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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

Orange County has historical ties to Texas Independence


Last updated 4/16/2024 at 8:45pm

Events in Texas 188 years ago moved quickly toward Texas becoming an independent nation, and what is now Orange County had a prominent role. One resident signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and another fought at the battle of San Jacinto.

The Battle of San Jacinto anniversary is marked every April 21. The short, 18-minute battle led by General Sam Houston, led to the surrender of the Mexican president and leader Santa Anna. Soon, prisoner Santa Anna was led to the U.S. and New Orleans by way of the Opelousas Trail, which traveled through Orange County across the Sabine River.

In 1836, Texas was part of Mexico after that country had won independence from Mexico. Immigrants from America were moving into Texas and did not like Mexican laws, including one requiring all immigrants to become members of the Catholic faith.

What is now Orange County was carved out of Jefferson County in 1852, after Texas became part of the United States.

A survey of Texas history websites shows the first house in what is now Orange was built in 1824 by Michel Peveto, who had fought for the U.S. in the War of 1812 and participated at the Battle of New Orleans in early 1814.

He and his first wife, Suzanne Hargrave Peveto, built the house for their young children along the banks of the Sabine. Those children included Michel Peveto II, who later fought at San Jacinto.

Anyone who has lived in Southeast Texas notices there are a lot of people with the name of "Peveto." However, records show numerous spellings of the family that immigrated from France to fight in the American Revolution against England.

Other spellings include French versions like Piveauteau, or Pivauteau, to Pevoto or Pevauteau. Michel is the French version of the English "Michael" and some references will list Michael as the name. Also, there may have been a previous Michel Peveto which would give the ones listed here an extra numeral after their name.

Michel Peveto who built the house in Orange was born in 1798 and would have been 15 or 16 when he fought for the U.S. His son, was just as young when he fought for Texas Independence.

Though the Michel Peveto family built a house in Orange, they later moved to a land grant acquired west of the Neches River near what is now LaBelle. Michel II likely would have been living in that area when he joined with General Sam Houston's Texas Militia.

Revolution among the U.S. immigrants had been steaming through 1835 and had heated over into 1836. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the president of Mexico and general of its army, set out for Texas to stamp out the rebellion.

On February 23, 1836, his army circled an old mission in San Antonio taken over by what historians call "Texians," those fighting for independence. During the siege of the Alamo, representatives of settlements met at Washington-on-the-Brazos (River). They wrote and signed a Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico on March 2.

Claiborne West represented Jefferson County in preparing and signing the declaration. At the time, he lived in what would later become Orange County. He lived in what is known as the Cow Bayou Settlement, though according to the late historian Dr. Howard Williams, the exact location has been forgotten.

Orange County's Claiborne West Park is named in his honor and a Texas Historical Marker about him is at the park.

Four days after the declaration was signed, Santa Anna ordered a full-on attack on the Alamo at dawn on March 6. All the fighting men were killed, or soon put before a firing squad if captured.

Three weeks later, Texian rebels at Goliad surrendered to Mexican troops. Instead of being treated as prisoners, they were taken and shot in a massacre.

News of the violence of the rebellion spread through American settlements and many families packed up all the belongings they could to trek eastward to the Louisiana, part of the U.S. The event is called the Runaway Scape. Many of those walking, riding horses or mules, or with wagons being pulled by animals, were women and children. The men had gone to fight.

The cold, rainy winter-spring season made the roads muddy. Contagious sicknesses spread and many died as they tried to escape. Some historical accounts have Claiborne West helping to get food to the people running from Santa Anna and Houston's army.

A lot of them were following the Opelousas Trail, an old cattle trail going from La Bahia, later Goliad, Texas, to New Orleans. The trail crossed through Orange County, where it went across the Sabine River into Louisiana.

Abraham Winfree settled in what is now Orange County in 1830 near the Opelousas Trail. His house became a stop over for people traveling the trail. A historical marker for him says Claiborne West stayed with him before heading to the first Congressional session of the Republic of Texas held in late 1836.

Local stories also have Santa Anna stopping at the Winfree land as he was being escorted to New Orleans to be turned over to U.S. authorities as a prisoner of war.

MIchel Pevoto II turned 17 on March 1, 1836. He fought at San Jacinto on April 21. He died a few weeks later. Some stories have him still suffering from battle wounds, while other family accounts have him getting a sickness. No records exist that show he married or had children.

His father, though, lived to be 83 years old. He died in 1881 in Johnson's Bayou, Louisiana, where several of his offspring had settled. He also left a long family tree with 12 more sons and daughters after Michel.

The Republic of Texas allowed slavery, but legislation in 1837 allowed free Blacks living in Texas before March 2, 1836, to remain free. The Ashworth family, descendants of a free Black who settled in Calcasieu Parish on the west side of the Sabine, crossed over to settle in Jefferson-Orange county in the 1820s. They supported the Texas Revolution.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, the Texas Congress in early 1840 passed a law forbidding the immigration of free Blacks and required that free Blacks living in the republic move within two years or be sold into slavery.

Friends of the Ashworth family petitioned the Texas Congress to support their neighbors as being loyal Texans. In December 1840, Texas Congress passed the Ashworth Act, letting the family stay free in Texas.


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