Sherwood, Lorenzo (1808–1869)

By: Diana J. Kleiner

Revised by: Randolph B. "Mike" Campbell

Type: Biography

Published: October 1, 1995

Updated: May 23, 2018


Lorenzo Sherwood, lawyer, legislator, and political nonconformist, the son of Lemuel and Mercy Rose Sherwood, was born in Hoosick, New York, on July 25, 1808. He graduated from college at Bennington, Vermont. After graduation he served as principal of the local academy, studied law, and then moved to Madison County, New York, where he edited a paper at Hamilton and became a partner in a law firm. In 1833 Sherwood married Elsie Starr, but the marriage soon ended, and later in the 1830s he married Caroline Eldridge. They had one son, Henry.

In 1843 Sherwood was elected to the New York state legislature, where he joined the radical Democratic faction, became an associate of Michael Hoffman of Herkimer, and fought for canals and railroads financed by state credit rather than leaving internal improvements to expensive projects developed by private corporations. He served as a member of the Executive Committee of the State Constitutional Association and helped to introduce the public to the reforms of the constitution that were made in 1846.

Sherwood, his wife Caroline, and their son moved from New York to Galveston, Texas, in the late 1840s. There he established a legal practice and developed a clientele among Galveston's important shippers. He soon earned the enmity of several powerful Texans, however, by serving clients with grievances against railroad promoters. Critical of the evolving corporate system in which private investors build railroads with financial aid from the state, Sherwood originated what became known as the “State Plan” or “Sherwood Plan” that called for state construction and operation of railroads in Texas. In 1855 he wrote a series of articles on the question of internal improvements for De Bow's Review, including a defense of state-owned transportation. He also proposed that corporate property should accept liability for the acts of its agents and that stockholder liability should extend to once or twice the amount of an individual's stock. An opponent of Robert Mills and Samuel May Williams, he received support from Hamilton Stuart's Galveston Civilian.

Sherwood was elected to represent District 35 (Galveston County) in the House of the Sixth Texas Legislature, where he took office on November 5, 1855. His political career in Texas was cut short, however, and came to an end because he criticized slavery on moral and practical grounds and argued that Congress had the right to decide the slavery question in the territories. Sherwood’s opponents attacked him as an “abolitionist” and used that charge to force his resignation from the legislature in 1856. When he sought to defend himself in a public speech, he was threatened with death. He left politics but remained in Texas until 1861 and was in New York when the Civil War began, seeking to buy steel to build the Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad. To his chagrin, the railroad materials were used by the Confederacy. He remained with his family in New York after 1861 rather than returning to Texas and during the Civil War allied himself with Abolitionists and Republican politicians. He supported Congressional Reconstruction and called for enfranchising Freedmen as a way to establish loyal governments in the Confederate states.

Sherwood’s last major public service occurred in 1866 when he argued the Peterhoff case before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of Liverpool merchants whose property had been seized by United States warships while being shipped from England to Matamoros in Mexico. The cargo was intended ultimately for the Confederacy, but Sherwood successfully argued that a blockade could not prevent shipping between two neutral nations. The case set a precedent regarding the rights of neutrals and contraband shipping during wartime.

Lorenzo Sherwood died on May 12, 1869, in Brooklyn, New York, and is buried in the Green-Wood Cemetery there.

American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). Herbert W. Briggs, The Law of Nations (New York: Crofts, 1946). Earl Wesley Fornell, The Galveston Era: The Texas Crescent on the Eve of Secession (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1961). John Moretta, “The Censoring of Lorenzo Sherwood: The Politics of Railroads, Slavery and Southernism in Antebellum Texas,” East Texas Historical Journal 35 (1997). New York Times, May 13, 1869. Sherwood Collection, Rosenberg Library, Galveston. 

Categories:

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • General Law
  • Sixth Legislature (1855-1856)
  • House

Time Periods:

  • Antebellum Texas

Places:

  • Galveston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

Diana J. Kleiner Revised by Randolph B. "Mike" Campbell, “Sherwood, Lorenzo,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 04, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/sherwood-lorenzo.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995
May 23, 2018

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