Grayson, Peter Wagener (1788–1838)

By: Leslie H. Southwick

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: March 15, 2016

Peter Wagener Grayson, attorney, poet, diplomat, cabinet officer, and presidential contender, son of Benjamin and Caroline (Taylor) Grayson, was born in Bardstown, Virginia (later Kentucky), in 1788. His family had been prominent in Virginia; his great-uncle William was president of the Continental Congress and a United States senator; he was also related to President James Monroe. Grayson became an attorney, a well-known poet, and also a soldier during the War of 1812. In 1825 he moved to Louisville, from where in 1828 he was elected as a Jacksonian to the state legislature.

During the 1820s Grayson suffered serious mental illness. Temporary recovery came by 1830, when he received a league of land in Stephen F. Austin's Texas colony. By 1832 he had settled and developed a large plantation near Matagorda and had also become a confidant of Austin. In time he had substantial landholdings and owned many slaves. When Austin was imprisoned in Mexico City, Grayson and Spencer H. Jack journeyed there in late 1834 to procure his release. When in late 1835 Austin called for volunteers to repel the Mexican army, Grayson responded. On October 7 the soldiers elected him president of a board of war at Gonzales, which served until Austin's arrival. Then Grayson became Austin's aide-de-camp. During his service he was elected to the Consultation (1835) but did not leave the army to attend.

During the early stages of the Texas Revolution Grayson helped raise volunteers in the United States. On May 4, 1836, president ad interim David Burnet named him attorney general; he signed the Treaties of Velasco on May 14. Two weeks later he and James Collinsworth were named commissioners to the United States to seek recognition and annexation. They arrived in Washington on July 8 but could do little before Burnet's term ended in October. Texas president Sam Houston named Grayson attorney general in February 1837; he served until leaving for Washington in August as special envoy for annexation. In December 1837 the president made him naval agent to the United States.

Grayson reluctantly agreed to be the Houston party candidate for president in 1838. His candidacy was passive, since after initially declining he agreed to be minister plenipotentiary to the United States. On June 20 he left Galveston for Washington. July 8 found him in Bean's Station, northeast of Knoxville. That evening, he wrote of the terrible mental "fiend that possessed me" and bemoaned his acceptance of the presidential nomination, which had led to falsified, bitter campaign charges against him. The next morning he fatally shot himself. Besides a history of mental illness and the terrible calumnies of the campaign, his suicide has been blamed on an alleged rebuff to his marriage proposal by a Louisville woman whom he had long courted. In 1846 Grayson County was named in his honor.

Nina Covington, The Presidential Campaigns of the Republic of Texas of 1836 and 1838 (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1929). William Barrow Floyd, Jouett-Bush-Frazer: Early Kentucky Artists (Lexington, Kentucky, 1968). Frederick William Grayson, comp, "The Grayson Family," Tyler's Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine 5 (January, April 1924). Peter W. Grayson Papers, Rosenberg Library, Galveston. Thomas Clarence Richardson, East Texas: Its History and Its Makers (4 vols., New York: Lewis Historical Publishing, 1940). Telegraph and Texas Register, May 26, 1838. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Minnie S. Wilder, comp., Kentucky Soldiers of the War of 1812 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1969). Louis J. Wortham, A History of Texas (5 vols., Fort Worth: Wortham-Molyneaux, 1924).

  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Poets
Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution

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

Leslie H. Southwick, “Grayson, Peter Wagener,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022,

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March 15, 2016