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James Ferguson, early pioneer from Scotland

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

If you believe that all of the earliest settlers of New Braunfels were of German descent, then you will be surprised to learn how many European natives were represented. One of those Ausländers (a person not originally from New Braunfels with a German heritage) was James Ferguson from Scotland, about whom I will tell you in this article.

No list, I don’t care for what purpose, is entirely accurate, and in the case of New Braunfels, the first official list we have of inhabitants came from the 1850 census. According to the census, those of German descent far outnumbered inhabitants of other countries. There were people from Ireland, England and Scotland and there were people from other states who settled here also of Irish, English, Polish and Scottish ancestry. These transplants came to Texas from New York, Connecticut, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Maine, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and then many from other areas of Texas. These non-Germanic people engaged in businesses, merchandizing, ranching, farming, milling and real estate. Most were given land grants and many bought land. They must have had funds to invest. Also on the census were two children native of Mexico and several children born “at sea.”

James Ferguson of Pershire, Scotland is listed on the 1850 Census as being 30 years old. Also in his household was Marie Hessler Ferguson, 32, native of Germany and wife of James; Alexander Ferguson, 24, native of Scotland, brother of James; Margaret Ferguson, 22, native of Scotland and sister of James; and Euphemie, three- months-old born in Texas, daughter of James.

James, as head of the household, not only acquired a vast amount of real estate, but was a successful merchant, and also involved in civic affairs. Scotsman James and his brother-in-law, Heinrich Hessler, from Stuttgart, Germany, were early merchants in New Braunfels. They purchased lots #3 and #4 fronting on San Antonio St. where the Red Stag store is located, and also the lot immediately behind this business, fronting on Castell Ave. Here they put up a two-story building for a mercantile store with their residence upstairs.

Writer Victor Bracht said in his book, “Texas 1848”, that caravans from Mexico stopped at Ferguson & Hessler Store to make purchases and that the brothers had transferred their business from the islands of St. Thomas. Ferdinand Roemer in his book, “Roemer’s Texas”, described the store as containing articles of food, ready-made clothing, shoes, saddles and harnesses, cotton and silk goods, and implements of all kinds.

Heinrich Hessler died in 1849 at the age of 28 as a result of being struck by lightning. His death brought about a partnership between James and his brother, Alexander, and the store then became Ferguson & Brother. Both became naturalized citizens in 1849. The meaning of this is that they did not come directly from St. Thomas to New Braunfels, but that they were in the U.S. or Texas before coming to New Braunfels.

James Ferguson took an active part in civic affairs. He became a city alderman from 1851 to 1854 and a Comal County Commissioner from 1854 to 1856. In 1853 he headed a committee of five men appointed to circulate lists for voluntary contributions to establish a municipal school. He was very successful at collecting these funds which were to augment money appropriated by the city council for the purpose of establishing a city school. This was the beginning of the New Braunfels Academy.

As a county commissioner, Ferguson worked for the building of a courthouse. Heretofore court business had been transacted in various rented buildings, including houses. Abandoning the idea of building a courthouse on the city-owned Comal River, and the other idea of a courthouse in the middle of the Plaza, the Commissioners Court decided to purchase half a lot from James Ferguson located where the Chase Bank is now for the courthouse. Later, on the steps of this old courthouse, Sam Houston made his pitch to Comal County citizens to vote against secession. This courthouse was built in 1860.

James Ferguson died June 11, 1858 and at the time of his death, he was the owner of vast real estate in New Braunfels and the counties of Comal, Gillespie, and Bexar. He not only owned the property on San Antonio St. and Castell Ave. but the lot where McAdoo’s Restaurant is located. He owned 2,046 acres of Potters Survey north of New Braunfels.

James and his brother-in-law purchased 305 ½ acres in Sattler from Jacob de Cordova in 1847. James named the property Marienthal after his wife, Marie, and “thal” in German meaning valley. This property is located on Farm Road 306 about ten miles north of New Braunfels. In those early days this road was just a dirt trail for wagons.

In 1857 the Ferguson brothers deeded Marienthal to Theodore Koester who, acting as agent, sold this farm to Carl Baetge. Carl built a two-story home on the property. This Carl Baetge is the same person whose previous home on Demi John Bend was dismantled and rebuilt at Conservation Plaza. If you haven’t seen the Baetge Home, it’s worth the visit. It is maintained by the Conservation Society. Carl Baetge from Uelzen, Germany, was certified as a civil engineer and went to work for a privately owned engineering company specializing in railroad building. In 1840 he was in Russia as chief civil engineer of the construction of a 420 mile railroad line between St. Petersburg and Moscow for the Russian government. Czar Nicholas I was eager to have the line because it would connect the summer and winter palaces of the royal family. The line was completed in 1846. The Czar awarded Baetge an honorary title for his railroad construction. The plans for this railroad are preserved in the Baetge Home.

Back to other pieces of property owned by Ferguson, there were two lots on Seguin Ave. near the old depot. This property was sold and became the location of the “Orphan Mother Felecites von Fitz” who conducted a Roman Catholic female school, according to historian Oscar Haas.

In Comaltown, he owned 12 lots and a 13 acres tract called “Amistad” farm. The location of this property was along the Comal River. He owned two lots in Fredericksburg, two lots in San Antonio plus 15,860 acres in head-right lands grants in Texas.

Ferguson leaves behind a block-long street or alley called Ferguson Avenue connecting Mill and San Antonio Streets. In 1856 Ferguson owned a 9 ½ acre tract of land outside the city limits that the county needed to construct part of a road. This little road became Ferguson Avenue. His name remains prominent in two places, the name of the street and his name on his tombstone in the Old New Braunfels Cemetery.

Ferguson and Hessler Store built in 1847 (photo 1890) and Texas Historical Commission marker for the New Braunfels Cemetery located on Highway 81.

Ferguson and Hessler Store built in 1847 (photo 1890) and Texas Historical Commission marker for the New Braunfels Cemetery located on Highway 81.