Towles, Thomas Jefferson (1843–1909)

By: Diana J. Kleiner

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: January 16, 2019

Thomas Jefferson Towles, legislator, soldier, and Van Zandt County pioneer, the son of William and Elizabeth Towles, was born in Jones County, Georgia, on December 29, 1843. He was orphaned at the age of twelve and came to Texas with his brother A. J. in the spring of 1857. He was educated in Canton and at the McKenzie Institute near Clarksville and subsequently farmed for a time in the area. He enlisted in June 1861 in Company G of Walter P. Lane's Third Texas Cavalry Regiment; as commander of a company of scouts Towles was known as the "eye and ear" of Ross's Brigade. Though severely wounded at Nunan on July 30, 1864, he returned after the Civil War to Van Zandt County, where he became a planter, sheriff, and tax collector and built up one side of Canton Square. He was elected as a representative to the Texas legislature in 1876 and 1888. Towles is best remembered for Ex parte Towles, an 1877 case that contested the designation of Wills Point as the Van Zandt county seat, and for leading some 300 Canton citizens to retrieve county records at Wills Point before the Supreme Court of Texas resolved the matter. Towles was a Mason. He married N. A. Nolan in Georgia on February 14, 1864, and became the father of seven children. He died on January 21, 1909, and was buried in Hillcrest Cemetery in Canton.

Lewis E. Daniell, Personnel of the Texas State Government, with Sketches of Representative Men of Texas (Austin: City Printing, 1887; 3d ed., San Antonio: Maverick, 1892). Margaret Elizabeth Hall, A History of Van Zandt County (Austin: Jenkins, 1976). Sidney S. Johnson, Texans Who Wore the Gray (Tyler, Texas, 1907). Wentworth Manning, Some History of Van Zandt County (Des Moines, Iowa: Homestead, 1919; rpt., Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Hunter, 1977). David Nelson Wren, Every First Monday: A History of Canton (Quanah, Texas: Nortex, 1973).

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

Diana J. Kleiner, “Towles, Thomas Jefferson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 24, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995
January 16, 2019