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Old Washington’s Hatfield

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Basil M. Hatfield, a San Jacinto Battlefield soldier, steamer captain and saloon owner, built a plantation home south of Old Washington. The home still stands in its elegance that travelers along FM 912 get a brief look at secluded behind a meticulously painted white board fence.

The Plantation Home’s Texas Historical Commission historical marker granted in 1966 states: “Built of red brick, white pine and cedar by slave labor in 1853, for Basil M. Hatfield, a San Jacinto soldier whose steamboat plied the Brazos River. His Washington store building was used by the Republic of Texas for its meetings, and here was held its last inaugural ball.” The red brick could have been kilned in Old Washington.

One brief read of this marker can be misleading thinking that the last inaugural ball was at the home, but it was held at the two-story ‘store’ named Alhambra in Old Washington and operated by Hatfield. The ground floor was a saloon and the upper story a gambling hall where the Republic of Texas met in its second post Austin session. The last inaugural ball of the Republic of Texas was held at the Alhambra for President Anson Jones in 1845, merely months before the Republic was annexed as a U. S. state. The Alhambra’s saloon was claimed to be the ‘finest’ in Texas at the time.

Hatfield is known to be at Old Washington before May 1835 as a land grant recipient. The application for the THC marker states Hatfield served at the Battle of San Jacinto with captain Gibson Kuykendall’s Company serving as a “guard of the baggage at the camp opposite Harrisburg.” He would receive several more land grants for his service in the Texas Army from March 1 to May 20, of 1836.

Historically, Hatfield is probably most recorded as the captain of two steamboats that plied below and above the Brazos River, the Washington and the Brazos.

In May 1850, with heavy rains soaking the Brazos River watershed, Hatfield guided the Washington steamer upriver loaded with supplies. He brazenly entered the Little River at its confluence with the Brazos River docking a few miles near Cameron. Crowds lined the riverbanks cheering as the steamer “puffed its way up the then swollen stream.” When the supplies were off loaded, Hatfield put on a several days long ball of continuous feasting and dancing.

The book, “Sandbars and Sternwheelers,” claims the Washington and Brazos steamers were gone from the Brazos River by 1851. They both were heavily “encumbered with debt” to be sold. They were purchased by the Butlers of Galveston and used on the Trinity River.

In the post steamer era, Hatfield, along with operating the Alhambra saloon, became a cotton producer. Hatfield, along with next door neighbor, Thomas Henderson, also a cotton producer, operated a cotton gin and press.

Hatfield must have died between1864 and 1865, as his widow, Ann E. (Baxter) Hatfield, married widower Henderson Dec. 19, 1866. Most likely, though not verified, Hatfield is buried in the Old Washington Cemetery. His wife, Ann, now married to Henderson, died in the early 1870s, leaving Henderson as a thrice time widower.

Written by Betty Dunn, Two Rivers Heritage Foundation. Visit www.tworiversheritagefoundation.org for more information or to become a member.