of Morgan's Point refers to an indentured servant, somewhat forgotten in
history for her heroism during the Texas war of independence from
Mexico. Some contend the legend is a myth - not a part of history.
[Abernathy] The historical evidence, however, indicates otherwise.
The legend begins in 1830 with the immigration to Texas of one James
Morgan, an entrepreneur from Philadelphia with extensive holdings.
Morgan was eager to capitalize on the cheap land and business
opportunities in the Mexican colony which would ultimately become Texas.
He formed several partnerships with New York speculators for land deals
in the fledgling colony. However, Texas did not permit slavery and
Morgan had 16 he wanted to bring with him. So to circumvent the law, he
converted his slaves into 99-year indentured servants.
In the years that followed, a scheme was conceived to flood Texas with
non-Mexicans from the United States. To capitalize on that movement,
Morgan returned to New York in 1835 to recruit more workers for his
settlement. One such émigré was a twenty year old woman named Emily D.
West - "an eastern import with extraordinary intelligence and
Emily West was mulatto and possibly from Bermuda, since Morgan brought
many of his workers from this Atlantic island. According to some
records, West volunteered to be indentured, most probably to escape the
prejudice against her mixed race. And, as was the custom for an
indentured worker at the time, she changed her last name to that of
By the following year in 1836, the war for Texas' independence from
Mexico was fully engaged and led by General Sam Houston. James Morgan's
now successful settlement, New Washington, was strategically located
near the mouth of the San Jacinto River. He freely gave his famous
oranges, various grains and fattened cattle to Houston's men. One
particularly strategic parcel of land named Morgan's Point (so called to
this day) extended into San Jacinto Bay. From Morgan's Point, flatboats
were loaded with supplies for Houston.
Thus established as a "friend of Texas," James Morgan was appointed a
Colonel. And in March, 1836, he was assigned to the Port of Galveston
(some 30 miles away) to guard Texas refugees and fugitive government
officials. So that Houston's supply line would continue, he left Emily
West Morgan in charge of loading flatboats destined to feed the army.
By the afternoon of April 18, 1836, General Santa Anna had moved his men
into position to attack the Texas rebels he knew to be nearby. On his
approach was New Washington - now mostly deserted as its inhabitants
fled before his marching army. One of those that remained behind,
however, was Emily, and Santa Anna was immediately struck by her beauty.
The next morning, after his men helped themselves to the crops and
cattle, Santa Anna set about securing one more "spoil of war" - Emily.
He captured her and a young "yellow boy" named Turner loading yet
another flatboat headed for Houston's army. Santa Anna cajoled Turner to
lead his Mexican scouts to the Houston encampment. But as they were
departing, Emily convinced Turner to escape from Santa Anna's men and
rush to Houston's camp to inform him of the Mexican general's arrival.
General Santa Anna believed himself quite the ladies' man. And although
still married to a woman in Mexico, he remarried one of his teenaged
captives from his Texas campaign. But he had been without his most
recent bride for two weeks now. Emily looked like she would make a very
Thus, he ordered the immediate setting up of his encampment on the
plains of the San Jacinto despite protestations from his colonels who
insisted the location violated all principles of wartime strategy. And
they were right. Houston, upon hearing of Santa Anna's location from
Turner, moved his troops into the woods within a scant mile of the
beguiled general's headquarters.
On the morning of April 21, Houston climbed a tree to spy into the
Mexican camp. There he saw Emily preparing a champagne breakfast for
Santa Anna, and reportedly remarked, "I hope that slave girl makes him
[Santa Anna] neglect his business and keeps him in bed all day."
By afternoon, the great final battle for the independence of Texas was
engaged. The Mexican army was caught completely by surprise, and Santa
Anna was literally caught "with his pants down." (Reports at the time
said he was caught running away from the battle with his studded silk
shirt opened and concealed under a dead soldier's blue smock - hurriedly
put on during his attempted escape.)
Emily West Morgan survived the battle and made her way back to New
Washington. Two days later, James Morgan, who had not heard of the
battle, returned from Galveston and Emily told him of her ordeal and the
outcome of the last great battle. The colonel was so impressed with
Emily's heroism, he repealed her indenture and gave her a passport back
to New York - the final chapter of which we have no record.
We do know, however, Morgan made certain everyone knew of Emily's
heroism. He told everyone he encountered or anyone who would listen, and
recorded the story in his journals. Morgan "kept a running commentary on
Texas affairs with Samuel Swartwout, one of Houston's friends in New
York City." [Wisehart] He also told his story to an English friend and
ethnologist, William Bollaert, who recorded the story in every detail.
