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Milam County, Texas

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William Vance Hefley

SOURCE: History of Texas, Together with a Biographical History of Milam, Williamson, Bastrop, Travis, Lee and Burleson Counties. (Chicago, IL: Lewis, 1893), p. 423-426.

William Vance Hefley, an old settler of Milam county and the head of a large and influential family of this county, is a native of North Carolina, born in the county of Haywood, July 25, 1820. His American ancestors, who were early settlers in the old States, came originally from Holland and Ireland, Thomas Hefley, his paternal grandfather, being a native of Holland, who emigrated to this county in an early day and settled in South Carolina, whence he moved later to Haywood county, North Carolina. Both he and his wife died in that county, having lived to an advanced age, and passed their entire lives in the peaceful pursuits of agriculture.

Martin Hefley, the father of the subject of this notice, was probably born in Holland, being young when his parents came to America. He was reared in Haywood county, North Carolina. He married Clarissa Mahaffey, of Lincoln county, that State, she being a daughter of Joseph Mahaffey, a native of Ireland, who settled in the Catskill country of Pennsylvania toward the close of the last century, whence he moved about 1780 or 1785 to North Carolina. Clarissa Mahaffey was born in Lincoln county, North Carolina, in which county was situated the old family seat where her parents had for many years lived and where they died and were buried.

Martin Hefley and wife resided in North Carolina for a number of years after their marriage, but in 1829 emigrated to west Tennessee and settled near Lexington, in Henderson county, where they both died in November, 1841, each aged fifty-one years. They were plain, substantial people, up to the average in point of intelligence, wealth, industry and the household virtues, and reared a family of seven children, to whom they transmitted these possessions in a reasonable degree. The father, although not a public character, was a patriotic citizen and discharged acceptably all the functions and duties of such. He was a volunteer in the was of 1812, but was never in active service, the war closing just as his company reached Wadesboro, North Carolina, and reported for duty. He was a Major in the local militia, and figured in the military annals of his county on “muster day,” those great occasions of ginger-bread, hard cider and other semi-social and military festivities.

The subject of his notice is the second in point of age of the seven children of Martin and Clarissa Hefley, the others being an older sister, Eliza Hefley, who was married to William Whittle and moved to Alabama, where she died, leaving a family; Joseph M. Hefley, who died at Nashville, Tennessee, in 1834, at the age of thirty-one, unmarried; Phillip Jackson Hefley, who died in Henderson county, Tennessee, where his descendants now live; George W. Hefley, a resident of Belton, Texas; Samuel M. Hefley, a resident of Cameron; and Harriet Caroline Hefley, the widow of James Moffitt, living now in Henderson county, Tennessee.

William V. Hefley, of this article, was principally reared in Henderson county, Tennessee. He was brought up on the farm and received only the limited education offered by the schools of that date. On February 15, 1844, he married Miss Jane Emily Renshaw, a daughter of John and Martha (Walkup) Renshaw and a native of Henderson county, where her parents were early settlers.

In 1854 Mr. Hefley came to Texas leaving Henderson county, Tennessee, October 9, and reaching Cameron, Milam county, December 3 following. He came overland, the usual, and in fact only mode of travel in that day, following the trails as they had been established from point to point and meeting with such experiences as befell the early immigrants. In Panola county, Mississippi, he was joined by his father-in-law, John Renshaw, and his family. Their route lay by way of Helena, Arkansas, there they crossed the Mississippi river, thence to Harris Ferry, where White river was crossed, thence to Camden, where the Washita was crossed, thence by way of Palestine to the Trinity, which was crossed at Bonner’s Ferry and the Brazos at the falls.

