he passed away, my uncle, Carl Montgomery, left me a collection
of old photographs that had been taken before 1900 by various
photographers in and around Austin,
Texas. Uncle Carl had been a wedding, portrait, and commercial
photographer in Austin for
some 40 years, and at some point he was allowed access to old images
that were located in the state library. He copied the originals, enlarged
them up to 16x20 inches, and sold them to various financial institutions
One of the photographs is supposedly an image of a private stagecoach
belonging to Gov. Sam
Houston. There are several people in the image and a man wearing
a large hat can be seen through the shadows inside the coach. One
of the interesting things about the photo is that all the people in
the image are white Ė all accept one. On top of the coach is a black
man and it is mere speculation as to his identity.
|Sam Houston Coach
Courtesy Murray Montgomery Photo Collection
us that Houston
did have a black man working for him during the time that he was governor
of Texas; but I have no way of knowing
if the black man in the photo is the one who worked for Houston,
and I donít even know if the individual inside the coach is the man
who led the Texas army to victory at the Battle
of San Jacinto.
However, the mystery man in the coach greatly resembles Houston
and it stands to reason that if Houston
is in the coach, then the black man on top could very well be Jeff
showing man in the coach and black man on top
to the Handbook of Texas Online, Hamilton was born a slave on a
Kentucky plantation owned by Singleton Gibson in 1840. Gibson moved
his family to Ft. Bend County, Texas, in 1843. During this time,
Gibson was killed and his widow married James McKell, a man known
to be a heavy drinker and gambler who had a reputation of mistreating
slaves. After his marriage to the Gibson widow, McKell moved his
family and slaves to Trinity County.
In October 1853, the drunkard McKell needed money to pay a whiskey
bill and decided to sell Jeff Hamilton. The young boy was taken
from his mother and sent to an auction in Huntsville
to be sold. But as fate would have it, U.S. Sen. Sam
Houston was in town that day and when he saw the crying child,
he decided to acquire the youngster from the slave trader.
Hamilton into his home and the child was treated as a member of
the family. He played with the Houston
children and, when he grew older, became Houstonís
personal valet and driver. It has been written that he had a loving
and personal relationship with the Houston
family. During this time young Hamilton was taught reading, writing,
arithmetic, and was given lessons in religion.
was elected governor of Texas in 1859,
he appointed Hamilton as office assistant. During this time the
young man met many historical figures and attended many important
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Sam
Houston refused to take an oath to join the Confederacy and
Jeff Hamilton was there. When Houston
freed his slaves in October 1862, Hamilton stayed with the family.
died, Hamilton was by his side along with the family.
death, Hamilton moved with the family to Independence
where he remained until Mrs. Houston passed away.
It has been written that throughout his life Hamilton was an honorary
member of the Houston
family and attended all their reunions and special family events.
He worked for a while as a janitor at Baylor University and when
the female college (Mary Hardin-Baylor) moved to Belton,
he moved there as well.
I found especially interesting was how Hamilton was reunited with
his mother after the Civil War. The story goes that she recognized
him by an old burn scar on his left leg and she showed him an aged
Bible that had been given her by the woman who had been her former
owner in Kentucky. The Bible contained notes revealing when Hamilton
was born and his fatherís name.
Jeff Hamilton eventually married Sarah Maxey and that union produced
11 children. In later years Hamilton was honored on numerous occasions
for his association with leading historical figures during his lifetime.
He spoke at many historical events and was interviewed often by
reporters wanting to know about his life as a slave.
The man who was born into slavery and went on to become a trusted
friend of Sam Houston
died in Belton on
April 3, 1941. He was buried in the East Belton Cemetery. He is
honored by two Texas historical markers; one at his grave site and
one on the campus of the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor in Belton.
Star Diary August
27 , 2013 column
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