Epperson, Benjamin Holland (1826–1878)

By: Ralph A. Wooster

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: January 1, 1995

Benjamin Holland Epperson, East Texas lawyer, politician, and state legislator, was born in Amite County, Mississippi, in 1826. He attended Princeton University but did not graduate. He moved to Texas sometime before 1847 and settled in Clarksville, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar. He was immediately accepted as a community leader even though he was still quite young. After brief service as a county commissioner, he was elected to the Second Texas Legislature in 1847.

Epperson was a leader of the Whig party in Texas during the early 1850s. He ran unsuccessfully for governor on the Whig ticket in 1851 and joined the new American (Know-Nothing) party in the mid-1850s. He served as a delegate to the national American party convention in 1856. After the defeats suffered by that party, Epperson returned to his law practice and business. He became a director of the proposed Memphis, El Paso and Pacific Railroad and acquired a sawmill. By 1860 he was one of the wealthiest men in the state.

In 1859 he was elected to the state legislature, where he worked to preserve the Union. As a delegate to the national Constitutional Union party convention he worked unsuccessfully to secure the presidential nomination for Sam Houston. In the 1860 election Epperson was a presidential elector for the Bell-Everett ticket. As a strong opponent of secession, he is said to have advised Governor Houston to accept Lincoln's offer to send troops to keep Texas in the Union.

After Texas seceded, however, Epperson pledged to support the Confederacy. He ran unsuccessfully for the Confederate Congress in the fall of 1861. Lameness in one leg kept him from military service, but he generously contributed funds and supplies to the war effort.

He returned to public life in the late spring of 1865. He traveled to Washington several times to represent the Memphis, El Paso and Pacific Railroad and in May 1866 was chosen president of the company. That same year he ran for the United States Senate and was defeated by Oran M. Roberts on the twenty-fourth ballot of the legislature. Later that year he was elected to the United States House of Representatives but was not seated by the Republican-controlled Congress.

From 1866 until 1870, when John C. Frémont replaced him as president, Epperson concentrated on managing the Memphis, El Paso and Pacific. In 1871 he moved to Jefferson, where the next year he built the House of the Seasons, an unusual structure in the style of an Italian villa with the seasons represented by the four colors of glass in its cupola. The house is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Epperson represented Marion County in the Texas legislature in 1874–75. He continued to practice law and concern himself with railroad and party matters. Although only in his early fifties, he was forced to curtail his public activities in 1877 because of failing health. He died on September 6, 1878, from nervous prostration brought on by excessive work. He was twice married and was survived by a widow and five children.

Claude Elliott, Leathercoat: The Life History of a Texas Patriot (San Antonio, 1938). James Smallwood, "Disaffection in Confederate Texas: The Great Hanging at Gainesville," Civil War History 22 (December 1976). Ralph A. Wooster, "Ben H. Epperson: East Texas Lawyer, Legislator, and Civic Leader," East Texas Historical Journal 5 (March 1967).
  • Second Legislature (1847-1848)
  • House
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Civil War

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

Ralph A. Wooster, “Epperson, Benjamin Holland,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/epperson-benjamin-holland.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995

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