Mercer logs: What are they - and why?
I cannot confirm that all accounts of treasure on Mustang Island are true. I can, however, report that thousands of historical gems are now in the town archive, and here are two particularly shiny ones (from the Mercer Logs) regarding our very first school.
• September 1, 1870: “Commenced to build a school house for the children on Mustang.” • September 12: “School commenced today.”
If those look to you like entries from a diary, you are right, but I am getting ahead of the history story. That story began in 1853 when Robert Ainsworth Mercer came to St. Joseph Island from Alabama. On St. Joe, Robert became involved in a nautically-oriented business.
Liking the coastal way of life, he eventually sent for his wife, Agnes, who arrived with four of the Mercer children in 1855.
Instead of settling on St. Joseph Island, the Mercers came to Mustang Island, and by 1856 had established a thriving homestead, which attracted even more settlers. Settlement of the island ended abruptly in February 1862 when Federal (U.S.) sailors came ashore and removed livestock and torched houses. The great American Civil War had come to Mustang Island, and wisely, the settlers left for the remainder of the war.
When the Mercers returned, they began a daily diary of the family’s life and times on Mustang Island. Started on March 1, 1866, the diary became a tradition lasting through Aug. 31, 1877. Robert Mercer called the diary “the Mercer Logs,” echoing the keeping of a ship’s log and reflecting his interest in the nautical world. The “logs” moniker stuck, and each daily entry is now referred to as a log.
Over the years, various parties protected and preserved the logs. Those efforts began when Robert Mercer’s great granddaughter, Eva Rae Mercer Westmoreland (1931-2008), rounded up the logs and kept them from harm’s way under her bed in a metal tackle box.
Eva Rae eventually gave the Mercer Logs to the Port Aransas Preservation and Historical Association, whose diligent volunteers transcribed the thousands of daily logs, turning them into a useable historical resource.
And what a resource the Mercer Logs are proving to be. The logs are filling in unknown parts of early Mustang Island history. For example, in the 1860s and ’70s, there was no town; the Island was just a collection of homesteads that were locally called “ranches.” Little, if anything, had previously been known about the old island ranches, but we now have details, right down to the kind of grass in the front yard and the type of bird house by the gate.
The Mercer Logs also provide glimpses into everyday life on Mustang Island. For instance, a favorite way for early islanders to relax and forget their problems was to gather a sack of oysters, build a fire, and have an oyster roast … sometimes spiced up by a bit of whiskey. Of the oyster roasts, one of the Mercers wrote, “It is about as good a thing as we have.”
I am sure you are going to enjoy the Mercer Logs Series. (If you would like access to copies of the logs, contact Rick Pratt at the Port Aransas Museum.)
Editor’s note: Port Aransas History Corner is a monthly feature compiled primarily by historian Dr. John Guthrie Ford. Ford, a charter member of, and consultant to, the Port Aransas Preservation and Historical Association, is the author of A Texas Island, available at various retail outlets in Port Aransas.