Jane Wilkinson Long
“Mother of Texas ”
By Anne Adams
Among the early Texas pioneers such as Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston, there was among them a woman whose courage and dedication not only assured her survival but also gained the traditional title of “Mother of Texas.”
Jane Wilkinson was born July 23, 1798 on a Maryland plantation, youngest of a family of ten children. After her parents’ deaths she lived with family members in the Natchez , Mississippi vicinity. Also, as was the custom of the time, she was assigned a young slave girl as a companion/servant. This was Kianatia or “Kian” as Jane called her, who would not only remain with Jane all her life.
Jane met Dr. James Long in 1815 when he arrived in Natchez to treat soldiers wounded in the Battle of New Orleans that were staying in her family home, and they married in May of 1815.
For the next few years James practiced medicine, purchased a local plantation, and then moved to Natchez to set up a retail store. Their first daughter Ann Herbert was born in 1816. About this time James considered settling in Texas and was appointed leader of a group of other Natchez residents with the same interest. He traveled to the newly developed Texas community of Nacogdoches , but because Jane was expecting their second child, she delayed joining him till the baby was born. When Rebecca was born in 1819 she set off with the infant, toddler Ann and 12 year old Kian to join her husband. However, various events prevented their immediate reunion and it wasnt until 1820 that they were back together, but without baby Rebecca who had died earlier.
James moved his family to live in a fort community at Point Bolivar near Galveston Island.
Then in September, 1821 Long set off for Mexico , leaving a pregnant Jane with the other immigrants in the fort.
The winter of 1821 was extremely bitter, and the other settlers began to drift away, until finally Jane and her small family and Kian were the only ones left. Finally, with only Kian to help her on December 21, 1821 she gave birth to her last child, Mary James, who was long considered to be the first Anglo child born in Texas . Jane and the others survived by chopping fish and ducks out of the frozen Galveston Bay, and to discourage any potentially hostile Indians, she occasionally fired off an old cannon and hoisted her red petticoat on the flagpole to make it appear the fort retained its troops.
Early in 1822, with food scarce and her husband’s return uncertain, when other immigrants passed through she joined them. She later heard that James had been killed the previous April in Mexico City, a possible victim of assassination.
Eventually Jane returned to Louisiana but soon after she decided to return to Texas . Stephen F. Austin was recruiting new settlers for a land grant he’d acquired and when Jane returned she did it as one of Austin ’s “Old Three Hundred” colonists in 1824. She received land grants in what are now Waller and Fort Bend Counties , then lived nearby till 1830, when she went to live briefly in Mississippi briefly while daughter Ann attended school, then was married in 1831. Jane returned to Texas in 1832 with Ann and her husband, where she operated a boarding house near Brazoria in 1832.
In 1837 Jane moved to her land grant near the town of Richmond (now a Houston area suburb), and developed her plantation into one of the most profitable in the area. As the Civil War drew near, Jane remained loyal to the South and put her commitment into action when she refused to wear clothing not made in the South. She had her dresses all made from the cotton from her own plantation. Her faithful aide Kian passed away but her granddaughter, also named Kian, remained with Jane even after emancipation.
In her old age Jane became “Aunt Jane” or “Grandma Long” a beloved character who used homegrown tobacco in her pipe as she rocked on the front porch. She died on December 30, 1880 and was buried in Richmond.
Family tradition and folklore relate that Jane Long was courted by several of Texas ’ leading men, including Sam Houston, but she never remarried. Still, she would not need such a connection to achieve a place in Texas history, for through her own courage and determination, she accomplished that on her own.
Anne Adams is a writer/teacher living in Houston , Texas