MERRICK, MORGAN WOLFE (1839 ~ 1919). Twenty-two years before he marched west to help fulfill Jefferson Davis's dream of a western empire, Morgan Merrick was born along the shores of Lake Ontario in 1839 at East Oswego, New York, the third child of Drusilla and Morgan Lewis Merrick. Merrick's father had come from Lewis County on the snowy western slopes of the Adirondack Mountains, less than fifty miles to the east of Oswego, where he had been born in 1801. Merrick's grandfather, also named Morgan Lewis, was a veteran of the War of 1812. Merrick's father was said to have been a close friend of President Martin Van Buren and a strong Jacksonian Democrat. Reportedly, Van Buren even visited the family home in East Oswego a number of times.
For unknown reasons, Morgan Lewis Merrick decided to leave East Oswego for Texas in 1850. The family made their way overland to New York City, where they caught a schooner bound for the Lone Star State. Traveling down the east coast, through the tropical waters of the Florida Keys, and into the stormy waters of the Gulf of Mexico, they reached Cavallo Pass, a sandy, windswept break in Matagorda Island, where they went ashore at the bustling port of Indianola. After only a few days on the coast, the family, with all their worldly possessions secured in a two-wheel ox cart, took up the trek to San Antonio. Fearful of an Indian attack, they cached a few heirlooms in a false bottom of the cart.
Pushing inland by following the San Antonio River, they crossed endless prairies, as herds of deer and antelope gazed inquisitively at the party before scurrying away into the safety of the mesquite and brush of the coastal plain. The trip was certain to have been one of great excitement and adventure for eleven-year-old Morgan Wolfe Merrick, as well as for his fourteen-year-old sister, Julia, and eighteen-year-old brother, Martin. As the party proceeded north and west, the scrub brush of the coastal plain gave way to the live oak and gently rolling hills of south-central Texas. Early in 1851 the family reached San Antonio. Largely supported by vast cattle and sheep ranches which lined the numerous streams and rivers of South Texas, antebellum San Antonio was undergoing considerable change when the Merrick family arrived on Main Plaza. Long a predominantly Mexican town, San Antonio was beginning to feel the impact of a large influx of immigrants, especially Germans, Irish, Anglo-Americans, and a few Scandinavians and other strangers from northern and western Europe.
By June 1851, the elder Merrick had purchased five hundred acres of rich farmland along the banks of Concepcion Creek south of San Antonio, not far from Mission San Jose. What little is known about Merrick in the decade prior to the Civil War comes from a number of carefully captioned sketches he completed. Merrick appears to have had a keen interest in the events of the Texas Revolution -- especially the 1835 Battle of Bexar -- much of which he gathered from veterans of the conflict. Based on what he heard of the siege, he completed a map of the "Rout[e] of Johnson & Milam's columns from Molino Blanco to Main Plaza." He also sketched the ruins of Molino Blanco where the Texan advance on Bexar had begun. Merrick was also interested in an earlier era and completed a sketch of the La Quinta Building on Dwyer Avenue where Gen. Jaoquin de Arredondo in 1813 "imprisoned the Mexican ladies and made them grind tortillas for the soldiers." Another of his drawings depicts the first "legal" hanging in Bexar County in 1854, a scene he probably witnessed.
As a teenager in San Antonio, Merrick was able to find employment at the printing office of Henry Lewis's Western Texan, probably as a printer's devil, sweeping floors, carrying type, cleaning the press, and performing other minor tasks. The Texan, which had begun publication in 1848, was San Antonio's first English-language newspaper and was located at the time in the Veramendi House on Soledad Street, a historic structure Merrick also depicted in his art work. While working at the Texan, Merrick made friends with several aspiring young printers, many of whom went on to play leading roles in the early journalistic history of the community. These included James Newcomb, who in 1854 at the age of sixteen became editor and proprietor of the Alamo Star. Newcomb also edited the San Antonio Herald in 1855 and the Alamo Express in 1860. Others who worked on the Western Texan were James Newcomb's brother, John Gore Newcomb, and Robert J. Lambert, who later edited the San Antonio Ledger. Frank M. Whitemond, John M. Smith, and William Lambert also worked at the Texan office.
