1840: Thomas J. Bowen to John Wesley Slaten

This letter was written by Thomas J. Bowen. Thomas served in a regiment of Georgia Volunteers in 1836 under the command of Col. Burks, in a company commanded by Capt. Beard. For his service, he later received a land warrant (#55-292065). From the letter we learn that Thomas went to Texas early in 1837. He is mentioned as having served as a 1st Lieutenant in “Jordan’s Company” [Co. C, First Regiment of Mounted Rangers, Republic of Texas Militia] at Bexar for six months in the Spring of 1841.

Thomas wrote the letter to his cousin, John Wesley Slaten (1810-1889) — the son of George B. Slaten (1780-1844) and Lucinda Brogdon (1786-1866) of Jackson, Georgia. John came as a young man with his parents to St. Clair county, Illinois around 1820. He was married to Ann Francis Piggott (1818-1866) in Greene county, Illinois in October 1836. After his marriage, he moved to Jersey county, Illinois, where he remained the rest of his life.

Thomas tells us in his letter that John’s father, George Slaten, was his uncle. He also tells us that George Slaten has a brother named Jessie Slaten and a sister named Mary who was Thomas’ mother.

Thomas’ letter gives a great description of the Independent Republic of Texas.


Addressed to John W. Slaten, Newbern, Greene county, Illinois
Postmarked Cuthbert, Georgia

Randolph county, Georgia
10 June 1840

Dear Cousin,

As you have never seen me and perhaps scarcely ever heard of me, it is necessary to give myself an introduction by saying that I am the son of Mary Bowen who was the sister of your father. I have never seen Uncle George tho I have often heard of him — both from Uncle Jessie and Mother — and I have frequently thought that I would sometime visit him in Illinois. Whether I shall ever do so is uncertain but at least I hope to hear from you occasionally by letter. Before the death of cousin Alexander Griswold, we often spoke of writing, but never knew where to direct. I have never been informed of what part of Illinois you lived in till very lately when Uncle Jessie told me. He informed me that yourself and cousin Alexander had frequently written to each other and that he had written sometime last fall. He has received no answer and supposes that possibly you may all have emigrated to Texas.

I returned from Texas in November last having left Georgia in January 1837. During my stay there I had an opportunity of seeing all the middle and western sections, which are considered the best of the country. It is hardly necessary to give a description of Texas to a citizen of the enterprising West. from the number of persons from the western states who are always passing and repassing between the two countries, I should suppose that the good & bad qualities of the new republic are genuinely well known.

While in Texas, I often enquired of men from your state concerning Uncle George and one man told me that he knew you all and that one of you was then (in 1838) in Texas. From February 1837 to June ’38, I was in the army, most of the time stationed at Bexar, or San Antonio — the most western settlement in the country. This, although not the most fertile portion, is certainly the garden of Texas. Its beauty is perhaps unrivaled by any country in the world and it enjoys a remarkably mild and healthy climate. The disadvantages are a scarcity of water and want of rain in summer. All the land in cultivation is watered by means of ditches and the Mexicans say they could otherwise make but little corn. Timber is scarce and small. There is not a board or a fence rail in the whole region; the houses being built of stone or pickets and covered with plaster and the fences made of brush. The principal growths are hackberry, mesquite, and pecan with a multitude of thorn bushes. Such a country can never be very good for farming, but it has an inexhaustible range of the finest grass and in time may become as celebrated for shepherds as the rich pastures of Spain.

Military Plaza in San Antonio, ca. 1840

But with all its disadvantages, I prefer it to any other portion of Texas, for the best parts have their advantages counter balanced by equal or greater objections. The rich lands of the Brazos &c. are sickly and have wretched water. There is too little timber in every part of the country except perhaps the eastern part which I have never seen. I was not farther east than the city of Houston.

Uncle Jessie tells me that you have some notion of visiting Georgia. I should be glad if you would come for I think if you could spend one winter here you would be induced to move. As to the relative advantages of Georgia and Illinois, I am not able to decide, but if your notions are anyway like mine, the climate of the former is sufficient to make you prefer it even though, in other respects, it enjoys less. And here you would be near to your relatives which is no small item in our sum of worldly comfort. But I may be growing tedious and will come to a close. Uncle Jessie’s family were in good health three weeks ago when I saw them and they are very desirous to hear from you. Give my love to all my relations in Illinois and join me in a hope that we may yet see each other though so far apart at present.

–Tho. J. Bowen

P. S. Write to me and direct to Cuthbert, Randolph county, Ga.

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