Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Female Paul Revere of the Confederacy


The Grave of Sophia Porter


History is dotted with Paul Reveres; people who took extraordinary risks to warn fellow countrymen of an invading army.  During the Civil War, an unlikely plantation mistress was dubbed the “Paul Revere of the Confederacy.”  In 1835, Sophia Porter settled with her husband, Jesse Aughinbaugh, in Nacogdoches.  A down and out teacher and druggist, Aughinbaugh deserted his wife.  With few, if any, opportunities for an abandoned frontier housewife, Sophia likely turned to prostitution.  She became a refugee when Nacogdoches residents fled from Santa Anna’s advancing army.  Stories circulated that Sophia established her new found profession among Sam Houston’s emerging army and even tended to Houston’s leg wound after the Battle of San Jacinto.  After Texas won its independence, she was granted a divorce by the newly formed Texas Congress and married Indian trader Holland Coffee. 
Sophia and her new husband traveled to Grayson County where they established a trading post.  The couple also helped establish the town of Preston along with their new plantation, Glen Eden.  In 1846, Holland Coffee was killed during an argument, leaving Sophia with the plantation.  Never content to play the mourning widow, she took a third husband, George Butts.  During their marriage, Glen Eden became a favorite spot for social gatherings.  Decked out in lavish dresses, Sophia loved being a hostess. 
During the Civil War, Major Butts was a recruiting officer in the Confederate Army.  In 1863, Will Quantrill’s Missouri guerillas arrived in North Texas seeking refuge after raiding and burning Lawrence, Kansas.  Little more than undisciplined outlaws, Quantrill’s men soon ran afoul of the local authorities.  When Major Butts was found dead on the side of a road, Quantrill’s men were accused of his murder.  Quantrill avoided arrest by fleeing across the Red River, leaving Sophia a widow for the second time.
 If Missouri guerillas weren’t enough, Union scouts arrived at Glen Eden.  Sophia fed the scouts and let them partake of her abundant wine cellar.  The dizzying effect of the wine loosened their tongues and revealed a secret plan to attack Confederate forces in the Indian Territory.  The plan’s objective was the capture of Colonel James Bourland, the commander of the nearby Confederate "Border Regiment" that patrolled along the Red River.  While her guests fell into a drunken stupor, Sophia escaped out the back window, crossed the frigid Red River on horseback, and warned Colonel Bourland of her guests.  Because of her heroism, she was awarded the sobriquet, the “Paul Revere of the Confederacy.” 
On August 2, 1865, Sophia married her fourth husband, Judge James Porter.  They lived at Glen Eden until his death in 1886.  Ten years later, Sophia died and was buried near her plantation.  Glen Eden was dismantled years later before the construction of Lake Texhoma.  The land is now underwater.  Through tragic oversight, most of the plantation home’s wood was burned, leaving nothing to assemble.  Some of Glen Eden’s furniture is on display at the Sherman Museum in Sherman, Texas.