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Kerfoot, John David (1835–1903)

Kristi Nedderman Biography Entry

John David Kerfoot, lawyer, judge, insurance agent, and mayor of Dallas, was born on July 1, 1835, to Franklin James and Harriet (Webb) Kerfoot in Clarke County, Virginia. Kerfoot attended both Columbian College and the University of Virginia in the mid-1850s. At Columbian (now George Washington University), he was a member of the Enosinian Society, a debate and literary society founded in 1822, and he held the offices of both recording secretary and vice president. By 1860 the U.S. census listed him as a lawyer in Dallas, Texas, and in a practice with T. M. Waller. When the Civil War began, he returned to Virginia and enlisted in the Confederate Army on August 24, 1861, at Camp Onward, in Fairfax, Virginia. He served as a private in Company D of the Sixth Regiment of the Virginia Cavalry.

Kerfoot remained in Virginia after the war’s end, and on April 30, 1867, he married his cousin Mary Eliza Carr, daughter of John and Emily Carr. The couple then moved to Dallas where Kerfoot opened a law practice with John M. Crockett. Kerfoot was elected presiding justice of the Dallas County court in December 1869 by a vote of 172 to 125 against John C. Seydel. He was re-elected in 1873.

In 1875 Kerfoot was elected mayor of Dallas. During his administration, two significant changes in Dallas government occurred via a new city charter. First, the term of the mayor was extended from one to two years. Second, the offices of treasurer, engineer, and city attorney were no longer to be elected by popular vote; they would be appointed.

In the 1870s Kerfoot turned to insurance and was one of the first to do so in Dallas. In 1874 his business partner was W. R. Ault; in 1876 the company name was J. D. Kerfoot and Company, general insurance agents, with offices in the San Jacinto Hotel. The 1883 Dallas city directory listed Kerfoot as the head of the firm of Kerfoot, Hereford, and McGrain (John B. Hereford, William McGrain); it was located on Elm Street and was one of the first fire insurance companies in Dallas. By 1890 he was a partner in Kerfoot & Spears, and the 1894 Dallas city directory showed a renewal of the J. D. Kerfoot and Company, both fire insurance companies. J. D. Kerfoot and Company was located at 109 North Poydras in downtown Dallas.

The Kerfoot family moved from Dallas to a ranch in Mullins, Texas, near San Angelo. (The name of Mullins was changed to Veribest in the early 1900s.) His wife died in 1891, and Kerfoot had a stroke in 1895 and never fully recovered from the resulting paralysis. He passed away on March 31, 1903. The couple is buried in Oak Cliff Cemetery in Dallas. They had seven children: May, Katherine, Randolf, Virginia, Ruth and Helen (twins), and Emily. 

Deborah Bezanson, Correspondence to author about the Minutes of the Enosinian Society, December 20, 2019. Randolph B. Campbell, Grass Roots Reconstruction in Texas, 1865–1880 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997). City of Dallas, City Secretary's Office, History of Mayors and City Councils 1866–Present (Dallas, Texas: City of Dallas, n.d.). John H. Cochran, Dallas County: A Record of its Progress (Dallas: Arthur S. Mathis Service Publishing Company, 1928). Dallas Herald, June 6, 1860; October 12, 1867. Robert M. Kearfott, Kerfoot, Kearfott, And Allied Families In America (Privately published by members of the family, 1948). Memorial and Biographical History of Dallas County, Texas (Chicago: Lewis, 1892; rpt., Dallas: Walsworth, 1976). Shirley Remnant Sloat, “Historical List of Justices of the Peace, Dallas County, Texas 1846–2000,” The Dallas Journal, June 2000. Texas Legislature, H.B. 202, An Act to Incorporate the City of Dallas In Dallas County, Texas, 04/20/1871. Texas Legislature, H.B. 381, Special Laws of the State of Texas: Passed at the Session of the Fifteenth Legislature, Begun and Held at the City of Austin, April 18th, 1876 (Galveston: Shaw & Blaylock, 08/09/1876). WPA Writers' Program, The WPA Dallas Guide and History, ed. Maxine Holmes and Gerald D. Saxon (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1992).

Categories:

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • General Law
  • Politics and Government
  • Civic and Community Leaders
  • Judges

Time Periods:

  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

Places:

  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

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

Kristi Nedderman, “Kerfoot, John David,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 16, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/kerfoot-john-david.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 9, 2020
September 9, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects:

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