Mary loved Texas! And as a nationally known author, that love permeated her literature. Stirred by her writings, many people from the United States sold their homes and moved to Texas, “a splendid country – an enchanting spot.” Indeed, who would not be enticed to move to Texas when Mary described it as “a tract of surpassing beauty, exceeding even our best western lands in productiveness, with a climate perfectly salubrious (healthy), and of a temperature, at all seasons of the year, most delightful.”
Mary Phelps Austin Holley was born on October 30, 1784, in New Haven, Connecticut. She attended excellent schools and became proficient in literature, dance, and music. She was an accomplished pianist who composed and performed many original works. Mary spoke several foreign languages fluently including French, German, and Spanish.
On January 1, 1805, Mary married Horace Holley, a young minister who had recently graduated from Yale. He served as pastor in several churches, and eventually became President of the University of Transylvania in Lexington, Kentucky. Mary loved to hear Horace preach, and was devastated when he died of yellow fever in July of 1827.
After Horace died, Mary became re-acquainted with her cousin, Stephen F. Austin. She began writing to Austin, and inquired about the colony he had founded in Texas. When Austin heard of Mary’s interest, he promised her a tract of land if she would relocate. She visited in 1831, and several more times over the next 12 years, intending to make Texas home. But that was not to be. In August 1846, Mary died of yellow fever and was buried in St. Louis Cemetery, New Orleans.
But Mary left behind a treasure-trove of scripts that described the early days of Texas history. These priceless documents include original songs, sketches of streets and homes, and personal interviews with some of the settlers who came to Texas before the Revolution. Even today, historians study Mary’s texts to know more about frontier Texas.
As you read her classic writings, you soon realize that the only passion that equaled Mary’s love for Texas was her complete dedication to God. Mary wove Scripture into much of her material. For her, the Word of God illuminated her views and explained the actions of her characters.
Once, when describing Texas, Mary said that it had “Gothic-arched forests and Heaven-roofed prairies.” She went on to say that in Texas, one can feel “the Universal Presence – he feels his own insignificance, and is ever ready to exclaim with the Psalmist, ‘Lord, what is man that thou art mindful of him?’” (Psalm 8:4)
To those cautious souls who were hesitant to come to Texas because no church buildings had been built yet, Mary said, “Can they not carry their religion in their hearts, and act it out in their lives?”
Mary Austin Holley was a true Texas luminary. She taught us to value our relationship with God as we thrive in the Lone Star State.