Stephen F. Austin State University

Charles Norman Eley: 1837-1894 (September 2013)

Charles Norman Eley: 1837-1894
By Kevin Ladd

Many of the early historical accounts of Chambers County, Texas have sadly over-looked Charles Norman Eley of Smith Point, one of the more significant figures of his day. He wore many different hats: postmaster, an elected official of the county, pioneer horticulturist, businessman, and also soldier during the War Between the States. Eley was also involved in the early steamboat trade on the Trinity River and left behind valuable documentation on both the steamers and the captains of that trade.

The son of James Norman and Anna (Strong) Eley, he was born April 6,1837 in Hartford, Connecticut. Family tradition holds that Eley left home at the age of 15, following the death of his father. The name of Charles N. Eley does not appear in any local records until November 16, 1861, the date of his enlistment in Company F of DeBray's 26th Regiment of Texas Cavalry.

His whereabouts and activities from 1852, when he would have attained the age of 15, and the time of his enlistment in 1861 have never been fully discovered. During those years Eley must have developed some significant business skills, because he quickly advanced ton the regimental staff where he served during most of the war served as the chief clerk of General John A. Wharton's cavalry corps.

From 1867 to 1873, he worked in Galveston as a commission merchant and steamboat broker, dealing primarily in the Trinity River trade. His later recollections of those years, printed in The Dallas News in 1893, remain the primary resource for researchers interested in the steam-boats and captains of that era. Eley provided detailed lists of the steamboats and the captains.

Eley was married January 22, 1868 in Double Bayou to Lettitia Laura Jackson, a daughter of John and Sarah (Wallis) Jackson of Chambers County. The couple moved to Smith Point, Chambers County, in 1873.

He held a number of important positions. He served as postmaster at Smith Point from May 8, 1876, when the post office was first established, until his death in 1894. He served as county commissioner of Precinct 1 (1876-1880) and county tax assessor (1881-1882). He was also a justice of the peace and a notary public, and is also listed as county coroner in some records.

He established the Smith Point Nursery and Nursery Agency shortly after settling there, selling everything from trees and shrubs to flowers, grasses, chickens and eggs. He also introduced the Marianna Plum, Evergreen Grazing Grasses and the Plymouth Rock chicken to the area. He was an early member of the Texas State Horticultural Society and wrote extensively on the subject, most often in the Galveston newspapers.

Charles Norman Eley drowned in Galveston Bay on March 19, 1894, when a strong gust of wind capsized his boat. The body was never recovered. He was a member of Galveston's Harmony Lodge No.6, A.F. & A.M. from 1869 until his death.

The Eleys had several children: Anna Lettitia (1868-1959), who married Addison Whitehead; Fannie Effie (1873-1953), who married first to Walter Byron Pyle and secondly to W. E. Murphy; Lottie May (1877-1970), who married John Odin Sheldon; Lula Ray (1878-1973), who married Benjamin Gideon "Gid" Scherer.