Legend holds that Emily Morgan, a beautiful slave girl,
swapped her virtue for Sam Houston's victory at San Jacinto in 1836.
Did the "Yellow Rose of Texas" really exist
or is this just another story from Texas lore?
Views expressed are not necessarily those of The Second Flying Company of Alamo de Parras

April 11, 1998

Of course, she was real. I think the question is whether she was the distraction that made Santa Anna neglect his military duties that day at San Jacinto. You could go on and debate the assertion that she was sent on this mission by Sam Houston — a kind of Texan Marta Hari. I believe definitely yes to the former and although I think it makes wonderful legend, I doubt the latter.

Jeff Pendleton jkpendleton@htcomp.net 

April 20, 1998

James E. Crisp, Department of History, N. C. State University

The short answer to this month's question is: "yes and no."

The long answer is as follows: No, there was no SLAVE girl named Emily MORGAN in Santa Anna's tent. But YES, there almost certainly was a free woman of color on the battlefield at San Jacinto by the name of Emily D. West — a woman who was said by a prominent veteran of that battle to have been in Santa Anna's tent, distracting him at the critical moments of the Texan attack.

The most amazing thing about the legend of this "Yellow Rose of Texas" is how recently it has become a well-known myth. It was not until 1956 that the story was ever published, or known publicly. This was when the papers of British traveler William Bollaert, edited by W. Eugene Hollon, were published by the University of Oklahoma Press. [See page 108 of WILLIAM BOLLAERT'S TEXAS for the following sentence: "The Battle of San Jacinto was probably lost to the Mexicans, owing to the influence of a Mulatto Girl (Emily) belonging to Colonel Morgan, who was closeted in the tent with General Santana, at the time the cry was made 'the enemy! they come! they come!' and detained Santana so long, that order could not be restored readily again."] It should be remembered that Santa Anna had captured and burned the plantation of Col. James Morgan just a day or two before arriving at San Jacinto.

Thanks to this story from Bollaert (and only from Bollaert — there is no other source), the hotel to the north of the Alamo is today known as the "Emily Morgan Hotel," and bears a plaque dedicated to the "Yellow Rose of Texas."

That this sobriquet has been given to the woman in the tent, by the way, is a result of an anachronistic accident. It so happened that when the Bollaert story was first published in the 1950s, Mitch Miller was bringing back into popularity a minstrel song from the 1850s of that name. A lot of people added up 2 and 2 and got 5 — there is NO evidence whatsoever that the song, and thus the name, bears any actual historical relation to the event at San Jacinto or to the woman ("Emily") in question. (For more information on the song and its non-relation to San Jacinto, contact Francis E. "Ab" Abernethy of S. F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.)

It is from James Lutzweiler's persistent research in the Bollaert manuscripts in the Newberry Library in Chicago that we now know the name of the San Jacinto veteran who told Bollaert this story — it was none other than Sam Houston himself! (Lutzweiler discovered the Houston connection in 1996 when he was working on a Master's Thesis under my direction at North Carolina State University. He made public his findings in a paper delivered at the March 1997, meeting of the Texas State Historical Association. Lutzweiler was awarded the Master's degree in History by NCSU in May of 1997.)

It is most interesting that Houston told Bollaert this story just weeks after visiting the deathbed of (and then speaking at the funeral of) Isaac N. Moreland. This man was an artillery officer at San Jacinto who, as a judge in Harris[burg] County, Texas, in 1837, signed the passport application of Emily D. West. Emily West was, said Moreland, a free woman who had come to Texas from New York in 1835 with Col. James Morgan. Significantly, Moreland also attested that Emily had lost her free papers at San Jacinto in April of 1836. (The passport application of Emily D. West, signed by Moreland, is in the Texas State Archives. The Houston letters to his wife relating his last visit with Moreland and the subsequent funeral may be found in the first volume, pages 264 & 268, of THE PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE OF SAM HOUSTON, edited by Houston descendant Madge Thornall Roberts and published in 1996 by the University of North Texas Press.)