In a brief note in his Civil War journal, Merrick mentions having "traveled extensively in Mexico" during the War of the Reform in 1857 or, in Merrick's words, during the time of "Vedaure and Meramon." Whether the teenager allied himself with liberals or the conservatives in the momentous conflict south of the border is not known. It is likely he was in northern Mexico, probably on the side of Santiago Vidaurri, the once liberal and powerful caudillo of Nuevo Leon and Coahuila, although this is far from certain.
When the Bexar County enumerator visited the Merrick residence in 1860, Merrick, twenty, was still living with his mother, father, and older brother. Morgan's father was still farming, while older brother Martin listed his occupation as a trader. Gone was Martha Julia, who married George Mortimer Martin, an Ohio-born trader and speculator, in May of 1853.
Sometime in the late 1850s, Merrick, despite his New York adolescence, joined the Knights of the Golden Circle, a fraternal organization with elaborate rituals and regalia that was plotting to create a slave empire in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America. In 1861 the twenty-two-year-old Merrick was with the Knights when the aging and sickly Georgian, Gen. David Emanuel Twiggs surrendered the Department of Texas. During the capitulation negotiations, Merrick took great pride in mounting "the first guard in San Antonio in the C. S. cause."
After the Civil War, Merrick returned to San Antonio where he courted and married the beautiful Victoria Gertrudes de la Garza, daughter of Maria Antonia Veramendi and Rafael de la Garza. From one of San Antonio's oldest and proudest families, Victoria, five years younger than Merrick, was born on 23 December 1844. Her great-grandfather, Don Fernando de Veramendi, who was married to Dona Maria Josefa Granado, had come to San Antonio from the northern Spanish province of Navarre. By 1780 Veramendi had established a sizeable mercantile establishment and purchased what was to become the family home on Soledad Street. Victoria's grandfather was Juan Martin Veramendi, who was married to Josefa Navarro. Juan M. Veramendi served as governor of Coahuila and Texas three years prior to the Texas Revolution. Victoria's aunt, Ursula, also said to have been very beautiful, had married the legendary Jim Bowie in 1831. Tragically, Ursula, along with her mother and father, died of cholera in September 1833 at the Veramendi summer home in Saltillo, Coahuila.
Victoria de la Garza and Morgan Wolfe Merrick's wedding date is recorded as 29 November 1865, in San Fernando Cathedral with the Reverend C.M. Dubuis presiding. The young couple established a home in San Antonio, where Merrick supported the family as a surveyor, a skill he had evidently picked up from his father. His older brother, Martin, had also become a surveyor, completing most of the original surveys in Starr County on the Rio Grande frontier. Proud of his Civil War career as a hospital steward, Morgan also listed his occupation as a physician, although there is no evidence he attempted the practice of medicine.
Sometime prior to 1871, tragedy struck when Victoria died during childbirth. Stanley J. Miller, Jr., a great-nephew, remembers how, as a boy of only six, he heard his great-grandmother, Merrick's older sister, Martha Julia, talk of Morgan's deep affection for his young wife and how devastated he was by her death. Merrick "hit the skids . . . just kind of drifted" and "didn't care much about anything" for months following Victoria's death and that of their child.
Less than a decade later, on 14 August 1876, at the residence of his sister, Merrick and Sarah J. Newcomb, a local school teacher, were wed by the Reverend Homer S. Thrall. The social editor of the San Antonio Express attended the wedding and reported: "The occasion was really an interesting one to the family circle, to which it was confined, no invitations having been extended. The writer was particularly struck at the beauty of the bride's dress and the trimmings of her hair. The material from which the lady's dress was made had been sent over from the Emerald Isle, by a kind friend, the work of an Italian artist. We wish the happy couple as pleasant a journey through life as the occasion of their marriage seemed to usher in."
Sarah, sister of noted astronomer Simon Newcomb, was five years younger than Morgan. Born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, on 9 May 1844, she was orphaned at the age of seven, but managed to graduate from a normal school in Boston, Massachusetts, where she took up teaching in 1860. After the Civil War, Sarah moved to Manassas, Virginia, where she continued to teach and conduct Sunday school. Hearing of Texas "as a wide and new ground for teachers," she came south to the Lone Star State in September 1872 and found employment in the Alamo City's "First School for Colored Children," a facility that had been established a few years earlier by the Freedman's Bureau. She later became principal of the "Third Ward colored public school."
