Holman, James Sanders (1804–1867)

By: Dixon W. Holman

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: March 3, 2017

James Sanders Holman, soldier, public official, entrepreneur, and first mayor of Houston, the son of Isaac and Polly Anne (Wiggleworth) Holman, was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on February 7, 1804, and moved to Lincoln County, Tennessee, in 1817. On February 23, 1822, he married his cousin Martha Wilson Holman, daughter of Hardy and Elizabeth Holman; they had at least eight children. Holman and his brother, William W. Holman, arrived in San Augustine from Tennessee in the fall of 1834. Their father and two younger brothers arrived by the end of the year, and their mother and three sisters arrived on March 21, 1835. James Holman fought in the siege of Bexar, for which he was awarded land by the Republic of Texas and later by the state.

By 1836 Holman was an agent of Augustus C. and John K. Allen, the founders of Houston. Signatures of Holman, the Allen brothers, and Thomas J. Gazley, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, are on the original 1836 survey of Houston by Gail Borden, Jr., and Thomas H. Borden. In August 1837, as agent for the Houston Town Company, Holman advertised lots and a bank to be located in the new town by the Texas Railroad, Navigation, and Banking Company. He served as the first mayor of Houston from August 28, 1837, through November 1837. In August 1838 he ran unsuccessfully for Congress. Holman served as clerk of the Houston-Galveston district court from February 1839 until April 1841.

After stepping down as district clerk, he appointed Thomas M. Bagby his agent and in the early 1840s traveled to New York and Washington, advocating annexation of Texas to the United States, promoting railroads, and engaging in land speculation. During this period he also traveled to Tennessee, where his wife and children still resided. His family moved from Tennessee to Travis County, Texas, about 1854. In 1856 Holman was in Philadelphia and New York representing Texas business interests and wrote Ashbel Smith that he was expecting success in his enterprises. A James S. Holman, who may have been the same person, was a delegate from El Paso to the Democratic state convention in Dallas on April 18, 1860. During the Civil War Holman served on the Texas State Military Board (see MILITARY BOARD OF TEXAS) from April 1864 until the board ceased to function in 1865. After the war, while supervising construction of the Houston and Texas Central Railway, Holman recovered from a bout with yellow fever but caught pneumonia and died near Bryan, Texas, on December 8, 1867. Holman Avenue in Houston was named in his honor.

Feris A. Bass, Jr., and B. R. Brunson, eds., Fragile Empires: The Texas Correspondence of Samuel Swartwout and James Morgan, 1836–1856 (Austin: Shoal Creek, 1978). Houston Daily Telegraph, December 14, 1867. Houston Post, July 11, 1958. Malcolm D. McLean, comp. and ed., Papers Concerning Robertson's Colony in Texas (13 vols., Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1974–76; Arlington: University of Texas at Arlington Press, 1977–87). Andrew Forest Muir, "Railroad Enterprise in Texas, 1836–1841," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 47 (April 1944). Charles W. Ramsdell, "The Texas State Military Board, 1862–1865," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 27 (April 1924). Telegraph and Texas Register, September 30, 1837; November 4, 1837. WPA Writers Program, Houston (Houston: Anson Jones, 1942).

Time Periods:
  • Republic of Texas
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

Dixon W. Holman, “Holman, James Sanders,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/holman-james-sanders.

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March 3, 2017

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