Joseph and Mary Polley: Texas Heroes
Fort Bend County will be celebrating its informal 200th anniversary in 2022. Although the county would not be formally created until the Republic of Texas did so in December 1837, the little log fort and community that provided the county with its name came to be in the spring of 1822.
In 1821, colonizer Stephen F. Austin bought the 30-ton schooner Lively, intending to transport a group of men to plant his colony along the Colorado River. But after a dreadful storm in the Gulf of Mexico, the crew mistakenly entered the mouth of the Brazos River instead of the Colorado.
The Lively left a party of Austin's men at that spot and continued looking for the Colorado. In early 1822, the party traveled upstream on the Brazos for about 90 miles when it reached a big bend in the river. The explorers built a small garrison or fort, and the site came to be known as “Fort Settlement,” or “Fort on the Bend,” or simply “Fort Bend.”
William W. Little and Joseph Henry Polley were in charge of this small band of adventurers who cleared the land, built the fort, and began the process of settling the “Bend.” Because it was a good location to ford the mighty Brazos, the area became a popular crossing for travelers and the town of Richmond was established.
Joseph Henry Polley was born in Whitehall, New York, in 1795. Polley met Stephen F. Austin and came to Texas as a member of the “Old 300.”
Though single when he acquired his land grant, Polley sought the hand of Mary “Polly” Bailey, daughter of pioneer Britt Bailey of Brazoria. Polly was also being courted by Stephen F. Austin at the time, but chose Joseph.
Joseph and Mary settled near Brazoria and built a home called “Whitehall.” Joseph served as the first sheriff of Austin’s Colony, and assisted the retreating settlers during the Runaway Scrape in 1836.
In 1847, Joseph and Mary moved to what is now Wilson County, and built another, much larger “Whitehall” along Cibolo Creek. Here, Polley amassed a Texas-sized cattle ranch that was second only to the King Ranch. At the height of his success, it is estimated that he had over 176,000 head of cattle on land that stretched from Fort Bend County to Austin and Marble Falls, and down to Corpus Christi.
But when the Civil War ended, Polley lost most of his livestock and acreage. Further, the few slaves he had were set free, and they had no home site. In an act of generosity, Polley provided land along Cibolo Creek for a settlement of his former slaves. On that property, he built several stores, a school, and a brush-arbor church where non-denominational services could be held. The settlement was called “Do-See-Do,” or Doisedo Colony.
Joseph Henry Polley was a giver. Over the course of his life, he gave of himself in the founding of Texas, the protection of his fellow citizens, and the restoration of destitute people from his household. Polley understood Hebrews 13:16 (ESV), “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”