Kerr, Peter (1795–1861)

By: L. W. Kemp

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: June 18, 2020

Peter Kerr (Carr), one of the Old Three Hundred and founder of Burnet, was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on September 12, 1795. With his partner, William Kerr, he received title to a league of land now in Washington County on August 10, 1824; it is not clear how they disposed of the land. In 1824 Kerr landed on Matagorda Bay and proceeded overland to Victoria, where he established a mercantile business. In the census of 1826 he was classified as a merchant and had three servants. Soon thereafter he was robbed on a trading expedition among Indians northwest of Victoria, and a marriage he had contracted with a Spanish girl in Victoria was refused by her father because Kerr had become penniless. Kerr received insurance money for his charter ship, which was wrecked in a storm. With the money he bought a hack and a pair of horses, which he wrecked on his first trip. After a visit to his family in Pennsylvania, he returned to New Orleans, purchased a still, and put it on a ship to Texas; unfortunately, the ship sailed without him. In 1835 Fernando De León, José María Jesús Carbajal, and Kerr drove a herd of horses to New Orleans and sold them in exchange for merchandise for the Texas trade and for arms and munitions for the Texas army. The Hannah Elizabeth, transporting the goods, was captured by the Mexican Bravo but was recaptured by the William Robbins (later the Liberty), a Texas privateer. Kerr secured permission to retain possession of the goods by paying half of their cost.

On March 24, 1836, he brought to the Texas army the news of James W. Fannin's defeat in the battle of Coleto. Partially to allay the fear spread by that news, Sam Houston had Kerr arrested on indefinite charges of spreading false news and of having befriended the Mexicans. After the battle of San Jacinto, however, Houston appointed him interpreter for the Texas army. In a joint resolution dated January 21, 1840, the Fourth Congress of the republic granted Kerr 320 acres of land and twenty-four dollars for his services as interpreter. From 1846 to 1848 he was a justice of the peace in Travis County. In 1849 he leased part of the Hamilton league in Burnet County and had a contract with the government to furnish beef to Fort Croghan. Kerr obtained a deed from John Hamilton on October 27, 1851, for the entire league, minus 600 acres on the west side, which Hamilton had sold earlier. In 1852 Kerr leased to the government all of the league west of Hamilton Creek, including the land where Fort Croghan was located. Under the provisions of the agreement, if the government gave up the lease, Kerr would received title to all of the improvements that had been made on the land.

In 1852 he laid out the townsite of Hamilton (later Burnet) on the east side of Hamilton Creek and proceeded to sell lots. When the county was organized later that year, he donated ten lots for a courthouse square and 100 acres east of town to the county in order to ensure that Hamilton would be chosen county seat. Kerr amassed a sizable fortune as a result of his land dealings and cattle enterprise. When the government abandoned Fort Croghan in December 1853, he sold 617 acres, including the Fort Croghan site, for $6,000. In a letter to his brother in Pennsylvania in 1858 he estimated his holdings at $50,000. His will, dated November 18, 1861, three days before his death, left all of his property except his land and $23,499.99 in notes due him to his nephew, William S. Carothers. Carothers was to have use of the land for ten years, and it was then to be sold to establish Peter Kerr College at Burnet. Carothers contested the will, however, and had it annulled. The city of Burnet received two acres for a public school. Kerr was buried in an unmarked grave in the northwestern section of the Old Burnet Cemetery.

Darrell Debo, Burnet County History (2 vols., Burnet, Texas: Eakin, 1979). Alex Dienst, "The Navy of the Republic of Texas," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 12–13 (January-October 1909; rpt., Fort Collins, Colorado: Old Army Press, 1987). Texas Historical and Biographical Magazine, 1891–92.

Time Periods:

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

L. W. Kemp, “Kerr, Peter,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 19, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 18, 2020

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