John Lafayette Camp, soldier and political leader, was born on February 20, 1828, near Birmingham, Alabama, the son of John Lay and Elizabeth (Brown) Camp. In 1848 he graduated from the University of Tennessee, and the following year he moved to Gilmer, Upshur County, Texas. There he taught school, became a prosperous cotton planter, and established himself as one of the leading attorneys of East Texas. In 1851 he married Mary Ann Ward, the daughter of William Ward, a well-known physician. The couple eventually had five children.
When the Civil War began, Camp was first elected captain of a company and then colonel of the Fourteenth Texas Cavalry. The regiment served in Texas and Arkansas in the early months of the war but was later transferred east of the Mississippi River to the Confederate Army of Tennessee. There the regiment was consolidated with the Tenth Texas Cavalry, Dismounted, and assigned to Mathew D. Ector's brigade. Camp saw action at the battles of Richmond and Cumberland Gap, Kentucky; Murfreesboro (Stone's River), Tennessee; and Chickamauga and Altoona, Georgia. He was twice wounded and twice captured.
In 1866 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives from the First District of Texas but was not permitted to take his seat. He served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1866, where he was an advocate of presidential Reconstruction. In 1872, as a delegate to the national Democratic party convention, he favored cooperation with the liberal wing of the Republican party. In 1874 he was elected to the Texas Senate, where he sponsored railroad construction in order to encourage the settlement of West Texas. He was also a firm supporter of constitutional reform and, with two members of the Texas House of Representatives, formed a committee that drafted a proposed new constitution for the state.
In 1878 Governor Richard B. Hubbard appointed Camp judge of the district comprising Jefferson, Marshall, Palestine, and Tyler, and in 1884, hoping that the change of climate would improve Camp's health, President Grover Cleveland appointed him registrar of the land office in Arizona. His health continued to decline, however, and Camp resigned after two years to return to Texas. He settled in San Antonio, where he died on July 16, 1891, and was buried in Dignowity Cemetery. He was the father of John Lafayette Camp, Jr. Camp County in northeast Texas is named in his honor.