It had been Mr. Hefley’s intention to locate on the Guadalupe [corrected], but, it being midwinter, the roads became impassable, and he made a temporary stop in Milam county, where, liking the country, he decided to cast his lot. The first year he lived at Cameron. He then bought a tract of land consisting of 300 acres in the Lewis league, lying about a mile and a half north and west of Cameron, on which he took up his residence in 1855. When he purchased the place it was practically without improvements, all that had been done having been the breaking of some ten or twelve acres. Mr. Hefley selected as a building site a pecan grove, sufficiently high and rolling to give good drainage, which in times past had been something of a meeting place of the early settlers on public occasions, and which was indeed a very sightly place for a residence.

Here he erected a one-story, double log house, with an open porch between, finished as was the custom of finishing houses in those days – chinked and pointed with clay, covered with rived boards and floored with puncheons, the chimneys being made of brick and clay. The house, for the kind, was neat, commodious and comfortable, fully up to, if not ahead of, the average farm house of the times. Having been reared to farming, Mr. Hefley resumed it in his new home. For nearly forty years he has resided in the vicinity where he first located, and he is now tilling soil which he was the first to turn more than a third of a century ago.

The country then was but sparsely settled, and of those who were his neighbors at the time all, with one exception, are gone. He recalls the names of the Hall brothers, James Hall and Peter Hall, living about seven miles to the southwest, being the nearest neighbors in that direction, and George Green, living about a mile east, and others, as his associates in an early day, all of whom have passed away, but are pleasantly remembered for their friendship and neighborly deeds.

Mr. Hefley and his wife, who yet abides with him, are now occupying the old homestead almost alone, but one daughter being a member of their household, the remainder of the children having married and settler in life for themselves. Of their thirteen children ten are living, the full number being John M. Hefley, Mattie A. Hefley (now Mrs. Batte), Hattie E. Hefley (now Mrs. Lott), Joseph W. Hefley (deceased), Lafayette J. Hefley, James S. Hefley, William T. Hefley, Laura A. Hefley (now Mrs. Wallace), Mollie R. Hefley (now Mrs. Lay), Lula J. Hefley (deceased), Jeff D. Hefley, Henry B. Hefley (deceased), and Emma V. Hefley (now Mrs. Hardy). Of the ten children living eight are residents of this county, and all are married. The sons are among the leading business men of Cameron, progressive, enterprising and public-spirited – first in everything looking to the advancement of the interests of their town and county.

Naturally Mr. Hefley takes great pride in his children and in his home, being a man of strong domestic tastes and gentle, sympathetic nature. His life has centered in these and he has stamped his convictions and character on them in no small measure.

He has never sought to fill the public eye, preferring the private walks of life with the certainty of a competence and an old age filled with pleasant recollections to the turmoils of a political career and the disappointments which so often attend on such a career. He cast his first presidential vote for William Henry Harrison in the famous “hard cider and log cabin” contest of 1840, and from that date on voted with the Whig party as long as it maintained an organization, going with the Democrats on the disintegration of the Whig party and voting with the Democratic party ever since.

Both he and his wife are members of the Methodist Church, and have been for many years, Mrs. Hefley coming of a family that has furnished a number of divines to that church, some of them having attained local prominence in their calling, and all of them having served well their day and generation.

In personal appearance Mr. Hefley is large of mold, being fully six feet in height and weighing nearly 240 pounds. His physique is well rounded out, presenting no unpleasant angles. His character, marked for firmness, determination, persistence in that which he believes to be right and for the best, can be easily traced in the lines of the clean-shaven face, the square jaw and the prominent chin. To the home-born virtues of honesty, industry and love of family and fireside, inherited from his sturdy Dutch ancestors, have been added in full measure the genial wit, love of knowledge and relish for the lighter graces of life characteristic of the sons of the “Emerald Isle,” back to which he traces his ancestry on his mother’s side. He is a type of the American citizen, now too fast disappearing amidst the rapid influx of foreign immigration and the development of character along lines not pursued by the “early fathers.”

We must say a special thank you to Lyndal Fisher of San Angelo, Texas, for typing the above biographical sketch for use on the Milam County TXGenWeb site.

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Created on 12 Aug 2004 and last revised on ____________