Kerr, William Penn (1814–1901)

By: Brett J. Derbes

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: August 12, 2020

William Penn Kerr, a pioneer, farmer, and participant in the Texas Revolution, was born on July 10, 1814, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Hugh P. Kerr and Lucy Fontaine Thomson. In 1817 the family relocated to Bradshaw Creek in Giles, Tennessee, where the family expanded to include nine children. William Kerr was a partner of Peter Kerr as one of Stephen F. Austin's Old Three Hundred colonists. Peter Kerr received title to a sitio in what is now Washington County on August 10, 1824. William Kerr's family traveled by steamboat to New Orleans and arrived in Harrisburg by schooner on April 3, 1831. The following year settled in Washington County, where they founded Union Hill on Cummings Creek in Austin’s Colony near the present town of Burton. William Kerr and his siblings attended Rutersville College for their early education. The family farmed, raised livestock, held religious services on Sundays, and donated land for one of the earliest Methodist churches established in Texas. In 1836 President Andrew Jackson appointed Hugh Kerr as Collector of Customs for the Port of New Orleans, where he also owned a mercantile business. David Crockett and William B. Travis each spent a night at the Kerr home in route to San Antonio in the early days of the Texas Revolution. William Kerr served as a private in early March and engaged in the Battle of San Jacinto under the command of Major Robert McNutt. The Kerr family temporarily relocated to San Augustine following the Runaway Scrape in the spring of 1836. By 1837 Lucy Kerr owned 2,177 acres of land valued at $1,494 and five slaves valued at $2,400. The following year, Hugh Kerr published A Poetical Description of Texas, which documented frontier life and events of the revolution. On December 28, 1840, eight members of the Kerr family attended a gathering of the Texas Conference Missionary Society in Rutersville. William Kerr married Elizabeth Louisa Anna Hill in Fayetteville on September 7, 1843, and the couple produced ten children. On January 11, 1855, Kerr donated 5.25 acres for a school and the W. B. McClellan Lodge. Kerr owned five slaves in 1860, and on November 20, 1863, he enlisted in a company of mounted exempts from Washington County commanded by Captain James R. Hines. In the 1870s and 1880s Kerr continued working as a farmer at Union Hill with his children and mother-in-law. By 1900 Kerr was widowed and relocated with his son’s family to Blue, Missouri. He died in Kansas City on July 13, 1901, and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Independence, Missouri.

Austin Texas Sentinel, August 19, 1841. Annie Maud Knittel Avis, The History of Burton, Including the Area of the Burton Independent School District, Volume Two (Wolfe City: Henington Publishing Company, 1974). DeWitt Clinton Baker, comp., A Texas Scrap-Book (New York: Barnes, 1875, rpt. 1887; facsimile rpt., Austin: Steck, 1935). Lester G. Bugbee, "The Old Three Hundred: A List of Settlers in Austin's First Colony," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 1 (October 1897). Alfred Benjamin Fontaine Kerr, “The Diary of A.B.F. Kerr,” Kerr Vertical File, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin, Texas. Hugh Kerr, A Poetical Description of Texas (New York: N.P., 1838). Margaret Steele Kerr Ingraham, Kerr Family Records (San Antonio: Stallings, 1962). Althea Anne Lokey Kelly, “The Hugh and Lucy Kerr Story,” Dallas Public Library. Macum Phelan, A History of Early Methodism in Texas, 1817-1866  (Dallas: Cokesbury, 1924). R. E. Pennington, “A History of Brenham and Washington County,” Brenham Public Library. Worth Stickley Ray, Austin Colony Pioneers (Austin: Jenkins, 1949; 2d ed., Austin: Pemberton, 1970). Dorothy Dixon Stanley and Annie Maud Knittel Avis, “History of Burton,” Brenham Public Library. St. Joseph Gazette-Herald, July 14, 1901. Fair Play (Sainte Genevieve, Missouri), July 27, 1901. Washington County Deed Records, Book N, p. 468-69.

  • Military
  • Confederate Military
  • Soldiers
Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution
  • Republic of Texas
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Civil War
  • Reconstruction

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

Brett J. Derbes, “Kerr, William Penn,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 17, 2022,

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August 12, 2020

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