History of Town of Liberty Hill in San Jacinto County

The Texas Story Project.

A drive down FM-2025 headed north from Cleveland to Coldspring will reveal a fenced in cemetery on the left side of the road with a gate and marker entitled “Hayman Cemetery Association”. 

There is a white building with a Texas historical marker in front that states “The Liberty Hill church was founded on October 6, 1897. This building was moved here from a site northwest of the present location in 1905. It served as both church and school until 1924. The Hayman Cemetery Association maintains the grounds."

The Texas State Historical Association website states the following regarding the town:

LIBERTY HILL, TEXAS (San Jacinto County). Liberty Hill is on Farm Road 2025 sixty miles north of Houston in central San Jacinto County. Ira Buckalew and his two sons, who entered the region from Louisiana sometime before 1884, were the first recorded permanent settlers of the area. Mrs. R. G. West, the wife of another early settler, suggested that the small community be named Liberty Hill at the time the local church was organized in 1897. Although most business was done at Coldspring or Cleveland, the presence of numerous tram railroad lines throughout the Liberty Hill area, in addition to the Foster Lumber Company's ownership or leasing of extensive tracts of land, suggests that the region was once important in the East Texas logging industry. A church and cemetery remain, and gravel pits and oil wells to the north of Liberty Hill reflect continued economic activity.

The church and cemetery are located on FM-2025 at FM-221 (Big Creek Scenic Road) just past Upper Vann Road (if headed north on FM-2025).  According to the Find-A-Grave website, the GPS coordinates for the Hayman Cemetery are 30.5151800, -95.1439500. A short-cut to FM-2025 is available via FM-2666 which intersects with Main St. in the town of Shepherd located on US Highway 59.

The most common surnames found on 5 or more cemetery gravestones include Atkinson, Barnard, Buckalew, Guthrie, Hayman, Lilley, Shirley, Vann, West, Whitmire, Wright, and Youngblood. Some of the first few gravestones encountered when one enters the cemetery gate have the surnames of Wright and Hayman.  

On the left are George Washington Wright (1855-1918) and his wife Theodosia (1807-1860-1947) along with several of their children – Ruby Wright-Lilley (1904-1998), Ruth Wright-McPherson (1901-1996), Hosea Wright (1898-1982), John Allen Wright (1889-1978), Nellie Wright (1878-1912) and Georgia Wright-Watley (1887-1909). On the right are the Haymans – Jeremiah Hayman (1820-1905) and wife Nancy Williams-Hayman (1820-1917).

Hayman family history states, “Two men – Abraham Buckalew and George Washington Hayman – became friends and decided to move to an area they had heard about which had available land with lush forests in Texas.”

George Washington Wright’s mother-in-law was Mary Jane Hayman. She was the daughter of above mentioned Jeremiah Hayman & Nancy Williams-Hayman and the granddaughter of George Washington Hayman – the friend of Abraham Buckalew who helped orchestrate the 500 mile wagon train move from Clark County, Mississippi to San Jacinto County, Texas in 1884.

The general time of the move is legitimized by birth records for George and Theodosia Wright’s children. Their first three children – Nellie, Teresa and Nora Lee – were born in Mississippi in 1878, 1880 and 1882 respectively. The remaining 9 children were born in Texas – Maggie 1884, Georgia 1887, John 1889, Hiram 1891, Ed 1894, Marcus 1896, Hosea 1898, Ruth 1901 and Ruby 1904.

The Wrights initially settled in nearby Magnolia on the west side of San Jacinto Creek but soon moved east of the creek – settling a homestead 1 mile from what is now the Liberty Hill church, school and cemetery. The surrounding community became known as Liberty Hill.

In the memoirs of Ruby Wright-Lilley (youngest daughter of George and Theodosia Wright), “The Wright place was about a mile from the Liberty Hill church, school and cemetery. My parents and grandparents and all the neighborhood went together and built the church and school. The school was taught by one teacher and all the children were in the one room. Each grade had time for classes up to the 8th grade.”

Ruby wrote about the reality of living in a wilderness, “you could hear the pigs squeal and see a bear pick one up, put it on its shoulder and walk on his hind feet just like a person.“

Farming and ranching was the essence of daily life until the advent of World War I when sons of Liberty Hill residents volunteered to serve their country. Three of the Wright boys – Hiram, Ed and Hosea – served overseas.  The youngest brother Mark wasn’t old enough to join and was rejected when he tried to enlist. The other older brothers were now husbands and fathers who felt the need to stay and care for their families and farms. The war ended November 11, 1918 – one week after the death of family patriarch George Washington Wright on November 4, 1918 during the Spanish flu pandemic.

