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Martin Byrd Lawrence story, early 1800s

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Early 1830’s Grimes county pioneer settler Jared Groce knew a good man when he saw him. One of these men was Martin Byrd Lawrence. Groce gave Lawrence the equivalent of 100 acres just over the hill to the east of his Retreat land grant in southwest Grimes County.

Lawrence had a valuable trade. He was a tanner and established the first tannery in Texas in 1833 that included a saddler’s shop and shoe shop adjacent to Groce’s Retreat. Water was a necessity and the flowing waters of nearby Beason Creek fit the need. He also operated a sawmill.

Lawrence was the only son of George Lawrence and his wife Elizabeth. George and his brother Asa fought in the Revolutionary War to be captured by the British, taken to England and held prisoners of war until the Colonies won independence. The brothers stayed in England and were sea captains, but after Asa was lost at sea, George gave up maritime life, returned to America and married Elizabeth Byrd of Virginia. They lived near Knoxville, Tennessee and then relocated to Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Martin Lawrence, born Nov. 23, 1794, grew up and married Mariah Hart Davis, a first cousin of Jefferson Davis, who became President of the Confederate States of America. To this union were born 12 children. Lawrence and his wife lived at Cape Girardeau following their marriage and later in Hempstead County, Arkansas where he first established a tannery.

In 1832, the lure of new land brought Lawrence and his family to Texas. They first settled in Austin’s Colony on the San Bernard River. Fearing the Indians and Mexican Army, they shortly moved north to Groce’s Retreat where it seemed safer. But incidents still did occur and Lawrence and his son, George, were in the party who tried to rescue Cynthia Ann Parker from the Indians. Martin and his son George also joined General Sam Houston’s Independence Army in January 1836. Houston became a friend and frequent visitor in the Lawrence home.

Lawrence died in November 1851 at the age of 57 years leaving his widow Mariah and children.

He is buried on the hill above where the homestead had been built in what today is a small hidden cemetery in a small grove of vine entwined trees surrounded by pasture a good mile off any roadway. There are only five known burials in what is locally known as the Lawrence Cemetery. Also buried there include Lawrence’s wife, Mariah, who died in August 1867 at the age of 63 years; and a son, Algernon Robert Lawrence, born June 1846, who died in June 1869 at the age of 23 of wounds received in the Civil War. Algernon’s burial is the last known in this cemetery.

Two small girls were the first to be buried in this cemetery. Sarah Elizabeth Lane, daughter of Harvey and Elizabeth (Shaw) Lane, born April 1837, who died at the age of two years in July 1839. Sallie Betsey Bennett, daughter of Charles A. and Pauline N. (Lawrence) Bennett, and granddaughter of Martin and Mariah Lawrence, died Nov. 28, 1868 at the age of four years, nine months, 15 days

Lawrence and his wife Mariah had five sons who served in the Civil War. The second son, Groce, was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness. The others were the eldest son, George, and then Edward, Ludwell and Algernon. George married Sallie Howell and reared a large family near Groce’s Retreat. Edward and Ludwell never married and were known around the region as Uncle Lud and Uncle Ned.

Written by Betty Dunn, Two Rivers Heritage Foundation. See www.tworiversheritage foundation.org for more info and membership.