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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Why was Rebecca J. Franklin Womack buried in Grimes County, Texas?

I was confused for some time about why Rebecca Franklin Womack was not buried with her family in Trinity County.  I finally found her grave in Iola, Grimes County, Texas. She had traveled down to be with her daughter, Mary Ann, who is also buried there, as is Rebecca's other daughter, Sarah Jane. Both were married to the same man; Dr. Theophilus Hill.

Sarah Jane Womack had first married Dr. George Marion Wallace. In 1860 they were living in nearby Angelina County. She had three children; Brink, Lucy, and Elizabeth. We are unsure of how she was widowed, but it was wartime, and her husband died before August 1866, when she married another doctor- James Theophilus Hill. They made their home in Iola, in Grimes County. Sarah had three children with Dr. Hill; Mary Leona, Alma Amerial, and James Abraham.

Although we are uncertain of AJ Womack's exact date of death, we know it was sometime between 1867, when he registered to vote in Trinity County, and 1870, when he no longer appears on the Trinity County census. There is some uncertainty in his burial place at Apple Springs; some say he was buried at Mt. Zion Cemetery, others say at Calvary.

By 1870, Rebecca Franklin Womack was 52 years old and living alone on the plantation with her two youngest sons, Alfred and Thomas, ages 15 and 12. Helping her on the plantation was a newly freed black family, the Scurlooks. Sam was 54, and his wife Melissie 35. They had seven children, and the 82 year old grandmother, Lucie Scurlook, also lived with them on the plantation.

The Hills were back visiting Rebecca on the plantation in 1873. Somehow 5 year old Leona either sickened and died or had a fatal accident. She was buried in Mount Zion Cemetery in Apple Springs.  Two years later, Sarah gave birth to another daughter, Sallie. However the birth was too much for Sarah; she died in early April. She was only 34 years old. Sadly, little Sallie would die as a toddler, in the fall of 1876. Mother and daughter were buried in Zion Cemetery, in Iola, Grimes County.

According to the story by Sarah Miltia Hill, Dr. Hill took the children to live with their grandparents on the plantation (however we know that this included only one grandparent; Rebecca.) Dr. Hill went back to his work, visiting them whenever he could. While visiting, however, he got better acquainted with Sarah's older sister, Mary Ann; a widow with two children who was also back living at home on the plantation. They were married November 30, 1875.

According to Sarah Miltia Hill, Rebecca Franklin Womack returned with them to Iola to help look after all the children. However the 1880 census still shows her as living on the Womack plantation in Trinity County, now age 63, with just her youngest, Thomas "Sweet" Womack, age 22. Her sons, George and James were still living nearby with their growing families.  George and Mollie had Leon 9, Oda 7, Edna 5, and Jennie 3. James and Fannie had Emma 9, Dona 6, and Leona 3.  I think it is likely that Rebecca made extended visits to her daughter and grandchildren in Iola/Madisonville, which was 100 miles away; a long trip by horseback or carriage for a woman in her 60's. She passed away there on July 20, 1882. She was buried at Zion Methodist Cemetery in Iola.

Her daughter Mary Ann lived until June 6, 1897, when she was 59 years old. By then all her children and step/children (also her nephews and nieces) were grown.
Dr. Hill did not pass until 1911, when he was 73 years old. He and Mary Ann were also buried at Zion Cemetery in Iola.

Dr. Hill's family was a complex one; his wife Sarah's children- Brink Wallace, (Elizabeth and Lucy's lives are unknown,) Alma Amerial Hill (a family genealogist and the mother of Sarah Miltia Hill) and James Hill and his wife Mary Ann's children- Laura and George Franklin, and Runie Maude and Rebecca Hill. Rebecca, born in 1878, was surely named after her grandmother, Rebecca J. Franklin Womack.

While researching this family I found that Runie Maude Hill had married, had seven children, and was buried at Madisonville City Cemetery near Iola. One of her sons was William Womack Heath, born in 1903. While teaching, he attended Texas Christian University and the University of Texas Law School. He was not yet legal age when he was appointed the county attorney for Grimes County. After two terms as county attorney he was appointed as a judge. In 1933 he was appointed Texas secretary of state, and then assistant attorney general. He entered private practice in 1937, becoming one of the most prominent insurance lawyers in the country. This success enabled him to buy a ranch near an old friend, Lyndon B. Johnson and he was influential in establishing the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library. He re-entered public affairs in his later years, culminating in being appointed as ambassador to Sweden in 1967. After this he retired to ranching and working with charitable foundations. He died in Austin in 1971 and was buried at the State Cemetery.

Rebecca would have been proud. I wonder if William Womack Heath knew that her father, Henry Franklin, had also been a lawyer and magistrate...

Handbook of Texas Online, Charles Christopher Jackson, "Heath, William Womack," accessed March 12, 2017,


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