The Simon Hightower Family, Colony Community Leader Mt. Zion Church & School

The following family biographical note was scanned from the pamphlet distributed at the
Juneteenth Celebration
Colony Cemetery
June 10, 1998

The Colony cemetery was named after a community called The Colony, which was founded by free Blacks and freed slaves in Hood County, Texas around 1859. Many of the African-American founders of The Colony had previously been brought to Hood County by white southerners who were anxious to avoid the perils of war and who wanted to find new land. Simon Hightower who presumably took his name from a previous owner, is said to be one of the primary founders of The Colony, which eventually grew to cover an area 4.5 to 5 miles by 2 miles. Simon and his wife, Hettie, became two of the community’s first leaders. According to existing deeds, many residents of The Colony received land under provisions of a State Law: An Act for the Benefit of Actual Occupants of Public Lands approved on May 26, 1873. Eventually, The Colony became home to a number of Hood County’s African-American citizens, as the families began new lives after slavery’ end.

As The Colony slowly grew, a church was built that also served as a school and was also referred to as Mt. Zion. With the natural progression of time the cemetery came into existence with the oldest (marked) being that of Mary Edwards, 1855-1876. The cemetery was also called by several names– Hightower Cemetery, Mt. Zion Cemetery, and Colony Cemetery.– and is virtually all that remains of a once thriving community.

In the 1970’s, Mildred Thorman produced the first recorded reading of the cemetery, which was later published in her book Cemeteries Of Hood County. Since that time, however, some stones have disappeared, and others have become almost impossible to read. Currently, the one acre cemetery contains 54 marked gravesites–some have granite markers, others have pieces of field stone displaying hand-etched phonetic spelling of names and others have yet to be identified. A new fence surrounds the cemetery to deter curious wildlife and to protect the gravesites.

Colony Cemetery:┬áLocated west of U.S. Highway 377 between Granbury and Toler on County Road 103, The Colony played a major role in Hood County’s development as its residents were laborers for area farms and masons responsible for erecting many of the buildings around the Granbury Square. The also helped clear land for the erection of the county courthouse. Still, life was not all work for The Colony residents. Church fund-raising events and celebrations were also woven into the community’s fabric. Of special importance was each year’s Juneteenth celebration (the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery) which afforded the residents a respite from their labors, as families, relatives, and friends gathered together for food, festivities, and fellowship.

However, time took its toll on The Colony’s vitality as its residents gradually moved to seek employment and opportunities elsewhere. By the Depression era’s end, most of the adult residents had left the rural community and moved to nearby towns, while many of the community’s youth left the area completely, and by 1939, the last three residents of The Colony moved from the community. Fortunately, as the families moved away, the land was purchased and combined into one large ranch, thus offering natural protection of the cemetery site. Care of the cemetery was shouldered by R.D. Edwards, Simon Hightower’s great-grandson until his death in 1991. He is buried in The Colony Cemetery, and no one oversaw the upkeep until the 1997 formation of the Colony Cemetery Committee, which has committed it efforts to the care and preservation of this unique, historical property.

The Colony’s significance–its conception, short physical existence, and it’s lingering memory–can perhaps be best expressed by the words of a freedom song once taught to the children who grew up there:
You may be a poor man, but you’ll never be a slave. Shout-shout for the battle cry of freedom.

For in The Colony, former slaves began living such freedom. Even though the church and the houses are now gone, the cemetery remains as a reminder of days long past and a community where lives were begun anew– in freedom.