The Texas Collection recently acquired a major manuscript collection of approximately 18,000 letters and related items discovered in January 2004 in the 1869 plantation home of the late John Coleman and Mary Louisa Walker Roberts, prominent citizens of Bremond, Texas. When the last heir of the Roberts family died, the estate passed into the hands of individuals who sold the manuscript materials, long stored in the attic of the house, to The Texas Collection.
The large collection of research materials has great potential as future generations of students, faculty and other researchers study the development of Texas through the business dealings of a land baron little known until recent years. The Roberts Papers provide new insights into the close relationship between Texas and the American South. During the Civil War J.C. Roberts was active in moving cotton through Matamoras into Confederate hands.
Research of the papers will almost certainly bring new understanding about the latter history of the Robertson Colony, a large Mexican land grant that ultimately evolved into 17 Texas counties in modern East-Central Texas including Robertson County, where the manuscripts were found. Personal and business correspondence and related items in the collection span half a century, covering the period from the late 1850s to approximately 1905, to shortly before the death of Roberts. A highly significant Texas land holder, Roberts had diverse interests including the promotion of Polish immigration from Eastern Europe into Texas during the late 19th century.
Originally from Virginia and Kentucky, Roberts entered Texas through Galveston in 1852. His wife, a Pennsylvanian, came to Texas as his bride after the Civil War. They first met when she nursed him back to health after he lost an arm in the Battle of Gaines Mill, Virginia, where he fought with John Bell Hood’s Texas Brigade. Mary Louisa Walker—herself an interesting figure—was a Confederate patriot who moved back and forth across the lines of battle during the war. The couple married after a lengthy postwar courtship largely carried out through personal correspondence. The striking house they built near Bremond in 1869 on Texas State Highway 14 was an excellent example of plantation-style architecture.
Contributions to replenish The Texas Collection’s special acquisitions fund may be made using the form on the back of this newsletter. The library’s endowment earnings were used to purchase the papers, which cost $40,000. Three generous donors have contributed $7,000, and it is hoped that others donors will help cover the remaining cost of such an outstanding acquisition. Archival processing of this huge collection has begun, but the Roberts Papers may not be ready for scholarly use for at least a year.
For more information, contact John Wilson, director of library advancement and special projects, 254-710-3457, or Dr. Thomas L. Charlton, director of The Texas Collection, at 254-710-1268.
— Thomas L. Charlton
The Texas Collection