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Family still lives at former plantation home

By Gheni_Platenburg
June 18, 2012 at 1:18 a.m.
Updated June 19, 2012 at 1:19 a.m.

The Millard Bass home near Coleto Creek was handed down to Jane Joshua and her husband, who were former slaves of Bass. After June 19, 1856, the Joshua family began buying up acreage until they had acquired more than 5,000 acres, where they cut Cypress trees for building materials.

More than 147 years, after slave Jane Joshua took ownership of her former slave master's house, it still stands atop a slight hill near what is now U.S. Highway 77 South.

Situated on what used to be the Rose Plantation near the Guadalupe River, the modest, cypress wood-planked house is a standing testimony to the tenacity of both the house and the Joshua family.

It is a legacy that Monroe Joshua, one of Jane's great-great-great-grandsons, plans to uphold.

"It's been blood, sweat and tears," said Monroe, as he shared what it has been like to help run the family business and renovate the house that once belonged to his great-great-great-grandmother. "But it's a labor of love."

As the Joshua family oral history goes, Millard Bass was an overseer on the Preston Rose Plantation, which had more than 150 slaves, said Joshua.

Bass lived in a house on the property with his wife and their four children, and like his boss, was also a slave owner.

Jane worked for his family as a house slave.

According to the 1860 Federal Slave Census for Victoria County, Archibald Bass, Millard's father, owned six slaves.

It is not known exactly how many slaves Millard had, or how he came to acquire them, but it is known, Joshua said, that Millard fathered four additional children with slave women, including one with Jane.

Sometime after June 19, 1865, when slavery was abolished in Texas, Bass took his family and moved to a house near Saxet Lake, leaving behind Jane and the child they shared.

Upon their departure from the former plantation, Millard gave Jane and her husband, William A. Joshua, his old house.

It was not until the couple's sons, Thomas and Abner, came of age, though, that the boys began buying up acreage around the family home, eventually amassing about 5,050 acres around the Coleto Creek and Guadalupe River bottom areas, as well as around Fleming Prairie Road.

In 1868, Thomas and Abner, along with 19 other former slaves, formed Palestine Missionary Baptist Church, the first African-American Baptist Church in Victoria County.

The church is at 604 E. Convent St.

The family's goodwill did not stop at the church.

They often utilized their own land to help fellow recently freed slaves.

In the early 1900s, Thomas opened a school for black children in the community.

The school, which operated for several years, served students in grades first through eighth. It was located downhill from the Joshua homestead.

Additionally, in 1911, Thomas opened a general store to serve area blacks.

The general store operated through the mid-1940s, even becoming a Texaco station in the 1920s.

"He did a lot of good with his money when he was alive," Joshua said of Thomas.

At some point, Thomas and his family eventually moved to a house near the general store, leaving the house his parents had purchased vacant.

The house would remain deserted until around 1997, when Joshua, tired of the big city life, began making preparations to move from Denver back home to Victoria.

He also set his sights on making over and moving into Jane's old house.

The nearly five-year process to make the house livable proved to be a challenge.

"It was like opening up a can of worms behind every wall we opened," Joshua said.

The house, which had been used to store hay, had to be cleaned out and all the trash and corn husks in the wall, which had served as insulation in the house's early years, had to be removed.

The mortise and peg jointed house had good bones, though, Joshua said, who recalled the house had withstood a number of storms that had passed through the area in the last century and remained vandalism-free.

Although he spruced up the property with modern amenities and increased the house's square footage with additional wings, Joshua worked hard to maintain the character of the house, keeping many of the house's original fixtures, including a fire place, wood floors, upstairs loft and back porch.

While he has not experienced anything supernatural in the house, Joshua said his sister has reported feeling a friendly presence within the dwelling and his now-deceased nephew used to describe seeing apparitions.

In addition to living on the land, Joshua and Vic Salinas, who were raised as brothers, inherited the family business.

Together, the men changed the business name to Thom Joshua Enterprises, L.L.C., after relative Thomas Joshua.

In past years, the family dealt in rice farming and cattle, but today the family business is solely hay grazing, livestock farming, oil and gas revenues and Aunt Jo's BBQ, located in the old general store.

These days, the family is also seeking to get a historical marker and dedication for an old slave cemetery located near Joshua's house under a grove of anaqua trees.

The graves are those of slaves who died on the Preston Rose Plantation, a section of which has been cordoned off to demarcate the Joshua family graves.

"We're hoping it could be a place where people can come here and pay homage to their ancestors, said Michael Nash, curator of the Texas History Room at the Goliad Public Library.

Nash, a historian, is working with the Joshua family to bring the dedication to fruition.

"Whether or not you had ancestors buried here, you can come here and experience history," said Nash.

Supporters are looking to raise funds to go toward a fallen angel monument for the cemetery, signifying the trials and tribulations of the slaves.

After years of dealing with legal issues and gradually selling of bits of the land, the Joshua family still owns about 2,600 acres.

They plan to keep the Joshua demesne in the family for at least another 147 years.

"I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of this family," Joshua said, noting the land and family business will eventually be passed down to his own 23-year-old son and Vic's daughter. "I think if (Jane Joshua) could wake up for one minute, she would be extremely happy the land was still in the family and not sold or given away."

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