John Cartwright, pioneer, son of Matthew and Polly (Grimmer) Cartwright, was born on March 10, 1787, in Pitt County, North Carolina. At a young age he moved to Tennessee with his parents and five sisters. There he grew to manhood, married, and lived near Lebanon until he left for Texas. He is said to have moved to Texas as early as 1819 and staked his claim in the Ayish Bayou District near the site of present San Augustine. Stephen F. Austin wrote to him in Ayish Bayou inquiring about travel conditions through East Texas before he came to Texas with his colony. As late as 1958 the letter was preserved at the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin but has since disappeared.
Cartwright brought his eldest son, Matthew Cartwright, and a few servants to clear the land and in 1825 brought the rest of the family, which consisted of his wife Polly, five sons, and two daughters, to settle permanently. However, possibly due to the unrest in East Texas, in 1830 he visited S. F. Austin in San Felipe and requested permission to join his colony. He did not move, however, but remained at his home place on the Palo Gaucho five miles northeast of San Augustine to the end of his life.
In 1826 Cartwright was listed one of the free males in the Ayish Bayou District and a member of the local militia. In 1834 he was elected one of the four primary judges of San Augustine Municipality and was one of the original trustees of the University of San Augustine, incorporated by the First Congress, June 5, 1837. Cartwright was an expert ironsmith and carpenter and is said to have built the first cotton gin in Texas. His cotton gin and mill was in operation by 1825, and he and his sons merchandised, ginned, and hauled cotton to Natchitoches, New Orleans, and later to Sabine Town, where he and his son-in-law William Garrett owned a warehouse for storage and shipment of goods down the Sabine River. Texas had no banks at the time, so Cartwright lent money at interest and kept deposits for his customers. He and Matthew helped supply the Texas army during the Texas Revolution.
Cartwright was noted for his size-so large he had a reinforced carriage in which he alone occupied the wide seat. He invested in the proposed town of San Augustine as early as 1830 by buying seventeen lots from developer Thomas S. McFarland. The town was finally laid out in 1833. Shortly afterward Cartwright moved his mercantile store there and ran it in partnership with his son Matthew. He also continued his ironworks, ginning, and hauling and some merchandising at his home place east of town. He died on July 18, 1841.