Barrett, Thomas C. (1809–1892)

By: Robert Wayne McDaniel

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: November 1, 1994

Thomas C. Barrett, jurist during the Great Hanging at Gainesville, son of Thomas and Jane (Christian) Barrett, was born in Anson County, North Carolina, on June 21, 1809. He married Martha Alexander in Tennessee in January 1833. They had five children. Barrett became a minister and a self-taught physician during the 1830s. The family moved from Tennessee to Missouri in 1842 and was living there when Mrs. Barrett died, on September 14, 1844. Barrett afterward married Alsay Linley of Kentucky and fathered another seven children.

The Barretts moved to Texas in 1848. They lived first in Hopkins County, then Titus County, and in 1860 settled on a farm three miles east of Gainesville. In October 1862, upon hearing about a supposed plot by the "Union Peace Party" to overthrow the Confederate government and return the North Texas area to the government of the United States, Barrett rode to Gainesville to investigate. He learned that a jury had been chosen to hear the cases and that he had been selected to serve. The jury decided that only a majority vote would be necessary to determine guilt or innocence, but Barrett was in favor of an unanimous or at least a two-thirds vote. After eight men were tried, found guilty, and sentenced to hang, Barrett and another juror stated that they would remove themselves from the jury unless at least a two-thirds vote was required for a guilty verdict. The jury agreed. Barrett later speculated that the citizens of Gainesville and the surrounding area would have been satisfied with the execution of these eight men if James Dickson and Col. William C. Young had not been murdered from ambush north of Gainesville. These killings caused renewed excitement, and more prosecutions ensued. At the end of the trial forty men had been found guilty and hanged.

After the trial ended, Barrett, fearing reprisals, decided to move his family to a safer place. The Barretts moved to Mount Vernon in the fall of 1863 and remained there until June 1865, when they moved to Bell County. In Bell County Barrett heard that federal soldiers were arresting people who had committed crimes during the Civil War. He spent several nights sleeping out of doors and hiding before he decided to leave Texas until proper authorities were again in control. He went to Mount Pleasant, Mississippi, in January 1866 and visited relatives in Tennessee before returning to Gainesville in December 1866. He demanded a jury trial for his part in the hangings and was found not guilty on December 11, 1868. In 1885 Barrett published his memoirs in a book, The Great Hanging at Gainesville. He deprecated the role of emotion in the jury's decisions and argued that his being on the jury had saved large numbers of lives. He spent the remainder of his life as a preacher for the Church of Christ, a doctor, and a farmer in Cooke County, where he died on July 24, 1892.

Thomas Barrett, The Great Hanging at Gainesville (Gainesville, Texas, 1885; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1961). Biographical Souvenir of the State of Texas (Chicago: Battey, 1889; rpt., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978).
  • Religion
  • Church Of Christ

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Robert Wayne McDaniel, “Barrett, Thomas C.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 18, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994