Samuel B. Pryor, physician, civic leader, and first mayor of Dallas, was born most likely in August 1820, in Lawrenceville, Virginia, to Philip and Susan Cordle (Wilkes) Pryor. Some confusion exists as to his exact birthdate and year. The application (written in 1957) for his headstone gave 1816 as the year of his birth, and his tombstone lists 1816. Pryor’s obituary, published in the October 20, 1866, issue of the Dallas Herald, listed August 19, 1820, as his day of birth, and federal census information supports the birth year as 1820. Similarly, his middle name has been mentioned as Burwell, Burrell, Berrell, and Bland. However, the given name of his maternal grandfather was Burwell. Pryor attended the Virginia Military Institute beginning in 1839 but left that school in 1841 and did not graduate. He subsequently attended Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and graduated from that institution in 1844. He received his medical training from the college’s newly-established medical department, which later became the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, and his thesis focused on cholera.
After graduation, Samuel Pryor moved to Sevier County, Arkansas, where he was appointed postmaster of Paraclifta on November 19, 1845. He married Anna Mariah Powell on March 26, 1846, in Paraclifta. They moved to Dallas the same year. The couple eventually had eight children: Ashton, Edward, Charles, Pocahontas, Samuel, William, Anna, and Rhoda.
The 1850 census listed Pryor as a physician, age thirty, in Dallas. Around this time his brother, Charles R. Pryor, arrived in Dallas. They became partners in a medical practice, as advertised in the December 8, 1855, issue of the Dallas Herald. Samuel Pryor was elected the first mayor of Dallas in 1856 after the city incorporated under an aldermanic form of government in which Pryor presided over a city leadership team containing six aldermen, a recorder/treasurer, and a constable. Interestingly, Pryor ran against another physician, Anderson Rice, and won by a count of fifty-eight to thirty-four votes. Pryor served from 1856 to 1857.
“Old Doc Pryor,” as he was known in town, also acted as district clerk for Dallas County between 1846 and 1850 and served as an alderman from August 1859 to August 1862. In addition to his civic activities, Pryor was elected an officer of the Dallas Chapter No. 47, Royal Arch Masons.
The 1860 census recorded Pryor as a physician, age forty, and owning $4,250 in real estate and $4,970 in his personal estate. Civil War records show that in 1861 Pryor was in the Confederate Army and served as a first lieutenant under Capt. John J. Good for the Dallas Light Artillery. He may have also served as a regimental surgeon and completed his service as regimental surgeon of the Nineteenth Texas Cavalry, but records for this service are not clear. After the war, beginning on September 1, 1865, he partnered in a medical practice with J. G. Russell; the partnership was announced in a local newspaper advertisement in summer 1865.
Samuel Burwell Pryor died on October 18, 1866, after an illness and was buried in Dallas in the Masonic Cemetery, which became part of Pioneer Cemetery. Pryor Street in Dallas was named in his honor in 1882.