Wilson County TX Biographies
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Joseph Benjamin Polley

Joseph Benjamin Polley, Confederate soldier and writer, was born near Bailey's Prairie, Brazoria County, Texas, on October 27, 1840, the sixth of eleven children of Joseph Henry and Mary (Bailey) Polley. Joseph Henry Polley, a native of New York, had first come to Texas with Moses Austin in 1819 and returned with Stephen F. Austin in 1821 as one of the Old Three Hundred colonists. In 1847 the family moved to a farm on Cibolo Creek about thirty miles east of San Antonio. In 1861 Polley graduated from Florence Wesleyan University at Florence, Alabama, and returned to Texas to enlist in Company F of the Fourth Texas Infantry, one of the regiments of the famed Hood's Texas Brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia. Polley served through almost all of the major battles of the brigade, received a head wound at the battle of Gaines Mills in 1862, and lost his right foot at the battle of Darbytown Road near Richmond on October 7, 1864.

After returning to Texas at the end of the war, he read law and was admitted to the bar in 1868 but did not establish a practice until 1876, when he moved to Floresville. He served as Wilson county attorney in 1877 and 1878 and as a member of the Sixteenth Legislature in 1879. In 1866 he married Mattie LeGette; the couple had four children. Polley was elected commander of the Texas Division of the United Confederate Veterans. He died in Floresville on February 2, 1918.

His memoir of his army service, Hood's Texas Brigade (1910), is considered one of the classics of Civil War literature. Charles W. Ramsdell noted that "the author's happy style has made the book very readable, very unlike the great bulk of regimental and brigade histories." Polley's first Civil War book, A Soldier's Letters to Charming Nellie (1908), while informative and entertaining, has been suspected to be a post-war fabrication rather than the genuine Civil War letter cycle which it is represented to be. Polley was also a frequent contributor to Confederate Veteran.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: Daniell, 1880; reprod., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978).

Claiborne Rector

Claiborne Rector, early settler and soldier in the Texas Revolution, was born in Alabama on September 28, 1802. He moved to Texas in January 1830 and settled in the area of present Brazoria County. On March 1, 1836, he enlisted in David Murphree's company, Second Regiment, of Sam Houston's army; he participated in the battle of San Jacinto. Rector served in Byrd Lockhart's spy company in July 1836 and remained in the Texas army until September 1 of that year. He settled in what is now Wilson County by 1840 and received a 4,000-acre patent of land in December 1845. Rector represented Wilson County at the Secession Convention in 1861. He was captain of the Cibolo Guards Light Infantry in the Texas State Troops during the Civil War. Rector married twice and had three children. He died on March 23, 1873, and was buried in the Concrete Cemetery, Guadalupe County, Texas.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Sam Houston Dixon and Louis Wiltz Kemp, The Heroes of San Jacinto (Houston: Anson Jones, 1932). Deed L. Vest, A Century of Light: The History of Brahan Lodge No. 226, A.F. & A.M., La Vernia, Texas, 1858-1959 (Fort Worth: Masonic Home and School, 1959).

Seguin, Juan Nepomuceno

Juan Seguin, political and military figure of the Texas Revolution and Republic of Texas, was born in San Antonio on October 27, 1806, the elder of two sons of Juan Jose' Maria Erasmo Seguin and Maria Josefa Becerra. Although he had little formal schooling, Juan was encouraged by his father to read and write, and he appears to have taken some interest in music. At age nineteen he married Maria Gertrudis Flores de Abrego, a member of one of San Antonio's most important ranching families. They had ten children, among whom Santiago was a mayor of Nuevo Laredo and Juan, Jr., was an officer in the Mexican military in the 1860s and 1870s. Seguin began his long career of public service at an early age. He helped his mother run his father's post office while the latter served in Congress in 1823-24. Seguin's election as alderman in December 1828 demonstrated his great potential. He subsequently served on various electoral boards before being elected alcalde in December 1833. He acted for most of 1834 as political chief of the Department of Bexar, after the previous chief became ill and retired.

