Wilton, Texas & Bethel Community


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Wilton & Bethel Community

 

Thomas C. Neel's plantation was called "Wilton," (a contraction of Will Town), in honor of his wife, Willia Latimer Neel, whom he addressed as "Will." Neel was a native of Georgia and came to Harrison County, Texas in 1854 before establishing his permanent home in Ellis County at the age of thirty years. He purchased a large tract of land from the Sutherland Mayfield and H. H. Swisher leagues southeast of Waxahachie, about eight miles on the old Waxahachie-Ennis road. Early in 1855, he sent his Black carpenter, Sims Allen, and some helpers to erect a home and other buildings; later the same year, Neel, his wife, young daughter, Mattie ,and eighty slaves moved to their new home.

There was no barbed wire and the fences were Bois D'Arc hedges and rails split from local timber. Cotton and wheat were the primary crops. Cotton seed was broadcast and sodded in using oxen teams. Willia planted a large orchard with seed she brought from Georgia. No fruit was ever sold, but many families were supplied from this orchard. Cattle roamed the open range. and weather was unpredictable. In a letter to his father, dated Feb. 5, 1853, Neel wrote, "We have had little cole weather, only a few days unsuitable for plowing. I am sowing oats. One cannot conceive of this country [Texas]. No one can who has not seen it."

Henry Lechmere Cooke came to Ellis County from Mississippi in 1856 with his wife, Martha Burdeshaw Cook, their children, slaves and other relatives - one being his brother William G. Cooke. Cooke bought land from Neal near Mustang Creek which flowed into Waxahachie Creek and the Neel and Cooke settlements were the beginning of what became the Bethel Community. Cooke was a teacher and taught a subscription school at Bethel, leaving Martha to manage the children, farm and slaves. When a rainy spring came and weeds began to appear, Mr. Neel would send hands to help her with the work - an example of good neighbors in those days.

Sallie Ann Cook and Mattie Neel were the same age and good friends. One of Neel's servants was often seen riding across the prairie to the Cooke's home leading an extra horse for Sallie to ride back for a week's visit with Mattie. During these visits the girls went from cabin to cabin reading the Bible to the slaves. They especially made a point to visit the cook, "Grandmammy Nancy," in her kitchen which was built separately from the house. 

Religion played an important role in the lives of pioneers who settled in Ellis County. Early day churches and schools were the center of social life in many instances. The Bethel Baptist church was one of the oldest in the county. It was known in the old days as 'Little Bethel' to distinguish it from a Methodist church of the same name located in Boz in southwest Ellis County. Bethel was organized by Elder W. H. Stokes. Charter members were H. L. and Martha Cooke, T. C. Neel, Mr. and Mrs. Wright and possibly others. The first pastor was W. H. Stokes, a relative of T. C. Neel. The church stands near a spring on land once a part of the Neel plantation two miles south of the Neel home where services were held before the church was built. Its membership roll listed many early settlers: Peter Stout, J. A. Looney, B. F. Hart, and John Cooke. Early pastors were H. R. Puryear; Josiah Leake, John Parron, C. C. Lee, H. H. Tilford, Andrews, Mansell, Young, E. C. Leake, Cardwell, Bailey, Simmons, Johnson, Watt, Powell, Owen, Scott, Hensley, F. M. Vines and F. W. Morton.

New Bethel Church

New Bethel Church

Mrs. Willia G. Skinner described Little Bethel before the turn of the century: "The Negroes were accustomed to worship in the rear of the church here as elsewhere in pre-civil War days. Changed conditions made a building for them preferable. They were accorded letters and a number of Bethel Church members assembled with them in their first meeting. The new church was named "Horeb," for old Horeb church in Hancock County, Ga. The white members were to show them how to choose their deacons and otherwise organize. Horeb Church was located two miles west of Bethel....and at this date is still standing....a school for Negro children was kept in the building. It was moved to its present location in 1929. In 1924 it stood one mile northwest of the original site. The Negroes' cemetery, dating from pre-war days, lies one-half mile of Bethel Church."

In 1874, John F. Sublett, a native of Nashville, Tenn., came to Ellis County. He was an early member of Bethel church and remained so for sixty years. Singing schools were conducted at Bethel in the early 1900s taught by two well known teachers; T. S. and A. L. Vines. Revival meetings were held under a brush arbor every summer. The arbor was built with poles and brush from the wood in a grove of trees near the church. Church rules were tightly enforced. Members who used profane language, danced or drank, had their names removed from the records unless they asked forgiveness of the church. In 1925, the church voted to call a pastor for half-time. A more modern system of cooling and heating was installed. The building was kept in good repair and membership in 1955 was 152.  "Little Bethel" observed its centennial year in 1959.

New Bethel Grove

New Bethel Grove

Wilton post office was established June 29, 1857 with William G. Cooke the first postmaster. Service was discontinued July 21, 1858, but reestablished July 27, 1859 with William D. Blackmon postmaster. Blackmon, a native of Alabama, once owned a flour mill. The post office was again discontinued March 5, 1866 and reopened March 19, 1867, Blackmon still postmaster, with mail brought from Waxahachie by horseback. The office was discontinued permanently in April 1872. Mule eared rabbit hunting was a sport enjoyed by young men and women - hunting being done on horseback. One expert woman rider was Miss Willie Blackmon, daughter of W. D. Blackmon. The hunt often terminated at the home of Uncle Joe Boren where dancing to fiddle music ended a perfect day.

