Born in 1805 on a farm near Berryville in Virginia, Washington moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1838 to practice law while living with his sister, Mary Herbert Beazley and her family.
When the Beazleys gave Washington money and land to invest in the Republic of Texas, he exchanged the property for the William Logan League, now in San Jacinto County, and took the title in his own name with the intention of giving the property to his sister. A will in 1860 established his intent.
Settling at Drew’s Landing on the Trinity River in the 1840s, Washington developed one of the area’s largest plantations in a great horseshoe bend of the river.
As he was building his home on the river, Washington also supervised the construction of a road from Drew’s Landing to Lynchburg, a shipping point on Galveston Bay, with the recognition that the export of cotton would stimulate East Texas’ economy.
Washington’s home was similar to the plantation homes of the Old South. Enhancing the home’s beauty was a formal flower garden, a favorite hobby of Washington.
As a lawyer, Washington had a large library filled with law books and two indoor bathrooms with hot water furnished by a boiler, a rarity on the Texas frontier.
The home also contained a room for his Coushatta Indian friends--who lived in a village on Washington’s plantation--with pictures of paintings of Indians and horses. The Coushattas’ customary dress of long deerskin shirts prompted riverboat travelers to call the place “Shirt Tail Bend.”
Known for his eccentricity, Washington had a personal worth of almost $75,000 in real and personal property before the Civil War, but he was always behind in paying his taxes.
There were rumors at Drew’s Landing that Washington, a bachelor, buried a large cache of gold on his plantation. Another story is that he lost his fortune in a New Orleans bank failure.
When the Civil War erupted, Washington volunteered for service in 1862, and was commissioned an aide under Major General John B. McGruder, commander of the military district of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.
Washington was assigned to supervise government works in a wide area of East Texas, to defend the lower valley of the Trinity River, and to enlist his Indian friends in the South’s war efforts.
At the end of the war, Washington was nearly bankrupt and in declining health. Though he held 51 slaves in 1864, he had to take large loans after the war to keep his plantation in operation.
Washington sold his plantation to William B. Denson, who moved into the house with Washington. In 1868 Washington wrote a will giving all of his assets to Denson in return for settlement of his debts.
He died on June 30, 1868, and was buried in his flower garden. Denson disputed Washington’s first will to his sister, but in 1873 she established that the will was valid.
As the year’s passed, Washington’s grave was lost, but his descendants placed a tombstone in the Davidson Cemetery, near Drew’s Landing, defining his Confederate service.
The passage of decades has left the cemetery unmarked, entangled in forest growth, and--like Washington’s final resting place--difficult to find.
(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 50 books about East Texas history and folklore. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)