Alexander Mackey Brooks (1808-1899): Information about His Second Wife Aletha Sorrells

As the posting I just linked above and a subsequent one tell you, Glass’s undated genealogical files and collections of documents are held by the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research in Houston. These and all of Glass’s files held by the Clayton Library have been microfilmed and digitized by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and are available online at the FamilySearch site. As you’ll see if you click on this link, there are many more collections of material compiled by Glass than the three I’ve just cited, available digitally via FamilySearch, including more collections focusing on Aletha Sorrells and the Hope family of her first husband James Hope.

George W. Glass’s Interest in Documenting Aletha Sorrells’s Life

A primary reason that Glass researched James Hope and Aletha Sorrells so extensively is that the lawsuit discussed in both of the two previous postings linked above, the 1895-7 Brazos County, Texas, District Court case Mary J. Harriman et al. vs. D.C. Giddings et al., centered on a question about the legitimacy of Aletha Sorrells’s marriage to James Hope — or even whether a marriage between Aletha and James ever took place.[1] As this preceding posting explains, at issue in the Harriman-Giddings lawsuit was ownership of 6,000 acres of land on the west bank of the Brazos River near the mouth of Yagua Creek in Burleson County, Texas, that had belonged to James Hope. 

Prior to marrying Aletha Sorrells, James Hope had had two previous wives, with a number of children by his first wife Mary England. He then had children by Aletha Sorrells. Some of the children by wife Mary England had asserted exclusive ownership of Hope’s land by his first set of children, with claims that he had not ever married Aletha Sorrells, and that his children by her had no legitimate claim to the land. 

George W. Glass was a descendant of James Hope and Aletha Sorrell’s daughter Mary. As a genealogist and also a descendant, he had a strong interest in untangling this tangled family history and in documenting it — and perhaps in vindicating the impugned virtue of his ancestor Aletha Sorrells. One of his important discoveries, years after this trial was dismissed when the litigants chose to settle out of court, was the marriage record of James Hope and Aletha Sorrells in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, on 10 March 1824. He proved what was contested and never resolved in the Brazos County lawsuit — namely, that Aletha and James were legally married and James’s children by Aletha were legitimate heirs to James’s property.

Aletha’s Birth in Georgia and Early Life

Here are the bare bones of what I know about Aletha Sorrells from Glass’s research — and for anyone interested in her and her story, there’s much, much more than I’m telling you here in his extensive files. Aletha Sorrells was born 3 April 1807 in Georgia and died 3 December 1885 in Houston, Harris County, Texas. These dates of birth and death were recorded by Alexander M. Brooks in a family bible about which he deposed in Mary J. Harriman et al. vs. D.C. Giddings et al. in Houston on 1 November 1895. As the posting I’ve just linked states, Glass transcribed Alexander’s testimony and the bible record from the trial documents.[2] The transcript of the bible register provided by Glass (from Alexander’s 1895 affidavit) shows that Alexander M. Brooks had written in his bible that his wife Aletha was born in “Savania” (i.e., Savannah), Georgia. 

As we’ve also seen in a previous posting, Aletha’s tombstone in Glenwood cemetery in Houston, which was moved there from her original burial place, Houston’s old city cemetery, has the same dates of birth and death.[3] A photograph of the tombstone is at the posting I’ve just linked. A digital image of Glass’s transcript of the Brooks bible register is at the posting linked in the preceding paragraph.

In his “Hope Family Notes [and] Notes on Aletha Sorrels Hope,” Glass offers conflicting information on Aletha Sorrell’s parentage and ancestry.  In one note, he suggests that Aletha’s parents were perhaps George Washington Sorrells (1784-1855) and Mary B. Chalmers, who moved to Clark County, Arkansas, from Elbert County, Georgia, by 1828. Elsewhere, he says that Aletha was probably the daughter of Samuel Sorrells of Burke County, North Carolina, who came to Georgia between 1800 and 1804, and died in Elbert County in 1811, with his family then moving to Wilkinson County, Mississippi. Glass thought that Aletha was likely born in Elbert County, Georgia, and not in Savannah. As far as I can determine, he never succeeded in identifying Aletha’s parents with certainty.

