Adolphus Sterne, colonist, financier of the Texas Revolution, merchant, and legislator, the eldest son of Emmanuel Sterne and his second wife, Helen, was born on April 5, 1801, in Cologne, although Alsace is also claimed as his birthplace. The elder Sterne was an Orthodox Jew, and Helen Sterne was a Lutheran. Sterne grew up amid turmoil. At sixteen he was working in a passport office when he learned that he was going to be conscripted for military service, forged a passport for himself, and immigrated to the United States. He landed in New Orleans in 1817, found mercantile employment, and studied law. Although he never practiced law in Texas, he acted as a land agent and primary judge in Nacogdoches. While still in New Orleans, Sterne joined the Masonic lodge, including the Scottish Rite, an affiliation of great importance to him in later years. In the early 1820s he began an itinerate peddling trade in the country north of New Orleans. He used that city as a base of operations from which he ranged as far north as Nashville, Tennessee, where he met Sam Houston. The two formed a lasting relationship, which they renewed after Sterne established a mercantile house in Nacogdoches, Texas, in 1826. (Houston arrived in Texas six years later.) Because Sterne had visited Nacogdoches in 1824, some have fixed that year as the date of his arrival in Texas. Soon after moving to Nacogdoches, Sterne became involved with the Fredonian Rebellion. In spite of the pledges of loyalty required for his immigration, Sterne assisted Haden Edwards and other immigrants in their resistance to the Mexican government. He smuggled guns and other materials in barrels of coffee. Spies in New Orleans alerted Nacogdoches authorities to these activities, and Sterne was arrested, tried for treason, and sentenced to be shot. While his case was reviewed in San Antonio and Saltillo, he was incarcerated in the Stone House (now the Old Stone Fort). Because his guards were also Masons, however, he came and went as he pleased and eventually was released on the promise that he would never again take up arms against the government. Sterne adhered to the letter of this promise but not to its spirit; he assisted the Texans in the battle of Nacogdoches in 1832 and financed two companies of troops during the Texas Revolution, but did not personally again shoulder arms against the government.
Frequent business trips to New Orleans via Natchitoches, Louisiana, brought him into contact with Placide Bossier, a prominent businessman of the region. Sterne met his future wife, Eva Catherine Rosine Ruff, on one of these visits. She was born on June 23, 1809, in Württemberg and had immigrated to Louisiana with her family in 1815. Both her parents died in a yellow fever epidemic soon afterwards, and the Ruff children found a haven in the Bossier home. With the assistance of the requirements of Mexican law, Eva succeeded in converting Sterne officially to the Catholic faith, although unofficially he remained a deist. They were married on June 2, 1828. Sterne built their home on the eastern edge of Nacogdoches near the confluence of La Nana Bayou and Bonita Creek and developed it into a seat of hospitality for the leaders of the area. Seven children were born to them there. Houston was one of many important guests in the Sternes' home. He boarded with them when he first arrived in Texas and was baptized a Catholic in their parlor. Mrs. Sterne served as Houston's godmother, but Sterne did not serve as his godfather because the date coincided with Yom Kippur.
Sterne strongly supported the movement for Texas independence. He traveled to New Orleans in 1835 as a special agent of the provisional government and personally raised and financed two companies known as the New Orleans Greys, commanded by Thomas H. Breece and Robert C. Morris. He preceded Breece's unit to Texas and arranged for a gala welcoming banquet when they reached Nacogdoches. Sterne later claimed $950 against the republic's treasury for his recruiting expenses. He supported most of Houston's programs during the period of the republic except his benevolent Indian policy. Sterne commanded a company of militia in the battle of the Neches, July 16, 1839, and helped expel the Cherokees from East Texas (see CHEROKEE WAR). On February 19, 1840, Sterne became postmaster at Nacogdoches. He served as deputy clerk and associate justice of the county court. In 1841 he became a justice of the peace. He was deputy clerk of the board of land commissioners and commissioner of roads and revenues for Nacogdoches County. He served as a member of the board of health and was overseer of streets for the corporation of Nacogdoches. In 1847 he won election to represent Nacogdoches in the House of Representatives of the Second Legislature. He continued during the Third Legislature, and in 1851 advanced to the Senate of the Fourth Legislature. Sterne was a member of many private organizations, especially Masonic ones. He enjoyed dancing and an occasional drink and was fond of playing whist. Though he shared some of the faults of his day, including the keeping of slaves, he was an honest man. From September 28, 1840, to November 18, 1851, Sterne kept a diary of his daily activities, which is a valuable source of information on the period of the republic. He owned a substantial amount of land, estimated from 1840 census records at 16,000 acres, although he always complained in his diary of not having enough "monay." Though self-educated, he served as official interpreter in English, French, Spanish, German, Yiddish, Portuguese, and Latin. He died in New Orleans while on a business trip on March 27, 1852. He was briefly interred there and later reburied in Oak Grove Cemetery, Nacogdoches.