Liberty County History

An occasional gathering place for articles, documents, photographs, records and other ephemera dealing with the history of Liberty County, Texas.


Kevin Ladd is director of the Wallisville Heritage Park at Wallisville, Chambers County, TX and lives in Hardin, TX. He is chairman of the Liberty County Historical Commission and writes for "Texas Illustrated," a monthly publication of the Liberty Gazette newspaper, which is devoted to local history and folklore.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Dr. Henry Wise Farley (1795-1839)

My first encounter with the name of Dr. Henry Wise Farley was one day along about 1977 when I was doing some research at the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center at Liberty. The late Joyce Calhoon, the first director of the center, had one of those encyclopedic minds about the early pioneers and settlers, not only those from Liberty County, but also from the other nine counties that are served by the Sam Houston Center. I asked her about Dr. Farley, and she said he would have been one of the greatest and most important figures in local history -- if he had lived longer. Few people today would recognize his name, but during the 1830s and long after his death in 1839, he was without doubt the most learned man ever to call Liberty home. The 1837 public notice regarding the sale of town lots in Liberty, found posted elsewhere on this blog, suggests he may have actually been the first mayor of Liberty. Research done by Joyce Calhoon showed he had served as our first county judge during the 1835-1836 period of the Texas Revolution.

The facts of his life are interesting enough. He was born on December 5, 1795 in Ipswich, Massachusetts, one of several children born to Jabez Farley and his second wife Susanna (Swazey) Farley. His middle name is an old and distinguished one in Essex County, dating back to a prominent clergyman named the Rev. John Wise. His father, Jabez, was distinguished in the American Revolution. One of his kinsmen, General Michael Farley, was a major figure in the histories of the American Revolution in New England.

When he was in his late teens, Henry, went off to the Harvard Medical College. The late Camilla Davis Trammell wrote of him: "When Henry Wise Farley finished at Harvard Medical College in 1814, he practiced in his home town of Ipswich, Massachusetts. The came 'the year without sun' followed by two crop failures, and Henry decided to leave that land of hunger. Farley's two brothers had previously gone to the West Indies, but they both lost their lives there. He decided to go to New Orleans instead. However, behind New Orleans' outward glitter and joie de vivre, he discovered shocking slavery and sanitation problems. As one observor wrote, 'New Orleans is a dreadful place in the eyes of the New England man. They keep Sunday as we in Boston keep the Fourth of July.' Yellow fever was often followed by cholera. Debauchery and bribery were as rampant as he had heard they were in the West Indies.

"Dr. Farley decided to move westward. He found employment on the Berwick plantation, where he treated slaves and owners alike. There were also French refugees in the area from the destruction of Champ d'Asile, across the Sabine River in Texas, and he treated them. They spoke highly of that land to the west in Texas. In 1824, the gentle young doctor courted and married Catherine, the eldest daughter of Ann [Berwick] and Christopher O'Brien, Jr."

A few years later, with their two young sons -- Henry and Brien -- in tow, the Farleys moved to the village called Atascosito, the forerunner to the Town of Liberty. Two more sons, Swazey and Frank, were born here. As we mentioned previously, Dr. Farley became active in the Revolution, serving with the Texian Army in the capacity of a surgeon. Soon thereafter, he appears in 1837 records as both the mayor of the Town of Liberty and as Justice of the Peace for the same area.

In late 1839, as he juggled numerous business responsibilities, Dr. Farley was compelled by necessity to travel back to New Orleans to purchase medical instruments and supplies. He postponed his visit as long as possible, trying to wait out a yellow fever raging through the Crescent City, but finally booked passage on the schooner Columbia at Liberty and headed that way. We will turn again to Mrs. Trammell's well-chosen words: "The day he arrived, as he walked through the German section of New Orleans, some ruffians beset him and stole his purse [what we might call a wallet]. Bruised and disheveled, he was still able to buy most of his supplies on credit, and he returned to the dock. A captain told him that his schooner, the Alexander of Macedon, wa about to sail, and he booked passage." While waiting a couple of days for the schooner to depart, Dr. Farley wrote his wife Catherine on November 19, 1839: "I am tired, dirty, ragged, lonely and low-spirited but not sick. Kiss our sweet treasures a thousand times each for me. You will see me shortly after you receive this."

He never made it home again. Dr. Farley fell ill with the yellow fever the second day out of New Orleans. He died on the schooner named for Alexander of Macedon. The crew quickly buried him in the Gulf waters. So ends the story of Dr. Henry Wise Farley. No marker here bears his name. Once an indispensable and brilliant man in life, he is sadly forgotten 170 years later. But you and I now know his story.


Blogger robbinshood said...

Looks nice! Awesome content. Good job guys.

11:14 PM  
Blogger evelyn said...

Amazing!I have finally found the missing link "Henry Wise Farley" in my 15 year genealogy search.

6:37 AM  

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