Borden, John Pettit (1812–1891)

By: William N. Todd IV and Gerald Knape

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: September 15, 2016

John P. Borden, participant in the Texas Revolution and the first commissioner of the General Land Office of Texas, was born in Norwich, New York, on December 30, 1812, the son of Gail and Philadelphia (Wheeler) Borden, Sr. He came to Texas with other family members in December 1829, and he received 1,102 acres on November 20, 1832, in Stephen F. Austin's second colony, located on the Colorado River in the area that later became Wharton County. Borden enrolled in Capt. George Collinsworth's company on October 7, 1835, and participated in the taking of Goliad two days later (see GOLIAD CAMPAIGN OF 1835). He helped write a resolution to Austin informing him that the Goliad men reserved the privilege of naming their own company commander. He then enrolled in Capt. Philip Dimmitt's company and took part in the siege of Bexar in December 1835. Borden was discharged on January 11, 1836, but reenlisted a few weeks later and served as first lieutenant in Moseley Baker's company at the battle of San Jacinto.

In late 1836 he and his brother Gail Borden, Jr., surveyed and laid out the town of Houston. He married sometime around 1837, but his wife, Elizabeth, died on May 10, 1838, in Richmond, Texas. Sam Houston appointed Borden the first land commissioner of Texas, an office he held from August 23, 1837, to December 12, 1840. Starting out in his office in Houston, Borden faced the enormous task of acquiring and protecting numerous Mexican and Spanish land titles issued before the republic. The records provided valuable evidence to validate land ownership. Borden began with no money, supplies, or employees to undertake his job, and at one time he had to store the records at friends' houses. Yet in 1837 he reported the successful acquisition of land documents from all over Texas, with the exception of records from three eastern and two southern colonies.

In 1839 Borden moved the land archives from Houston to Austin. He received $1,200 for the transportation by wagon of almost 5,000 pounds of documents. In October of that year, with a small group of assistants, he worked on making recommendations for land patents by comparing surveyors' notes. The office, underfunded and understaffed, faced growing pressure from the public to speed the patent process. Borden tried to increase public and government awareness of the need for more funding, manpower, and authority for the land office that was responsible for administering 216 million acres of Texas lands. Frustrated, he resigned in December 1840; his efforts, however, helped demonstrate the importance of the land office.

Borden was a member of the Somervell expedition in 1842 but did not go on to Mier. He subsequently moved to Galveston, studied law, and was an agent for the Galveston City Company (see GALVESTON, TEXAS). He entered a law practice at Richmond and married Mary Susan Hatch in 1843. They had nine children. In 1844 he was elected county judge of Fort Bend County and in 1846 was elected chief justice of the county. The family moved to McGloin's Bluff in San Patricio County in 1855. Borden established the Ingleside Seminary, a boys academy which he operated until 1873. In the mid-1870s he moved to Borden, Texas, in Colorado County. He died on November 12, 1891.

Sam Houston Dixon and Louis Wiltz Kemp, The Heroes of San Jacinto (Houston: Anson Jones, 1932). Galveston Daily News, November 14, 1891. Garry Mauro, Land Commissioners of Texas (Austin: Texas General Land Office, 1986). Homer S. Thrall, A Pictorial History of Texas (St. Louis: Thompson, 1879). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Education
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • School Founders
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • General Law
Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution
  • Republic of Texas
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

William N. Todd IV and Gerald Knape, “Borden, John Pettit,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

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September 15, 2016

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