Henry and Amelia (Barrow) Griffith
By Kevin Ladd
A historical marker standing in Joe Matthews Park in what is now the eastern limits of the City of Mont Belvieu is the only monument to the memory of pioneer settlers Henry and Amelia (Barrow) Griffith. Like many of their contemporaries, Mr. and Mrs. Griffith are figures surrounded in lore and legend, some easily verified and other not so easy to prove.
We do know that his parents Joshua and Jemima (Hazelton) Griffith, escaped Wales in the late 1700s before some major uprising and settled in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Henry was born there sometime around 1797. Legend has it that he and his brother Thomas soon developed a wanderlust, left Pennsylvania for Ohio, and then traveled by river boat to New Orleans, from which point they made another move to the Johnson's bayou area near Opelousas, Louisiana.
The community, and the bayou for that matter, was named for Daniel and Susanna (Daley) Johnson, Amelia's maternal grandparents, who moved there with their children around 1790. By the time Henry Griffith made his way there some three decades later (about 1819-20), the settlement had developed into a fair size community. Griffith eventually met and fell in love with Amelia "Millie" Barrow, a daughter of Old Reuben and Mary Jane (Johnson) Barrow.
Henry and Millie were married at Opelousas on April 24, 1824, with a Rev. Isham Nettles presiding over the ceremony. Nettles listed himself professionally as "a Minister of the babtist order." The document further refers to Millie as the "widow Moody," but family genealogists have never found any further identification on her first spouse. Millie was born around 1802.
Griffith, like his Barrow brothers-in-law, was a gregarious and popular fellow in Johnson's Bayou. His two-story home was quickly known for its hospitality. Neighbors, guests and relatives often came and stayed for several days. Entertainment consisted of drinking, gambling and horseracing. A barrel of whiskey was always on tap with a tin cup hanging nearby for those who wished to imbibe. Family legends contend that Jim Bowie was a frequent guest.
No matter how hospitable the place may have been, Henry and Amelia moved to Texas in 1826, joining the Barrow exodus of two years previous. Along with them they would have brought their one year old son, Joshua Benjamin. Henry settled in what was then known simply as the Atascosito District, a vast and rambling jurisdiction that took in ten modern day counties of Southeast Texas.
Their headright league was situated south of Old River, but also embraced the salt dome now known as Barber's Hill. It is interesting to note that he sold 1,047 acres of land in 1835 to William Duncan. In the deed, Henry refers to it as "that tract of land known as the big hill but hereafter to be called Mont Bellview." Amelia's nephew, Amos Barber, later purchased 100 acres out of this tract in 1849, built his home there, and this area became known as "Barbers Hill."
Some legends portray Griffith as a large slaveholder presiding over a large plantation, but the tax rolls do not support this image. He had three slaves in 1858, but that number doubled to six in 1860. The number of slaves peaked at eleven in 1865, the year the Civil War ended. He had 50 horses, 50 head of cattle, 50 hogs, along with working oxen and a large number of sheep in 1858.
In the days after the war, Texas Governor A. J. Hamilton appointed Henry as sheriff of Chambers County, a position he held from 1865 to 1868. Although the date of his death is not documented, Henry was dead by 1869, when his will was probated. The date of Amelia's death is not known. They are buried in unmarked graves in the north end of Old River Country subdivision. A young child named Jack, who died around the age of five, is supposedly buried near them.
Other children were: Joshua Benjamin, who married Melissa Ann Milhomme; William, who married first to Eliza Rutherford and second to Ellen Vaughn; Fidelia, who was the wife of Jack Simmons; Dr. Henry B., who married first to Rebecca Ann Hartman and second to Lorena Williams; Elizabeth, wife of Watson Donohoe; Permelia, wife of Marcellus Speights; Laura Jemima, wife of James Henry Hodge; and Linnie Ray, a boy who died as an infant.