Seguin's military career began in 1835. In the spring he responded to the Federalist state governor's call for support against the Centralist opposition by leading a militia company to Monclova. After the battle of Gonzales in October 1835, Stephen F. Austin granted a captain's commission to Seguin, who raised a company of thirty-seven. His company was involved in the fall of 1835 in scouting and supply operations for the revolutionary army, and on December 5 it participated in the assault on Gen. Martin Perfecto de Cos's army at San Antonio. Seguin entered the Alamo with the other Texan military when Antonio Lapez de Santa Anna's army arrived, but was sent out as a courier. Upon reaching Gonzales he organized a company that functioned as the rear guard of Sam Houston's army, was the only Tejano unit to fight at the battle of San Jacinto, and afterward observed the Mexican army's retreat. Seguin accepted the Mexican surrender of San Antonio on June 4, 1836, and served as the city's military commander through the fall of 1837; during this time he directed burial services for the remains of the Alamo dead. He resigned his commission upon election to the Texas Senate at the end of the year.

Seguin, the only Mexican Texan in the Senate of the republic, served in the Second, Third, and Fourth Congress. He served on the Committee of Claims and Accounts and, despite his lack of English, was chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. Among his legislative initiatives were efforts to have the laws of the new republic printed in Spanish. In the spring of 1840 he resigned his Senate seat to assist Gen. Antonio Canales, a Federalist, in an abortive campaign against the Centralists, but upon his return to San Antonio at the end of the year he found himself selected mayor. In this office Seguin became embroiled in growing hostilities between Anglos and Mexican Texans. He faced personal problems as well. He had gained the enmity of some residents by speculating in land. He financed his expedition in support of Canales by mortgaging property and undertook a smuggling venture in order to pay off the debt. Although upon his return from Mexico he came under suspicion of having betrayed the failed Texan Santa Fe expedition, he still managed to be reelected mayor at the end of 1841. His continuing conflicts with Anglo squatters on city property, combined with his business correspondence with Mexico, incriminated him in Gen. Rafael Velasquez's invasion of San Antonio in March 1842. In fear for his safety, Seguin resigned as mayor on April 18, 1842, and shortly thereafter fled to Mexico with his family.

He spent six years in Mexico and then attempted to reestablish himself in Texas. While living in Mexico he participated, according to him under duress, in Gen. Adrian Woll's invasion of Texas in September 1842. Afterward his company served as a frontier defense unit, protecting the Rio Grande crossings and fighting Indians. During the Mexican War his company saw action against United States forces. At the end of the war he decided to return to Texas despite the consequences. He settled on land adjacent to his father's ranch in what is now Wilson County. During the 1850s he became involved in local politics and served as a Bexar County constable and an election-precinct chairman. His business dealings took him back to Mexico on occasion, and at the end of the 1860s, after a brief tenure as Wilson county judge, Seguin retired to Nuevo Laredo, where his son Santiago had established himself. He died there on August 27, 1890. His remains were returned to Texas in 1974 and buried at Seguin, the town named in his honor, during ceremonies on July 4, 1976.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Jesus F. de la Teja, ed., A Revolution Remembered: The Memoirs and Selected Correspondence of Juan N. Seguin (Austin: State House Press, 1991).

George Washington Smith

George Washington Smith, who served Texas at the battle of San Jacinto, in the Mier expedition, and in Mexico with Col. John C. Hays, was born in Wilson County, Tennessee, about 1796. He fought Indians in Tennessee as a teenager under Andrew Jackson and served in the War of 1812 at the battle of New Orleans. Smith was married in Wayne County, Kentucky, to Elizabeth Briggs, who was part Cherokee, in 1817; they had four children. The family settled at the head of Bois d'Arc Creek in Red River County, Texas, in 1834 and received a league and a labor of land. Pay vouchers show Smith's frequent movements for the next decade, from fights for Texas independence back home to put in crops. Reports and family tradition stated that he was with his neighbor Benjamin R. Milam at the siege of Bexar on December 7, 1835, and that the fatally wounded Milam died in Smith's arms. After the siege Smith traveled to his home in newly formed Fannin County, then returned to duty with Sam Houston for the fight at San Jacinto. As one of Capt. John G. W. Pierson's men in 1842, Smith was captured with others of the Mier expedition, but he escaped at the Rio Grande and returned home. After annexation he again left home, this time to join the First Regiment, Texas Mounted Riflemen, for the campaign to Mexico City in 1847. Smith served as a sergeant with Capt. Preston Witt in Company K. He died at his home in Collin County about 1876. A Texas historical marker placed in the Blue Ridge Cemetery in 1979 marks the place of his original burial, though his daughters had his remains moved to nearby Grounds Graveyard.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Lee and Lillian J. Stambaugh, A History of Collin County (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1958).

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