Dix, John James, Sr. (1796–1870)

By: Frank Wagner

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: October 21, 2020

John James Dix, Sr., businessman, judge, and Unionist, was born on April 12, 1796, at Littleton, Massachusetts. He ran away to sea in 1810 and served on an American privateer in the War of 1812. For a period he was engaged in cutting the English brig Don Cossack out of a California port. He made a voyage to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) from Mystic, Massachusetts, in 1820 and became interested in Pacific trading. In 1825 he was wrecked on the north island of New Zealand while trading between the Sandwich Islands and the islands of the South Pacific. On his return he married Mary Eliza Hayes, and they settled at Dixboro, a village he had surveyed in Washtenaw County, Michigan Territory. The town, just north of Ann Arbor, retains his name.

Dix moved his family to Texas in February 1834 and settled in Washington County. He was a part of the Texas force that took San Antonio in the siege of Bexar in 1835. He surveyed land that later became part of Coryell County but decided to live near the coast in 1849, when he moved to Corpus Christi. Upon arriving there, he and his sons constructed the Dix House, for many years one of the leading hotels of Corpus Christi. The Dix House was called the Seaside Hotel when Dix moved to Duval County. During the 1850s and 1860s his wife taught both Black and White children regularly in the second-story meetingroom of the Dix House. As a strong Unionist, he opposed secession with vigor and reason. The last Confederate grand jury in Nueces County indicted him and several other prominent Unionists for treason but did not remain to prosecute the charge when the United States Army occupied the town. When he was appointed chief justice, these political indictments were quashed. Dix was appointed postmaster of Corpus Christi in 1869 but was able to serve only a short time.

In 1852 he helped organize the first Presbyterian church congregation in Corpus Christi. He introduced the idea of Sunday schools to the area and taught in them to the end of his life. Other churches in Corpus Christi followed his example and organized Sunday schools. Dix died of pneumonia in Corpus Christi on January 18, 1870, and was buried in the city cemetery. His son, John James Dix, Jr., became county judge of Duval County and a state representative, and his other sons, William, Theodore, Benjamin, and Olwyn, were distinguished citizens of South Texas.

Brownsville Ranchero, January 29, 1870.


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Judges

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

Frank Wagner, “Dix, John James, Sr.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dix-john-james-sr.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994
October 21, 2020