Madison & Sylvia Caldwell
ClissCliston Caldwell

CALDWELL HISTORY by Justine Caldwell Brown - 2000

The Caldwell family came from North Carolina to Oklahoma when the Cherokee Nation was forcibly driven from North Carolina. This migration was historically known as the Trail of Tears. Thousands of Cherokee Indians and African Americans were forced to walk with bare feet through the dead of winter into Oklahoma. It is believed that the ancestors of Madison Caldwell were among the survivors of this death march into Oklahoma. Madison Caldwell was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian, we do not know his Indian name; his father told him to go in the name of Caldwell. Madison Caldwell, who was known as Matt, moved from Oklahoma to Jefferson, Texas. Matt Caldwell met and married Sylvia Virginia, a full-blooded African. Not much is known about Sylvia. It is said that she was very small and dark skinned and a runaway slave. Matt and Sylvia had 5 sons: Pillman, Osborn, Cliston, Eli, and Benjamin.

The Homestead Act, passed in Congress in 1862, allowed any citizen head of a family over 21 to obtain land if he built a house and farmed the land for five years. Matt, Sylvia, and four of their sons moved to the Rodessa area of Louisiana in the early 1900’s and homesteaded 40 acres. He later bought more land. His oldest son Pillman remained in Jefferson, Texas.   

Matt Caldwell had a cotton gin. He also owned a syrup mill, where pressed sugar cane juice was made into syrup; and a corn mill, a machine that shells and grinds corn into meal. Many people would come from miles around to have these services done. All these things were sold in Matt Caldwell’s store. People had to work hard for a living and money was scarce. Many of the goods and services had to be bartered, exchanged for other goods or services.

There was not a school in the area for Black children so Matt Caldwell sold the land for the Cypress School to be built. The Cypress School, for primer through sixth grade, was a one room schoolhouse which still stands across the street from the Arkadelphia Baptist Church, the church founded by Madison Caldwell in approximately 1903. The Pine Valley School serving children primer to eighth grade was located next to Antioch Baptist Church. To prevent desegregation of the schools, it was re-located to the Caldwell property on the corner of Myra-Myrtiss and Hosston-Rodessa Roads, acquired from Cliston Caldwell in the 1950’s.

They all lived nearby on neighboring farms enjoying the life of an extended family. Osborn and Mary Jane were farmers who grew acres and acres of crops. Some of the harvest was kept for home use, but most was sold. They also had s syrup mill, and they kept bees for their honey. Eli and Artency had a sawmill where they sold lumber and also made roofs for houses and also owned a syrup mill. These families worked very hard to make a living for themselves. The wives helped the men with the farming and they canned many of the fruits and vegetables they grew so they would have food during the off-season. The wives would also make clothes for their families during the off-season. The material used for these clothes usually came from sacks that were first used to package goods like flour, salt, or rice. With the scraps left over from clothes, these ladies would make quilts to use during the cold winters. Quilting bees were very common during these times. The ladies from neighboring farms would get together to quilt, exchange recipes and the latest local news. Education and a love for God were stressed in these families.

EliEli Caldwell
Trail of Tears sign