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Stephen F. Austin State University

An Unceremonial Baptism of Col. John Dewberry (September 2012)

An Unceremonial Baptism of Col. John Dewberry
By Marvin Mayer

John Dewberry was born in 1794 to a family of means in Chatham County, Georgia. While still a young man, he migrated to the eastern part of what is now the state of Texas. At that time, the Texas territory belonged to Mexico. Dewberry enlisted in the army of the Continental United States and fought in the so-called "second war of independence," better known as the War of 1812. While still in his 20s, he rose to the rank of Colonel. It isn't clear whether his meteoric rise in rank was the result of his wealth, his family connections, or his skill as a soldier, but there was no mistaking his business acumen.

Dewberry established Dewberry Plantation with an initial Land Grant from the Mexican government. Later, after creation of the independent nation known as The Republic of Texas, his holdings grew to more than 30,000 acres and spilled over into parts of 3 counties. The plantation's primary crop was cotton, and in order to plant, raise, pick, and market that much cotton, many field hands were required. Early records confirm the existence of approximately 50 slaves in Smith County, over 60 slaves in Cherokee County, and while records from Anderson County have yet to be located, it is believed upwards of 100 slaves worked and lived on the plantation in that county.

Colonel Dewberry was known to be a fair, friendly, outgoing man. His treatment of slaves was exemplary for the time, never splitting up families through purchase or sale of individual members of a family of slaves. He also maintained good relations with his Indian neighbors. What once was called the Tyler - Palestine Highway, now known as FM 346, passes in front of the current plantation home. Colonel Dewberry maintained an office on the residence side of the highway and from there ran a banking operation. Across the highway, he built what might today be considered the fore-runner of a motel, except Dewberry offered over night accommodations to any traveler without charge.

The current plantation house was built for his first wife, Mary Ann, whom he married in 1850. Unfortunately, she died 2 years later.

Dewberry may have sympathized with the south during the American Civil War, but he took no military role during the conflict. Still, when Union army troops, marched up to the plantation, he felt it would be inappropriate not to welcome them. Dressed in his uniform from the War of 1812, its many medals gleaming on his chest, he strode out to welcome the commander of his country's victorious army.

It is unknown whether the troops assumed the man standing before them was a combatant or merely a southern sympathizer, but regardless of their motives, his hospitality was rejected. Instead, the medals were ripped from his uniform and tossed into the plantation's well. Moments later, the Colonel was reunited with his medals when he, too, was tossed into the same well.

One reaps what one sews, and having sewed the 'seeds' of trust, honor, and dignity, the very slaves whom the Union Army fought to free from their 'monster' owners rescued their beloved master from what the soldiers thought was to be his watery grave.