In the years following his second marriage, Morgan continued his surveying, completing a number of extended surveys on the large ranches in Bexar and adjoining counties. Stanley Miller recalls that his great-uncle would sometimes be gone for weeks at a time, bedding outdoors in the heat and cold, in the vast open spaces of south-central Texas. Upon returning to San Antonio, Merrick would be queried by the grateful farmer or rancher as to his fee. He would frequently remark, "Oh, a quart of whiskey."
At one time, Morgan and Sarah lived on the outskirts of San Antonio, and Sarah would drive her husband into town in a surrey to visit his sister, Julia, at 401 North San Saba Street. Morgan would sometimes stay for days at his sister's residence. Miller remembers his great-uncle as tall and slender with a lengthy Van Dyke beard and a long handlebar mustache. Merrick always appeared neatly dressed, was kind and gentle, and possessed the patience and demeanor of a true gentleman. Very much a free spirit, as his Civil War journal amply illustrates, Merrick always asked to sleep on the floor, refusing the comforts of a bed. Believing that fresh air was the key to good health, longevity, and a straight spine, he also slept outdoors on a platform he had built in a big tree behind the house.
In 1883-84 San Antonio city directory lists Sarah and "Wolfson" Merrick as residing at 505 St. Mary's Street, but by 1887 they had moved to 75 Marshall between North Flores and Jackson streets. Morgan still listed his profession as that of a surveyor, while Sarah had become "principal [of] public school No. 2."
Sarah, tracing her ancestry back to the Pilgrims and the American Revolution, became active in the San Antonio chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. On 4 July 1892, she was said to have given a most eloquent speech on the 106th anniversary of independence. In 1893, after eighteen years in public education, she retired, but continued to write articles for the Texas School Journal. Sarah also invested in real estate in San Antonio, reportedly at a sizeable profit, and was elected president of the local Business Women's Association. Under what circumstances Morgan and Sarah separated has not been determined, but Sarah later returned east to Boston, where she died in the early 1920s.
In 1910 local historian and journalist Charles Merritt Barnes, in his Combats and Conquests of Immortal Heroes, remembered Morgan as "genial and witty" and "skillful at sketching." Four years earlier, in July 1906 at the age of sixty-six, Morgan applied for a Confederate pension, listing "no income . . . no wife . . . no realty, [or] personal property" and only six dollars in surveying instruments. His application as an "Indigent soldier . . . of the late Confederacy" listed his health as "very poor." An accompanying affidavit by a local San Antonio physician certified that Merrick was experiencing "progressive muscular atrophy due to age."
When the Texas comptroller, J.W. Stephens, contacted the Military Secretary's Office of the War Department in Washington, D.C., no record could be found that Merrick had ever served in the Confederate Army. The aging Merrick was forced to obtain signed affidavits from two San Antonio friends who had served with him during the war. David M. Poor, a second lieutenant in Capt. Charles Lynn Pyron's Company B of the 2d Texas Mounted Rifles, certified that he had served with Merrick during the New Mexico Campaign, and A.G. Smith, a soldier in Col. Joseph Phillip's 3rd Texas Cavalry of the Arizona Brigade, agreed to testify that Merrick had indeed been a hospital steward from 1862 to 1865.
Five years later, on 10 July 1911, Merrick was admitted to the Confederate Home in Austin. Signing the roster upon admittance, Merrick remained a freethinker to the end, listing his religious preference as "none." Stanley Miller remembers traveling with his grandmother by train from San Antonio to Austin to visit his great-uncle. Although grey and decrepit, Merrick still had a glimmer in his eye as he came forth to greet his visitors. For several hours he sat on a wooden bench at the rest home and reflected on an earlier era, when a group of zealous young Texans dressed in butternut and homespun marched west along the Overland Trail to engage a Federal Army in mortal combat.
Merrick died on Christmas Day, 1919, forty-five years to the day after his father. He was buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin with little notice. The Austin and San Antonio newspapers did not bother to note his passing. He was eighty.
Thompson, Jerry D., (Ed.). (1991). From Desert to Bayou: The Civil War Journal and Sketches of Morgan Wolfe Merrick. El Paso: Texas Western Press. Before the Texas State Cemetery put this information on the Internet, Dr. Jerry D. Thompson gave his permission.