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Cato Morgan (1812?-1887?)

Quilt square of maroon, black and tan fabric, representing a stone mason's puzzle
Cato Morgan, "Stone Mason's Puzzle"

Cato Morgan, born in North or South Carolina around 1812, was purchased by J. H. Polley on 22 September 1836 from James Reed. Morgan and Reed were slave traders that bought slaves in New Orleans at the St. Louis Hotel in New Orleans. Morgan and Reed brought the enslaved people by ship to Anahuac, and then shipped them up the Brazos to Brazoria to be sold to Austin’s Colony.

Cato was a trusted servant of the Polleys. J. B. Polley in his “Historical Reminiscences” writes that Cato “was recognized among his fellow darkeys as ‘Ole Marster’s favorright.’” Cato was an authority around the plantation. Cato was privileged to carry a shotgun and was considered a fairly good marksman. Cato accompanied Polley on many of his cattle drives. J. B. Polley recorded an episode of Cato picking mustang grapes for Mrs. Polley to make preserves and being attacked by Indians. He also mentioned that Cato was a grown slave in 1858 in one of his “Historical Reminiscences.”

Josephine Golson in Bailey’s Light writes: “Cato had married one of the Negro women of a neighboring stockman, so Polley bought the woman and her young son, as he did not think it just to separate mother and child.” Perhaps this son is Bill. Golson lists Bill as one of the enslaved persons that was freed by Mr. Polley. She writes that five children were born to Cato and Melinda, but only lists four—Alex, Bill, Celia, and Elizabeth. Perhaps there was another child that died.

After the news of the emancipation came to Texas, J. H. Polley made a legal agreement with James Bailey, Reuben Robinson, Cato Morgan, Burrell Montgomery, Theodore Henderson, and Albert Nious to employ them as servants until December 1865.

It seems that Melinda and Cato may have separated sometime between 1867 and 1873. Cato Morgan was married again in 1873 to Rachel Wash, whose husband Solomon had died.

On October 16, 1973, Cato was married to Rachel Wash by R. M. Currie and witnessed by H. Stephenson. Rachel brought her own children to the marriage, and Cato and Rachel had one child together, Joe Cato Morgan.

In the 1880 census Cato (65) was living with Rachel (45) with three stepchildren: Orange Wash (14), Anne Wash (13), and Marray Wash (9), and a son, Joe Cato Morgan (6).

In the 1880 Census. the Morgans were listed immediately before the entry for Mary Bailey Polley, indicating that they were neighbors.

Cato Morgan, along with Charles Stevenson, made purchases of land to establish a freedom colony on the west side of the Cibolo Creek.

A few years before Mrs. Mary Bailey Polley died, she sold 5 acres of the original land purchase to their longest enslaved person, Cato Morgan, for $1. Descendants of Cato Morgan are still living on property adjoining the Polley’s land.

This newspaper clipping of an obituary of Cato Morgan was found among the Burges-Jefferson Family Papers, at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. It was probably written by J. B. Polley and published in the Western Chronicle.

Faithful Unto Death

Once more death has claimed one of the pioneers of Wilson County. Cato Morgan, who came with his old master, J. H. Polley, now deceased, to the county in 1847, died at his home on the Cibolo on the night of Sept 21st, at the advanced age of 77. Few better men, white or black, have ever gone to that “bourne from whence no traveler returns.” As a slave he was always faithful and trustworthy and was with several expeditions after Indians in early days; as a freedman, his course was such as to win him the respect of all who knew him and the love and confidence of the family he had served for nearly forty years. He had been in ill health for the last year, but had so improved as to ride about and warrant his faithful wife to leave him at home with the youngest boy, some 13 years old. All alone, with the boy last Sunday night he ate his supper and sank into a slumber which knew no waking. The boy found him at daylight dead. Apparently there had been no struggle and the good old man had died as he had lived, quietly. Let us drop a tear over his grave and remember him as one having a white heart beneath a black skin.

Apart from the last line, the obituary represents high praise and noble sentiment directed toward a good and well-lived life.

Blacks celebrated Juneteenth in 1912 at Morgan Park, in the Doseido Colony, which may have been named in honor of Cato Morgan. Morgan Park has not yet been located.

His quilt square is “Stone Mason’s Puzzle.”


This biographical selection is from The Enslaved People of J. H. Polley Plantation, Whitehall, Sutherland Springs, Texas 1836-1865. The collection is the work of independent scholar, Dr. Melinda Creech. Dr. Creech compiled and presents a biographical sketch of each of the enslaved along with a unique historic Texas quilt for each individual since photos of the 28 enslaved are not available. The collection is available to view in person at the Sutherland Springs Historical Museum.

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