Matthew Cartwright, early merchant and landowner, the son of John and Polly (Cruchfield) Cartwright, was born in Wilson County, Tennessee, on November 11, 1807, and moved with his family to the Ayish Bayou District of Texas when he was fourteen. He went into partnership with his father at an early age, and by the late 1820s he and his father and brothers had a cotton gin and mill and hauled cotton to Natchitoches, Louisiana, and down the Sabine River. They also provided merchandise and extended credit on returns from New Orleans. They operated from their settlement on the Palo Gaucho until San Augustine was founded, at which time they started a store there. Cartwright bought out his father eventually and went into partnership with his sons after they returned from the Civil War. The store continued until after his death.
In 1826 Cartwright was a member of the local Ayish Bayou District Militia. From 1829 to 1832 he went back occasionally to Portershill Academy in Smith County, Tennessee, to further his education. In 1832 he was on the committee to find a location for the town of San Augustine. After the death of his father in 1840, he became a member of the board of trustees of the University of San Augustine. In 1848 he was on the board of trustees of the University of Eastern Texas.
Between 1847 and 1860 Cartwright dealt extensively in Texas lands. At the time of his death in 1870 he owned a million acres of land in Texas. It is said that he traveled a total of 20,000 miles on one favorite horse looking after his property. Although he was wealthy, he owned few slaves, just enough for the household. After the war he was required to apply for amnesty because of his large holdings but managed to survive and prosper, unlike many in similar circumstances. In 1849 he bought the house of his sister-in-law, Mrs. Isaac Campbell, which was built in 1839 by New England architect Augustus Phelps. This home was still in the Cartwright family in 1991.
Cartwright married Amanda Holman, the daughter of Isaac Holman, on October 18, 1836. They were the parents of two daughters and four sons, three of whom fought in the Civil War. Amanda's brother James S. Holman joined Austin's colony and later became the first mayor of Houston. On April 2, 1870, Cartwright died; he was buried in San Augustine. His wife survived him by twenty-four years. After her death their remains were transferred from San Augustine to Terrell by his youngest son, Matthew Cartwright, who was residing there.