Thursday, August 18, 2005
The story of the “Yellow Rose of Texas” is one of the legends of the West. According to the canonical version, a beautiful and patriotic young slave woman, Emily Morgan, owned by a rebel Texas officer deliberately dallied with and delayed General Santa Anna in his tent during the early part of the Battle of San Jacinto, so that he could not organize a defense. This resulted in a rout of the government troops and effective independence for Texas. San Antonio’s Emily Morgan Hotel, named for her, yesterday announced an essay contest on The Myth and Mystery of Emily Morgan.
But as the hotel notes, much of the traditional story is untrue, and the University of Texas at Arlington’s archives has the woman’s employment contract to prove it. Her real name was Emily D. West, and she was not a slave but a free woman of color from New Haven, Connecticut. She was hired in New York by the New Washington Association, a group of New York investors, to be the housekeeper of the hotel they were building at Morgan’s Point, near Galveston in what was then the Mexican state of Coahuila and Texas, where slavery was illegal. West got a one-year contract at $100 a year, a respectable wage in those days, and she and James Morgan, the Association’s agent, signed the agreement in New York on October 25, 1835. (Left, her signature, courtesy University of Texas at Arlington.)
When Texas declared its independence, Morgan was made a colonel in the rebel army. It was April 16, 1836, when government troops reached Morgan’s Point and seized all of the Association’s property and employees. Santa Anna arrived the next day, and the army moved out to challenge Sam Houston’s rebel force. West, almost certainly a rape victim, was carried along with the army, and thus was at the battlefield when the Texans attacked and routed the government forces. It’s possible she was in Santa Anna’s tent, but it wasn’t willingly.
West survived the battle, although she lost her papers showing her free status on the battlefield. She nevertheless managed to get a passport out of Texas (where slavery had become legal) and apparently returned to the East.