DuVal, Thomas Howard (1813–1880)

By: Roy L. Swift

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: May 29, 2020

Thomas Howard DuVal, first United States judge for the Western District of Texas, the second son of Nancy (Hynes) and William Pope DuVal was born in Buckingham County, Virginia, on November 4, 1813. He grew up in Bardstown, Kentucky, and received an A.B. degree from St. Joseph's College in 1833. He read law under Charles A. Wickliffe, postmaster general in President John Tyler's administration. After following his father to Florida in 1835, he was admitted to the Florida bar in 1837. In 1839 in Prince William County, Virginia, he married his first cousin, Laura Peyton DuVal. The couple returned to Florida, where DuVal began his career of public service as circuit clerk of Leon County, then became clerk ex officio of the court of appeals. He served as secretary of the Territory of Florida from September 1841 to July 1945.

His two brothers, Burr H. and John C. DuVal, had answered the call of the Texas Revolution in 1835. Thomas moved to Austin with his wife and two children in December 1845 to practice law. From 1846 to 1851 he served as a reporter for the state Supreme Court. In 1851 Governor Peter Hansborough Bell appointed him secretary of state. In 1855–56 he was judge of the Second Judicial District of Texas, and in 1857 President James Buchanan appointed him first United States judge for the new Western District of Texas, which extended from Tyler in East Texas to El Paso and Brownsville and included Waco, Austin, and San Antonio. DuVal held this office until his death.

The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 caused suspension of the court's proceedings, but Judge DuVal, intensely loyal to the Union cause, remained at his station in Austin. Between 1861 and 1863 he held two jobs there-one in the General Land Office, which provided him with a small income, and another as deputy county surveyor, which provided no salary but protected him from conscription. So great was the respect he commanded that neither he nor his family suffered indignity under the Confederate government. DuVal, however, found himself in an agonizing position: his son Burr G., perhaps hoping to protect his father and family, accepted a commission in the Confederate Army and went to the front. DuVal, concerned for the boy's safety, and believing he had a plan for a just termination of the war, determined to go to Washington to present his plan to President Lincoln. He left his wife and younger children in Austin, made a precarious passage in October 1863 through the Confederate lines to Union-occupied Vicksburg, and traveled thence by boat and rail to Washington. Through the good offices of Secretary of State William H. Seward and other influential friends, DuVal did gain a brief audience at the White House. His plan-to bring the war to an end by indemnifying each state as it returned to the Union for the value of its slaves-never materialized, but while in Washington he did secure payment for three years' back salary.

DuVal made his way to New Orleans, then proceeded in early 1864 to Brownsville, where the Union Army had effected a beachhead in Texas. Disappointed eventually by the lack of progress in the invasion, he returned to New Orleans, went to New York, and traveled once more to Washington in an effort to stimulate recovery of Texas to the Union fold. In the winter of 1864–65 he returned to his family in New Orleans.

At the end of the war, upon opening court again in Austin, he accepted his son's oath of allegiance to the United States as condition for restoration of his citizenship. DuVal, a moderate Republican, applied himself toward rebuilding acceptance and confidence in United States constitutional law. He pioneered in the opening of federal court sessions from Austin westward. An unsuccessful attempt to impeach him was launched by the radicals between 1872 and 1874, apparently because of his moderate stance within the Republican party and the government jobs that he had taken during the war. After more than twenty-three years on the federal bench, DuVal died on October 10, 1880, of an apparent attack of appendicitis at Fort Omaha, Nebraska. He is buried in Austin. He was survived by his wife and four of his five children, one of whom married Charles Shannon West.

Austin Daily Statesman, October 12, 1880. The Charges against the Federal Court at Austin (Austin: Tracy, Siemering, 1872). DuVal Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Bessie Berry Grabowskii, The DuVal Family of Virginia, 1701 (Richmond, Virginia: Dietz Printing, 1933). Andrew Jackson Hamilton Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. James D. Lynch, The Bench and Bar of Texas (St. Louis, 1885).


  • 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.

Roy L. Swift, “DuVal, Thomas Howard,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 02, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/duval-thomas-howard.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 29, 2020