There are some in recent history who have suggested Emily's efforts were
made because she was attracted to the opulence and good looks of the
Mexican general. But the accounts from those who were there indicate she
was a loyal "Texian" who did what she could for the independence of
Today, the heroic acts of the young woman from New York are still
reverently commemorated by the members of the Knights of the Yellow Rose
of Texas each April 21 at San Jacinto.
To answer the questions, "Is there a Yellow Rose of Texas?" and if so
"What is it?", the answer is there was a "Yellow Rose." But it was not a
"what" it was a "who" - Emily West Morgan.
It follows, then, that we ask "Is there a rose named in honor of Emily
and her heroic act?" Although a possibility, probably not.
In rose literature, the Old Garden Rose most frequently associated with
the "Yellow Rose of Texas" is Harison's Yellow. Let's examine the
In the 1830's, George Folliott Harison was a New York lawyer and amateur
rose hybridizer. He (or possibly his lawyer father, Richard) crossed
what is believed to be Rosa foetida persiana (ÎPersian Yellow') with R.
spinosissima (= R. pimpinellifolia) ('Scotch Briar Rose'). The resulting
hybrid was named Rosa x. harisonii or ÎHarison's Yellow.' [Phillips and
Rix] Although once-blooming, Harison's Yellow was renowned at the time
for its vigor, hardiness, resilience and resistance to disease.
The obvious link between the woman, the song, and the rose is New York
City. Although I could find no record indicating George and/or Richard
Harison were business partners with James Morgan, as "men of means" this
may have been a possibility.
It is almost a certainty the New York press would have picked up on the
tales coming from the Battle of San Jacinto and the subsequent
independence of Texas - especially since James Morgan had business ties
to the city. Almost as certain would be James Morgan's account of his
former servant's heroism - especially since he would have been a
"neighbor" from Pennsylvania with numerous business dealings in New
York; and she would have been considered a New Yorker who had survived a
Texas adventure and returned "home" as a "free woman" to tell about it.
Although I searched the index to The New York Times in great detail, I
turned up no such tales. The index itself is handscribed and annotates
only important stories as they relate to national and state events and
people. "Features" about roses and adventures are not recorded.
The folksong that became so popular also became the theme song for
settlers as they traveled long distances in search of a new homestead.
In the ensuing decades after its hybridization, both preceding and
following the American Civil War, Harison's Yellow was reportedly
carried westward by settlers who planted it wherever they stopped. Even
today, naturalized stands of this rose can befound as far west as New
Mexico and California. [Druitt and Shoup] But it is seldom seen
naturalized in Texas.
Despite its vigor and resilience to the difficult growing conditions in
northern climates, Harison's Yellow does not grow well in Texas where
the growth season is long and summer temperatures are high - most
notably in the central and southern portions of the state. Likewise, it
does not root well from cuttings - the preferred method of transporting
roses by settlers in the nineteenth century.
And what of the comparison between the lyrics and the rose? Is it a
"stretch" to connect the brilliant yellow blossoms of Harison's Yellow
with the lyrics "Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle in the
dew"? Can we compare the fruity scent of the blossoms to "She's the
sweetest rose of color...."? Dare we associate the charming but
ever-so-prickly canes of this rose tothe Mata Hari-like deeds performed
on behalf of the fight for Texas
Again, possibly. There is no way of knowing for certain. But if this
rose was so nicknamed by travelers in search of long-sought goals -
goals commemorated in a wonderful folksong about a Texas heroine - then
indeed Harison's Yellow may well be the "Yellow Rose of Texas."
Abernathy, Francis Edward. Singin' Texas. E. Hearst Press, Dallas,
Beales, Peter. Classic Roses. Henry Holt & Co., New
York, NY. 1985.
Cairns, Thomas, Ed. Modern Roses 10. The American Rose Society,
Shreveport, LA. 1993.
Druitt, Liz and G. Michael Shoup. Landscaping with Antique Roses.
Taunton Press; Newtown, CT. 1992.
Garner, Claude W. Sam Houston: Texas Giant. Naylor Co., San
Antonio, TX. 1969.
Phillips, Roger and Martyn Rix. The Quest for the Rose. Random
House, New York, NY. 1993.
Turner, Martha Anne. Yellow Rose of Texas: Her Saga and Her Song.
Shoal Creek Publishers, Austin, TX. 1976.
Wisehart, M. K. Sam Houston: American Giant. Robert B.
Washington, DC. 1962