Shannon L. Nichols
When Augusta Jane Evans was born on May 8, 1835, in Augusta, Georgia, she seemed destined to assume all the traditional social and economic privileges of the antebellum "Southern belle." Her parents, Matthew Ryan Evans and Sarah Skrine Howard, were both from established Southern families with ties dating back to the Revolutionary War. In addition to extensive landholdings, Matt Evans co-owned a thriving mercantile firm in Columbus, Georgia; however, the depression of the late 1830s and the construction of a luxurious new home-- dubbed "Matt's Folly" by his neighbors--forced him into bankruptcy in 1839. Life thereafter became a series of moves and economic setbacks for the growing family. These financial strains encouraged the young Augusta to try her hand at writing domestic fiction. Although she later became one of the wealthiest women in Alabama, the insecurity of her early life led Evans to return again and again in her fiction to the theme of a proud young woman forced to endure the slights and privations of poverty.
In 1845, in an effort to recoup the family fortunes, Matt Evans joined the westward migration, taking his family by covered wagon to San Antonio, Texas. General Zachary Taylor's troops kept the town relatively safe from attack during the Mexican War of 1846-1848, but the border town was scarcely quiet. A population made up of Mexicans, Spaniards, Germans, Indians, native Texans, and new immigrants, like the Evans, made for a volatile mix of cultural, religious, and social practices. Although Matt Evans's business prospered, Indian raids, street brawls, and busy brothels shocked and alarmed the new residents. Finally, in 1849, the dangers of frontier life led the family back east to settle in Mobile, Alabama.