Monday, July 30, 2012

Admiring William

The letters from William to his wife, Polly, have convinced me of one thing -- the value of leaving a written record. How else can our descendants have any idea what we truly valued. From William's letters, I know he valued his wife, his children and education.

The Value of Education

"Let me know whether my children are put to school."

"I hope you will endeavor to keep the children to school and expect that before I return I shall see a letter of Thomas own writing."

"I am glad likewise that Nancy Jane is improving in her schooling."

" I would be glad if you could spare Mary Ann so that she could go to school, but these things I shall leave to your own good management."

Love for His Children

In addition to his concern for the education of his children, William expressed other concerns:

"I am happy to hear that you are doing so well as what you are and likewise that Thomas is able to help you a little. I hope he will be a good boy."

"I am very sorry to hear that William got his hand burnt, but I hope it is not injured much." 

"Remember me to my dear children Thomas H., Nancy Jane, Mary Ann and Wm. H. Probert and accept the same from your Husband."

Love and Respect for His Wife

"I embrace this opportunity of writing to you and send you my most sincere respects."

"I hope you will try to enjoy yourself as well as possible and render yourself comfortable . . ."

"Dear Wife, this day I received you letter dated 18th December which has give me more pleasure than anything in this world."

". . .  these things I shall leave to your own good management."

"I must conclude by wishing that you may enjoy all the comforts of this world and the best wishes of a sincere and affectionate husband until death."

He has shown me who he is -- and I believe him. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

In His Own Words . . .

Sometimes the stars just align -- and that is what happened to me. Land records are not exactly part of my comfort zone, but they have proved to be invaluable.  Thanks to records from the Texas Archives, I learned my ggg-grandfather, William Probert, had earned 4000+ acres of Texas land following his service in the War for Texas Independence from Mexico. Due to his year-long service, he was awarded certificates entitling him to claim 1280 acres -- 320 acres for each 3-month period of service.  In addition, he was given a "First-Class Headright" (see League and Labor).  as the head of a family in Texas in 1836.

In attempting to find out what happened to the land, I was fortunate to obtain copies of correspondence between William and his wife Mary (Polly) from the Texas Archives.  I no longer have to speculate as to why William chose to leave his wife and four young children to go off to Texas. I now know it was a decision supported by William's wife in the hopes that their family would be better off following his service.  Here is part of his letter in his own words transcribed below:

Transcription: But when I consider on the fortune that I have made in Texas, it gives me some comfort. There are several men that have come to the country and have stayed a short time, taken their discharge and by the time they return home, they have nothing to show for their service.  But I came here for a fortune and a fortune I will have -- five thousand acres of first-rate land will come very near it. We are waiting the glad tidings of peace every day and then we shall all come home with flying colors.

In a separate letter, William reiterated his hopes for his family's future.
I hope the time will soon come that we may again enjoy ourselves and see better times than we have seen yet. I believe that by coming to Texas is the best thing I ever did in my life for it will be a fortune to us and our children if it’s well-managed as long as we live. Dear Polly, I have to inform you that my pay is still to the good.  We have not drawn any money since we came to Texas and I should have been able to send you some according to the promise I made you.

William concluded the letter with the following: Dear Polly, I cannot at this time tell you how long it may be until the Army is discharged. But it will not be long as the fighting business is at an end between Texas and Mexico.  Try and comfort yourself as well as you can and give my love to my Dear Children and to all my old acquaintances. No more at present from your affectionate husband until death.

How many of us can say that our ancestors from 1836 could read and write? It is with joy that I share a copy of William's signature with you.

Note: I have taken the liberty to change some of the punctuation and spelling from these letters to conform with current practice.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I Was Wrong -- Once Again . . .

From the Letters of William E. Probert to His Wife, Polly   1836-37

A few posts ago, I suggested that my newly-discovered ggg-grandfather, William E. Probert, was a "poor" father for leaving his wife and four young children to be a "Fife Major" in the War for Texas independence. I could not think of any legitimate reason why a man would do this with his wife's agreement, knowing the burden that it would certainly be.

Once again, the amazing people at the Texas Archives were able to straighten me out. In discussing a "League and a Labor" in the previous post, I realized that it took an act of the Texas legislature for the Probert heirs to get the certificate for the 4000+ acres of Texas land that had been awarded to William.
I spoke with one of the archivists who suggested that I followup with a division that housed "Memorials and Petitions." Shortly after contacting them, I was told that they had a file that contained correspondence between W.E. and his wife, the names of his children, information on his discharge from the Texas Army, and documentation of his death. They told me I could have copies of the entire file for $3.66.

My cousin, Barbara, and I then began a four-day vigil at our respective mailboxes. The information was priceless.  Not only did it provide proof that he was our ancestor, but it listed all of his children. And even better, I now knew why he was willing to leave his wife and children for this one-year period. I will discuss that in the next post.

I thought, however, that I needed to correct my perception about William E. Probert.  Throughout his letters, William spoke lovingly to his wife and expressed his desire to get back to her as soon as possible. He was concerned about their children and expressed interest in their schooling.  In true parental form, he asked for a letter from his oldest son, Thomas, in his own handwriting. He was making a sacrifice for what he and his wife believed would be of benefit to the whole family.

So, William, I'm glad to get to know you -- and I'm proud to have you for an ancestor.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A League and a Labor?

Transcription:                                                                                   General Land Office
                                                                                                        Austin, April 8th 1854

This is to certify that the heirs of William E. Probert deceased are entitled to have surveyed by a legally authorized Surveyor upon any of the untouched and unappropriated public domain of the State of Texas. One League and One Labor of Said in accordance with the provisions of an act authorizing and requiring the Commissioner of the General Land Office to issue to the said heirs of William E. Probert deceased a Certificate for one league and one labor of land.  Passed February 8th,1854.
                In testimony whereof I hereunto set my hand and affix the Seal of said office the day and date first above written.  
                                                                                                         J. Crosby  

In 1854, eighteen years after William E. Probert first came to Texas, his heirs were entitled to a "First-class headright."  A document provided by the Texas General Land Office explains this land grant in this way:

Headrights, Republic of Texas, 1836-1845

In order to build a tax base and encourage settlement in the new Republic of Texas, immigrants were granted land by the government.  The amount of acreage issued was based on the time period in which an immigrant arrived in Texas.

First-class headrights were issued to those who arrived before the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836. Heads of families were eligible for one league (4428.4 acres) and labor (177.1 acres) of land.

I do not understand how William qualified for a first-class headright as he did not arrive in Texas until June 1836. (Perhaps he signed up for service before the March date). It also appears that the certificate entitling William to his land was not issued until the Land Office was directed to do so as the result of a legislative appeal. This headright just like bounty land, was not connected to a specific parcel of land.It was up to the certificate holder to identify the potential property, have it surveyed and finally get it patented at the appropriate land office.

Of particular interest to me is the fact that the certificate was issued to his heirs.  Since William received 640 acres of bounty land on May 13, 1853, it suggests that William died between 1853 and 1854. Unfortunately,   the paperwork in my possession does not list any of the heirs. The next step will be to try to trace the deed that was based on this certificate.  Perhaps it will provide some valuable clues.