Joseph Daniels, soldier and civil servant, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on July 26, 1809. In 1830 he moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he raised and was elected first lieutenant of the Louisiana Greys. He and his company were detailed to serve as an honor guard for the arrival in New Orleans of the wounded Sam Houston after the battle of San Jacinto. This chance encounter grew into a close and lasting friendship. Daniels followed Houston to Texas in 1837 and settled at Houston. On November 9, 1838, he was elected captain of the Milam Guards, a militia company that he had organized and trained. In November 1838 he led his company, in cooperation with Maj. George W. Bonnell, against the Indians on the Little Brazos River above Nashville. On December 2 he was ordered to garrison and take command of Fort Houston, near the site of present-day Palestine, and to drive the Indians from that region. On January 8, 1839, he moved his company to the falls of the Brazos, near the site of present Waco, where he was to give "protection to the frontier against Indian depredations." "The destiny of the upper Brazos is in a measure committed to the custody of the Milam Guards," wrote Gen. Moseley Baker. Daniels returned to Houston at the end of the campaign and was commissioned a captain in the First Regiment of Infantry in the Army of the Republic of Texas on February 24, 1839. In Houston in October 1839 he married Ann Van Versal, a New Orleans widow with two children. The couple had five additional children, of whom three died in infancy.
Early in 1839 Daniels moved to Washington-on-the-Brazos, then the seat of the government, when he was appointed chief clerk of the General Land Office under Thomas W. Ward; he moved to Austin when the government moved there late in the same year. It was reported that during the so-called "Archives War" of December 30–31, 1842, Daniels was shot at several times by citizens attempting to keep the state papers in Austin. "What injury he sustained is unknown," reported Sam Houston. Daniels was later appointed acting postmaster general, then was elected captain of the Travis Guards and Rifles, and on December 5, 1844, became Governor Houston's aide-de-camp with the rank of colonel of cavalry. On June 26, 1846, when the Mexican War broke out, he was commissioned a captain in the United States Army and appointed assistant quartermaster on the staff of Gen. John A. Quitman. He served as Quitman's aide during Gen. Winfield Scott's Mexico City campaign and on August 20, 1847, was brevetted to major for "gallant and meritorious conduct" at the battles of Contreras and Churubusco. Daniels was discharged from federal service on October 15, 1848. After the war he moved to San Francisco, California, where he died on May 25, 1886.