The Winfree Family of Chambers County, Texas
By Kevin Ladd
Any study of the early families and clans of Chambers County must pass through the area once known as Winfree's Cove and must consider the families of two brothers named Absolom Jesse Winfree and Jacob Freeland Winfree. We might start off by saying that no matter what the Bible, William Faulkner and Spell-check might have to say, I am spelling Absolom the way Mr. Winfree and his family preferred to do it.
Like many of their contemporaries, there is an element of mystery that surrounds them, although this is probably due more to the fact that early records were destroyed in courthouse fires at Liberty in 1874 and Wallisville in 1875.
To begin with these two gentlemen, one must by necessity begin with their parents and other kinsmen. Benjamin Winfree was married to Nancy Freeland, and they had two sons. Absolom Jesse, possibly named for the son and the father of King David of Biblical fame, was born about 1803. The older son, Jacob Freeland, was born about 1795. Both boys were born in the St. Landry Parish area of Louisiana.
In dealing with the Winfree family, however, it is important to note that other members of the family settled here as well. Elizabeth Winfree, the wife of Solomon Barrow, was one of eleven children to grace the household of Philip Winfree and his wife Sarah Hayes. Philip, who was a brother to the aforementioned Benjamin, married Sarah Hayes in 1800 at St. Landry Parish.
Absolom Jesse (commonly known as A.B.J. Winfree) and his brother Jacob both settled their families here in 1827, coming by way of Louisiana. AB.J. eventually settled on a land grant given to his father in 1831, a tract situated west and southwest of Cotton Lake. Another grant, given in A.B.J.'s name, takes in most of the present-day City of Cove. Kendon L. Clark, an able local historian, describes this tract as "The easternmost part of the A.B.J. Winfree land grant fronted on the west bank of Old River Lake at a point where a natural cove was formed by the contour of the shoreline. From this feature, the area soon came to be known to early settlers as 'Winfree's Cove."
Married to Charlotte Millard, A.B.J. Winfree had eight children: Marsalete, who married Eularian Paul Dugat; Susanna, who married Peter Dugat; Sophronia, of whom little is known; Theophilus, who married Laura Elizabeth Barber; Mary or "Polly," who married Theodore Monroe Dorsett; Amanda, who married George Routt; Julia Ann, wife of Zimmillian Dugat; and Philip Benjamin, who married three times, namely: Louisa Hartman, Rebecca Holston, and Angelina Burrison.
Jacob Freeland Winfree was married to a woman named Mary, most likely a member of the Algiers family, another early Cove clan. Although they had no children of their own, they adopted a baby whom they named Zachary Taylor Winfree. He would later become the first postmaster of Mont Belvieu and was the grandfather of future County Judge Guy Hamilton "Cobb" Winfree.
An anonymous traveler passed through the Cove region in 1831 and spent the night with a "Mr. Winfrey," most likely A.B.J. Winfree. He left behind an excellent description of the Winfree homeplace: "At Mr. Mr. Winfrey's fine farm, and in his mansion, so remarkable for its superior neatness and comforts, we were again welcomed."
The traveler marveled over the cattle of this section, words of praise obviously intended as well for the Winfree herds. "The cattle," he said, "Had already begun to show the effects of their improved pasturage and were remarkably fat, sleek and vigorous, ranging unrestrained over regions immensely disproportioned even to their great numbers, and grazing to their hearts' content on herbage which grew tenfold faster than they could consume it."
Another primary account from the 1830s was written by William Fairfax Gray, a Virginian visiting Texas at the time of the Revolution. Circumstances placed Gray in the Cove area in April 1836, only a few days before the decisive April 21 battle at San Jacinto. Gray stopped at the home of Jacob Freeland Winfree on the evening of April 1 and was obviously still there the next morning when the entire region was overrun by Texian colonists fleeing in advance of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. This would later be known as the Runaway Scrape.
"At the mouth of the old river of Trinity," wrote Gray, "we found a great many fugitives. The wagons and tents looked like the encampment of an army. Waited from 1 to 4 o'clock ad found it impossible to get our horses across in the boats."
Fate was not kind to some of the Winfrees. Charlotte (Millard) Winfree died in 1838. Her husband, A.B.J. Winfree, passed away in 1842, leaving a considerable estate in land, cattle, property and slaves. His brother, Jacob, served as administrator of the estate. Jacob died in December 1860. His widow Mary was still living as late as 1879.