Black History Month | Persons of Color Were at Jefferson’s Birth

James Buckner (Buck) Barry, Texas Ranger and frontiersman who arrived on the first steamboat to make it to Jefferson in April of 1845.

Marion Roots is an occasional series of reports on people, events and places connected with Marion County’s past.

Special to the Jimplecute

“As sickly a place as exists under the sun; several houses under construction but there was only one finished; a man served us with meat, bread and black coffee using a very large pine log for a table” are all comments from one of Jefferson’s first visitors in 1845.

For at that time, Big Cypress Bayou between Smithland and the proposed site of Jefferson had just been cleared of snags and other obstacles opening it to the world.

Conceived by Allen Urquhart as a port at the head of navigation, his dream could not be realized until Big Cypress Bayou was cleared.

A snag boat like the one used by Perry and his men to clear the Bayou for larger boat traffic. Perry brought the river boat Lama to Jefferson in April of 1845, quickening the town’s slow start.

With private funding in 1844, a plan was developed and William Perry opened the Bayou above Smithland. The hands that accomplished the required heavy labor were those enslaved by Perry and the other owners of those first cabins.

One of those cabin owners, Berry H. Durham, operated a ferry for Urquhart at the foot of Houston Street, which was the road to Marshall. He paid Durham with land adjacent to and north of the ferry site.

Perry purchased the lots that he gave his workers for a place of worship from that allotment, known as Lots 7, 8, and 9 of Block 86. In 1842, a handful of enslaved Africans began worshiping the Lord under a brush arbor atop the hill just above Urquhart’s ferry, creating perhaps the first place of worship for the enslaved in Texas.

Nelson Beckham

The first preacher is not known. After sufficient growth of the congregation, a sanctuary structure referred to as the African Church was constructed on Lot 8 in 1847. No pictures of it exists.

The first known African Church clergy was Reverend Nelson Beckham. From the Baldwin area, he was the longest serving clergy of the church and one of the first freedmen to vote. Born February 23, 1841, he was a young man when he began to preach and teach his followers to do their best to live God’s Way.

During Reconstruction, he traveled from town to town with George W. Smith teaching other freedmen to take advantage of their new liberties and to not wallow in frustration. As a tall man of seven feet, he escaped harm during the outrages of Reconstruction.

After the murder of Smith, three of his congregants, and the burning of his church by the Knights of the Rising Sun, a local Klan group, Reverend Beckham continued on as a Circuit Preacher in the Jefferson area.

Edmond Jackson and his headstone at Cypress Chapel. He was the first Jackson known to be associated with the African Church and then Union Baptist on the same site.

The earliest known congregant is Edmond Jackson who arrived in 1854 from Georgia at 10 years of age. After the end of the turmoil and strife of the Reconstruction period, Jackson returned to Georgia several different times and brought different family members to Jefferson.

He is buried at Cypress Chapel Cemetery with other family members who worshiped inside the second church structure on the site, Union Baptist Church. He worshiped in both sanctuaries.

The Living History Center at Union Baptist Church researches, documents, archives, and disseminates information on the congregants of the African Church and Union Baptist Church of Jefferson.

If you have information to share, please contact Collins Academy at (903) 665-2900 or

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