Stephen F. Austin State University

Part 2: Lawrence's Island was once a flourishing settlement (April 2014)

Part 2: Lawrence's Island was once a flourishing settlement
By Kevin Ladd

We move on this month to the "rest of the story" about Joseph Lawrence and others who settled on Lawrence's Island. As last column indicated, Joseph Lawrence landed there in 1824 after having served at Galveston under Jean Laffite. Lawrence was joined later that same year by James Haney, another former Laffite man. They enjoyed an idyllic life for awhile - hunting and fishing, swapping stories, enjoying the male camaraderie, but Haney left in 1827 and changed things forever on his return.

Haney traveled to Louisiana and was married in Opelousas on October 29, 1827 to Mrs. Mary Ann (Ruhl) Raper, a widow then aged 45 years, one of this writer's more interesting and colorful ancestors. Mary Ann was the mother of seven children, four from her first marriage to Henry Raper, and three from her union with Samuel Fisher. From this later union came Henrietta Harriet, Eliza Ann and Jeremiah Conrad Fisher. After she was married to James Haney, Mary Ann sold her plantation on Plaquemine Brulee Bayou and moved to Lawrence's Island with Haney and her three Fisher children.

Joseph Lawrence, a lifelong bachelor up to that point, eventually was married on January 15, 1830 to Henrietta. He was 40 years old; she was 16 (then considered to be at the prime marrying age). Eliza Ann eventually married Washington Stubbs, a native of Bucksport, Maine. Stubbs came from a long line of New England men and came here with an affinity for coastal life. When his older brother, Capt. Jabez Stubbs, set out with his ship for China in 1835, Washington and his brother, Franklin, came him with him as far as New Orleans. Franklin headed further east to Alabama, while Washington went west and settled on Lawrence's Island. How Stubbs made this move and what brought him from Maine to Chambers County remains a mystery that will likely remained unsolved in this world.

Lawrence eventually received title to his property, consisting of one league (4,428 acres) and one labor (177 acres), in 1838. It was the same year that Stubbs received his title to a 640-acre tract on the island. The late local historian Flavia Stubbs Fleischman described Washington's home this way: "The Stubbs home was near the bank of Old River near its junction with the Trinity River. In bringing supplies by boat they could be unloaded from the boat to the porch (gallery)."


In addition, James Haney and Mary Ann had a child of their own, a daughter named Margaret Haney, who was married to Ransom Wilburn in 1841. From these three families, the population of the island flourished as the years rolled by. The Wilburn and the Stubbs families left the Island for the Mainland eventually, settling at what is now Cove. Young Jeremiah Conrad Fisher, often called Jerry, was married to Sarah Ann Barrow, daughter of Solomon and Elizabeth (Winfree) Barrow. They moved to the West Trinity Bay area, settling in what is now Beach City.

Joseph and Henrietta Lawrence had six children: Robert, who married Josephine Clark; Joseph Jr., who married Elizabeth Barrow; Martha, who married Baptiste Dugat; Daniel Jeremiah, who married first to Celina Blanchette and secondly to Adaleasa (Fitzgerald) Hartman; Henrietta "Babe," who married Solomon Barrow Jr.,; and Solomon Freeman "Bud," who married Julia Rhea. After Henrietta Lawrence passed away in 1846, Joseph Lawrence was married secondly to a woman known only as Nancy, with whom he had a son named Albert Joseph "Bald" Lawrence, who married Nancy Catherine Dugat. After Joseph died in 1853, Nancy married secondly to Charles Merritt and later to Dave Wilshire.

The most attractive house on Lawrence's Island was constructed there by Charles Henry Lawrence and his wife Emily Stubbs. Built in the 1880s along classic Victorian lines, the house featured a cupola, gingerbread trim, spacious porches, and high brick piers to keep the place above the floodwaters. The house survived the 1900 hurricane, but the 1915 storm filled the first story with floodwater, partially destroying the lovely house. It was later demolished. The number of residents on Lawrence's Island diminished over the years, and the last resident left there soon after Hurricane Carla in 1961.

The story of Lawrence's Island has caused many a hunter and fisherman to pause along the waterways that surround it and to ponder those who once lived there. It remains sacred ground to all of us who treasure the history of Chambers County and the pioneers who once called it home.