Clark, James (1799–1838)

By: Jeff Dunn

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: December 1, 1994

James Clark, founder of Clarksville, Red River County, the son of Benjamin and Mary (McLendon) Clark, was born in 1799 in Sumner County, Tennessee. About 1814 he moved with his family from Tennessee to what is now southwestern Arkansas. He graduated from the University of Virginia at age sixteen and first entered Texas in 1819. He returned again by 1826 to trade with the Indians and to hunt. For most of the 1820s, however, he was living near Little River in what is now southwestern Arkansas, where he manufactured salt. In 1827 Clark was elected to the House of Representatives of the Arkansas Territory General Assembly as a representative of Miller County, Arkansas, which included parts of what is now northeastern Texas. He was reelected in August 1829 after his marriage, on July 15, 1829, to Isabella Hanks (see GORDON, ISABELLA H. H.), the widow of John Hanks. In late 1830 Clark moved to Jonesborough on the south side of the Red River in what is now Red River County, Texas. Though Mexico claimed Jonesborough as part of Texas, the settlement at that time was within the jurisdiction of Miller County, Arkansas Territory. The unsurveyed boundary line between the Sabine and Red rivers meant that Clark and his neighbors faced the uncertainty of not knowing whether they were living in Mexico or the United States. Clark was appointed postmaster for Miller County on December 10, 1830, but on December 31, 1830, he took an oath to Mexico to register his family for a Mexican land grant under the authority of Arthur Wavell's colonization contract. Because of the Law of April 6, 1830, and the unsettled boundary with the United States, however, Mexico never issued titles to Wavell's colonists.

In 1831 Clark was appointed a justice of the peace for Miller County, and the next year he served as deputy clerk when Jonesborough became the county seat. In 1833 he was elected to represent Miller County in the Legislative Council, the upper body of the Arkansas Territory General Assembly. He moved his family in 1833 to Sulphur Fork Prairie, twenty-five miles south of Jonesborough, where he founded the settlement later named Clarksville, now the county seat of Red River County. On the outbreak of the Texas Revolution the Red River settlements, known as Pecan Point to the South Texans, were invited to send a representative to the General Council of the provisional government then meeting in San Felipe. Clark, appointed by a citizens' committee to represent the interests of Pecan Point, led a deputation of Red River settlers to Nacogdoches in December 1835; he arrived in San Felipe by January 11, 1836, with a letter of introduction from John Forbes. In April 1836 he was a member of a volunteer ranger expedition to gather information about Indian movements near the Red River settlements, and on July 14, 1836, he raised a company of mounted riflemen to join the fight for Texas independence. This company, known as the Red River Blues, was enlisted into service at Clark's home and was commanded by Capt. William Becknell. Clark served as first lieutenant. Though Clark was delayed along the way because of illness, the company traveled to the Lavaca River in South Texas and joined Gen. Thomas Jefferson Green's brigade.

After the company was discharged in October 1836, Clark returned home. He and others supported the establishment of Red River County within the Republic of Texas, but Miller County, Arkansas, attempted similar jurisdiction at Jonesborough until 1838. On February 1, 1838, the Red River County Board of Land Commissioners awarded Clark 4,605 acres as his first-class headright grant. He later received another 320 acres from the Texas secretary of war as his bounty grant for serving three months in the army. Clark had a promising future as a leading figure in Clarksville and Northeast Texas, but he contracted a throat ailment while surveying land grants in early 1838 and never recovered. He died on May 2, 1838, and was buried in Clarksville Cemetery. He was survived by his wife and four children, and by his ward, Minerva Ann Hanks. In 1936 the state of Texas, as part of the Texas Centennial, placed a historical monument at his grave.

James Clark Family Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Pat B. Clark, The History of Clarksville and Old Red River County (Dallas: Mathis, Van Nort, 1937). Claude V. Hall, "Early Days in Red River County," East Texas State Teachers College Bulletin 14 (June 1931). Red River Recollections (Clarksville, Texas: Red River County Historical Society, 1986). Rex W. Strickland, Anglo-American Activities in Northeastern Texas, 1803–1845 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1937).
  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Exploration
  • Traders

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

Jeff Dunn, “Clark, James,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994