William Fairfax Gray, in Texas to look
at land, arrived as the simmering revolution was about to boil over.
Fortunately, the man from Virginia stuck around long enough to write
His insightful notes one day would comprise “Gray’s Diary,” a gem
for historians and good reading material for anyone interested in
the making of a republic.
Hit the pause button -- need to insert a bit of Baytown
here. Two of Gray’s direct descendants, Ted Davis and Gray Davis
Boone (the antique expert/magazine publisher) grew up in Baytown.
Their father, Edwin T. Davis, a longtime employee at ExxonMobil’s
Baytown Refinery, was the great-great-grandson of William Fairfax
Back to the future of Texas:
With the instinct of a newshound, Gray gravitated to where things
were happening, mingling with the people and watching scores of
refugees – fearful of Santa Anna’s approaching army --- flee in
Gray showed up at the Washington-on-the
Brazos convention in early March 1836 when patriots declared
Texas’ independence and formed the new government.
The Handbook of Texas says Gray’s observations of the convention
were “in some cases more complete than the official journal.”
Gray had his own opinion about the leadership of the new Republic
of Texas. In regard to David G. Burnet, whom convention delegates
chose as interim president, he wrote: “He is said to be an honest,
good man, but I doubt his ability for such a station.”
However, Gray was a big fan of the vice president, Lorenzo de Zavala,
and described Mexico’s former minister to France as the “most interesting
man in Texas.”
After the convention adjourned, the cabinet relocated temporarily
to Harrisburg, and Zavala invited Gray to visit his home on Buffalo
Bayou near the San
Gray wrote: “The house is small, one large room, three small bed
closets and a porch, kitchen, etc. Mrs. Zavala is a fine, beautiful
woman of tall, dignified person and ladylike manners, black eyes,
27 years old, a native of New York, maiden name West … The vice
president is 47. They have three little children, Augustus, Emelie
and Ricardo, the youngest just beginning to crawl, sweet children,
milk, gentle, well bred.” (Pause again: the Baytown Higginbothams
are descendants of Ricardo de Zavala.)
Lorenzo Jr., the vice president’s son by his first marriage in Mexico,
also lived at Zavala Point. The Zavalas had a number of French servants,
including a valet who accompanied young Lorenzo to the battle
at San Jacinto.
During Gray’s travels, he spent a considerable amount of time in
Lynchburg, present-day Baytown,
Point and Chambers County. (Chambers then was part of Liberty
He slept and ate anywhere he could, moving around by boat or horseback.
Once, his horse was stolen and another time some mean Texas soldiers
ran off with his blanket. He needed that blanket; it got cold sleeping
on the ground.
On the other hand, he benefitted from the kindness of strangers
on numerous occasions. A special treat, noted in his diary, was
breakfast at Jacob Winfree’s house in Chambers County where he enjoyed
“fine buttermilk and three bowls of fresh blackberries.”
Although not as desperate as the refugees, Gray eventually became
a participant himself in the Runaway
Scrape, joining in the journey eastward.
After going home to “Old Vir-ginny,” William Fairfax Gray told wife
Milly to start packing. They were moving to Texas.
By the following year, the Grays were residing in the whiskey-soaked,
rowdy new city of Houston,
the capital of the Republic of Texas. Milly Gray called it “this
Ready or not, the town obviously needed spiritual guidance, and
Gray, a devout Episcopalian, stepped up to the offering plate. He
circulated a paper for signers “to unite together as a Christian
congregation in the city of Houston
— to observe the forms of worship and be governed by the Constitution
of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of North
Among the signers were the Republic of Texas attorney general, secretary
of treasury, secretary of state, and the Texas ministers to the
United States and Mexico. The congregation received pledges of support
from 45 Houstonians, including Houston’s founder, Augustus Allen.
William Fairfax Gray established Christ
Church Cathedral on March 16, 1839, and it remains today in
downtown Houston as the
city’s oldest church and as a legacy to one of the most interesting
men in Texas.
© Wanda Orton
Baytown Sun Columnist, June 11, 2014 column
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