Edward Fontaine, early minister and amateur naturalist, was born in Greenwood, Virginia, on August 5, 1814, the son of Patrick Henry and Nancy (Dabney) Fontaine and great-grandson of Patrick Henry. He was admitted to the United States Military Academy, West Point, in July 1830 but was discharged in July 1832 because of a deficiency in math. He was admitted to the bar on February 28, 1835. That year he worked in Pontotoc, Mississippi, as a draftsman on the survey of Chickasaw lands acquired by the federal government.
He became active in the Methodist Episcopal Church, was admitted to the ministry in 1838, and served in Texas at Houston and Galveston by 1840, but later that year he relinquished his ministry. He married Mary Ann Swisher in November 1840, and they had three sons. From May to October 1841 he was private secretary to President Mirabeau B. Lamar. There being no clergyman of any denomination in Austin, Fontaine resolved to do what he could for the religious welfare of his fellow citizens. He organized a Sunday school and preached to all comers, Black and White, at informal services in the Capitol or outside in an oak grove. When the seat of government was moved away from Austin and Lamar's term had ended, Fontaine taught school in Independence and Gay Hill in 1842–43. He may have participated in the Somervell expedition in the fall of 1842. About 1843 he went to Mississippi, where he entered the Episcopal Church and was ordained to the ministry on May 14, 1848. In 1851 he returned to Austin as rector of the Church of the Epiphany. He supervised the building of a church, completed and consecrated in May 1855, that became part of the present St. David's Church, Austin. Fontaine's wife died in 1855. In 1859 he married Mrs. Susan Taylor Britton. They had several children, but only two lived to maturity. In Austin Fontaine was active as a clergyman, politician, and amateur naturalist. He traveled widely, served as chaplain of the Texas Senate in 1857–58, and advocated establishment of a state university and a geological survey.
The church suffered in antebellum Texas because of a division in the membership on questions of slavery and secession. Fontaine resigned his charge in Austin and moved to Mississippi in 1859. He was captain of Company H, Eighteenth Regiment, Mississippi Volunteers, and chief of ordnance of the Mississippi Army during the Civil War. He served subsequently as rector at St. Mark's, Mississippi, and at Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. He was a member of the New York Historical Society, the Maryland Academy of Science, and the New Orleans Academy of Science. He delivered addresses and wrote papers about his various scientific interests. His lectures included "How the World Was Peopled" (1872), which contained information on the natural history of Texas, "Winds of the Gulf States" (1873), and "A Lecture on the Peculiarities of the Physical Geography of the Mississippi River and its Delta" (1874). He died at Belvidere, Mississippi, on January 19, 1884.
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Austin History Center Files. Edward Fontaine Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Louis Wiltz Kemp Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Texas Collection, October 1943. Daisy Barrett Tanner, The History and Treasures of St. David's Church (Austin, 1976). Work Projects Administration Writers' Program, St. David's through the Years (Austin: St. David's Episcopal Church, 1942).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 26, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
October 22, 2020