Mexican government
the grant of a league of land. With slaves to do the hard work,
Barrow built a successful ranching operation. In addition to cattle,
he raised mules, hogs, sheep and bred fine-blooded racing stock.
Hearing through their daughter of Barrow's success, some of her
family decided to immigrate to Texas as well. The Winfreys acquired
land just north of Barrow's holdings and went about improving it.
Despite the bond of marriage uniting Soloman and Elizabeth, friction
developed between Soloman and his in-laws. In the early 1830s, the
date has not been tied down, Soloman and brother-in-law Phillip
Winfrey began arguing over ownership of a butchered hog. Resorting
to gunpowder mediation, Soloman killed his wife's brother.
Mexican authorities duly arrested Soloman for murder and held him
at Fort Anahuac,
a star-shaped brick fortress erected in 1832. Brothers Benjamin
and Reuben soon broke Soloman out of jail, though details are again
sketchy. Fleeing the fort with his kin, Soloman leaped on the horse
they had brought him, a black mare named Coahuila said to be the
fastest in Texas. With Mexican soldiers blazing away at them, the
trio galloped away.
Not surprisingly, Soloman's murder of her brother had a chilling
affect on Mrs. Barrow's feelings for her husband. But in those days,
a married woman had few choices. Divorce was rare in early day Texas.
Having a husband was as much a matter of economic survival as it
was a pairing based on affection. Family lore has it that Elizabeth
never again spoke to Soloman, even though they did have additional
Meanwhile, Soloman succeeded in avoiding capture by hiding on his
extensive acreage whenever anyone came looking for him. He spoke
Spanish and prior to the difficulty with his brother-in-law had
gotten along well with local authorities. Soon overshadowed by the
Texas revolution, which began in 1835, the murder charge went nowhere.
Barrow switched allegiance to those agitating for independence from
Mexico and served in the Texian Army from March to June 1836.
After Texas prevailed in the rebellion and gained sovereignty, Soloman's
ranching enterprise flourished. However, the bloom was gone from
Soloman's marriage. At some point, as was not uncommon before emancipation,
Barrow took up with one of his slaves, a young woman named Margaret.
How long this relationship went on is not known, but it clearly
was one-sided. Resentment built. One day in early1858, Margaret
served Soloman a bowl of soup she had made. He fed some to his pet
raccoon and wolfed down the rest. Within minutes the animal lay
dead and Barrow wasn't feeling so well himself.
When it became obvious that Barrow was in a bad way, his family
sent for Dr. E. G. Hartman. The physician determined the case hopeless
and told Mrs. Barrow she needed to make her peace with her husband,
but she refused.
Within 72 hours, Barrow died hard. In testing the contents of his
stomach, the doctor concluded the 57-year-old rancher had been a
victim of arsenic poisoning.
Galveston News of Jan. 19, 1858 offered a slightly different version
of the story:
"We are indebted to our friend of the Liberty Gazette for an extra
slip informing us of a murder in that county last week. Margaret,
a bright mulatto...about 21 years of age was arrested on Monday
on the charge of poisoning her master, Soloman Barrow...by administering
arsenic to him in bread and coffee. She mixed the batter for the
bread, placed it away in the kitchen, telling the cook at the same
time 'not to touch it for she wanted it for the old man when he
returned home.' The bread was baked on the arrival of Barrow and
given to him. After he had eaten of it he was taken ill and died
two or three days after. The negress was committed for further trial.
"She had been for a long time the mistress of the deceased, who
had his wife living in the same house, but had not spoken to her
[Mrs. Barrow] for eight years. Barrow had made a will giving Margaret
her freedom...and $500 to carry her to a free state…."
Today, even a rookie homicide detective would realize that Margaret
might not have been guilty. If this were a Friday night "Dateline"
case, Mrs. Barrow surely would have come under suspicion. A little
"inheritance powder," as arsenic was sometimes derisively referred
to in that era, had settled the score on her brother's murder, spared
her the embarrassment of divorce and made her a prosperous land
holder. The slave could have been framed.
But back then, authorities automatically would have assumed the
slave's guilt with no thought of questioning a respectable Texas
lady. Even so, Margaret was never convicted. When the family could
find no document supporting the claim that she was to be freed and
given $500, Mrs. Barrow quickly sold her.
When Margaret's new owner returned to Liberty
County on furlough during the Civil War, he told folks the slave
had been abusive to his elderly mother and that he had killed her.
The widow Barrow, on the other hand, lived until 1880. Dying at
74, she was buried in the family cemetery-but not next to her late