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Blanch, Ezekiel Alfred (1814–1877)

Claire E. Dobbs Biography Entry

Ezekiel Alfred Blanch, Texas state legislator and chief engineer of the Southern Pacific Railroad, son of Ezekiel Blanch and Mildred (Cook) Blanch, was born at Brunswick, Virginia, on July 6, 1814. His father, Ezekiel Blanch, served as a colonel in the Revolutionary War. Blanch married Mary Alexima Glas Strachan on February 26, 1855, in Dinwiddie, Virginia. They had three children together.

E. A. Blanch graduated from Randolph Macon College in 1838 and from there went on to become a professor of mathematics at the University of Virginia. After this he began a career as a civil engineer for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, which was eventually reorganized and renamed the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. In 1854 the railroad dispatched him to Texas to survey an extension of the railroad across Harrison County. Blanch eventually moved to the Harrison County seat, Marshall, after he married, and he started work as chief engineer of the railroad project in 1857. United States census and Harrison County tax records also indicate that Blanch owned a farm in Marshall, based on both the value of his property and number of slaves he owned.

Blanch does not seem to have any family connection to politics and certainly not in Texas. Besides the Weekly Harrison Flag mentioning that another newspaper was endorsing him for the office of state engineer in 1859, there is no record of Blanch being politically active before he served as a state senator from Harrison County in the Eighth Texas Legislature.

Harrison County elected Blanch to the Texas State Senate on December 31, 1859, in a special election to fill the vacancy left by Louis T. Wigfall after a joint session of the legislature elected Wigfall to fill the vacancy in the United States Senate after the death of James P. Henderson. Before the election, local newspapers compared Blanch's voting record as a loyal Democrat to that of other candidates. He likely won the close election because two members (Josiah Marshall and J. M. Morphis) of the Unionist Opposition party ran against each other and split the vote in Blanch's favor. The results of the election were Blanch 292, Marshall 261, Morphis 57, Charles C. Mills 24, A. D. Burress 3.

Blanch was an active member of the Eighth legislature and served on the committees of Federal Relations, Finance, State Affairs, and Internal Improvements. He addressed the Senate often during the session, frequently offered up ideas for amendments, and spoke on behalf of the Internal Improvements Committee. This confidence most likely came from his expertise as chief engineer of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Most of the bills that Blanch introduced in the Senate were related to railroads. Of those bills, the Senate passed two: one relating to regulating railroad companies and another on incorporating the Texas Western Railroad Company. On the bill to regulate railroad companies Blanch offered amendments that would require the railroad companies to have all lands they were acquiring listed in the local papers and that all railroad companies would need to submit an annual report to the state comptroller and the commissioner of the General Land Office. Blanch also introduced a bill to authorize the Southern Pacific Railroad to build a section of railroad to Shreveport, Louisiana. The Senate passed this bill as well as another concerning the Southern Pacific Railroad that allowed it to connect to other railroads.

On March 19, 1861, at the beginning of the adjourned session of the Eighth legislature, Blanch presented the resolution that the Senate then adopted resolving that each member of the Senate should take an oath of loyalty to the Confederate States of America, which Texas had just joined after seceding from the Union in February 1861. This, along with the previously-mentioned efforts of newspapers to separate Blanch from those with sympathies towards the Opposition or Constitutional Unionist Party, suggests that Blanch was a secessionist.

It does not appear that Blanch sought reelection for the Ninth Texas Legislature, possibly because redistricting meant that the entire Senate was up for reelection. His time in politics was not over, though. In a special election on August 4, 1862, Harrison and Panola counties elected Blanch to the Texas House of Representatives to fill the vacant spot left by Sterling B. Hendricks as the representative from their two-county district in the first called session of the Ninth legislature. In the House, Blanch served on the committees of Finance, Internal Improvement, and Public Lands. He offered several resolutions relating to the Confederacy during that session. Two of these passed the House: one calling for the Committee on Confederate Relations to investigate whether Confederate troops were interfering with trade with Mexico and another calling the joint address of the House and the Senate to the soldiers to be published and transmitted to command posts throughout the Confederacy.

Blanch later ran for public office after the Civil War. The Weekly Harrison Flag announced his candidacy to represent Harrison and Upshur counties in the Senate in the Eleventh Texas Legislature in 1866. Blanch, however, did not win the election. He continued to work as a railroad engineer after the war and was listed as a civil engineer on the United States census in 1870. By 1876 he had secured a position with the state of Texas as a railroad inspection agent.

Ezekiel Alfred Blanch died the morning of November 5, 1877, in his home in Marshall. He was sixty-three. His obituary gave no cause of death. At the time of his death Blanch owned 275 acres of land in Harrison County, which his wife Mary later sold before moving to California. His funeral was held in the local Methodist church, and he was most likely buried in Marshall Cemetery, where his wife was interred after her death in 1891. Local newspapers lauded both his contribution as an engineer and his faithful service to his constituents and eulogized him as "a pure, upright, cultivated gentlemen, modest and unassuming, a worthy representative of Virginia, his native state."

Randolph B. Campbell, A Southern Community in Crisis: Harrison County, Texas, 1850–1880 (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1983, rpt. 2016). Legislative Reference Library: E. A. Blanch (https://lrl.texas.gov/legeLeaders/members/memberDisplay.cfm?memberID=4895&searchparams=chamber=~city=~countyID=0~RcountyID=~district=~first=~gender=~last=blanch~leaderNote=~leg=~party=~roleDesc=~Committee=), accessed September 3, 2020. Marshall Messenger, November 10, 24, 1877; August 29, 1879. Weekly Harrison Flag (Marshall, Texas), December 2, 1859; June 7, 1866.

Categories:

  • Politics and Government
  • Government Officials
  • House
  • Senate
  • State Legislators
  • Eighth Legislature (1859-1861)
  • Ninth Legislature (1861-1863)
  • Transportation and Railroads

Time Periods:

  • Antebellum Texas
  • Civil War
  • Reconstruction

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

Claire E. Dobbs, “Blanch, Ezekiel Alfred,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 28, 2020, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/blanch-ezekiel-alfred.

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