Herndon, John Hunter (1813–1878)

By: Andrew F. Muir

Revised by: Randolph B. "Mike" Campbell

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: May 2, 2022

John Hunter Herndon, planter, rancher, and businessman, the son of Boswell and Mary (Hunter) Herndon, was born near Georgetown, Kentucky, on July 8, 1813. After graduating from Transylvania College in both arts and law, he left Kentucky and arrived in Galveston, Texas, on January 18, 1838. During most of that year he lived in Houston, where he continued his study of law. On April 12, 1838, he was elected engrossing clerk of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Texas. He moved to Richmond in Fort Bend County, where he was admitted to the bar on November 23, 1838. Herndon practiced law in the Supreme Court of Texas and the district courts of the Second Judicial District. On August 27, 1839, he married Barbara Mackall Wilkinson Calvit, the only daughter of Alexander Calvit and heir to the Calvit sugar plantation in Brazoria County. Herndon and his wife had four sons and two daughters. The plantation, near the site of present Clute, was noted for its Arabian horses and cattle herds, which were later sold to Abel Head (Shanghai) Pierce. Herndon owned stock ranches in Matagorda, Guadalupe, and Medina counties, engaged in real estate, and incorporated several other entrepreneurial ventures. He was a director of the Richmond Masonic Hall and trustee of the Brazoria Male and Female Academy.

He was a member of the Somervell expedition in 1842 and with many others turned back at the Rio Grande and escaped the Black Bean Episode. The 1850 census indicates that he owned real estate valued at $100,000, the largest holding in Fort Bend County; by 1860 he had acquired $1,605,000 in real property, $106,050 in personal property, and forty slaves and was among the wealthiest men in the state. Herndon at one time owned a summer house at Velasco, where he was appointed postmaster in 1858, and is believed to have owned a million acres of Texas land. He did not serve actively in the Civil War but on March 29, 1862, was elected colonel of militia of Fort Bend and Brazoria counties. From 1862 to 1865 he was president of the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway Company. The Civil War and Reconstruction destroyed most of his fortune. After the war he moved to Hempstead and later to Boerne, where he died on July 6, 1878. He was buried in the Hempstead Cemetery.

History of Texas, Together with a Biographical History of the Cities of Houston and Galveston (Chicago: Lewis, 1895). Andrew Forest Muir, ed., "Diary of a Young Man in Houston, 1838," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 53 (January 1950). Abner J. Strobel, The Old Plantations and Their Owners of Brazoria County (Houston, 1926; rev. ed., Houston: Bowman and Ross, 1930; rpt., Austin: Shelby, 1980). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin; C. Herndon Williams, Texas Gulf Coast Stories (Charleston: History Press, 2010), 78-9, 122; C. Herndon Williams, True Tales of the Texas Frontier: Eight Centuries of Adventure and Surpise (Charleston: History Press, 2013). 

  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas

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

Andrew F. Muir Revised by Randolph B. "Mike" Campbell, “Herndon, John Hunter,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 06, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/herndon-john-hunter.

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May 2, 2022