Felder, Gabriel (1797–1868)

By: Nath Winfield and Judy Winfield

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Gabriel Felder, judge, was born in Orangeburg, South Carolina, on January 29, 1797, the son of Samuel and Ann (Horger) Felder. He was a justice of the peace in his young manhood and thereafter was known as Judge. He moved first to Mississippi, where he married. In the spring of 1851 he moved to Texas with his wife, Ann, and two sons. He settled in Washington County and between 1852 and 1856 purchased several tracts of land totaling 2,418 acres on the banks of New Year Creek, at a cost of more than $19,000, to be paid as he received money from his property in South Carolina. He had inherited a fourth of the estate of his brother, John M. Felder, of Orangeburg, South Carolina, amounting to $100,000, which included $48,830 in "Negro property," or ninety-five slaves, and $51,000 in money, mules, and horses. Jesse Y. Felder, a relative, was employed to bring the slaves from South Carolina to Texas. They arrived about June 20, 1854, too late to make a crop that year. Felder was a cotton planter, but since most of the land he purchased in Texas was heavily timbered, time and money were required to bring it into cultivation. By the time of his death only about 250 acres had been plowed. He made a trip back to South Carolina almost every year and always returned with sufficient money to satisfy his debts. He constructed his home, together with the millhouse, cotton gin, slave cabins, and other outbuildings, using the labor force from his own plantation; he was aided in building the mill and gin by an experienced mechanic.

At the Methodist Conference of 1855 he was appointed to the first board of trustees of Soule University, in Chappell Hill. He served as president of the board from June 29, 1858, until his death. In 1854 he endowed the Chair of Ancient and Modern Languages at Soule, called the Felder Professorship, in the amount of $25,000. In 1853 he provided the pews and finished the belfry of the new brick Methodist church at Washington-on-the-Brazos. After the death of his first wife on October 19, 1863, he married Mrs. Mildred S. Oliver, on April 28, 1864. The ceremony was performed by his friend James W. Shipman, an elder in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The census of 1860 listed Felder as owning 130 slaves; he was thus the largest slaveholder in Washington County.

Felder died on March 10, 1868. His will provided a 200-acre homestead for his widow, which included the residence, household furniture, carriage, and two carriage horses. To Mattie Alexander, an orphan raised by Felder, he left "a sum sufficient for her maintenance and support and to give her a good English education." His son Adlai D. (who was non compos mentis) and grandson, Gabriel S. Felder (son of Rufus H. Felder, who preceded Gabriel Felder in death) shared equally in the remainder of the estate.

Macum Phelan, History of Early Methodism in Texas, 1817–1866 (Nashville: Cokesbury, 1924); A History of the Expansion of Methodism in Texas, 1867–1902 (Dallas: Mathis, Van Nort, 1937). Homer S. Thrall, History of Methodism in Texas (Houston: Cushing, 1872; rpt., n.p.: Walsworth, 1976). Ralph A. Wooster, "Notes on Texas' Largest Slaveholders, 1860," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 65 (July 1961).

  • Agriculture
  • Plantation Owners
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas

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

Nath Winfield and Judy Winfield, “Felder, Gabriel,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/felder-gabriel.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995