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Texas History: Martha Mayes Godfrey

Martha was born about 1812 as a slave to the family of Garner and Elizabeth (Jackson) Mayes, in Williamson County, Tennessee. Very little is known about her childhood other than sketchy stories that have been handed down through the generations.

During Martha’s early life, she owned nothing, and had no last name. Family history says that she was mistreated and abused as a slave, and bore three children in her early teens. This was an all too common report in American history prior to the Civil War.

The Mayes family brought Martha with them when they moved to Texas around 1838. The family settled in Chambers County and established a plantation at Double Bayou, just east of Trinity Bay, eight miles south of Anahuac.

Sometime after moving to Texas, Martha married Zechariah “Zach” Godfrey, and they had 10 children together. Following the Civil War, the State of Texas granted Zach and Martha a 160-acre tract of land near Double Bayou. Martha finally owned something!

Though she had very little, Martha was known as being generous with her time and possessions. Always faithful in worship services at the Methodist Episcopal church, Martha was revered as a true woman of God. She also served in the community as one of several black midwives, because there were few doctors in the county.

When Zach died in the early 1870s, Martha donated one acre of her cherished land to the church for “a graveyard for the colored people.” At that time, people of color were buried randomly near streams and bayous. To have permanent ground committed for this specific purpose helped to unite and strengthen the community. After her death in 1905, the cemetery was named the Martha Mayes Godfrey Cemetery.

Martha also donated another acre of prime land that was adjacent to the cemetery “to be used, maintained, and disposed as a place of Divine worship for the use of the ministry and membership of the Methodist Episcopal Church.” The church was later named St. Paul United Methodist Church and continues as an active ministry today on FM 562 and Church Road.

The former slave Martha Godfrey reminds us of Martha in the Bible. We read in John 12 and Luke 10 that the Biblical Martha displayed great faith, was a wonderful hostess, loved to serve others, and was an intimate friend of Jesus. Also, she knew the Scriptures and lived out her faith in difficult times.

These two Marthas present a powerful example to us in modern times. Like Martha, let us give of our time, talent, and treasure to the Lord, and touch as many lives as possible for Christ.


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