Monday, April 20, 2015

Richard E. Byrd, Cousin of D.H. Byrd or not?

In 1937 David Harold Byrd had his photograph published in numerous newspapers across the country in which he was depicted receiving a flag that had flown on both the North and South Poles, carried by George Hamilton Black, a Byrd-Frost employee who  in 1930 claimed that he had been a garage man from Brooklyn, New York when he went to work for Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, then planning his first Arctic exploration to the South Pole in 1929 with private funding. According to the Admiral's archived papers (Box 27 / Folder 1152), he had corresponded with G. H. Black as early as 1926, the same year he wrote to Van Lear Black, publisher of the Baltimore Sun and a close friend to Mr. and Mrs. J. Walter Lord, who had an office in the Maryland Trust Building in Baltimore.

As stated in "Tale about a Tail Number (Part II)":
Even though a photograph of D. H. Byrd appeared in numerous Texas newspapers in December 1932, showing him receiving a flag given him by his "cousin," Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Jr. of Virginia, genealogical records did not at first indicate there was any kinship between the two men. However, as I dug deeper into Byrd's family background, some amazing facts came to light.

Black procured the ship for the Byrd expeditions and later went to work for Byrd-Frost Oil Co. in Texas. Records appear to show that Black was born in Massachusetts in 1896, moved to New York where he enlisted in the Navy in 1917 and served in the military from 1912-1962. [See George Hamilton Black's death certificate, 1965.]

Numerous questions were continued to circle around in my mind:
  1. Was D.H. Byrd really closely related to Richard E. Byrd and Sen. Harry Byrd of Virginia?
  2. Was there any significance to the fact that D.H. Byrd was born in the same small town as John Nance Garner, the former Speaker of the House and Vice President under FDR 1932-41?
  3. Was there any significance to the fact that the family of Mac Wallace, former University of Texas student body president and convicted murderer of Douglas Kinser, came from this same area of Texas? Was Mac a tool of Byrd and Garner before becoming an assassin?
We begin with Question 1.

Texas Roots of Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Jr.

The short answer is that they definitely were not first or second cousins on the Byrd side of the family. The closest possible link dates back to a common ancestor named John Bird, a London goldsmith, born in 1620. One genealogist says this ancestor had families by two different wives, one son being Andrew and another being William Evelyn Byrd. However, a different source says that D. H. Byrd descends from Andrew Bird/Byrd, son of a John Bird, allegedly born in Long Island, New York in 1631. This line migrated first to Raritan, New Jersey, where another Andrew was born in 1695. He married Madelene Jones in Chester County, Pennsylvania, another Andrew Bird was born in  and eventually to Augusta County, Virginia. Richard and Harry Byrd descend from John Bird whose son William Evelyn Byrd, arrived in Virginia.

Nevertheless, Admiral Byrd, born in Maryland in 1888, did have a Texas-born father, Richard Evelyn Byrd, Sr., who was actually born in Austin, Texas, in 1860. That is a story in itself.

Richard E. Byrd's Texan ancestor, Robert Jones Rivers
Richard E. Byrd, Sr.'s father, William Byrd, had been born to an earlier Richard Evelyn Byrd and his wife, Anne Harrison, in Winchester, Virginia. William became a Confederate officer and lawyer, first attending the Old Winchester Academy, then graduating from the Virginia Military Institute, and finally having received a law degree from the University of Virginia.

William Byrd, Texas Lawyer, with Political Connections

Soon thereafter he went to Texas, where in 1853 he became the law partner of Thomas Scott Anderson of Austin. Anderson held the office of secretary of state under Governor Hardin R. Runnels until his defeated by Sam Houston in the election of 1859. Anderson saw to it that his law partner, William, was appointed treasurer for the City of Austin in 1856, only eleven years after the former Republic of Texas had become a state. In those days there were very few adults who were native Texans.

Anderson's bro-in-law
Byrd's partner, T. Scott Anderson married a widow, Mary Walker McNeill Harper, whose father, Angus McNeill, arrived in Texas from Natchez, Mississippi. There he met the famed Jim Bowie, who was destined to die in the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 as Texas began its revolution again Mexico. Angus McNeill sold a Massachusetts textile mill to Bowie before they all set off for Texas. McNeill appears to have been a trader in land claims and had also acquired a great deal of land in Texas through his partnership in Wilkinson, McNeil [sic] & Co. located in Shreveport, La. (See also American State Papers). Angus moved first to Houston in 1837 but eventually settled 70 miles to the west, around Eagle Lake in Colorado County, where he continued to engage in his former real estate speculation business. His son, Col. Harry C. McNeill, a West Point graduate, joined Tom Green’s Brigade of Texas Rangers.

William Byrd married Jennie Rivers, daughter of Robert Jones Rivers, a lawyer in practice with former Virginian, William Jefferson Jones, an old friend of U.S. President James Monroe. After leaving Virginia, Rivers lived in Georgia, working for a newspaper owned by Mirabeau B. Lamar, who enticed him to Texas to run Lamar's campaign for President of the Republic of Texas. W.J. Jones served on the Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas, a job which disappeared in 1845 when Texas was annexed as a state in the Union. At that point Jones became a law partner of William Byrd's father-in-law, R.J. Rivers, who lived in Austin and Georgetown. In 1852 he moved to Columbus and later to Galveston County, in order to help promote the Galveston, Houston & Henderson Railroad at Virginia Point. After two foreclosures by bondholders, the railroad was absorbed by Jay Gould's empire.

When the civil war began, Governor Edward Clark appointed Byrd Adjutant-General of Texas Troops. Clark had been lieutenant governor under Governor Sam Houston, who was forced to resign from office when he refused to take the Confederate oath. As lieutenant colonel in the 14th Texas infantry, Byrd commanded Fort DeRussy in Louisiana, and in March of 1864 was forced to surrender the fort to the Union army. He returned with his wife and children to Virginia after the war. while his superior officer, Edward Clark, and many other Southern Confederates fled to Mexico, led by Gen. Joseph O. Shelby of Missouri, and remained there until Emperor Maximilian was overthrown in 1867 by Benito Juarez.

Jennie Rivers Byrd lived the remainder of her days in the East. Her father, who died in Georgetown, Texas in 1854, had known Sam Houston and his children, one of whom exuded praise for his wit and eloquence. Jennie's two brothers were killed in the civil war, and a sister married and moved to South Texas.

We will explore the other questions set out above in upcoming posts.

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