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Peebles, Richard Rodgers (1810–1893)

Carole E. Christian Biography Entry

Richard Rodgers Peebles, physician, son of John and Margaret Peebles, was born at Chillicothe, Ross County, Ohio, on January 10, 1810. He received a medical degree from Ohio Medical College in Cincinnati, arrived in Texas in 1835, and settled in Washington-on-the-Brazos in November. There he established a medical practice that covered the area of present Lee, Washington, and Brazoria counties. Peebles helped rent Independence Hall for the Convention of 1836. Although Gen. Sam Houston ordered him to oversee the care of the wounded at a hospital in Washington-on-the-Brazos, Peebles soon enrolled in Capt. Joseph B. Chance's company. During the battle of San Jacinto, Peebles cared for the sick and wounded with the rear guard at Harrisburg. In 1841 he moved to Austin County and opened a general store and pharmacy. He rented the estate of the younger Jared E. Groce the following year. After his marriage on March 8, 1843, to Groce's widow, Mary Ann Calvit Groce, he resided at his wife's plantation, Pleasant Hill. The couple had nine children, and Peebles continued his lucrative medical practice, which included caring for slaves in the area's many plantations. In 1846 he was elected an Austin County justice of the peace; in 1859 he was one of the petitioners for a separate county government for what became Waller County.

In the late 1840s Peebles and John Shackelford formed the firm of J. Shackelford and Company, based first in Houston and later in Galveston. The company operated as a general mercantile business until 1853, when it became a cotton-factoring and brokerage firm. Peebles helped persuade the organizers of the Houston and Central Texas Railway to route the line through the site of future Hempstead. He and his wife donated land for the right-of-way, and Peebles became a stockholder in the railroad. In 1858 he ended his business connection with Shackelford but retained an interest in the Houston and Texas Central; he was elected a director on June 3, 1858. With James W. McDade, Peebles organized the Hempstead Town Company to lay out a new town on the projected rail line. The doctor named the new community for his brother-in-law, Dr. G. S. B. Hempstead. In 1856 Peebles helped organize the Washington County Railroad. He was elected a director in June 1856. By 1860 he was one of the richest men in Texas.

Although he was a slaveholder and had presided at a public meeting at Bellville on February 20, 1860, to voice southern grievances, Peebles opposed secession. He and four other Unionists were arrested for attempting to distribute a pamphlet advocating an end to the war and charged with treason by Gen. John Bankhead Magruder on October 11, 1863. Peebles and his companions appealed to the Texas Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, precipitating a jurisdictional dispute between Confederate military and civilian authorities. A civilian judge ordered them released on grounds of insufficient evidence, but Gen. E. Kirby Smith ordered their rearrest. Because of harsh conditions at the Anderson jail where he was incarcerated, Peebles almost died of typhus; during his imprisonment he lost the sight in his left eye. Peebles and two other prisoners were deported to Mexico in 1864. He went to Monterrey, Matamoros, and New Orleans before visiting relatives in Portsmouth, Ohio. He then returned to New Orleans, where he remained until after the war ended. He was appointed customs collector at Galveston on July 1, 1865, but did not return to Texas until August 16, 1865. Poor health forced him to resign almost immediately, and in September 1865 he returned to his home at Pleasant Hill.

His failing health prevented Peebles from resuming his medical practice, and his stepson and later son-in-law managed his business affairs. An adverse court judgment in 1869 eventually resulted in the loss in 1880 of what property he had not transferred to his children. Peebles was an active Republican, and he and his wife donated land for a nominal fee to the Hempstead Freedmen's School in June 1870. Radical Republicans tried unsuccessfully at the Constitutional Convention of 1868–69 to name a proposed county for Peebles; it was designated Waller County in 1873 by the Thirteenth Legislature. Peebles died on August 8, 1893, at the home of his daughter in Gaylord and was buried in Hempstead Cemetery.

Joe E. Ericson, Judges of the Republic of Texas (1836–1846): A Biographical Directory (Dallas: Taylor, 1980). Corrie Pattison Haskew, Historical Records of Austin and Waller Counties (Houston: Premier Printing and Letter Service, 1969). Charles Waldo Hayes, Galveston: History of the Island and the City (2 vols., Austin: Jenkins Garrett, 1974). Pat Ireland Nixon, The Medical Story of Early Texas, 1528–1853 (Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Lupe Memorial Fund, 1946). Frank M. Spindler, "The History of Hempstead and the Formation of Waller County," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 63 (January 1960). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Waller County Historical Survey Committee, A History of Waller County, Texas (Waco: Texian, 1973). Ralph A. Wooster, "Wealthy Texans, 1860," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 71 (October 1967).


  • Health and Medicine
  • Physicians and Surgeons
  • General Practitioners

Time Periods:

  • Texas Revolution
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Civil War

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

Carole E. Christian, “Peebles, Richard Rodgers,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 13, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 28, 2019

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: