Monday, May 9, 2011

Moody and Shearn Families

In 1890 William Lewis Moody, Jr. of Galveston was married to Libbie Rice Shearn, "daughter of the late John Shearn, one of Houston's old and well known citizens." John Shearn was, of course, the uncle of Col. Edward M. House, who was still to become the so-called "trusted adviser" of President Woodrow Wilson. There was an intricate web of relationships that connected the two families and also the investments they held in businesses in both Houston and Galveston. Both Judge Shearn, son John, and daughter Mary had been born in England, coming to Texas before the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto. Mary would grow up to marry another Englishman transplanted in Texas, Thomas W. House who arrived in Texas via New York and New Orleans after those famous battles but while Texas as still an independent republic before annexation to the U.S. John married a girl named Kate McAshan while he was a student in Fayette County and later moved most of her family to Houston, where her brother became the manager of the T.W. House Bank. Both John Shearn and his brother-in-law, T.W. House, were officers in the Ship Channel Company organized in 1869.

John and Kate Shearn's daughter, born in 1869, who may have been named for Elizabeth--the second wife of William Marsh Rice, a co-investor with T.W. House in numerous business endeavors--was thus Colonel House's first cousin, although more than ten years younger than he. According to Henry Wiencek's recent book, The Moodys of Galveston and Their Mansion, Col. House recommended Libbie's husband for a position within Wilson's treasury department in 1912, but Moody was too busy at the time to accept the appointment.

A grey-haired woman walked into an office in Galveston, Texas' American national Insurance Co. building one day last week, sat down at a desk and began signing her name to a stack of documents. Mrs. Mary Moody Northen, 62, was formally taking over as head of the $400 million empire left by her father, W. L. Moody Jr., who died at 89 as one of the ten richest men in the U.S. (TIME, Aug. 2).

Under his will his daughter was named president or board chairman of some 50 corporations that he controlled. Ownership of the corporations was left to the Moody Foundation, a charitable trust that he set up to save his empire from being broken up to pay inheritance taxes. Mrs. Northen, as foundation chairman, and four other trustees-will vote the stock, thereby control the Moody companies. Among them: a chain of 30 hotels, three banks, eleven ranches, two daily newspapers, a commercial printing plant, a cotton company, and the American National Insurance Co., whose assets of $364 million make it the biggest ($3 billion of policies in force) west of the Mississippi River.

Growth of an Empire. The Moody empire was welded together by a soft-talking, hard-dealing man who was regarded by his business associates as a genius, and by his poorly paid employees as a miserly tyrant. For nearly half a century he controlled Galveston. Although he neither smoked, drank nor played cards for money, he did not object if others did. In fact, he allowed Galveston Island to become the gambling mecca of Texas, and Galveston to become the state's only city with open saloons. Although he owned no gambling hall, he welcomed the tourists that gambling brought to his hotels and made loans to the notorious Maceo syndicate that ran the gambling.

His sharp bargaining led to many disagreements, but the old man never argued with anyone. After a falling out in 1950 with his only living son, William L. Moody III, who had been his executive director for ten years, the old man stopped speaking at all in his son's presence, later cut him off in his will with $1. Yet he named William Ill's son a foundation trustee. But Mary Moody was clearly her father's daughter. As a child, she had no formal schooling. Says one who knows the family well: "She didn't want to go to school so she just didn't go." Now and then private tutors taught her until she was 16. But most of the time she just stayed around the house reading newspapers, particularly the want ads and property transactions. She belonged to no social organization, had few, if any, friends.

In young womanhood she spent much time riding horses on her father's ranches. It was her habit to arise at 2 p.m., have breakfast and stay up until dawn of the next day. When she became interested in a young hotel clerk, Edwin Clyde Northen, her father advised him to get into the insurance business and, after they were married, helped him. They had no children, and in recent years Mrs. Northen spent most of the time with her father. Her husband died in May.


William Lewis Moody, Jr., financial magnate and entrepreneur, was born in Fairfield, Texas, on January 25, 1865, the son of Pherabe Elizabeth (Bradley) and William Lewis Moody. He was a sickly child, one of only three of the six Moody children who lived to adulthood. At the age of nine he was sent to Roanoke, Virginia, to attend Hollins Institute. After a time at two other boarding schools in Virginia, he went to Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. In 1884–85 he and his brother Frank went to Germany to further their education. After returning home Moody briefly studied law at the University of Texas before joining his father's firm on his twenty-first birthday in 1886. Moody married Libbie Rice Shearn of Houston at Hull, Massachusetts, on August 26, 1890. After a brief stay in New York as the representative of W. L. Moody and Company, he closed the New York office, and the Moodys returned to Galveston. They had four children, Mary Elizabeth (Mrs. E. C. Northen), William Lewis III, Shearn, and Libbie (who married Clark W. Thompson III). Shearn died of pneumonia in 1936, but the other three outlived their father. Mary Moody Northen became the head of the family enterprises on her father's death.

Moody persuaded his father to open a bank in 1889. Later, the family acquired the National Bank of Texas, which became the W. L. Moody Bank. In 1907 Moody opened the City National Bank, which later became Moody National Bank. Upon his father's death in 1920, he became president of W. L. Moody and Company, Bankers, and the W. L. Moody Cotton Company. Moody had entered the insurance business in 1905 by helping to organize the American National Insurance Company. In 1908 he bought out his partners and was able to take advantage of new state laws designed to encourage insurance firms in Texas and expand the company. In 1920 he established the American Printing Company of Galveston. In 1927 he formed the National Hotel Corporation, which built such hotels as the Buccaneer and the Jean Lafitte in Galveston and acquired a number of other hotels including the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, the Galvez in Galveston, Mountain Lake in Virginia, and the Hotel Washington in Washington, D.C. Moody purchased the Galveston News, the oldest continuously operating newspaper in Texas, from Alfred H. Belo in 1923; three years later he acquired the Galveston Tribune. He also owned as many as eleven ranches in Texas and Oklahoma. Although not a true cattleman, he enjoyed the ranches and used them for duck hunting and fishing, his primary forms of relaxation, as well as for cattle, sheep, and goat raising.

While not as active as his father in Democratic politics, he was involved in Pat M. Neff's bid for the presidential nomination in 1924 and was a member of the Texas delegation to the 1924 convention. He remained close to William Jennings Bryan until Bryan's death in 1925. Moody served one term, 1921–23, as treasurer of the city of Galveston. He also was a colonel on Charles A. Culberson's staff in the Texas National Guard. Moody's legacy to the people of Texas was the Moody Foundation of Galveston, established by Moody and his wife in 1942. The foundation focused on a small number of projects, including the Moody State School for Cerebral Palsied Children, before Moody's death. When the estate was transferred to the foundation on December 29, 1959, the foundation became one of the largest in the United States. It continues to be a major force in health, historical preservation, and education. Moody was active until two days before his death, on July 21, 1954.

The census takers, strangely enough, misspelled Libbie's name in both the 1870 and 1880 census years, the first time calling her "Blancher," and ten years later "Sabbie."


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading your Quixotic Joust post. My great-grandmother was Mary Elizabeth Shearn and the sister of Libbie Rice Shearn. I'm always looking for a "Shearn" relative. Haven't run across any so far.
Katherine Arth

Hanoi said...

This isnt really impressive to me at all knowing this man stole my family oil rights and when my grandmother'grandma died he transfered their land which is still pumping oil today into his name and these people are so rich while my family is poor and work hard all our lives and die horrible deaths while they prosper and its nothing on this earth that if they wanted it they could by it when I struggle day to day just to pay rent lights pay my car note yes this is true and it's simply not fair

Hanoi said...

Yes this is true

Anonymous said...

Was anyone familiar with Colonel Shearn and family...great grand sons were James and Matthew Shearn...Resided in Murfreesboro (Hertford County), NC for the past 90 or so years....