Stevens, James H. (1818–1856)

By: Priscilla Myers Benham

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

Updated: July 1, 2017

James H. Stevens, mayor of Houston, merchant, and railroad entrepreneur, was born in Kentucky in 1818. He moved to Houston in 1840 and began work as a clerk. He quickly became involved in city politics and served as representative for the Second Ward from 1847 to 1850. He opened his own store in 1847, and by 1850 his net assets were worth $12,000. On September 10, 1849, in Houston, he married Lorohta Passha. As a merchant he was interested in the improvement of transportation facilities. He joined several prominent Houstonians in promoting the Brazos Plank Road Company, which organized on February 7, 1850. The project failed to attract large investors since railroads held greater promise of success. Consequently, Stevens invested in the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway, one of the first railroads in Houston. The BBB&C completed thirty-two miles of track by 1852 and reached the Brazos River by 1856 at a cost of $18,400 per mile. In 1853 Stevens sold his grocery and general-merchandise business to his friend Thomas W. House for $40,000 cash. In the 1855 mayoral race, Stevens ran on the "Railroad" or "Democratic and Anti-Know-Nothing" ticket, on which also appeared aldermen candidates William M. Rice and House. These three energetic merchants and railroad advocates won easily. As mayor, Stevens obtained state permission to tap the BBB&C so that the lucrative cotton trade would flow through Houston instead of its rival, Harrisburg. The city-owned tap road joined the railway at Pierce Junction in October 1856. Stevens died of consumption on July 21, 1856, before the road was completed. The tap named its locomotive after him. Stevens was survived by his wife and their two children. The Weekly Telegraph praised him as a valuable citizen and an able and efficient mayor. At his death, he was worth over $300,000. He bequeathed $5,000 for the building of an academy whenever Houstonians could contribute $10,000 for that purpose. The citizens of Houston met the challenge and contributed $20,000. Construction of Houston Academy began on September 17, 1857.

Benajah Harvey Carroll, Jr., ed., Standard History of Houston, Texas, from a Study of the Original Sources (Knoxville, Tennessee: Crew, 1912). Jacob DeCordova, Texas, Her Resources and Her Public Men (Philadelphia: Crozet, 1858; rpt., Waco: Texian Press, 1969). S. G. Reed, A History of the Texas Railroads (Houston: St. Clair, 1941; rpt., New York: Arno, 1981).

Time Periods:

  • Republic of Texas
  • Antebellum Texas


  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

Priscilla Myers Benham, “Stevens, James H.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 22, 2022,

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June 1, 1995
July 1, 2017

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