Joseph C. Terrell biography

Among those who came to Fort Worth during the period that has just been discussed was JOSEPH C. TERRELL. He is referred to today as one of the best informed men in North Texas on the history of this section from the early days to the present, and not only does he possess the judgment and powers of observation of the historian, but in most matters of which he speaks he has participated as one of the prominent actors. Belonging among the “men of affairs” of Fort Worth, he has likewise been a student of both men and affairs, and his life has been enriched and broadened by constant association with the leaders in thought and action in his state and country. He has been a contributor to local history, and his reminiscences, covering the eventful period of the past half century, combine the charms of the modern short story with the fidelity of the historical narrator. His pen is a faithful copyist of the words of his mouth, for the pleasing diction of his writings is characteristic of his habitual converse. Like Ulysses, he “is a part of all he has met,” and through the arch of a broad experience he views “the dim and unraveled world” with the calmness of something better than human philosophy.

Joseph Christopher Terrell was born in Sumner county, Tenn., October 29, 1831, while his father’s family were en route from Virginia to Missouri to make a new home. His paternal grandfather was a Virginian, and his grandmother, whose maiden name was Johnson, was of the same state. They were Quakers, and w hen they died left two children. Dr. C. J. Terrell, the elder was a graduate of Jefferson Medical College at Philadelphia, emigrated and settled in Booneville, Mo., in 1831, and died there in 1832, leaving a large estate to this three children. These children were: A. W. Terrell, now state senator, and, during Cleveland’s administration, minister to Turkey, and one of the best known public men of Texas; Dr. John J. Terrell, of Virginia, and J. C. Terrell.

Joseph C. was reared on the farm near Booneville, left by his father as part of his estate. Having wealth and theretofore no necessity to work, his boyhood was spent in idleness and in doing whatever his fancy dictated. He had no taste for books and despised study, a disposition which contrasts strangely with his subsequent application and studious habits. Notwithstanding his antipathy to the acquisition of knowledge, he was sent to school, his teacher being Prof. F. T. Kemper, of Booneville, one of the most finished scholars, strictest disciplinarians and accomplished instructors in the West—accurate, methodic and energetic. From his teacher, therefore, young Terrell learned useful lessons in system and order, which he has appropriated and made useful in later life. Although his education thus forced upon him had little effect at the time, yet Prof. Kemper has influenced his whole life.

Leaving the Kemper school, he began the study of law in the office of his brother, A. W. Terrell, and after two years’ reading was admitted to the bar at St. Joseph,, Mo., in 1852. Immediately after receiving his license, he set out for a visit to the Pacific coast, his journey across the plains forming the subject matter of his most interesting chapter of reminiscences. In 1853-54 he practiced law in Santa Clara, Cal., and in Monterrey in the same state in 1854-55. But he had as yet no fixed purpose in life, and was rather “drifting on the surface of occasion and trusting to the sublimity of luck.” He had gone to the West rather for adventure than for work, and steady employment in a fixed place was exceedingly distasteful to him. In 1855-56 he wandered in Oregon, and although he could scarcely he said to have a habitation there, and now and then picked up a stray fee. He returned to “the states” in 1856, and spent some months in Virginia, visiting his brother, Judge W. A. Terrell, at Austin, Texas, and thence set out to return overland to California.

He reached Fort Worth in February, 1857, where he met his old schoolmate, D. C. Dade, who was then practicing law in that place. He was persuaded to pitch his tent in Fort Worth, and form a partnership with his old schoolfellow. This partnership was continued several years and until the Civil War began. Mr. Terrell opposed secession and concurred with Gen. Houston in his plan to effect the co-operation of Texas with the northern border states in an armed neutrality. When the war could no longer be avoided, he recruited a company in Tarrant county for the Confederate service and joined Waller’s battalion in Green’s cavalry brigade. He took part in the battles of Yellow Bayou, Camp Bisland, Foedoche, etc., and was present at the capture of the gunboat Diana and when Capt. Waller received her surrender. When the war closed he returned to Fort Worth and resumed the practice of law among a people impoverished by the war, and there and in the surrounding country he continued to pursue his profession until his retirement some twenty years ago.

In politics Capt. Terrell was originally an old-line Whig, voted against secession and since the war has had nothing to do with politics, but has voted an independent ticket, generally, however, with the Democrats. He has always made money, but had no disposition to amass wealth until his marriage, he being thirty-nine years old at that event. He owes his success to promptness in business matters. He is orderly and systematic in all his affairs.

In May, 1871, Capt. Terrell was married to Miss Mary V. Lawrence of Hill county, Texas. Her father was David T. Lawrence, formerly of Tennessee, and a descendant of Capt. Lawrence of the famous Chesapeake. He was a successful farmer and large landholder, who died in 1867, leaving four daughters and several sons. Mrs. Terrell was born February 28, 1842, in Marshall county, Tenn., and was the eldest daughter of D. T. and Anna B. Lawrence. She was educated in the common schools of the country, but was always a close student and reader of general literature. At the age of eighteen she taught the village school of Covington, Texas, where she grew to womanhood. She continued alternately to teach and attend and attend school for five years. She was for three years first assistant in the female department of the Port Sullivan school, and for two years first assistant in Waco Female College. While at Covington teaching and attending school, she took a thorough course in Latin and higher mathematics, besides giving considerable attention to French, Spanish and Greek. She was well regarded as one of the best educated women in Texas, and is remembered both for cultured mind and for the kindness of heart and great beauty of character which all who knew her ascribe to her as the pre-eminent attributes of her noble womanhood. Reared in the Cross Timbers and self-educated, after her marriage she devoted herself to training her children for usefulness in the world and at the same time, the beautiful, and the good. She was the mother of five children: Sue A., John Lawrence, Joc-e, Mary V., and Alexander W.

March 31, 1887, Capt. Terrell married Mary Peters Young, eldest daughter of Dr. Benjamin Franklin Young and Anne Peters Young, who were among the earliest settlers of Marshall. Both the Young and Peters families were of the best old Colonial stock, being among the colonists of Virginia and the Carolinas.

Marshall was a noted center of education and culture in Texas of ante-bellum days. There Dr. Young was a prominent citizen and Mason, also widely known as a successful physician. He died in 1864, soon after his daughter was graduated from the old Marshall Masonic Female Institute, which he had been instrumental in founding and of which he was long a trustee. Soon after graduation Miss Young entered the profession of teaching, in which she continued, mostly in her home town, until her marriage, and removal to Fort Worth.

In her new home, Mrs. Terrell soon became prominent in church and educational interests, as a Presbyterian and a friend of teachers, as a member of one of the oldest women’s clubs in the state, the Woman’s Wednesday of Fort Worth. Mrs. Terrell was one of the earlier promoters of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs, being its second president, in which office she served two terms, 1899—1901. She was further honored in being made a director for the National Federation, from which office she voluntarily retired in 1904.

Mrs. Terrell has been, and is, prominently identified with the work of establishing public libraries throughout the state. She proposed these as the purpose of the clubs of Texas, and has directed the movement which has been eminently successful. She was a charter member, and is now first vice-president of the Texas Library Association, an organization composed of several hundred public spirit men and women over the state. This in home, in the school-room and in public work the subject of this sketch has felt it her highest privilege to be of use in her day and generation.

Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. I, pp. 126-128.