Booker T. Twang Biography


According to his older brother, Malachi, Booker Thomas Twang was born in Logan County, Kentucky, in the spring of 1825. Historian Raymond Thorp gave his birth date as April 10, but Thorp did not provide any documentation to support that date.


Twang was the ninth of ten children born to Lt. Thomas Francis Twang and Luella Susanna Belington. His father had been injured while fighting in the War Of 1812, and in 1813 married the young woman who had nursed him back to health.


The Twangs moved frequently, first settling in Louisiana, before moving to Kentucky. At the time of Booker's birth, his father owned seven horses, eleven head of cattle, and 5 hogs. The following year the family acquired 200 acres along the Red River. They sold that property in 1819 and relocated to Missouri before moving to the Texas Territory (at this time a state in the Mexican Federation) in 1829, where they settled on Pecos Bayou in Nacogdoches.


The Twang children were raised on the frontier and even as small children were expected to help clear the land and plant crops, consisting mostly of tobacco. All of the Twang children learned to read and write in English, but Booker and his elder brother Malachi could also read, write, and speak Spanish and French fluently.


The children learned to survive on the frontier, how to fish and run a plantation. Booker T. became proficient with pistol, rifle, and knife, and had a reputation for fearlessness. As a boy one of his Indian friends even taught him to rope alligators. At a very early age Booker learned to play the banjo and was renowned  for his energetic finger plucking style.


Growing up under Mexican rule was difficult to most Texians and after several years of uprisings and revolts, a volunteer militia was raised to resist the leader of Mexico, President Antonio López de Santa Anna.


In 1836, after General Sam Houston received word that Santa Anna was leading a large force to San Antonio, Booker’s father offered to join the volunteers to defend the Alamo from the expected attack. He arrived with 30 men on January 19, where they found a force of 104 men with a few weapons and a few cannons but little supplies and gunpowder.


Houston knew that there were not enough men to hold the fort in an attack and had given Cmdr. James Bowie and Booker’s father orders to remove the artillery and blow up the fortification. Bowie and the Booker’s father, decided they did not have enough oxen to move the artillery, and they did not want to destroy the fortress.


On January 26, one of Bowie's men, James Bonham, organized a rally which passed a resolution in favor of holding the Alamo. Bonham signed the resolution first, with Bowie's signature second, Lt. Thomas F. Twang’s signature third.


Santa Anna and his army reached the outskirts of San Antonio de Bexar several days later and began a siege of the Alamo Mission on February 24. The Mexican army raised a red flag to warn the defenders that no quarter would be given.


After a thirteen-day siege, Santa Anna's forces overwhelmed the nearly 200 Texians defending the Alamo. "Remember the Alamo!" became a battle cry of the Texas Revolution. Lt. Thomas Twang perished with the rest of the Alamo defenders on March 6, when the Mexicans attacked.


At age 31, learning of his father’s death, Booker signed on to a wagon train wrangling cattle along the Chisholm Trail. Wounded by an arrow by an Indian raiding party, Booker was taken to Austin for a short recuperation. Restless, he decided to head north in search of suitable land to purchase for a tobacco plantation.


With a group of about 10 settlers, Booker left  The Republic of Texas, travelled overland for two months, and arrived on the banks of the Cumberland Creek near the center of present downtown Twangville on Christmas Day, 1837. They cleared the land and built a log stockade they called Fort Twangborough in honor of Lt. Thomas Francis Twang (Booker T’s father), who won acclaim in the Battle of the Alamo, as the first black lieutenant in the Texian Army. Booker T’s friend and fellow Twangborough settler Elisha Schweizer, along with some 5 families, including women and children, came in 7 flatboats and several pirogues down the Tennessee River and up Cumberland Creek, arriving April 23, 1837. They founded a new community and it was renamed Twangville in honor of its founder, Booker T. Twang, when it was incorporated as a town by the Tennessee legislature in June, 1837.


Booker T. Twang established a large tobacco plantation on 800 acres of fertile land in a dell just east of town. His tobacco became widely marketed around the region and his hand-rolled cigars became the cigars of choice in the smoking rooms of Tennessee high society.


As the north eastern terminus of the Natchez Trace, the town quickly developed as a tobacco center and river port and later as a railroad hub. It soon became a main commercial center of the entire Middle Tennessee region.


Booker T. Twang married Abigail Schweizer  daughter of fellow settler Elisha Schweizer (of German descent) on August 6th, 1837 and squired 5 children over the next 10 years. Abigail, admired for her musical ability, established the town’s first string band in the fall of 1838.


After the success of his tobacco plantation, Booker tried his hand at several business ventures, notably the construction of banjos and stringed dulcimers, which flourished throughout the region.


Getting along in age, Booker became mayor of Twangville at the start of the Civil War. Under his leadership the town expanded into a unique community of musicians and instrument builders.


In 1867, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress, and after his defeat, decided to retire and spent the rest of his life on his plantation with his family, grandchildren and great grandchildren.


In 1868, Booker, having earlier made a profession of Christian faith, was baptized by the Baptist minister, Rufus C. Burleson, who was later the president of Baylor College (later, Baylor University). At the time Burleson was the pastor of the Independence, Texas, Baptist Church in Washington County, which Twang and his wife attended while they lived in Texas. Booker was also a close friend of another Baylor president and Burleson's predecessor as pastor at the Independence church, the Reverend George Washington Baines, maternal great-grandfather of Lyndon B. Johnson.


On September 5th, 1877 after a brief bout with pneumonia, Booker T. Twang passed away with his wife Abigail and children at his bedside. He was buried 2 days later in the town cemetery.


A year later after his death a monument was erected in the town square in his honor. The inscription on it reads:


A Brave Pioneer. A Fearless Man.
A Great Inventor – A Pure Patriot.
A Faithful Friend, A Loyal Citizen.
A Devoted Husband and Father.

A Consistent Christian – An Honest Man.