It is remarkable that Houston, as President of the Texas Republic, should know, years after the fact, details about this extremely obscure woman of color who served as a cook and housekeeper for James Morgan. Yet, important details of the story he told Bollaert in 1842 have been corroborated, not only by Emily West's passport application, but also by other documents, which have just recently come to light. My own belief is that the story was passed by Emily to Moreland, and thence to Houston. (For more on this aspect of the story, see the article by Bob Tutt in the HOUSTON CHRONICLE of March 16, 1998.) The most important of the recently discovered documents is the employment contract signed in New York in 1835 between Emily D. West, of New Haven, Connecticut, and James Morgan, of Texas. The significance of this document, which surfaced in a manuscript collection that had been put up as loan collateral, was recognized by Dallas attorney Jeff Dunn, who brought it to the attention of Houston-area historian Margaret Swett Henson. (An essay on Emily D. West, written by Henson, appears in the NEW HANDBOOK OF TEXAS, published by the Texas State Historical Association.) The employment contract remains in the possession of the Wells Fargo Bank in California, but James Lutzweiler has recently been given permission to publish a copy of it in an article which he is preparing on the documentary history of the story of the Yellow Rose.

The newfound document, which confirms the data supplied by Isaac Moreland in Emily West's passport application, contains two very important new clues to Emily's identity. The first and most obvious is the identification of New Haven as Emily's home; the second is the signature of one of the witnesses to the employment contract — Simeon S. Jocelyn.

Jocelyn was a prominent citizen of New Haven, best known as an engraver and as an anti-slavery philanthropist who, with his brother Nathaniel, helped to arrange the defense of the AMISTAD captives in New Haven in the late 1830s. Jocelyn was the sponsor of a number of free black organizations and institutions in New Haven. While no further firm connection between Jocelyn and Emily D. West has yet surfaced, and while Emily herself has not yet been definitely found in the New Haven records, one tantalizing bit of evidence has come to light in the past few weeks. While in New Haven in late March (1998) for a conference, I found myself with a few hours to kill. I ended up Yale's Sterling Memorial Library, where I consulted the microfilm of the manuscript census returns for New Haven from the Federal Census of 1830. (New Haven did not have a city directory until 1840.)

As Margaret Henson found a couple of years ago, there is only one "free person of color" by the name of "West" listed for New Haven in the 1830 census, and that is John West, reported to be between 36 and 55 years of age. He was living with a free woman of color between the ages of 24 and 36, but this is almost certainly the former Jane Woodbridge, who married John West in New Haven in 1825, according to the city's Vital Records. But there is one more entry of great interest. Listed as living in a household of seven other persons, all of them designated as "white," is a "free colored female" between the ages of 10 and 24 — a person who would be between the ages of 16 and 30 six years later, at the time of the battle of San Jacinto. The household in question is that of Simeon S. Jocelyn, the man who witnessed Emily D. West's contract with James Morgan!

Is this young woman of color living with the Jocelyn family the "Yellow Rose of Texas"? I think so, but I can't prove it yet. I have on order the microfilmed Jocelyn family correspondence, and I hope to consult before long the New Haven probate and tax records. I have a hunch that there is more information out there, and I invite the readers of this page to join in the search. This is where myth and history come face to face, and there is for me no more fascinating kind of research. I'll let you know if anything else turns up.

James E. Crisp,
Dept. of History, N. C. State University

P. S. My answer has begged the question of whether Emily was "really" in Santa Anna's tent. I can only say that her presence there in the general's service (especially if she were a newly-acquired non-white servant) would have aroused no special suspicion or comment by other Mexican officers, and thus their silence on the matter should not be considered of special significance. There were hundreds of women accompanying the Mexican army in Texas (although most had been left behind on the Brazos by Santa Anna when he took a dangerously small force with him on his final, ill-fated dash against the Texans), and these "soldaderas" who regularly provided domestic services were often known to provide sexual services as well.

P. P. S. For those who might be wondering: yes, I'm the same Crisp who wrote the introduction to the new (1997) Texas A&M University Press edition of the José Enrique de la Peña Diary — in other words, I'm that troublemaker (Randell Tarín's term) who's been messing with the Davy Crockett legend!

See Also:

Historian disputes claim Santa Anna had battlefield tryst
Even if Sam Houston says it's so, the story that a beautiful mulatto girl distracted Santa Anna and helped make the Mexicans lose the pivotal Battle of San Jacinto still doesn't ring true.

'The sweetest little rosebud 'we never knew'
The mystery of Yellow Rose of Texas is still unsolved.