Alexander M. Brooks’s 1 November 1895 affidavit in Brazos County, Texas, District Court case #2809, 15 March 1895-15 October 1897, Mary J. Harriman et al. vs. D.C. Giddings et al., as transcribed by George W. Glass in “Hope Family Notes [and] Notes on Aletha Sorrels Hope

When he deposed on 1 November 1895 in the Brazos County lawsuit, Alexander M. Brooks was asked what he knew of Aletha’s early life, where she was born and grew up, whom she had married prior to marrying him. He stated that Aletha was born in Savannah, Georgia, and that her father had brought the family to Mississippi, where she grew up before meeting and marrying her first husband James Hope.

Aletha’s Marriage to James Hope in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, 1824

Glass’s “Hope Family Notes [and] Notes on Aletha Sorrels Hope” state that on 25 October 1968, he had received a copy of the record of Aletha Sorrells’s marriage to James Hope on 10 March 1824 in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. Glass’s notes say that at the time of her marriage to James Hope, Aletha was perhaps working as a seamstress for James, who may have been, according to some family stories, a tailor in St. Francisville, Louisiana, and who had been prior to his emigration to America a slipper maker in London. Glass’s notes reproduce a manuscript written about 1920 by James’s granddaughter Ann A. Shapard, a daughter of Thomas J. Shapard and Ann Hope, which says that James Hope and Mary England were married in St. Mary’s Chapel, London, and that he was a slipper maker at the time and owned a tannery in London.  

Ann Shapard recollections (p. 1), ca. 1920, in George W. Glass in “Hope Family Notes [and] Notes on Aletha Sorrels Hope

Shapard says the couple emigrated shortly after their marriage, arriving in New York with a newborn son, their first child, Prosper, who was born at sea. Shapard states that this information came from James Hope’s family bible, which she saw as a young woman. Shapard says that the birthplaces of James and Mary’s children as indicated in the bible register show that the family lived a number of places while making its way to the Southwest. 

Other records apparently indicate that James Hope worked as a cordwainer in Louisiana. James Hope was born about 1775 in England, according to Glass, and Aletha was many years his junior. She was younger, in fact, than some of his children by his first wife Mary England. According to Glass, family stories tell of resentment among some of James’s children by Mary England when their father married a woman over thirty years his junior and had children by her. These children spoke of the marriage as shameful, and it was their descendants who sought to deny that the marriage had occurred in the trial over the Hope land. Other of James’s children by his first wife maintained a close relationship with Aletha and husband Alexander M. Brooks, however, according to Glass, and visited the couple in their home in Houston.

For example, in his 1 November 1895 affidavit in the Brazos County lawsuit, Alexander M. Brooks testified that James Hope’s daughter by Mary England, Augusta Hope Chriesman, spent the winter of 1852 or 1853 with him and Aletha at Bastrop, and that a brother of Augusta whose name Alexander’s affidavit does not state lived in Houston and stayed with him and Aletha for a period of time. Augusta Hope married Horatio Chriesman (1797-1878), a Virginia native who was a surveyor of Kentucky and Missouri, and who took part in the Texas Revolution and was mayor of San Felipe afterwards.

Mary England Hope died in 1821 at St. Francisville and James Hope then married Elizabeth in 1822 in Feliciana Parish (later West Feliciana Parish), Louisiana, according to Richard S. Boswell, a descendant of James Hope, who sent me valuable information about James Hope in a 9 March 1999 email. Richard Boswell states, 

I have two dates for his marriage to Mary England, 1797, St. Mary’s, London and Mar. 15, 1801 in Sheffield, England. Haven’t been able to verify either. I am hoping that I can find out where they came from and what families they belong to. James’ second wife was Elizabeth Jack, married in 1822 in West Feliciana Parish, and she was from England as well. I assume they divorced, not sure about that either, but I do know that her second husband was a Bowering and had a daughter named Elizabeth Bowering Jack — which has caused some confusion.

