Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

Opinion

July 23, 2011

Bob Bowman’s East Texas

Science Hill

JACKSONVILLE —

Sitting atop a scenic hilltop in southwestern Henderson County, Science Hill lasted only a few decades, but its reputation as a center of education is well-remembered by descendants of its founders and builders.

So is its violence in the early days of the Civil War.

The earliest settlers arrived at the hill in 1846. D.M.Thompson and J.D. Jaggers built the community’s first industry, a cotton gin, and carried the cotton as far away as Navasota and Calvert.

But the town’s greatest step forward was the establishment of the Science Hill Academy in 1848 through the efforts of Andrew J. Fowler, Robert Hodge, John Tanner and other members of the Science Hill Masonic Lodge.

Located on the lodge’s ground floor, the academy was ahead of its time for the 1850s with courses that included orthography, Latin, Greek and natural sciences.

Four well-known ministers lived at Science Hill, using their leadership skills and intellect to shape the community. They were Hezekiah Mitchum, who organized the First Methodist Church of Henderson County in 1852; Robert Hodge, who organized the First Presbyterian of Henderson County in 1855; Harrison Rushing, another Methodist minister; and Wes Jackson, a Baptist preacher.

Science Hill Academy lasted only until 1872, the result of the Civil War and its aftermath.

With the eruption of the war, the town found itself caught up in issues such as slavery, which in the 1860s provided the labor on East Texas cotton plantations. As the war exploded, the plantation owners saw their prosperity facing extinction.

As fires erupted in a number of East Texas cities and communities at the peak of the Texas secession crisis, a violent mob rode into southwestern Henderson County and killed three men suspected of being involved in a conspiracy against Science Hill.

It was reported that a slave named Bob belonging to a slaveowner was meeting with two men from Tennessee Colony, who had been harboring escaped slaves and selling liquor to them.

During a community “inquiry,” Bob supposedly said the two white men had supplied him with poison and phosphorous matches and told him the time had come for the blacks to “rise up against their masters.”

Bob was quickly found guilty in a hastily-arranged trial and hanged. The two other men suffered the same fate.

Following the Civil War, Science Hill’s fortune skidded. Its post office, established in 1859, was closed in 1866.

Science Hill’s families began moving away from the hilltop. By 1936, there was nothing left to identify the site of Science Hill except for Patterson Cemetery, which was organized in 1861 on a plot of land owned by John Patterson.

Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 50 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com

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