Dallam, James Wilmer (1818–1847)

By: Kate Dallam Gregory

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: August 28, 2020

James Wilmer Dallam, legal scholar, newspaper publisher, and author, the son of Francis Johnson and Sarah (Wilmer) Dallam, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 24, 1818. Following his graduation in 1837 from Brown University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, he studied law in Baltimore in the office of Reverdy Johnson. In 1839 Dallam moved to Matagorda, Texas, where he quickly made a place for himself in the frontier community. In 1844 he went to Washington-on-the-Brazos, to compile A Digest of the Laws of Texas: Containing a Full and Complete Compilation of the Land Laws; Together with the Opinions of the Supreme Court. Published in Baltimore by John Dallam Toy in 1845, Dallam's Digest, as the work is familiarly known, has been called the "lawyer's Bible" and has gone through several printings: 1881, 1883, and 1904. His Opinions of the Supreme Court of Texas from 1840 to 1844, Inclusive, was published as a separate book in 1883, a reprint of the second part of the 1845 edition. Because modern Texas jurisprudence is based on the laws in effect in the republic, the Digest has retained its importance. In 1845 Dallam returned to Matagorda, where he married Annie Fisher, daughter of Samuel Rhoads Fisher. Their one child, Annie, was born in March 1847. Dallam founded and edited for a brief time a weekly paper in Matagorda, the Colorado Herald, the first issue in July 1846, carrying the motto: "Give me liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely, above all liberties." In 1847 he was invited to establish a newspaper in Indianola. While making arrangements in New Orleans, he died of yellow fever on August 20, 1847. He was buried in Matagorda. The youthful lawyer-codifier-editor was a prodigious worker; besides his serious works in the law and in the newspaper field he wrote two short romances founded on incidents of Texas history. The Lone Star, a Tale of Texas was published in 1845, and The Deaf Spy, in 1848, after his death. Dallam County was named in his honor.

James D. Lynch, The Bench and Bar of Texas (St. Louis, 1885). John C. Townes, "Development of the Texas Judicial System," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 2 (July, October 1898). Richard B. McCaslin, Washington-on-the-Brazos: Cradle of the Texas Republic (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2016). Clarence Wharton, "Early Judicial History of Texas," Texas Law Review 12 (April 1934).

  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Publishers and Executives
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Museums, Libraries, and Archives
  • Librarians
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Dramatists and Novelists
  • Fiction
Time Periods:
  • Republic of Texas

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

Kate Dallam Gregory, “Dallam, James Wilmer,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dallam-james-wilmer.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 28, 2020