In August, 1861, Thomas C. Neel was elected one of the representives from district forty-two. He wrote his daughter, Mattie, when she was on a visit in Georgia:

Wilton, 27 August 1961

My Dear Daughter,

Your good letter came to hand. I am glad to know that you want to see me. It is very lonesome here without you and mother. Uncle Stokes says the whole prairie is lonesome without you. We are all quite well. We picked out 4,500 pounds of cotton day before yesterday. We won't make much cotton but lots of corn. our corn will average forty bushels per acre. I am fattening all the horses up. Money is very scarce. I can scarcely get enough to pay postage. I don't know how I am to get you and mother home or even get to Austin. I was elected easily. How do you get on with your studies? Keep dear Mother for Father. I will write to her in a few daya. Your Father, T. C. Neel

[Note: Letters cost forty cents to send via Shreveport or Aexandria, Louisiana, to Sparta, Georgia, from Wilton or Waxahachie, Texas]

When Mr. Neel went to Austin, he rode his white horse, "John." This fine animal was later killed by lightening. Neel wore a white jeans suit made from cotton grown and woven on the plantation by Aunt Eddie, the Black seamstress. The homemade buttons were of brown wood. The suit is now the property of the Texas Historical Society in Dallas, Texas. After his term as representative, Neel was elected to the State Senate. A short time after the election, he became ill and died within a few days at the age of thirty-seven.

Three years later, Mrs. Neel married Captain W. H. Getzendaner, a former cavalry officer in the CSA. They lived three years at the plantation and then moved to Waxahachie in 1868 where he resumed his law practice. Before they left the plantation, Mrs. Getzendaner's brother, Mark Latimer, came to visit, traveling 1,000 miles from Georgia - a two months' trip by wagon. He decided to stay and opened a store near his sister's house. Getzendanner established headquarters for his farming operations one mile west of Bethel Church on the Waxahachie road. A gin was in operation there for many years, first run by horse power and later converted to steam. The foreman and manager was John Barwell.

Bethel Community is often called "Dog Neck." Jeff and Eric Pearcy came from Mississippi to Ellis County in 1881. Soon after arriving, Jeff was riding through the country with a friend. Many settlers kept hunting hounds who would run out and bark. Jeff commented, "They certainly have plenty of dogs in this neck of the woods." - hence the name.

Z. H. King settled two miles of Bethel church in 1866. He and his wife, Fannie, were active members - he as Sunday School superintendent and she as organist. He first devoted his time to farming and raising fine horses, but in 1875 moved to Ennis where he opened a grocery business. He had served in the CSA as a member of Company K, 18th Texas Cavalry. Another Confederate veteran, Dr. W. C. Wathen, King's brother in law came to Ellis county in 1866 and lived one and one half miles northeast of the church. He was the first president of the Ellis County Medical Society. In addition to his medical practice, he also farmed, and after he died, his wife eventually moved to Ennis.

John Boulden Adams also farmed and raised cattle near Bethel church. He served in the CSA as a member of Parson's Brigade, and after th war, married Adelaide Bard of Bardstown, Ky. He died in 1884.

Frank Templeton came to Texas in 1860 and served in the CSA until the surrender. In 1869, he married Mattie Neel. He was then publisher of the Waxahachie Argus, Waxahachie's first newspaper, established in 1867. The Templetons moved into the Neel plantation home in the Bethel Community, which later was called the Templeton home place. After the Civil War, the lands belonging to Getzendaner and Templeton were divided into small farms and rented out to other farmers - some of whom had been land owners before war swept away their holdings. Alfred Woodfin, one tenant, owned enough worthless Confederate money to paper a room.

New people continued to move in through the 1870s, 1880s and early 1900s. Some family names were: Ammon, Barnett, Brooks, Brookshire, Bell, Bond, Baker, Cheek, Cisco, Crews, Cummings, Cardwell, Curtis, Conner, Dixon, Dandridge, Earles, Gallehar, Harrison, Harvey, Hubbard, McNabb, McCombs, Mosely, Nunns, Odom, Pearcy, Puckett, Piland, Prestridge, Penny, Roland, Rieves, Stubbs, Slocum, Shaw, Smith, Stewart, Stevenson, Sublett, Shackelford, Shofner, Shoemaker, Troublefield, Thompson, Vines, Woodfin,. Wylie, Williams and Wright.

In 1900 there was a store called Templeton near Bethel Church. Store keepers were Henry Shoemaker, Mr. McCombs, A. D. Cardwell, A. L. Vines and L. W. Dandridge. Dandridge, a descendant of that family of which Martha Washington was a member, lived in the Templeton home after they moved to Ennis. The last store keeper was D. Z. Lewis.

 Appointed postmasters there were: Alonzo L. Vines, Feb. 14, 1901; Lee J. McCombs, May 26, 1902; Aaron D. Cardwell, Oct. 1, 1902. The office was discontinued in November 1903 and in 1902 F. M. Lehew carried the mail from Ennis to Templeton on horseback.

A play party was given in some home on the average of once a week. The plays were much like square dancing except there was no music - all was done in singing and favorite songs were "Old Joe Clark, "My Sugar Lump" and "Going Down to Karo."

The Templetons with their two children, Annie Moss and Tom Neel, moved to Ennis in 1884. The homeplace was sold to L. L. Thompson in 1954. The original house was dismantled in 1837. It had a log foundation, two front rooms, twenty feet square, was weather boarded with rived board and put together with square nails. The house that replaced it burned in 1942.

References:

Hawkins, et al, Ellis County History Workshop, History of Ellis County, Texian Press, Waco. 1972
"Wilton Postoffice...Bethel" by Ida M. Brookshire, pub. 1972
Waxahachie Daily Light [date not known] "Little Bethel Baptist County Lankmark" by Elmer Fincher
U. S. Postal Department, Washington, D. C.
"WILTON POSTOFFICE, TX" The Handbook of Texas Online


 

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