October 3, 2014

Mrs. Sophia Porter

"Mrs. Sophia Porter.

"Noted Woman Passed Away At Preston, Texas

"She Entertained Lee, Grant and Jackson at Her Grayson County Home Before the War.

"The Denison Herald

"Died - At Preston, Grayson county, Texas, Friday, August 27, 1897, Mrs. Sophia Porter, aged 81 years, 8 months and 24 days.

"Four score and two years covers many interesting events in American history, and especially that of the great Southwest, and as Mrs. Porter has been so peculiarly identified with the history making events of her own time and environments, some family historian will doubtless seek to preserve the honorable record.

"Sophia Suttonfield was born at Fort Wayne, Ind., September 3, 1815.  Colonel Suttonfield, her father, was a Virginian by birth and served as an officer in the war of 1812.  He erected the first house at Fort Wayne and was there with his family in 1814.  There was neither railroad, telegraph nor steamboat this side of the Atlantic, and Spain owned a vast area of country northwest of New Orleans.  Mexican independence had not yet been secured, although the republican cause seemed in a promising way.  Many chivalrous Spaniards who had fought against the great Napoleon and had been compelled to flee from Spain after the restoration of the Bourbons, were impelled to lend the swords to the patriot cause in Mexico.  Don Jose Manuel Herrera, Don Luis Aury, Colonel Young, Colonel Perry and other Gallant Spanish and American officers had selected Galveston Island as the base of operations and a place of rendezvous for the privateers, and on the 12th of September, 1816, organized a government and unfurled the flag of independence.  Commodore Aury was made civil and military governor of Texas and Galveston Island, and took the oath of fealty to the republic of Mexico.  Five years after this the indomitable Stephen Fuller Austin - a worthy son of immortal Moses Austin - led the first body of immigrants into Texas by way of Natchitoches¹, pitching their camp in what is now Washington county, and thus beginning the permanent settlement of Texas by Anglo-Americans.

"While her future home was thus being established by deeds of heroism and self-sacrifice, such as have never been paralleled, this child of destiny was developing into a beautiful woman.  Her graces and refinement brought her first and greatest sorrow, for her accomplishments attracted the attention of a German officer with whom she was persuaded to elope to the Southwest in 1835.  Their first Texas home was in Waxahachie, but his desertion and subsequent death left this friendless young widow among people who were then in the midst of their supreme struggle for independence, and before the decisive battle of San Jacinto she was with the refugees protected by the army of Sam Houston.

"Colonel Holland Coffee was at this time one of the most prominent men in Texas and in 1838 was elected to the third house of representatives from the new county of Panola.  While upon a visit to Waco Colonel Coffee met the subject of this sketch, and the result was their marriage at the close of that year.  Colonel Coffee had received large grants of land for his gallant military services, and much of it had been located in the rich bottom of Red river.  In 1839 the bride and groom established their home at what is now known as Preston Bend, in this county.  They were indeed pioneers and lived at first in a stockade as a necessary protection against the roving bands of Comanche Indians.  Denison's wooded site was the shelter of thousands of buffalo and other wild game.  Sherman was not yet in existence, and only a very small settlement at Bonham.  Colonel Coffee was killed in 1847.  His wife remained a widow until 1852, when she was married to Major George Butts, a typical Virginian of the bluest blood, who was connected with the Federal army.  Again the home was stricken by a violent death, for Major Butts was killed by bushwhackers during the first year of the war.  This bereavement prompted Mrs. Butts to leave the plantation, and she moved to Waco, taking with her a large number of slaves.  These faithful servants were then hers by the acknowledged right of possession and most of their remained to the end of their days in a service that had brought to them all the benefits of emancipation except actual freedom.

"Mrs. Butts was a remarkably well preserved woman at the age of 50, and her charms compelled the admiration of the grace and chivalric.

"Among those who met this thrice-made widow and who became a successful suitor, was Judge Jonas Porter of Missouri, an officer in the Confederate army, who had stopped at Waco on his way to Mexico.  Judge Porter was a widower whose wife had died while he was in the war.  He was at one time a member of the Missouri legislature and had risen to a high place in Masonry and Odd Fellowship.  A quiet wedding in 1865 and a removal to the bride's home at Preston, brought this remarkable woman back to the community that is now mourning the loss of its best friend.

"Judge and Mrs. Porter are remembered by many who are still living as being ideal entertainers, who had preserved intact the regime of that incomparable Southern hospitality so characteristic of ante-bellum days.  Judge Porter was courteous and scholarly and greatly assisted his wife in retaining at this home the attractions of refinement and education.

"In 1869 they visited Indiana and Mrs. Porter entered the Suttonfield home for the first time since her abrupt departure as a runaway bride many years before.  The aged mother was still living and welcomed the daughter with all the joy that can be expressed by a never-dying mother love.

"The year 1886 brought another sorrow into this history of a life, as Judge Porter was stricken with a fatal disease and passed peacefully away.

"Mrs. Porter was still vigorous, and did not relax her interest in all that concerned the good of those about her.  She had been a consistent member of the Southern Methodist church since 1869, and gave the ground near by upon which was built what is known as "Coffee Chapel."  To this she was also a large contributor and gave it five acres in another place for camp meeting purposes.  A few years ago she presented the Georgetown university three hundred and fifty acres of improved land, valued at ten thousand dollars.

"Thus passed away the sweet spirit of 'Aunt Sophia,' surrounded by relatives and neighbors and by servants who had been born into the household as slaves bu had considered it the highest freedom to remain with their former mistress.

"The old house seems to voice the universal sorrow, for age and decay have touched it in many places; yet the beauty has not all departed.  The broad avenue leading from the entrance to the house is lined with immense catalpa trees, grown from seed planted by Mrs. Porter, the seed having been brought by the father of Governor Throckmorton.  The grounds are full of flowers and palms, rare plants and cacti, and the spacious verandas have afforded a welcome retreat for many distinquished people.  Jefferson Davis, U. S. Grant, Ben Butler, Robert E. Lee, George B. McClellan and General Arbuckle were among the famous soldiers who enjoyed its hospitality in the early days.  Many of Quantrell's men were quartered there during their sojourn in this region.

"'Glen Eden' was known and visited by the pleasure seekers of all Northern Texas and the strangers as well as the most intimate friends were made welcome at all times."

Source:  The Houston daily post. (Houston, Tex.), 30 Aug. 1897. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86071197/1897-08-30/ed-1/seq-3/>

¹Natchitoches is a city in Natchitoches Parish, LA, established in 1714 as part of French Louisiana.  Its sister city is Nacogdoches, TX.

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