Rio Grande Valley

Everyone has a family history, but for one Island resident, the Fourth of July is a special time of rememberence. Well known Island photographer Richard Stockton's family tree can be traced back to Royalty in England, an ancestor who signed the Declaration of Independence, and a relative that fought and died at the Alamo. Now that's family history baby...


South Padre Island beaches may be a long way from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, but Island resident Richard Stockton knows every corner of the continental United States owes a great deal of gratitude to the events that unfolded in that historic meeting hall in the summer of 1776.

Stockton should know. His distant ancestor, Richard Stockton III, was one of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence and one of the founding members and graduates of what is now Princeton University. He was also a Supreme Court Judge and a member of the First Continental Congress.

“Our family history and the history of the founding of this country run wide and deep,” says Richard of South Padre. “My family also had an ancestor that served at the Alamo during Texas’ fight for Independence from Mexico.”

Now that’s some family history!

But Sir Richard of South Padre is humble about his family’s past.

“Everyone has a family history. There were a lot of early Americans that had a role in the fight for our Nation’s Independence. But it’s good to be able to trace your family tree back to such historic times,” he says.

The Stockton family history can be traced back as far as Old England in fact. The family historian, Richard’s sister Cheryl Stockton of Collinsville, Illinois, worked long and hard on researching the family ancestry.

“I’ve certainly felt proud of our family name, ever since childhood. I’ve watched my parents and grandparents demonstrating leadership and civic involvement in our community,” she writes in a Foreward to the family’s written history. “It’s interesting that Richard Stockton II often hosted George Washington at his home in New Jersey. Research indicates they were dear friends.”

Before the Stocktons made their way to the New World (1620), they were prominent players in the history of England. In fact, Richard de Stockton (circa 1250 England) was Lord of the Manor Stockton in Chesire County, England. One of his descendants, Sir Richard Stockton (of England) was knighted on the field by King Edward IV. His son later became the Lord Mayor of London in 1470.

It was the Rev. Jonas Stockton, M.A., who, with his son Timothy, first made the trip to newly founded America. The year was 1620 and they arrived on the Virginia coast in the ship “Bona Nova”. A few years later, in 1639, Richard Stockton the First arrived in the country. Eventually his family settled in a home that is now known as the historic “Morven” estate. The property that became Morven was part of a 5,500-acre tract purchased from William Penn in 1701 by the first Richard Stockton to settle in Princeton. In 1754, his grandson, Richard Stockton, one of the leading attorneys in the American colonies and later a signer of the Declaration of Independence, acquired 150 acres of this land and soon thereafter he and his wife, Annis Boudinot Stockton, built a house on the site. Annis, the daughter of a French Huguenot silversmith, became a published poet. She named their house "Morven," after a mythical Gaelic kingdom in the epic poems of Ossian.

Annis, who had married Richard Stockton, one of the most prominent young lawyers of New Jersey in 1762, was a woman of far more than ordinary intellectual ability and of a high character and patriotic spirit that made her a fitting companion for the man whose devotion to the cause of independence brought him to his death before his time.

Stockton was highly successful in the practice as an attorney and had added materially to the large estate he inherited from his father, when he married Annis Boudinot and took her to "Morven." Morven was known for its hospitality and as a gathering place for some of the brightest minds of the day. They were living here, when Stockton was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress, and it was here that she performed a service which was made historic. When the British under Cornwallis came to Princeton in 1776, Mrs. Stockton secured and secreted a number of important state papers as well as the rolls and records of the American Whig Society of Princeton College, an act for which her name was added as an honorary member of the Society. Congress was then sitting in Baltimore and Mr. Stockton hastened home to conduct his family to a place of safety. He hurried them out of Princeton to Monmouth County, about thirty miles away, and then returning, went to spend the night with a friend, a patriot named Cowenhoven. That night a party of Tories came and arrested the two men. They were dragged from their bed at a late hour and half clad carried away and thrown into prison. Stockton was first taken to Amboy where he was confined in the common jail, suffering greatly from the cold. From there he was carried to the prison in New York, where he was inhumanly treated.

Like most of the signers of the Declaration, Richard Stockton came to a tragic end. Suffering from poor health because of his imprisonment, he eventually succumbed to his illness in 1781.

But the Stockton legacy didn’t stop there.  Robert Field Stockton, "The Commodore", was the eldest surviving son of Richard "The Duke" and Mary (Field) Stockton. He married Harriet Maria Potter, daughter of John Potter of Charleston, South Carolina in 1823. He inherited Morven from his father, became a Commodore in the United States Navy, and was elected U.S. Senator from New Jersey. The Commodore served with distinction in the Navy until 1826 when he took his first furlough in over ten years of service and returned home to Princeton. He then engaged in a number of political and business activities. He was interested in politics and supported General Jackson to succeed Monroe as President. In December 1838 then Captain Stockton again sailed to the Mediterranean, in command of Commodore Hull's flagship, the "Ohio." The following year he was promoted to a Post-Captain and recalled late in 1839. He took part in the political campaign in 1840 in favor of General Harrison. After Tyler became President, he was offered the position of Secretary of the Navy, which he declined.

The Navy Department permitted him to construct a steamship-of-war however. The U.S. Steam Frigate "Princeton", was begun in 1842 and completed in 1844. It was the first Steam Powered Ship in any Navy. When the Mexican-American War erupted, Stockton was once again taken back into active military duty and sent to defend America's interest in California. In late January of 1847 the struggle for the conquest of California continued with Commodore Stockton in command of all U.S. Army and Navy forces. After defeating Mexican General Castro, Commodore Stockton assumed the office of Commander-in-chief and Governor of the territory of California.

Another famous Stockton was Richard Lucius Stockton, Alamo defender, born in 1817 in Newark, New Jersey. He reached Nacogdoches, Texas, at about the same time as David Crockett and other Tennessee volunteers and enlisted in the Texas Volunteer Auxiliary Corps in December of 1835. He was sent to San Antonio de Béxar with Crockett and was killed with the others in the battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836.

The Stockton family legacy runs even deeper, but space and time here prevents chronicling it all.

Humble about his family legacy, Richard Stockton of South Padre Island says Americans everywhere should be proud of their heritage and the founding of our country. July 4th, Independence Day, is a good time to remember the sacrifices and efforts our forefathers made to secure the future for generations of Americans to come.

From the Stocktons to all of America. “Happy Independence Day”!

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