Varner, Martin (1785–1844)

By: Mary Varner Mary Varner and Donald Raney

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: September 24, 2016

Martin Varner, Old Three Hundred colonist, was born on March 3, 1785, at German Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, the son of Martin Varner, Jr., and Elizabeth Reich Varner. His family migrated to Warren County, Ohio, in 1791. Martin Varner was not satisfied with his life as a farmer, and in 1815 he traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to the Arkansas Territory where he met Henry Jones and his brother John, who were also seeking their fortunes on the frontier. Together they moved south to the Red River and established one of the first Anglo-American settlements in Texas, Jonesborough, located about six miles northwest of Blakeney at Salt Well Slough in what is now Red River County. Varner married Elizabeth Inglish (English), daughter of William Joseph Inglish and sister of Bailey Inglish of Fannin County, at Jonesborough on September 26, 1818. When Varner and the Jones brothers learned of Stephen F. Austin's colony, they traveled with others to the Brazos River and enrolled with the Old Three Hundred. Varner settled temporarily near Independence. He voted in the colony election of April 1824 and was listed in the census of 1826 as a farmer and stock raiser. On July 8, 1824, he received a Mexican grant of a league in Brazoria County and a labor in Waller County. Varner moved to his labor at San Felipe, Waller County, in 1823 and to his league in Brazoria County in 1824. The Varner league was located on the Brazos River at West Columbia; it became the site of the Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historical Park. Varner and Israel Walters (Waters) built a distillery, and in 1829 they sent a bottle of rum to S. F. Austin, who credited them with making the first ardent spirits in the colony. On April 4, 1834, Varner sold the plantation to Columbus R. Patton for $13,000.

Varner participated in the battle of Velasco on June 26, 1832. Later he volunteered in the Texas army and served in the Columbia Company from April 19, 1836, until his discharge on July 19, 1836. He was awarded 320 acres of bounty land in Wood County for his three months of service in the army. To escape Antonio López de Santa Anna's advancing army, Varner and his family fled in April 1836 during the Runaway Scrape. When his family was safely across the Trinity River, Varner turned back to join the Texas Army. On April 21, 1836, he was stationed at the camp opposite Harrisburg during the battle of San Jacinto. For his service there he was awarded 640 acres of donation land in Wood County. After his discharge from the army, Varner joined his family in Lamar County where he purchased a 1,700-acre ranch near Fort Lyday. He became the first permanent settler in Wood County in 1841, when he moved there to avoid hostile Indians. He used the cash from the sale of the Varner Plantation to purchase land certificates from San Jacinto veterans and patented over 6,000 acres in Wood County. In a dispute with a neighbor, Simon Gonzales, Martin was shot in the back. When his only son, eighteen-year-old Stephen F., attempted to rescue his father, he was also shot and killed. Their loyal slave, Joe, subdued the killer, who later died from knife wounds inflicted by Varner. Martin Varner died three days later, on February 14, 1844. He was survived by his wife and six daughters. A marker has been placed by the Texas Historical Commission at the site of the home and cemetery of Wood County's first family.

Alto Puckett Plumb, Biographical Sketch of Martin Varner (MS, Plumb Narrative, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin). Adele W. Vickery, Chips of Wood County (Mineola, Texas, n.d). Don Raney, Martin Varner: Texas Pioneer 1785-1844, His Life Story and His Descendants (San Diego: Book Warren, 2009).

Time Periods:
  • Mexican Texas
  • Texas Revolution

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

Mary Varner Mary Varner and Donald Raney, “Varner, Martin,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 06, 2022,

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September 24, 2016

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