The story of Emily Morgan is one such tale. Historically, the story goes like this: Emily D. West was born a free black in New Haven, Connecticut, who eventually "contracted" with businessman James Morgan, an entrepreneur who was immigrating to Texas to open a hotel in the newly established community of New Washington. Friend and leader of the Texas fight for independence, Sam Houston, commissioned Morgan into the Texas Army and he was sent to command a defensive troop near Galveston in March of 1836. Emily remained behind in New Washington however, allegedly to administer operations in New Washington's port, a shipping point for supplies earmarked to support Houston's army.
Towering high above the Alamo in downtown San Antonio stands the old Nix Medical Arts Building, a perfect example of Gothic Revival Architecture,
now the elegant home of the alluring Emily Morgan Hotel.
Refurbished and converted in the mid 80s to a luxury hotel, I wasn't certain what to expect when we checked in at the expansive lobby. The last time I had passed through these doors was back in the 1950's when I was a very young patient on the hospital floor of the old building suffering from acute pneumonia. It worked out back then, so I forged ahead. It was a very wise decision.
With a Mediterranean flavor carefully woven into a sophisticated art deco elegance, the interior of the hotel is a delight to see. Historic photos of the original building grace many of the walls of the lobby. The rooms are uniquely designed to incorporate the advantages of the odd-shaped building, a virtual V-shape high rise of 14-plus stories.
The suite we were so carefully assigned was in the front corner of the building, providing us 270-degree vistas of the San Antonio landscape and skyline.
There's a lot I like about the suite at the Emily, but the best and most awe-inspiring view from the room was from within the oversize Jacuzzi whirlpool bath that sports an overly large glass window, overlooking Houston Street many floors below.
I don't remember that view when I was in the hospital. Neither do I remember the view out the windows next to the way-too-comfortable king size bed; double glass windows that look down into the Alamo grounds, a site I couldn't walk away from for the longest time, and one to which I kept returning through out the night and following morning.
There's real history down there below... MORE
Col. Juan N. Almonte, commanding a troop of Mexican Calvary, arrived at New Washington to seize President David G. Burnet, who was embarking on a schooner for Galveston Island that very day. As the president and his family sailed away, the troops seized Emily and others at one of Morgan's warehouses.
According to the Handbook of Texas, as a prisoner of Santa Ana, Emily reportedly caught the eye of the notorious Mexican General, and against her will was forced to his tent where she was kept for his amusement and entertainment. So enthralled with her beauty, myth suggests that the good general was literally caught with his pants down when Sam Houston and friends rode into the fields of San Jacinto and routed the Mexican army in one fell swoop, capturing Santa Ana who was trying to escape.
But the story of Emily West, called Emily Morgan by many, doesn't end here. Myth suggests that Emily may have been the girl they called the "Yellow Rose of Texas," a claim that has been more or less abandoned after an admission that the suggestion was little more than historical poetry offered during a speech where Emily was compared to the girl known as the "Yellow Rose."
None the less, supporters of the Morgan myth suggest Emily may have intentionally remained behind in New Washington, and became prisoner of Santa Ana by design in an effort to distract him and attempt to spy on his plans and troop movements.
Though history fails to prove that theory, there is a great deal of support for the myth. In 1976 a professor of English at Sam Houston State University, Martha Anne Turner, published a small book, The Yellow Rose of Texas: Her Saga and Her Song, an outgrowth of a paper she delivered in 1969 at the American Studies Association of Texas. She later admitted that much of the information, which largely supported the myth, was based upon a speech she heard and on other facts that remain undocumented.
Texans are a curious bunch. In other words, in Texas, it's hard to let a sleeping dog lie. At least that's what administrators of "The Emily" are banking on with a contest being staged to further define the 'saga of Emily Morgan,' and to promote the hotel.
The Emily Morgan Hotel in San Antonio and Friends of the San Jacinto Battleground want your written opinion. They are sponsoring an essay contest seeking written opinions on whether the story is credible based on the known evidence. The hotel is providing the Grand Prize for the person who writes the best essay as determined by a panel of select judges -- airfare for four and a one week stay in the Emily Morgan Hotel including all meals in the hotel’s Oro Restaurant and Bar, valued at around $9,000.00!
The only known account of this incident was written in William Bollaert’s (a visiting Englishman) diary as follows:
“The Battle of San Jacinto was probably lost to the Mexicans, owing to the influence of a Mulatta [sic] Girl (Emily) belonging to Colonel Morgan, who was closeted in the tent with General Santana, at the time the cry was made ‘the enemy! They come! They come!’ and detained Santana so long, that order could not be restored readily again.”
According to historian Jim Crisp in his new book Sleuthing the Alamo, the source for Bollaert’s information about Emily was none other than Sam Houston. Strangely, Bollaert never wrote about the story when he returned to England and there is no corroborating record of the story, from Houston or anyone else, in any known published or unpublished 19th century source.
Historians and the public would not have read about the story except for the acquisition of the diary by a Chicago library in the 20th century and the publication of the diary excerpt in the 1950s. See William Bollaert’s Texas (ed. By W. Eugene Hollon & Ruth Lapham Butler, 1956).
Recent scholarship has uncovered two documents that shed additional light on the “Emily” referred to in Bollaert’s diary and confirm her association with Col. Morgan. Both of these documents suggest that she was a free woman of color, and not a slave, and indicate that her real name was “Emily D. West.”
The first is an employment contract between Emily D. West and James Morgan, dated October 23, 1835 in New York. This contract states that she agreed to come to Texas with Morgan to work for one year as a house keeper at Morgan’s settlement. This contract, now housed at the University of Texas at Arlington Special Collections, also mentions that she came from New Haven, Connecticut, and is witnessed by the famous abolitionist Simeon Jocelyn who was also the preacher at an African-American church in New Haven.
A second document in the Texas State Library reinforces the employment contracts link to Bollaert’s Emily and the West surname. In 1837, “Emily D. West” applied to the Secretary of State for the Republic of Texas for a passport to return home, stating that she lost her “free papers” at San Jacinto in April 1836. This document also states that she came to Texas from New York in 1835 with James Morgan and confirms that she was indeed a woman of color, but not a slave. It also places her at the battleground at the time of the battle, but, of course, says nothing about whether she was in Santa Anna’s tent. Isaac Moreland, who commanded the artillery company at the battle, vouched for the truthfulness of her statement on the application itself. A copy of this passport can be viewed on the Texas State Library’s web site.
These documents and the story as related by Bollaert will be among the topics discussed at the Battle of San Jacinto Symposium to be held on Saturday, April 16 at the Hilton Hotel and Conference Center at the University of Houston. This symposium is sponsored by the San Jacinto Historical Advisory Board and The Friends of the San Jacinto Battleground, among other groups.
“Emily continues to be surrounded by myth and mystery,” said William Brendel, General Manager of The Emily Morgan Hotel. “Imagination is wonderful and we thought an essay contest to hear what people think about her story and possible role in Texas history would be an interesting and fun way to learn more about her, and perhaps help discover new facts and documents.”
For more information about how you can enter the contest, click here.