Stephen F. Austin State University

Entrepreneur David R. Wingate (October 2018)

Entrepreneur David R. Wingate

By Jonnie Miller

David R. Wingate of Pearl River, Mississippi, moved to Big Cow Creek in Newton County in April, 1852. He married Caroline Morgan when he was twenty years old and over their lifetime they had seven children, five of which reached adulthood, a daughter and two sons. His children were Mittie Elizabeth Norsworthy , John Wingate, Robert Pope Wingate, David Rufus Wingate and Walter Jourdan Wingate. With him when he left Mississippi was his brother-in-law, Alfred Farr, and their 151 slaves. He established his plantation on Big Cow Creek and in 1859 he used 60 of those slaves to produce 350 bales of cotton, 1500 bushels of sweet potatoes, and 4000 bushels of corn. He also used 13 slaves to operate his sawmill at Sabine Pass.

Mr. Wingate had many personal losses over the years, at least half a million dollars, most of which came from mills that burned down. Very few people had a great deal of insurance in those days so most of the losses had to be absorbed. Adversity after adversity befell him as five of his mills burned to the ground, the first before he left Mississippi. He was the kind of man who would never give up.

When the Civil War ended he accepted emancipation as he had accepted slavery and secession-with the same good cheer, freeing about one hundred slaves.

Mr. Wingate had moved to Newton County from Sabine Pass running from an outbreak of yellow fever. He built a large plantation that grew 200 to 500 bales of cotton a year for a several years. He bought the sternwheeler Ida Reese to haul his and his neighbors' crops to the coast but the Reese snagged on something and sank. In 1873, he and his wife moved to Orange and he bought half interest in Phoenix Mill but became disenchanted with not being the only boss and sold out to Charles Moore. He then began a new mill-D.R. Wingate and Company, completed in July 1878. The new mill burned on November 29, 1888-a loss of $50,000. He began building a larger mill, complete in May, 1887, destroyed by fire in 1890. This was his fourth of five mills burned.

By the time he was 71 years old he had become tired of his occupation but friends talked him into creating a stock company which eventually rebuilt the sawmill and D.R. Wingate was back up and running. Eventually this mill also burned but not until 1901, two years after his death.

Wingate's wife died in 1890 but D.R. never missed a beat. He went into rice farming on 625 acres in Orange County, growing and selling 300 barrels of rice in 1892-part of the first box car of rice ever shipped from Orange County.

In 1898 Wingate's daughter died and he lost his lust for life. In November, 1898 he had a bad case of influenza, gradually becoming pneumonia. He died on February 15, 1899.

During his life Mr. Wingate held several titles over the years-colonel of the Second Regiment, First Brigade of the Texas Militia, Confederate States Marshall for the Eastern District of Texas, county judge of Newton County (removed by the Reconstruction governor in 1866), county judge of Orange County in 1878. Notwithstanding slavery, he was known as a humanitarian rebuilding the 1890 mill solely because of his desire not to leave his one hundred employees without work. Even his freed slaves continued to rely on him when they got in trouble or their crops failed. It never occurred to them to pay him back and Wingate did not expect them to. He could never resist an appeal from his former slaves. He was a man who never bowed to misfortune and never left his people behind. Even when he died he was still one of the wealthiest men in the county.