Quakers in Texas: Part Two

FriendswoodCemetryBy 1895, Frank Jacob Brown and Thomas Hadley Lewis must have felt that Paris Cox (see Part One here) had steered them down the wrong path when he encouraged fellow Quakers to come and settle on the “staked plains” of West Texas (Llano Estacado) in the late 1870’s.  This especially after Cox died in 1888 of throat cancer and the disagreements with other non-Quaker settlers in the area – plus the harsh conditions they faced such as grasshoppers and drought.

FriendswoodPicIt’s little wonder then that Brown, a buffalo hunter, and Lewis, a college-educated man, felt they were directed by God to settle an area near the Texas coast in Galveston County.  Instead of the treeless plains of West Texas they found over fifteen hundred acres of prairie, supplied with plenty of water from nearby Clear, Coward, Mary and Chigger Creeks, and surrounded by dense woods.  They called it their “Promised Land”.

After striking a deal with a Galveston bank on July 15, 1895, their colony’s name, Friendswood, was recorded in the Galveston County courthouse.  With the attraction of plenty of water and a more hospitable climate and environment, word soon spread to other Quaker colonies in the northern and midwestern parts of the United States.  Soon afterwards almost a dozen additional families had joined the Brown and Lewis families.

In 1900 the coast of Texas was battered with a massive hurricane in September of 1900, and although there was massive destruction and loss of life along the coast, the Friendswood colony survived with no loss of life.  Perhaps in an attempt to make “lemonade out of lemons” they turned the downed trees into lumber to construct a building they would use as a church, school and community meeting place.

For years the Quakers operated the school and even had students from surrounding communities where there was no high school.  Between 1895 and 1915 most new settlers were Quakers, but gradually other settlers came to the area for the lush farm land along the Gulf Coast.  Farmers raised oranges, wild rice and figs – two fig plants were constructed to process and preserve those crops.

In the early 1930’s families impacted by the Great Depression came looking for a better life.  By the end of the 1930’s oil fields were being developed in the area, although until about 1945 the town of Friendswood consisted only of a handful of buildings – a church, school, post office and grocery store – no doctor, bank, police or newspaper.  Today the city runs on a multi-million dollar annual budget.

FriendswoodFigsWith the passing of more time, the Quaker way of life faded into the background as Houston spread out and families moved into the “burbs”.  In 1949 a new Friends (Quaker) Church was built to replace the original building that was constructed following the 1900 storm.  Today there is very little left of that historic time, save perhaps a few historical markers.  Nevertheless, the citizens of Friendswood are proud of their city’s heritage and its Quaker foundations.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.

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