McAdoo, John David (1824–1883)

By: Bruce Allardice

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: April 1, 1995

John David McAdoo, Civil War general and justice of the Texas Supreme Court, was born in Anderson County, Tennessee, on April 4, 1824, the son of John and Mary Ann (Gibbs) McAdoo. His brother William G. McAdoo became a prominent Tennessee lawyer and politician; William's son William Gibbs McAdoo was a United States senator, President Woodrow Wilson's secretary of the treasury, and in 1920 and 1924 a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. John McAdoo attended the University of Tennessee from 1846 to 1848, thereafter studied law, and was admitted to the Tennessee bar. On August 31, 1852, in Sumner County, Tennessee, he married Zeralda P. Bugg. The couple had at least four children. McAdoo moved to Texas with his family in 1854 and eventually settled near Washington-on-the-Brazos. There he practiced law and operated an extensive plantation. In 1860 he was an unsuccessful candidate for state attorney general on the "Constitution and Union" party ticket. During the first part of the Civil War he served with the Twentieth Texas Infantry and rose to first lieutenant. By 1863 he was transferred to staff duty with the state. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel and became assistant adjutant general for state troops. In early 1864 the governor appointed him brigadier general of the state's Sixth Military District. Later that year he was assigned to command the Third Frontier District, Texas State Troops. His duties involved guarding against Indians and chasing down deserters. Immediately after the war General McAdoo resided in Brenham. He was appointed judge of the seventh judicial circuit in 1871 and moved to Jefferson. In 1873 Reconstruction governor Edmund J. Davis appointed him to be an associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court. McAdoo and his colleagues served on the Semicolon Court. Some sources have McAdoo writing the notorious "semicolon" opinion, although the opinion was delivered by Justice Moses Walker. McAdoo resigned from the bench in January of 1874, a short time after Richard Coke was elected governor. The national administration rewarded McAdoo for his service with an appointment as postmaster of Marshall, in which post he served from 1876 to 1878. After this he retired to his farm near Brenham. He died in Brenham on June 16, 1883, and is buried there in Prairie Lea Cemetery.

Bruce Allardice, "Cemetery Sights," Houston Civil War Round Table Newsletter, January 1991. Biographical Encyclopedia of Texas (New York: Southern, 1880). Harbert Davenport, History of the Supreme Court of the State of Texas (Austin: Southern Law Book Publishers, 1917).


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Judges

Time Periods:

  • Civil War

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

Bruce Allardice, “McAdoo, John David,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 22, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 1, 1995

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: