Past Treasure of the Month – September 2020

Bell from Mission Concepción
Bell from Mission Concepción, San Antonio, Texas. ca. 1831

Bell from Mission Concepción, San Antonio, Texas. ca. 1831

This month, visit Rosenberg Library and view a historic bell originally from Mission Concepción in San Antonio. The bell was brought to Galveston during the 1870’s and was donated to Rosenberg Library by the Texas Historical Society in 1931. It was on display near the library’s 2nd floor East Entrance.

On October 28, 1835, a pivotal campaign of the Texas Revolution took place in the city of San Antonio de Béxar (now San Antonio). Mexican General Martín Perfecto de Cos ordered his troops to besiege San Antonio. Texian soldiers led by Benjamin Rush Milam were camped within Mission Concepción, a stone church built by Franciscan friars four years earlier. After defending themselves against a series of attacks by the Mexican army, the Texians’ supply of ammunition was scarce. Several of the Texas Volunteers of Capt. William Patton’s company decided to take two bells from Mission Concepción in hopes of melting and then molding them into bullets.

Mission Concepción [image courtesy of the National Park Service]

Mission Concepción
[image courtesy of the National Park Service]

The first bell was burned over a bed of hot mesquite coals, but the residue from the bell only produced useless dross (waste matter that forms of the surface of molten metal). As a result, the plans for burning the second bell were abandoned. Texas soldier Samuel Damon hid the second bell, and after the storming of the city and capture of General Cos, he returned to retrieve it. He took it to his home at Damon’s Mound (Fort Bend County) where he placed the bell in his stable for safe keeping. In 1836, just before the Battle of San Jacinto, Santa Anna and his army moved cross-country from San Antonio to San Jacinto and set fire to Damon’s barn along the way. The bell was overlooked and narrowly escaped recapture by the Mexicans.

Shortly after the Texas Revolution, Damon presented the bell to his fellow soldier, David Randon, who kept it at his plantation. Randon later gave the bell to the Richmond Academy (Richmond, Texas) during the 1850’s. After the Civil War, the academy and the bell were acquired by a wealthy civilian, William E. Kendall. Kendall converted the academy into a residence for his family, and through the help of Judge William P. Ballinger, the bell was donated to the Texas Historical Society of Galveston in the 1870’s.

Around 1883, Dozier G. Herbert, secretary of the society, brought the bell to Galveston chemist J.J. Schott and requested that he clean and restore the fire-damaged relic. It remained in Mr. Schott’s care for several years, with restoration completed in March 1888. The Texas Historical Society maintained ownership of the bell until 1931 when all of its holdings were donated to the Rosenberg Library by a unanimous vote of its members. It has remained part of the library’s permanent museum collection since that time.