Samuel Erson Asbury, chemist and Texas historian who proposed using music as a medium of historical narrative, was born on September 26, 1872, in Charlotte, North Carolina, one of eight children of Sidney Monroe and Felicia Swan (Woodward) Asbury. In the fall of 1889 Asbury enrolled at North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering at Raleigh, where he worked his way through school as a janitor in the chemistry building. He graduated in 1893 with a B.S. in chemistry and the next year was employed as an instructor in the chemistry department. At the same time he began work toward a master's degree which he completed in 1896.
Asbury became assistant state chemist in the North Carolina Experiment Station in 1895 and continued in this capacity until July 1897. During the ensuing years he worked as a chemist in a succession of jobs. He then returned to his old job in the North Carolina Experiment Station in 1899 and worked at the station until November 1, 1904, when he accepted the position of assistant state chemist with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station (see AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATION SYSTEM) on the campus of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University). He held this position until he retired partially in 1940 and completely in 1945. While at A&M he helped put his brothers and sisters through college. He also took a year's leave of absence to do advanced study in physical chemistry at Harvard. As assistant state chemist Asbury tested seed, feed, and fertilizers and experimented with growing roses. By a judicious combination of aluminum sulfate and water, he succeeded in making roses grow to a height of more than forty feet.
Soon after coming to Texas he became interested in the early history of the state and became a collector of Texana and of stories about early Texas leaders. After 1930 he became more and more absorbed in historical research; the Texas Revolution became his chief concern. He planned the production of a musical drama to tell the story of that event. In 1951 he published a pamphlet entitled Music as a Means of Historical Research in which he discussed music as a medium for the presentation of historical narrative. He proposed to produce an opera to interpret the Texas Revolution through a cycle of music dramas, but it was never completed. At the time of his death he held membership in the Southern Historical Association and was a fellow of the Texas State Historical Association. He was the author of one article and the editor of another in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly. He was a member of the Bryan-College Station Poetry Society. He attended the First Methodist Church in Bryan. Asbury died in Bryan on January 10, 1962, and was buried in the City Cemetery, College Station.