Joseph (Jo) Abbott, lawyer, judge, and congressman, one of twelve children of William and Mary (McMillan) Abbott, was born near Decatur, Alabama, on January 15, 1840. At the age of thirteen he moved with his family to Freestone County, Texas. After attending private school, Abbott left home to study law with Franklin L. Yoakum in 1859. The Civil War, however, interrupted his studies, and he joined Company B, Twelfth Texas Cavalry. As a first lieutenant, he fought in a half dozen battles before being wounded. After several months of medical treatment and rest, he rejoined his unit and remained in active duty until 1865.
After the war he moved to Limestone County and resumed legal studies with Lochlin J. Farrar at Springfield. He also studied with D. M. Pendergast. In 1866 he was admitted to the bar and began his legal career as Farrar's partner. Because of the political and legal uncertainties facing a former Confederate officer in Reconstruction Texas, Abbott abandoned his law practice and moved to Hill County in 1867. He taught school near Hillsboro for five months. In 1868, however, he resumed his law career. In December of that year he married Rowena Sturgis. The couple had five children. Abbott was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1869 and served one term in the Eleventh Legislature.
His lifelong interest in politics and loyalty to the Democratic party resulted in his selection as head of the Democratic Executive Committee of Hill County. His legal skills and work for the party were rewarded in February 1879, when Governor Oran M. Roberts appointed Abbott judge of the Twenty-eighth Judicial District (Hill, Johnson, and Bosque counties). In November 1880 voters elected Abbott to this position for a term of four years. In 1886 there was an effort to place Abbott's name in nomination for a vacancy on the Texas Supreme Court. This effort failed, but a few months later Abbott was elected to the United States Congress. The Texas lawyer represented District Twenty (Ellis, Hill, Kaufman, and Navarro counties) from 1887 to 1897. He retired from political life in 1898 and returned to Hillsboro, where he continued his legal career. He died at his home on February 11, 1908, and was buried at the old cemetery at Hillsboro.