Biographical Information about James Hope

Biographical information about James Hope at his Find a Grave memorial page provided by Janice Sperling and Ken and Nancy Black says that James married Elizabeth Jack on 5 November 1822 in Feliciana Parish, and that she died 10 January 1823 in St. Francisville.[4] Richard Boswell also notes, “West Feliciana Parish (just Feliciana Parish then), Louisiana was a haven for English merchant families, of which James was one of them, and apparently at the time was already somewhat wealthy.”

James Hope’s biography in Handbook of Texas states that he came to Texas from Louisiana prior to 10 July 1824 as one of the Old Three Hundred colonists in Stephen F. Austin’s colony, in which he received 1¼ leagues and two labors of land in what’s now Brazos County.[5] According to this biography, James exchanged his league for that of Bluford Brooks by the end of March 1825. The March 1826 census of Texas shows him as a farmer and stock raiser aged forty to fifty, with a household including wife Aletha, sons Prosper, Adolphus, and Richard, six daughters, and a servant. In January 1827 at Mina, he signed a declaration of loyalty to the Mexican government. In 1829, he bought garden lots and on 29 May 1830, he advertised in the Texas Gazette that he had garden seed from Connecticut and fruit trees for sale at San Felipe.

The biography also notes that on 10 January 1832, James Hope advertised in the Texas Gazette that he was leaving for England with his son Richard to be in charge of his father’s 15,000 to 20,000 peach and nectarine trees. In his 1895 affidavit in the Brazos County lawsuit, Alexander M. Brooks stated that Aletha had told him James was presumed to have been lost at sea on his voyage returning from England, since the ship carrying him back to the United States apparently sank. 

According to the biographical information uploaded to James’s Find a Grave memorial page, a 5 January 1835 letter of a merchant, Nicholas Clopper, in the San Jacinto district of Austin’s colony to his children in Cincinnati states that James Hope had returned to England to receive a legacy left to his step-daughter Elizabeth Jack Bowering, daughter of James’s second wife Elizabeth Jack, and it was evident to his family by January 1835 that he would not return and his ship was presumed to have sunk.[6] A brief biography of James at the Burleson County, Texas, USGenweb site states that there is an historical marker in the San Felipe de Austin cemetery stating that he died in 1836.[7]

A section of Glass’s “Hope Family Notes [and] Notes on Aletha Sorrels Hope” entitled “The Subsequent Marriages of Alethea Sorrels” discusses the dates and places of Aletha’s marriages following James Hope’s death — first to James Freel or Freels, then Edward Patterson, and after that Joel Pierce. Glass states that Aletha Sorrells Hope married James Freel(s) on 28 April 1834 in San Felipe de Austin. 

Aletha’s Marriage to James Freel in San Felipe de Austin, Texas, 1834

Sam Houston Dixon and Louis Wiltz Kemp, The Heroes of San Jacinto (Houston: Anson Jones, 1932), p. 189

A brief biography of James Freel(s) is found in Sam Houston Dixon and Louis Wiltz Kemp’s The Heroes of San Jacinto.[8] This states that he was born in Ireland and came to Texas in 1833, where he was a blacksmith and served as 2nd corporal in Capt. Baker’s company, being entitled to receive land at Houston, which he sold on 22 January 1837.

Aletha’s Marriage to Edward Patterson in Houston, 1840

In his “Aletha Sorrels Hope Freel Patterson Pierce Brooks” collection of notes, Glass indicates that Aletha and James Freel(s) lived in San Felipe until 1836, when the couple moved to Harrisburg, now a part of Houston.  James Freel died there around 1837, and on 18 November 1840, Aletha then married Edward Patterson in Houston. Edward was evidently a Georgian, as Aletha was; during the Texas Revolution, he served as a 1st sergeant in Captain Isaac Ticknor’s 4th Georgia Battalion, 1st regiment of Texas Volunteers, being given a land grant of over 3,000 acres for his service.[9]

Aletha’s Marriage to Joel Pierce in Houston, 1842

Glass thinks that Edward Patterson died in 1841. Then on 29 December 1842 in Houston, Aletha married Joel Pierce.

