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The Odd Fellows and Jacob de Cordova

An “odd” little anniversary passed on Wednesday regarding someone buried at the Cemetery. Wednesday marked the 174th anniversary of the founding of the first lodge of the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows in Texas. While most people have never heard of the Order, in its day, it was a very active and prominent benevolent fraternal society in the vein of the Freemasons or the Shriners. While the day of the fraternal beneficial organizations are mostly behind us, orders still exists today and do charitable work all over the world. The Odd Fellows are still active in Texas and have Jacob de Cordova to thank for the first lodge in the Republic of Texas.

Jacob de Cordova is buried on Republic Hill in the oldest section of the Cemetery next to men who fought in the Texas Revolution, bled on the frontiers and carved out a republic in a bleak and often hostile land. Cordova was not one of these men. Though a prolific traveler in a dangerous era, Cordova was more of a salesman and promoter than he was a soldier. However, men like Cordova were needed as much as soldiers if Texas were to grow to an empire like the United States in the north as many Texans wanted. The Republic needed people. Cordova traveled all over the world extolling the virtues of first the Lone Star Republic and then the Lone Star State. He was active everywhere, traveling as far as Manchester in England to drum up interest in the Texas prairies. Cordova was instrumental in settling Waco, helped lay out the town plan and attract settlers. He was a great land speculator as well, at one time holding as many as a million acres in land. He was a prolific author, writing a settlers guide to Texas and several other works as well as a voluminous correspondent. His map, the “de Cordova map” (pictured), was the basis for many future maps for years after he completed it.  

Cordova was originally Spanish, born in Jamaica to a prominent Jewish family. His mother died in childbirth and Jacob was shipped off to live with an aunt in England where he learned at least five languages. He eventually moved back to Jamaica where he founded the Kingston Gleaner, a newspaper still in print after 178 years. He did extensive traveling throughout the Caribbean on business and settled in New Orleans for a time. During the Texas Revolution, Cordova helped get supplies to the fledgling Republic and settled in Houston after independence. He and his brother Phineas both made their homes in Texas, but never stayed in one place for very long. Jacob lived in Austin, Houston, San Antonio and eventually outside of Seguin toward the end of his life.

The Odd Fellows movement in Texas was slow in the early going, but about 74 lodges existed in Texas by 1860. The Odd Fellows are often known as the “Three Link Fraternity,” which you can see is a symbol on Cordova’s headstone. The F, the L and the T stand for “Faith, Love and Truth.” Cordova died in 1868 after a serious financial setback because of the Civil War. He was originally buried in Kimball, a settlement that he had a hand in making. In 1935, he and his wife Rebecca were moved to the State Cemetery during the Cemetery’s Centennial Renovation.

 

 

 

- Will Erwin