Jennings, Thomas Jefferson (1801–1881)

By: Robert Lee Williamson

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: November 9, 2020

Thomas Jefferson Jennings, legislator and attorney general, son of William and Mariam Howard (Smith) Jennings, was born in Shenandoah County, Virginia, on October 20, 1801. When he was about ten years old the family moved to Indiana and from there to Kentucky. He clerked in a country store and taught school to earn money to attend Transylvania College, where he graduated with highest honors in 1825. While teaching in Paris, Tennessee, he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1827. For two years he practiced in partnership with his brother, Judge Dudley S. Jennings, and then moved to Huntington, Tennessee, where he was connected with Berry Gillespie until he moved to Yazoo City, Mississippi, in 1836. Jennings moved to San Augustine, Texas, in the spring of 1840, and in the fall to Nacogdoches. There, in January 1844, he married Mrs. Sarah G. Mason. He was elected attorney general of Texas in 1852 and held the office until 1856, when he did not seek reelection. He moved to a plantation near Alto and in 1857 was elected to the Texas legislature as a representative from Cherokee County. As a state representative he opposed founding the University of Texas, evidently out of concern that Austin would corrupt the morals of students. In 1861 Jennings was a member of the Secession Convention. He owned five slaves in 1850 and six in 1860. He joined the Confederate Army but in the fall of 1861 suffered a paralytic stroke that incapacitated him for eighteen months. He moved to Tyler in 1864 and resumed his law practice, first with B. T. Selman and later with his son, Tom R. Jennings. He retired from practice in 1875 and in 1877 moved to Fort Worth, where he died on September 23, 1881.

John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: Daniell, 1880; reprod., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). Carolyn Reeves Ericson, Nacogdoches, Gateway to Texas: A Biographical Directory (2 vols., Fort Worth: Arrow-Curtis Printing, 1974, 1987). Sidney S. Johnson, Texans Who Wore the Gray (Tyler, Texas, 1907). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker, eds., The Writings of Sam Houston, 1813–1863 (8 vols., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1938–43; rpt., Austin and New York: Pemberton Press, 1970).

  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

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

Robert Lee Williamson, “Jennings, Thomas Jefferson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 9, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: