Monday, March 11, 2013

Citigroup's Texas Roots

From Wethersfield, CT - Puritan Stronghold

Charles Stillman, whose Texas-made fortune was used to set up the First National City Bank in New York City, was born in Wethersfield, Connecticut in 1810. His father, Francis Stillman, was a great-great-grandson of the man referred to by Stillman family genealogists as the "Settler" in America, George Stillman.

Wethersfield, CT
Francis Stillman stemmed from three Nathaniel Stillmans in a genealogical line that began in Hadley, MA in 1691. The first Nathaniel, who married a daughter of David and Honour Treat Deming in 1743, died in Wethersfield in 1770, six years before the Declaration of Independence. Francis' father was the third Nathaniel Stillman, born in 1752, who fought in the Revolutionary War, then died in Wethersfield in 1838, the same year his son Francis died--only two years after Texas had declared its independence against Mexico.

Francis was a ship-owning merchant who took his teenage son Charles to Durango, Mexico, as early as 1823, leaving him there to fend for himself within a trading network already established. "Don Carlos," as Charles was known in those parts, commandeered a profitable mercantile trade, which he would substantially increase during the Mexican War, which began when the new Republic of Texas was annexed as part of the United States in 1845. Upon his death many years later, Charles Stillman's family donated his papers from those years in Mexico and Texas to Harvard, an event which would give rise to research projects designed to establish a link between the New England money interests and Stillman's somewhat hidden Texas roots.

Dredging up the Past
Chauncey D. Stillman

In 1939 one of these descendants, a cocky young Harvard graduate named Chauncey Devereaux Stillman, recruited some historians to pore through the papers, while he also tossed some family money around in Texas, most of it in the form of grants to memorialize his ancestor's eminent stature in the wilds of Texas. He even brought an entourage with him to Texas for ceremonial purposes, but according to one local resident named G.E. Dodd, more money was sought from the locals to memorialize their unsaintly ancestor than was passed down to them.

Charles Chauncey and sons, 1922

Charles Devereaux Stillman was the acknowledged author of a genealogy which began with the life of Don Carlos, who is said to have made his way on his father's schooner Albion from Mexico's interior near Durango in 1828 to Brazos de Santiago--the "salt water harbor for the town of Matamoros." There he came in contact with Francis Stillman's partner, Daniel Willard Smith, according to this book, Charles Stillman 1810-1875, published in a private printing for the author in 1956. 

Smith, who also hailed from Wethersfield, had been appointed American Consul to Mexico by President James Monroe. The consul's job was to resolve disputes that American citizens, then trading with Mexico (which at that time included what is now known as Texas), had with the government or other citizens of Mexico during an extremely tense time. Evidence of that tension was revealed in this article published in early 1837 recounting numerous reports recently received in the U.S. capital regarding incidents that had occurred in Mexico:
Zalmon Hull, father of Hezekiah Hull, Lydia Wells' father
Zalmon Hull's father was a resident of Fairfield, CT., 60 miles or so down the road from Wethersfield, passing by Middletown and New Haven. But Zalmon married a Redding girl named Betts and relocated further inland, even though he shipped out to engage in the Mexican trade. He was mentioned in the January 1914 edition of National Magazine, an article entitled "The Tragedy of Mexico," page 847 of which reads:

This "American consul" was Daniel W. Smith, who was already married by that time to the widow of Zalmon Hull's son, formerly Mrs. Hezekiah Belden Hull. That marriage made him the stepfather of her daughter Lydia Ann Hull, the mother of James B. Wells, Jr., for whom Jim Wells County in Texas was named. Lydia's husband, James Babbage Wells
"was a privateer or mercenary during the Texas Revolution and commanded the Texas Navy yards at Galveston. In Aransas village, Wells was a cattle rancher who owned a schooner." 
It was that fact which caused his name to be listed in an extremely rare book called The Sons of the Republic of Texas., which glorifies the lives of those who settled Texas when it still a part of Mexico prior to 1836, and before statehood in 1845.
When Charles Stillman arrived in Matamoros (often spelled Matamoras) in1828, he naturally gravitated to fellow natives of Connecticut there, in addition to two of his brothers with whom he was involved in business partnerships until 1847, when the last of them, Frank D. Stillman, returned to Connecticut. Charles was then on his own but soon established a partnership with John J. Young on Rosales Street in Matamoros. Young died in 1859, but his descendants remained, and we will hear more about them later. 

During this time, Charles realized the U.S. government would want to sell off part of the land on which Fort Brown was located and had almost 5,000 acres surveyed out of it. This was to become the city of Brownsville. We can only wonder if Frank had helped to make that happen once he returned to the northeast. A land boom quickly occurred, making Charles quite wealthy, but the population diminished from cholera epidemics. In 1849 Charles, at the ripe old age of 38, returned to Wethersfield for a wife.

Chauncey Devereux Stillman

Keep in mind that Charles Stillman's descendant, fresh from Harvard in 1929, had taken it upon himself to research and write the history of his family in Texas. In 1955 he traveled down to Brownsville to dedicate a house to the City of Brownsville, claiming it to have been the home that Charles Stillman bought for his bride Elizabeth Pamela Goodrich Stillman a century earlier.

Beginning in 1945, articles began to appear in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly on this subject, such as this one by Harbert Davenport,  whose father was a law associate of Judge James B. Wells, Jr. Newspaper articles, like the one below, appeared under the byline of his wife:

Not everyone believed the story told by Jim Wells' law partner, Harbert Davenport, or by Mrs. Davenport in the above article. One witty, courageous long-time Brownsville resident, however, named George Emmet Dodd (son of Beeville, Texas attorney William W. Dodd), responded to the Mayor Stokeley's trumped up decision to grovel before the Stillman and Rockefeller families who came to Brownsville in 1955 to memorialize Charles Stillman with a little help from the city taxpayers. Dodd himself had a long and illustrious heritage in Texas, married to a granddaughter of Colonel James Eskridge Graham.

It's unfortunate there aren't more people like G.E. Dodd in the world, who can tell fake historians and paid public relations "experts" to take a flying leap.

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