The Wright war heroes returned to the life of farming the old homestead. Unfortunately, the area was deluged in rain the following year. Ruby mentioned in her memoirs that “1919 was a very wet year – it rained & rained – couldn’t get seed up and when any come up, they either drowned or wouldn’t grow. Crops were a failure. That is the thing the boys came home to and Papa gone was just almost too much. The farm looked to them really smaller than it was, for they had seen wide open spaces during the war. They knew there wasn’t room for 4 men to make a living.”

That’s when the Wrights sold their Liberty Hill homestead to Joe Vann. It has been known as the Joe Vann homestead ever since. The 4 youngest boys went with their widowed mother and unmarried sisters via train to northern New Mexico near the Texas Panhandle.

Several family members eventually returned to East Texas when the infamous Dust Bowl disaster (1930-1936) ceased any attempts to farm in north and west Texas. That disaster happened in parallel to the Great Depression which began in October 1929 and lasted until 1939.  During that same period, the old Wright (Vann) homestead became part of the Sam Houston National Forest established on 13 October 1936 and encompassing 3 counties – San Jacinto, Walker and Montgomery. 

A popular aspect of the Sam Houston National Park project was established with an entrance located on FM-2025 a few miles north of the Liberty Hill (aka Hayman) cemetery. It is situated between the community of Liberty Hill and the town of Coldspring and was called the Double Lake Recreation Area. It was built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corp to include a 23-acre lake stocked with bass, bream and catfish and trails that connected to a 128-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail and a 20-mile mountain bike trail that goes around the lake.

The essence of Liberty Hill’s Wright-Hayman family genealogy is a rich one in which Nancy Williams-Hayman is a descendant of Welsh nobility through Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, King of Powys (1025-1073) and his great-grandson named Sir Morgan Williams (1465-1514) – an English nobleman who married Lady Katherine Cromwell (1483-1529). They were great-grandparents to Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector I of England, Scotland and Ireland who ruled in lieu of a King of England for 5 years (1653-1658) and inspired the hearts of the English to turn from Catholicism to Protestantism.  

A lesser known descendant of Morgan Williams was a great-grandson named Roger Williams (1638-1677). He was Nancy’s great-grandfather who arrived in Virginia in 1653 to coordinate business in the New World on behalf of his English merchant father Sydrach Williams. Roger met and married his wife Joanne Thrift (1649-1704) in Richmond, Virginia. He settled in Old Rappahannock County where he established a plantation and remained until his death.  He should not to be confused with his uncle also named Roger Williams (brother of Sydrach Williams) who started America’s first Baptist Church in Providence, Rhode Island.

The next 3 generations – Shadrack Williams (1673-1710), Roger Williams (1700-1767) and Luke Williams (1738-1810) all remained in Virginia. It was the 5th generation Williams in America – Zachariah (1771-1849) who left Virginia between 1820 and 1830 to settle in Jasper County, Georgia along with his younger brother Luke (1779-1860). This is where Zachariah died and was buried at the Williams Family Cemetery in Monticello, Georgia.

The 6th generation Williams of America – John Major Williams (1797-1891) – was also born in Virginia before his father Zachariah moved the family to Georgia. John Major’s first appearance in Texas is documented on 14 July 1859 as having received a patent for 160 acres in Nacogdoches from the Provisional Government of the Republic of Texas, thus qualifying his descendants to be members of the Sons and Daughters of the Republic of Texas.

In contrast, Jeremiah Hayman (Nancy’s husband) has a rich American legacy of his own as a great-grandson of Henry Hayman, Sr. (1634-1685) who arrived in Virginia as an indentured servant in 1650 where he met and married his wife Elinor Smith. Once he completed his indentured servitude of 7 years, he was released from his contract with a bonus and moved to Maryland where he was successful as a plantation owner in Somerset County. Two more generations of Americans – William Hayman (1669-1748) and Nicholas Hayman (1715-1795) remained in Maryland following in their ancestor’s footsteps.

It was Henry Hayman’s great-grandson Samuel Johnson Hayman (1756-1830) who broke the Maryland plantation owner legacy and moved to Alabama.  His son Jeremiah Hayman was born and raised in Alabama but had moved to Clark County, Mississippi by the 1850 U.S. Census along with his wife Lucinda and 4 of their children. They were still living there as of the 1880 U.S. Census.

By the time of the 1900 U.S. Census, however, Jeremiah and his wife Lucinda along with their Mississippi born children had relocated to San Jacinto County, Texas along with a variety of other families from Clark County, MS initiating the legacy of the community of Liberty Hill. 

Janette Goulder-Frick lives in Dayton, Texas (Liberty County). She is a member of the Dayton Historical Society for whom she writes a monthly newsletter about the town’s heritage. The history of Dayton is valued because the town was established by Mexico in 1831 as “West Liberty” due to being located on the west bank of the Trinity River across from the town of Liberty on the east bank. As a result, Dayton inherited the honor of being considered the 3rd oldest town in Texas with a deep and rich history as is the case with its sister city of Liberty. 

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