Griffith, John Summerfield (1829–1901)

By: Brian Hart

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: November 2, 2011

John Summerfield Griffith, businessman, Confederate officer, and state legislator, was born to Michael B. and Lydia (Crabb) Griffith on June 17, 1829, in Montgomery County, Maryland. He had two brothers and three sisters. His grandfather, Capt. Samuel Griffith, took part in the battles of Germantown and Brandywine in the American Revolution. In 1839 Griffith settled with his family in San Augustine, Texas, where he was educated at home. He entered business as a clerk in a San Augustine mercantile establishment in 1850 and, using borrowed capital, established his own store the next year. In 1859 he moved to Kaufman County, where, in addition to operating a general store in Rockwall, he established himself in ranching and became one of the area's pioneer cotton farmers.

With the onset of the Civil War, Griffith joined the Confederate Army as captain of a company of cavalry volunteers that he had organized in Rockwall. When the Sixth Texas Cavalry was established and his company was accepted into the regiment, Griffith was elected lieutenant colonel. He saw action against "Union Indians" at Chustenahalah in eastern Indian Territory (1861) and against Union forces at Elk Horn Tavern, Arkansas (1862), Corinth, Hatchie (Davis) Bridge, and Holly Springs, Mississippi (1862). Griffith was largely responsible for the planning and execution of the successful Holly Springs Union Depot Raid that with General Forrest’s raid in northwest Tennessee caused Ulysses S. Grant to cancel his overland campaign to rebuild his supplies and thus contributed to the temporary relief of Vicksburg and possibly lengthened the war. The campaign ruined his already weak health, however, and forced him to resign his commission. After returning to Texas, he won election to the House of Representatives of the Tenth Texas Legislature (1863–64). As the Democratic representative of District 27 (Kaufman, Henderson, and Van Zandt counties), he chaired the Committee on Military Affairs and was appointed by Governor Pendleton Murrah as brigadier general of state troops for District 2 on March 1, 1864, a position that he held until the end of the war.

In 1873 he moved to Terrell, where he continued in the mercantile and livestock businesses. Additionally, he largely recouped his wartime financial losses by selling bois d'arc seeds to buyers in the North, who used the trees as windbreaks and hedges. Griffith was little involved in politics during the period of Reconstruction. In 1876, however, he was elected to represent the twenty-second legislative district (Kaufman, Rains, Van Zandt, and Wood counties) in the Fifteenth Texas Legislature (1876). He was appointed chairman of the House Committee on Public Printing, in which position he proved to be a "watchdog" of the state treasury.

Griffith married Emily Simpson on December 18, 1856, and the couple raised two boys and one girl. He accumulated small fortunes both before and after the Civil War, a success reflected in public respect. In 1883 he became a member of a committee chosen by the people of Terrell to get a state psychiatric hospital located in the town. He was appointed to the board of governors when the facility opened in 1885 and retained this position until Governor James Hogg appointed a new board in 1890. Griffith died in Terrell on August 6, 1901.

Frank W. Johnson, A History of Texas and Texans (5 vols., ed. E. C. Barker and E. W. Winkler [Chicago and New York: American Historical Society, 1914; rpt. 1916]). Kaufman County Historical Commission, History of Kaufman County (Dallas: Taylor, 1978).

  • Tenth Legislature (1863-1864)
  • Fifteenth Legislature (1876)
  • House
Time Periods:
  • Civil War

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

Brian Hart, “Griffith, John Summerfield,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 19, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 2, 2011

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