By 21 September 1843, Pierce had deserted Aletha and disappeared from Houston, according to Glass. On 6 September 1848, Aletha filed for a divorce from Patterson, stating that he had deserted her. Glass says that the divorce petition was published for three consecutive weeks in the Telegraph and Texas Register. Pierce did not respond to the citation and was thought to have left Texas and possibly to have remarried, and Aletha then made no further effort to obtain the divorce.  Aletha then married Alexander M. Brooks on 1 January 1849, in Houston, having abandoned the divorce petition as futile, given Pierce’s refusal to answer it and the presumption that he had remarried. The petition remained on the docket of Harris County’s district court for several months after her marriage to Alexander M. Brooks.  

Glass thinks that Joel Pierce may have, in fact, still been living in Texas in 1850, and had relocated to Grimes County. Glass bases this assumption on the 1850 federal census, which lists a Joel Pearce, aged 46, born in North Carolina, living in Grimes County and working as a saddler.[10]

Remembrances of Aletha by Granddaughters Mary Jane and Frances Moffatt

In an affidavit she gave in Houston on 4 September 1896 in the Mary J. Harriman et al. vs. D.C. Giddings et al. lawsuit, Mary Jane Moffatt Harriman, Aletha’s granddaughter, stated that her  grandmother Aletha had a daughter by James Freel(s), who died at about age 5, and she then had twins by Edward Patterson, which died when only a few days old. A transcript of this affidavit is in Glass’s “Hope Family Notes [and] Notes on Aletha Sorrels Hope.”

In the same affidavit, Mary Jane Moffatt Harriman states that she came to live with Aletha and her husband Alexander M. Brooks when Mary Jane’s mother Mary Hope Moffatt died in Mary Jane’s eighth year of age, and Mary Jane continued living with her grandmother and Alexander M. Brooks until she was seventeen. The previous posting discusses this and cites a 1939 interview of Glass with Mary Jane’s sister Frances Moffatt McCarty that provides more information about the circumstances in which Mary Jane, Frances, and their sister Kate came to live with their grandmother Aletha and her last husband Alexander M. Brooks. 

In this oral interview, Frances remembered her grandmother Aletha as a tiny woman, a devoted wife, mother, and grandmother, who was a devout Methodist and one of the first members of the Old Shearn Methodist Episcopal church in Houston. Frances also remembered that, as with many older women of Aletha’s generation, her grandmother smoked a corncob pipe.

For information about Aletha’s death and an obituary, see the previous posting.

[1] Brazos County, Texas, District Court case #2809, 15 March 1895-15 October 1897, Mary J. Harriman et al. vs. D.C. Giddings et al.

[2] George W. Glass, “Hope Family Notes [and] Notes on Aletha Sorrels Hope,” transcribing 1 November 1895 affidavit of Alexander M. Brooks in Brazos County, Texas, District Court case #2809, 15 March 1895-15 October 1897, Mary J. Harriman et al. vs. D.C. Giddings et al.

[3] See Find a Grave memorial page of Aletha H. Sorrels Brooks, Glenwood cemetery, Houston, Harris County, Texas, created by bgbutler with tombstone photo by bgbutler.

[4] See Find a Grave memorial page of James Hope, buried or lost at sea, created by imagraver.

[5] “Hope, James,” Handbook of Texas, at the website of Texas State Historical Association. No author is given. 

[6] See supra, n. 4.

[7] See Find a Grave memorial page of James Hope, San Felipe de Austin cemetery, Austin County, Texas, created by SpiralDownwards. This makes no mention of an historical marker in the cemetery naming James.

[8] Sam Houston Dixon and Louis Wiltz Kemp’s The Heroes of San Jacinto (Houston: Anson Jones, 1932), p. 189.

[9] See Claude Elliott, “Alabama and the Texas Revolution,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 50,3 (January 1947), pp. 315-328; muster roll of Capt. Isaac Ticknor’s 4th Georgia Battalion, 1st Regiment of Texas Volunteers, at the Index to Military Rolls of the Republic of Texas, 1835-1845 section of Texas State Historical Association website; “Goliad Region January-27 March 1836, Johnson & Grant & Colonel James Fannin’s Command,” at the Sons of DeWitt Colony Texas website; and Find a Grave memorial page of Edward Patterson, burial details unknown, created by imagraver.

[10] 1850 federal census, Grimes County, Texas, p. 372A (dwelling 142/family 156; 26 October).

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