Lea, Pryor (1794–1879)

By: Craig H. Roell

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: June 18, 2020

Pryor Lea, early Texas public official and railroad promoter, was born in Knox County, Tennessee, on August 31, 1794, the brother of Albert Miller Lea. He graduated from Greenville College, studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1817, and began his practice in Knoxville. In 1824 he became United States attorney for Tennessee and was elected to the Twentieth and Twenty-first United States congresses, 1827–31. He moved to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1836 and to Goliad, Texas, in 1846 to promote railroads.

Believing Aransas Bay would make the best port for East Texas, Lea made preliminary surveys for a railroad to connect San Antonio with Lamar on the coast through Goliad. He worked with James W. Byrne and other Lamar proprietors to build a port and promote the railroad. On February 12, 1850, Byrne sold Lea one-fourth interest in Lookout Peninsula (Point), Goose Island, and the unsold sections of the Lamar townsite. The deed reconveyed the property to Byrne, however, on March 1, 1853, when Lea was unable to make payments. On February 14, 1852, Lea incorporated the Aransas Road Company to establish a "commercial emporium" at Aransas Bay connected to Goliad and the Texas interior by turnpike and railroad. In September 1856 the state legislature granted the company the right to extend the turnpike from the mainland to the bay's deep-water channel through a series of bridges connecting the various islands. This act was amended in February 1858 to substitute a railroad for the turnpike and ferries for the bridges. As president, Lea published Circular Concerning the Aransas Road Company (1858) to promote the venture. Although the turnpike was surveyed from Goliad to Aransas Bay, construction on it and the railroad was never completed, largely because of the Civil War, and the project was still struggling as late as 1879. Aransas Pass, Texas, now occupies the site Lea chose as his port on the bay. Lea, visualizing a transcontinental railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific coast that utilized the Aransas Road Company project, joined United States senator Luke Lea and Alexander H. Phillips in incorporating the Central Transit Company on November 7, 1866. Lea publicized the venture in An Outline of the Central Transit (1859), but the plan never materialized.

In 1861 Lea served in the Secession Convention and chaired the committee authorized to publicize the proceedings of the convention and the new 1861 Confederate state constitution. John Henry Brown and John D. Stell were on this committee, which printed its Address to the People of Texas (1861) in English, German, and Spanish. Lea also served a term in the state Senate. During the war he was an incorporator of the Goliad Aid Association, founded to aid indigent families, and served as a commissioner in the Aransas Salt Works Company, established near the site of present Rockport. Governor James W. Throckmorton appointed him state superintendent of public instruction on November 10, 1866. Lea was an original trustee of Aranama College in Goliad. In Circular. Address to the People of Texas on Education (1867) he stressed the importance of education to the cultivation of morals. The governor later removed Lea from office, however, as an "impediment to Reconstruction." He was highly esteemed in Goliad County, where he was unanimously elected as the district representative to the Constitutional Convention of 1875, but his "extreme age" induced him to decline the honor. Nevertheless, the eighty-four-year-old jurist published The Great Question of the Hour! What Constitutes the Money of the Constitution? in 1878 as an "aid in finding the truth, to counteract tendencies to political error." Lea died in Goliad on September 14, 1879.

Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1971. Hans Peter Nielsen Gammel, comp., Laws of Texas, 1822–1897 (10 vols., Austin: Gammel, 1898). Hobart Huson, Refugio: A Comprehensive History of Refugio County from Aboriginal Times to 1953 (2 vols., Woodsboro, Texas: Rooke Foundation, 1953, 1955).

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

Craig H. Roell, “Lea, Pryor,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/lea-pryor.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 18, 2020