Emily Morgan, the Myth
Emily D. West, the Origin?


(Ed. note: The following is from a press release for a 2005 essay contest sponsored by the Emily Morgan Hotel in San Antonio and the Friends of the San Jacinto Monument. )

Was the April 21, 1836 battle of San Jacinto lost by the Mexican Army because General Santa Anna was preoccupied with a young mixed race woman in his tent just as the battle commenced? One of the most sensational stories of this decisive battle in which Mexico lost its claim to Texas is shrouded in mystery and myth, but the story originates from an authentic diary entry made in 1842 by an Englishman who was visiting Texas at the time. The question that Texas historians hotly debate is whether that evidence is credible enough to be believable.

The only known account of this incident was written in William Bollaertís diary as follows:

"The Battle of San Jacinto was probably lost to the Mexicans, owing to the influence of a Mulatta [sic] Girl (Emily) belonging to Colonel Morgan, who was closeted in the tent with General Santana, at the time the cry was made Ďthe enemy! they come! they come!í and detained Santana so long, that order could not be restored readily again."

According to historian Jim Crisp in his new book Sleuthing the Alamo, the source for Bollaertís information about Emily was none other than Sam Houston. Strangely, Bollaert never wrote about the story when he returned to England and there is no corroborating record of the story, from Houston or anyone else, in any known published or unpublished 19th century source. Historians and the public would not have read about the story except for the acquisition of the diary by a Chicago library in the 20th century and the publication of the diary excerpt in the 1950s. See William Bollaertís Texas (ed. By W. Eugene Hollon & Ruth Lapham Butler, 1956). All the buzz about the story originated at that time.

Who was this mixed race girl, Emily, belonging to Colonel Morgan? Was this story made up to impress an unsuspecting English traveler? Many historians in the 1950s and 1960s took the story at face value and assumed Emily was the slave of Col. James Morgan, who founded a settlement on Galveston Bay about eight miles south of where the battle was fought. Santa Anna arrived at this settlement, then called New Washington and today known as Morganís Point, only a few days before the battle. He burned Morganís buildings on April 20 just prior to marching to the present site of the battleground and encountering the Texas Army later the same day. There is evidence that some of Morganís servants, who were captured, were taken with him to the battleground.

Historians assigned "Emily" the last name of Morgan following a Southern tradition. To jazz up the story, several suggested that "Emily Morgan" was the inspiration for the popular song, "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Although the evidentiary linkage to the song has now been discredited, Emily has since been linked in the publicís mind, at least, as the Yellow Rose of Texas.

Recent scholarship has uncovered two documents that shed additional light on the "Emily" referred to in Bollaertís diary and confirm her association with Col. Morgan. Both of these documents suggest that she was a free woman of color, and not a slave, and indicate that her real name was "Emily D. West." The first is an employment contract between Emily D. West and James Morgan, dated October 23, 1835 in New York. This contract states that she agreed to come to Texas with Morgan to work for one year as a house keeper at Morganís settlement. This contract, now housed at the University of Texas at Arlington Special Collections, also mentions that she came from New Haven, Connecticut, and is witnessed by the famous abolitionist Simeon Jocelyn who was also the preacher at an African-American church in New Haven.

A second document in the Texas State Library reinforces the employment contractís link to Bollaertís Emily and the West surname. In 1837, "Emily D. West" applied to the Secretary of State for the Republic of Texas for a passport to return home, stating that she lost her "free papers" at San Jacinto in April 1836. This document also states that she came to Texas from New York in 1835 with James Morgan and confirms that she was indeed a woman of color, but not a slave. It also places her at the battleground at the time of the battle, but, of course, says nothing about whether she was in Santa Annaís tent. Isaac Moreland, who commanded the artillery company at the battle, vouched for the truthfulness of her statement on the application itself. A copy of this passport can be viewed on the Texas State Libraryís website, http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/treasures/characters/west-passport.html.

"Emily continues to be surrounded by myth and mystery," said William Brendel, General Manager of The Emily Morgan Hotel. "Imagination is wonderful and we thought an essay contest to hear what people think about her story and possible role in Texas history would be an interesting and fun way to learn more about her, and perhaps help discover new facts and documents."

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