A Brief History of
Colony Established on Grant of Land — Settlers From Alabama, Tennessee
TENNESSEE COLONY, Texas -- Manuel Rionda in 1833 received a grant of land from the governor of Coahuila on which, in 1838, a colony was established.
The colonists were brought in by James Zacharie and William Moore, agents for Rionda. They came in a wagon train, 23 families from Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, to virgin-rich lands and named their settlement Tennessee Colony.
When the settlers arrived, they found their new lands had been the happy hunting grounds of three Indian tribes -- Cherokee, Kickapoo and Blackfoot -- who had been skirmishing with Mexicans over the land. The colonists apparently took advantage of this conflict and soon became firmly established.
The colony prospered and grew. On March 24, 1852, a Post Office was established with John Woolverton, one of the original colonists, as the first postmaster. Since then, there have been 10 succeeding postmasters, including Mrs. Winnie F. Woolverton, the incumbent. History of the community and its Post Office has been gathered and prepared by Mrs. Woolverton.
The original colonists, in addition to John Woolverton -- who also in 1856 became first master of the Masonic Lodge -- included Joe Tucker, Col. Thomas Hanks, M. S. Avant, R. L. Seager, Rance Scarborough, and other family members, also the Eubanks family.
When the Tennessee Colony Post Office was established, the community already boasted four stores, a school sponsored by the Masons, a furniture factory, and a combined blacksmith shop and coffin factory.
The rich soil yielded abundant amounts of cotton and other crops. Cotton was shipped by steamboat to tidewater from Wildcat Ferry and Green's Bluff on the Trinity River.
A log school and church was built on the present T. L. (Lonnie) Carroll place. Tyre Masonic Lodge No. 198 was organized in 1856. Another early school site was in the vicinity of the cemetery.
Later, a two-story school and church building was raised on the present church site with Prof. Hooker the teacher. He taught, among others, Addison and Randolph Clark, founders of Add-Ran College, which became Texas Christian University.
John L. McMeans, a later teacher, one morning armed his son with the family rifle and sent him off early to school. When McMeaus set out for school, he was confronted by a "Mexican lion," which was poised to spring upon the unarmed Prof. McMeans charged first, and the cougar fled, having just polished off a COW.
A frame school with a folding partition to make two rooms out of one was built in 1910. It was razed in 1923, when a cement-block structure was erected. That one burned six years later, and another cement block structure was built, which still stands and now is incorporated into the commodious Community Center.
Following consolidation of Colony, Ward, Blackfoot and Springfield common school districts, the Stafford Springs School was built north of the Colony. It later was absorbed into the Cayuga Independent School District, which shares with the Palestine Independent School District attendance of students from the area.
A separate first-rate Negro school was located at Massey Lake southwest of Tennessee Colony before it was absorbed by the Cayuga District. The former Massey Lake plant now is a large Community Center.
In 1857, a Masonic Hall was built of lumber hand-planed by M. S. Avant. That building served the lodge until the present hall was built in 1949.
Haggerly & Hanks kept the first Colony store in the 1850s. Elbert Jemison and R. M. Jackson had the first whiskey business in those stores, selling hard liquor by the barrel. Ironically, Tennessee Colony became the first legally dry place in the county.
M. S. Avant established a wholesale-retail business in 1859. In 1862, with the Civil War on, he sold out and enlisted in the Confederate Army. He was captured following the fall of Little Rock, Ark., to Federal troops. Eight days later, Avant and two other Rebels escaped. He made his way back home and re-entered business.
In 1859, the Williams six-room hotel opened.
A man named Edwards had the blacksmith shop and coffin factory. Thomas Shelton operated a carpenter shop (1859-61).
As war clouds gathered in 1860, an uprising took place at Tennessee Colony. Two whites, Wyrick and Cable, allegedly were overheard plotting to poison water wells. They were tried at the church building and sentenced to be hanged. They were forced to ride on their coffins to a huge oak tree back of the church, where they were hanged.
P. H. Hughes organized and became president of Anderson County's first baseball team in 1869. Tournaments lasting for weeks were held, topped off with nightly dances.
Tennessee Colony was the cradle or former home of many notable citizens, including Richard Seagler, who served as state representative; N. C. Woolverton, past president of the East Texas National Bank; E. H. Shelton, county judge; S. W. Hudson, county judge, county superintendent and J. P. for 12 years; Jeff Maynatt, Texas Ranger who was said to have slain 13 other men and himself; and John Kendrick, land overseer for Fred Jackson.
When R. H. Johnson was school principal, 24 Tennessee Colony boys won state agricultural honors and a trip to Washington, D. C., and other Eastern cities. The community became a model for community achievement, climaxed in 1961 with first place in the Texas Rural Neighborhood Progress Contest.
In 1949, Continental Oil Company discovered oil from the Rodessa and Pettit lime, resulting in 50 producing wells being added, most of them dual pay zone producers. Neat brick homes and meticulously kept premises bloomed around the community.
In 1956, when U.S. 287 was improved, bypassing the community's center, Spur 324 was created. Margie Chaffin of Tennessee Colony won the U.S. Highway 287 slogan contest with "Through the Heart of America -- Travel Highway 287."
The Colony's World War I service flag has 40 stars; that for World War II has 45.
Lt. Shelton Avant was killed in action Dec. 8, 1941, in the Philippines. Also killed in action were Pfc. Bill Collins, Pfc. Charlie Weems, Pvt. John L. Carroll and Pvt. Johnnie Ezell, Jr.
In 1913, Route 1, Tennessee Colony, 23 miles long, was added, and in 1916, Route 2. They were combined later for a total mileage exceeding 86 miles.
Coffield Unit, Texas Department of Corrections, was established four miles southwest of the Colony after 1965 and has been enlarged to about 24,000 acres along the Trinity River -- largest prison unit and still under construction. Steadily increasing population of the unit is building toward 4,000 inmate capacity, with hundreds of employees, for whom modern brick housing is provided.
Colony area lands are drained by Beaver, Keechi and Catfish creeks and the Trinity River.
Imminent funding of the giant proposed Tennessee Colony Reservoir promises a vast future development at the Colony's very hack door.
An organization was set up in Palestine in 1896 to establish an Anderson County Fair and Driving Park Association. The meeting was held at the office of Gill and McMeans.
Officers elected included W.H. Gill, president; A.C. Goren, secretary; and W.C. Gorman, treasurer.
A committee of ten was appointed to solicit subscribers to the stock of the association, and a plat of land in the northern section of Palestine was selected as the permanent location of the fair grounds,
Nearly all of the 200 shares of stock in the association was soon subscribed, a publication of the year reported.
At Colony Post Office
Mrs. Winnie F. Woolverton, postmaster, and T. A. (Lonnie) Carroll, with corn and squash from Carroll's nearby home place, in front of the Tennessee Colony Post Office. Carroll is a former administrator of Anderson County Memorial Hospital. Mrs. Woolverton has prepared historical material on the community and its post office. (Staff Photo)