Emily D. West (c.1815-1891), also known as Emily Morgan, is a folk heroine whose legendary activities during the Texas Revolution have come to be identified with the song "The Yellow Rose of Texas".
West was a free woman of color, of mixed race, or a "high yellow" in the terminology used in those times. She was born in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1835 she was contracted to James Morgan in New York to work as an indentured servant for one year in Morgan's Point, Texas, at the New Washington Association's hotel as a housekeeper. Several months into her year of indentureship, on April 16, 1836, West and other residents were kidnapped by Mexican cavalry. West was forced to travel with the forces of General Antonio López de Santa Anna as they prepared to face the army led by Sam Houston, and was in the Mexican camp on April 21 when Houston's force attacked. The Texans won the Battle of San Jacinto in 18 minutes.
According to legend, Santa Anna had been caught unprepared because he was having sex with West. No contemporary accounts indicate that Santa Anna was with a woman at the time, but the story was recorded in the journal of Englishman William Bollaert in 1842, who heard it from a veteran during a steamer trip. After Bollaert's diary was published in 1956, amateur historians began to expand the tale, with Henderson Shuffler suggesting that West fit the description of the girl in the then-popular folk song "The Yellow Rose of Texas." The story continued to grow, with many references to her West's beauty, as the legend took hold by the 1986 Texas Sesquicentennial.
After the Battle of San Jacinto, the real Emily West wanted to leave Texas, but the papers that declared her "free" had been lost. Major Isaac Moreland, commandant of the garrison at Galveston, vouched for Emily in her application for a passport. Emily possibly returned to New York in March 1837.
It is unknown if she did carry James Morgan's surname, as was supposed; this was the custom for indentured servants and slaves at the time. Also, arriving coincidentally in Morgan's Point on board Morgan's schooner from New York was Emily West de Zavala, the wife of the interim Vice President of the Republic of Texas, Lorenzo de Zavala, and grandmother of Adina Emilia De Zavala. The widowed Mrs Lorenzo de Zavala had returned to New York in 1837 at about the same time as Emily D. West, although West de Zavala returned to Texas in early 1839. Denise McVea suggests that the Emily West of the Yellow Rose of Texas legend was Emily West de Zavala. There is no contemporary or primary evidence that Emily D. West and Emily de Zavala were the same person.
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