Sylvester Wickliff (1864-1959)
The people and families which identify as Creoles, both white and colored, exist all along the Gulf South from the bayou lands of Louisiana, to the bay hamlets of Mississippi and Alabama, to the old Iberian city of Pensacola. Over the decades, they have migrated to several other sections of the country, bringing with them their rich cultural heritage. One of these large communities of migrants from Louisiana is southeastern Texas. Many colored Creole families found opportunities in the oil fields, farmlands, and booming cities to be found across the Sabine River. From the “Frenchtown” of Houston to Galveston Island to Pear Orchard, the lyrical Latin surnames and compelling culinary and musical flavors of Louisiana can be found.
The Creole community in Ames, Texas had its start in 1890, when Sylvester Wickliff and Terence Trahan migrated there from the Lafayette area. Wickliff arrived with his wife, Euphemie, and infant son, Socrates. Trahan was accompanied by his wife, Carrie Jean-Louis, and his children, Mary and Louis Trahan. These men bought two hundred and forty-eight acres of land which they set out to farm. At that time, the country near Ames was still considered unimproved and it went for less than four dollars and acre. Joseph Cormier and his wife Lorena left Louisiana during the same year, purchasing one hundred and seventy-five acres of farmland. James Albreaux and his family likewise settled at Ames, taking up farming. Initially, the community, just three miles from Liberty, was called “Racial Station.”
Our Mother of Mercy Parish at Ames
In the early years, these pioneering families had to travel three miles to the town of Liberty in order to fulfill their religious obligations. In 1897, the Reverend Father Pfiffner, the Pastor of Parish at Liberty, proposed that the families build a church within their own community. Sylvester Wickliff, Terence Trahan, Joseph Cormier, and James Albreaux all contributed towards the purchase of lumber to build a small chapel at Ames. After a fire destroyed the first lumber, the men set about purchasing lumber again and with their own labor built a small chapel which was dedicated by the pastor from Liberty. Soon thereafter, Sylvester Wickliff and Joseph Cormier donated an acre and a half each to establish a cemetery for the people of the community. On 30 November 1897, they dedicated their new chapel of Sacred Heart at Ames.
After a succession of Josephite pastors, a new church, a school, a convent, and rectory were built during the pastorate of the Reverend Father Michael Gumbleton. Several other families migrated to the area, such as the Mallets, Arceneauxs, Domains, Pradiers, Frugers, Donattos, and Siases. By World War I, less than thirty years after it was established, the little Creole community numbered over seven hundred men, women, and children. In 1929, a third church was built and renamed Our Mother of Mercy Parish. Today, more than a century after its founding, the good Creoles of Ames, Texas continue to keep alive their heritage through their cooking, their music, and their worship at Our Mother of Mercy Parish.
Source: The [Liberty] Vindicator, thevindicator.com; The Colored Harvest, October 1917, pages 2-3.