Kinney, Henry Lawrence (1814–1862)

By: Amelia W. Williams

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: March 1, 1995

Henry Lawrence (or Livingston) Kinney, land speculator, was born near Shesequin, Pennsylvania, on June 3, 1814, the son of Simon and Phoebe (Cash) Kinney. After his mother's death in 1835 he moved with his father to Illinois, where he settled in Indiantown. He became involved in land speculation around Peru, Illinois, with his brother. The venture was ruined during the financial panic of 1837–38, and Kinney and his brother fled the state. In 1838 Kinney appeared in Texas and settled in the area around the site of present-day Brownsville. He began using the title "Colonel," which he claimed to have earned during the Seminole War in Florida, but there is no evidence that he took part in that conflict.

In 1841 Kinney, in partnership with William B. Aubrey, engaged in ranching and trading near Corpus Christi, a city that Kinney helped to found. Some of his business allegedly involved illegal trading with Mexico. His practice of buying out small ranchers and traders in the area developed considerable opposition, particularly from another merchant, Philip Dimmitt. When Dimmitt and several others were captured by a Mexican raiding force and taken back to Mexico, Kinney was accused of being an informant for the Mexicans and was indicted and tried for treason. He was eventually acquitted and resumed his activities. He was elected as a senator to the Ninth Texas Congress and served as a delegate to the Convention of 1845. James Pinckney Henderson appointed him to his staff for the campaign in northern Mexico at the beginning of the Mexican War. At the end of the war Kinney returned to Corpus Christi and began trading with a number of Central and South American countries. He also operated a fleet of prairie schooners that transported freight from Corpus Christi to the interior of Texas.

Kinney served in the Senate for the First, Second, Third and Fourth legislatures of the new state of Texas. He also became increasingly involved in buying large tracts of land and selling them to new immigrants. In 1852 he organized the Corpus Christi Fair in an effort to promote the region. But though the fair itself was a success, Kinney was less successful in luring settlers, and he began to lose a great deal of money. In order to recover some of his losses, he went to Washington in an attempt to persuade the government to invest in several schemes, including a camel corps to transport goods from Corpus Christi to San Francisco and an army hospital in Corpus Christi. None of the ideas ever materialized, and Kinney embarked on a new venture to establish a colony in Nicaragua. Financed by New York speculators, he contracted for thirty million acres of land along the Mosquito Coast. But he faced stiff opposition from the United States government, and when his largest financial backer died Kinney was forced to abandon his plans.

In 1850 he married Mrs. Mary B. Herbert, a widow with several children. The marriage, however, proved to be an unhappy one-in part because of Kinney's decision to legitimize his illegitimate daughter-and Mrs. Kinney took her children and settled in Galveston. After the failure of the Nicaraguan venture, financially ruined and distraught, Kinney returned to Texas and was elected to the Eighth Legislature. He was opposed to the secession movement, however, and in March 1861 he resigned his seat and moved to Matamoros, Tamaulipas. He was apparently killed there in a gunfight between two local factions on March 3, 1862.

W. R. Gore, The Life of Henry Lawrence Kinney (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1948). Henry Lawrence Kinney Papers, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas. Coleman McCampbell, Saga of a Frontier Seaport (Dallas: South-West, 1934). Peter F. Stout, Nicaragua (Philadelphia: Potter, 1859). Homer S. Thrall, A Pictorial History of Texas (St. Louis: Thompson, 1879). J. W. Wilbarger, Indian Depredations in Texas (Austin: Hutchings, 1889; rpt., Austin: State House, 1985).
  • First Legislature (1846)
  • Second Legislature (1847-1848)
  • Third Legislature (1849-1850)
  • Fourth Legislature (1851-1853)
  • Senate
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas

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

Amelia W. Williams, “Kinney, Henry Lawrence,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 1, 1995