Denison, George Stanton (1833–1866)

By: James A. Marten

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

George Stanton Denison, Unionist and United States Treasury official, the son of Eliza S. and Dr. Joseph A. Denison, Jr., was born at Royaltown, Vermont, on August 5, 1833. After his graduation from the University of Vermont in 1854, he moved to San Antonio, where for three years he taught in his uncle's private school. In 1857 he married Cornelia M. Forsyth, a Northerner with extensive holdings in land and slaves near Pensacola, Florida. A year later she died while giving birth to their only child, Willie. Denison sent the boy north, and spent the next three years reading law and administering his wife's estate. He himself hurried north after the secession of Texas in February 1861. During the Civil War his kinsman, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, appointed him special agent for the Treasury Department, and by May 1862 he was acting collector of customs for the recently captured port of New Orleans. Chase instructed Denison to write him personally about "all that relates to persons and things not proper for the subject of official communications." Denison's near-weekly reports to Chase included information and opinions on military matters, local politics, and social conditions.

He later became acting surveyor, acting collector of internal revenue for the district of New Orleans, and, for a few months after the war, supervising special agent for the Treasury Department for the state of Texas. He tried unsuccessfully to control the illegal cotton trade and worked behind the scenes of Louisiana's turbulent wartime politics. He promoted emancipating and arming slaves, and his insistence on a harsh Reconstruction led him to question the policies of Gen. Nathaniel Banks, the ranking Union general in Louisiana. Although at times he supported Radical Republican candidates, in the 1864 gubernatorial election he favored the more politically viable Michael Hahn, the victorious moderate. He and other Unionists founded the First National Bank and used the New Orleans Times to further their political interests. Denison clearly relished his role. "This is a great and glorious life," he wrote to his brother soon after his arrival. "Here is all the splendor and display of military government, with the triumphant consciousness of occupying the great stronghold of rebellion." Although his early years in Texas, from 1857 to 1861, made him remember the state as "the meanest country in the world," he apparently hoped to prosper in the postwar South. In June 1865 he wrote his uncle in Vermont that he and two partners were leasing three plantations and that he had been offered the presidency of an insurance company. En route to a visit with his family, he died of congestive fever on August 24, 1866, and was buried at sea.

James A. Padgett, ed., "Some Letters of George Stanton Denison, 1854–1866," Louisiana Historical Quarterly 23 (October 1940).

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

James A. Marten, “Denison, George Stanton,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994