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Robertson, John C. (1824–1895)

Thomas W. Cutrer Biography Entry

John C. Robertson, jurist and soldier, was born in Hancock County, Georgia, on March 10, 1824, the son of David S. and Lucretia (Sledge) Robertson. In 1837 he moved with his parents to Chambers County, Alabama, where he attended Oakbowry College. Robertson studied law under judges Joseph Storey and Simon Greenleaf at the Harvard law school; he graduated and was admitted to the bar in 1845. In September 1845 he married Sara J. Goodman; they had four children. In 1851 the family moved to Texas, where they lived for a year at Jefferson and three years at Henderson before settling at Tyler. There Robertson established a legal practice in 1855. In 1860 he was elected to represent Smith County in the state Secession Convention. Three days after the secession ordinance was passed he was appointed chairman of the Committee of Public Safety and vested with the authority to confer with Bvt. Maj. Gen. David E. Twiggs, commander of the Department of Texas, at his San Antonio headquarters. This committee was empowered to demand, "in the name of the people of the State of Texas," the United States arms, stores, and munitions under Twiggs's control. The committee commissioned Ben McCulloch to the rank of colonel of cavalry to "raise men and munitions of war" to demand Twiggs's surrender if he refused to hand over the government property to the commissioners. After Twiggs's surrender on February 16, 1861, Robertson raised a company of cavalry that saw service under McCulloch in Arkansas. He subsequently returned to Texas and raised seven new companies for Alexander W. Terrell's regiment of Texas cavalry. Robertson was commissioned lieutenant colonel of Terrell's regiment in June 1863 and served throughout the Civil War; he took part in the battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill in the Red River campaign. At the end of the war the federal government filed suit against Robertson for nearly $3 million, the value of the arms that Twiggs had surrendered at San Antonio. In 1866 Robertson formed a law partnership with William Smith Herndon that came to be considered one of the finest in Texas. He was elected district judge in 1878 and was reelected in 1880. He resigned from the bench in 1884. Robertson was a Democrat. He died in Tyler on August 16, 1895. One of his sons, Sawnie Robertson, became a justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

Sidney S. Johnson, Texans Who Wore the Gray (Tyler, Texas, 1907). John W. Spencer, Terrell's Texas Cavalry (Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1982). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker, eds., The Writings of Sam Houston, 1813–1863 (8 vols., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1938–43; rpt., Austin and New York: Pemberton Press, 1970).


  • 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.

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Robertson, John C.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 06, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: