Elihu Newton, Civil War soldier, farmer, legislator, and Baptist preacher, son of Isaac and Mary (Fitzgerald) Newton, was born in Bradley County, Tennessee, on January 23, 1845. Newton’s family, having lived in Walker County, Georgia, and Hunt County, Texas, finally settled west of Grapevine in Tarrant County, Texas. The Confederate army conscripted eighteen-year-old Newton in 1863. He served under the command of Brig. Gen. Richard Montgomery Gano in Arkansas and the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).
Following the war, he became a Baptist preacher. On December 24, 1866, Elihu Newton married Mary Elizabeth White, and together they had nine children. Newton and his wife were charter members of the Pleasant Run Baptist Church, established in April 1877. In August 1879 Newton was ordained by the church.
Newton’s legislative career began in 1886 when he was elected to a House seat for District 34 (Tarrant County) in the Twentieth Texas Legislature on the so-called “Dark Lantern” ticket, a local independent, anti-monopoly coalition backed by members of the Farmers' Alliance and Knights of Labor. A former Democrat, Newton blamed the party he had abandoned for the poor state governance under which he believed Texans then suffered. He won the election against the Democratic candidate, George W. Finger, by a very slight margin, perhaps as few as thirteen votes. Yet, victory made for a lonely legislative tenure as the Dark Lanternites failed to capture any other county level office. In Austin, none of the bills that he proposed passed. He served on two House committees: Private Land Claims and Public Health and Vital Statistics.
Back in Tarrant County, Newton promoted expanding manufacturing in Fort Worth. In 1887 he served on a committee to investigate the city’s potential support for various types of manufacturing firms. The committee’s report, which he co-authored, expressed extreme confidence in Fort Worth’s ability to do so. He was also part of a three-person committee to raise funds for the establishment of cotton yards in the city. Newton also supported the creation of an immigrants’ home in Fort Worth to help attract more laborers to the county. He lent his voice in support of the construction of the Tarrant County Courthouse and argued that expensive improvements that greatly benefitted the progress of the county did not seem quite so expensive once their material effect had time to take hold.
In 1891 he worked to establish a newspaper for the Farmers’ Alliance of Texas called the Farmers’ World. The newspaper purportedly represented an ecumenical effort to publish the views of various factions within the Alliance under a common banner. The paper really served as the organ of the conservative wing of the Alliance, in competition with the Dallas Southern Mercury, which supported the pro-Subtreasury, pro-third-party wing.
In the 1892 election he was elected to a second term as a state representative on the Democratic ticket, this time for District 78 (Tarrant County). In that election, he was an ardent supporter of the reform-minded Democratic governor, James Stephen Hogg. His support for Hogg placed him at odds with many of his fellow Alliancefolk, whose support for the radical Subtreasury Plan led them to join the People’s, or Populist, party. Newton aligned with the conservative wing of the Alliance, which continued to endorse Hogg’s brand of moderate reform.
As in his first term, many of Newton’s proposals focused on good governance. For instance, he proposed bills to fix the salaries of county clerks, tax collectors, district clerks, and sheriffs, thus reforming the corrupt fee system by which county officials were compensated. He proposed legislation that would have held railroad companies liable for livestock killed, even when the company had fenced their road, and he proposed a bill to place a competent female physician in charge of female patients in the Austin State Lunatic Asylum (now known as the Austin State Hospital). All of these proposals either died in committee or were otherwise never brought to a vote. Newton’s most notable success came in the passage of his bill to amend the charter for Fort Worth, a measure intended to provide more effective management of the city.
He served as pastor of the Grapevine Church from 1903 to 1905 until his health declined following a bout with smallpox, forcing him to leave Tarrant County for a more recuperative climate. In August 1905 he moved to Ochiltree County in the Texas Panhandle. When he had sufficiently recovered, he resumed preaching. He served as county missionary and established the First Baptist Church of Ochiltree, one of the first churches in the county. The church later relocated north to Perryton. He lived in Dalhart, Dumas, Tolbert, and Vernon, before returning to Ochiltree, as his missionary work carried him about the Panhandle and Plains region. He also served two terms as a county judge while in Ochiltree.
After roughly ten years out west, Newton returned to Tarrant County. His final pastorship was with the Pleasant Run Baptist Church, where he was ordained. On September 12, 1923, his wife, Mary, died. He went to live with his son, Oscar, in Fort Worth, where he died at the age of eighty on April 21, 1925. He was buried in the White’s Chapel Cemetery in what is today Southlake, Texas.
Austin Weekly Statesman, July 14, 1892. L. E. Daniell, Personnel of the Texas State Government, with Sketches of Distinguished Texans (Austin: City Printing, 1887). Fort Worth Daily Gazette, May 13, 19, 1887. Fort Worth Gazette, February 1, 1893. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 22, 1925. Grapevine Sun Newspaper, May 14, 1925. House of Representatives of the State of Texas, Journal of House of Representatives of the Twentieth Legislature, State of Texas, Begun and Held at the City of Austin, January 11, 1887 (Austin: Triplett and Hutchings, 1887). House Journal of the State of Texas Twenty-Third Legislature (https://lrl.texas.gov/collections/journals/journalsHouse23.cfm). Legislative Reference Library of Texas: Elihu Newton (https://lrl.texas.gov/legeLeaders/members/memberDisplay.cfm?memberID=3677&searchparams=chamber=~city=~countyID=0~RcountyID=~district=~first=~gender=~last=newton~leaderNote=~leg=~party=~roleDesc=~Committee=), accessed February 25, 2021. Michael Patterson, “Civil War Veterans of Northeast Tarrant County: Rev. Elihu Newton,” Tarrant County TXGenWeb (http://www.txfwgs.org/TARRANT_COUNTY/military/newton_rev_elihu.pdf), accessed February 25, 2021.
Politics and Government
Twentieth Legislature (1887-1888)
Twenty-third Legislature (1893)
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
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