Col 4569

John Herndon James Papers



Collection information


Physical description: 39 document boxes, 12 oversize boxes, 25 oversize items

Acquisition: Gift of Dr. Edwin Meredith Sykes, Dr. John Herndon James Sykes, and Maria Margaret Sykes, March 1987

Processed by: Bernice A. Strong and Eleanor Treher, 1990; additional processing by Warren Stricker, 1993



Table of contents





Biographical note


Members of the James family played a prominent role throughout the early decades of Anglo‑American settlement of south‑central Texas, beginning with the arrival of John James in San Antonio in 1837.  Born in England February 13, 1819 while his parents were visiting from Nova Scotia, John James was drawn to Texas by reports of the struggle for independence from Mexico.  His first employment involved the management of Ludovic Colquhoun's land holdings.  His experience led to his appointment as Assistant, and then Chief Surveyor of Bexar County.


James was involved in the surveying of much of the unsettled area around San Antonio, and platted the towns of Castroville, D'Hanis, Quihi, Boerne, and Bandera.  He also began to acquire land of his own, building extensive holdings.  In 1850, he formed a partnership with his brother‑in‑law James R. Sweet, operating a general merchandise business in San Antonio under the name James R. Sweet and Co. until 1862.  He also was involved in a Bandera sawmill in conjunction with Charles de Montel, and was active in the cattle and sheep industries.


John James married first Emaline Elizabeth Polley (1832‑1848), daughter of long‑time business associate Joseph H. Polley.  With his second wife, Annie Milby James (1836‑1901), he had eleven children: John Herndon; Thomas Milby (1854‑1895); Mary Josephine; Vinton Lee (1858‑1939); Annie Laura (1861‑1909, married Alfred Giles); Sidney Johnson (1863‑1916); Charlotte (1866‑1958, married John Sehorn); Agnes (1867‑1907, married first Edward Terry, second Livingston L. Shropshire); Scott H. (1868‑1923); Fannie Ellen (1872‑1877); and Diana (1875‑1951, married John T. Dickenson).  John James died November 26, 1877, leaving the management of his estate to his wife and eldest son.


The oldest child of John and Annie James, John Herndon James, was born October 13, 1852.  As a youth, he attended Earlham College, a Quaker institution in Richmond, Indiana, going on to Harvard College, where he graduated from the school of law in 1874.


Returning to San Antonio, James began practice in partnership with Isaac P. Simpson in the firm Simpson and James.  The firm's practice was extensive, particularly in land‑related matters, and counted many of San Antonio's prominent businessmen among its clients.  In 1893, John H. James was appointed to the newly‑formed Fourth District Court of Civil appeals by Texas Governor James S. Hogg.  He served as Chief Justice of the court until his death.


Married in 1884 to Maria Aurelia Williams (1859‑1940), James and his wife had four children: Annie Laura (who married Sigismund Engelking), John Alexander, Mary Greenhow, and Helen Adelle (who married Elmer Charles de Montel).  John H. James died July 17, 1912 at the family's summer residence in Comfort, Texas.




Chabot, Frederick C. With the Makers of San Antonio. San Antonio: Artes Graficas, 1937.


James, Vinton Lee. Frontier and Pioneer Recollections of Early Days in San Antonio and West Texas. San Antonio: Artes Graficas, 1938.


Sloane, Charles Albert, ed. I Remember: Being the Memoirs of Mrs. John Herndon (Maria Aurelia Williams) James together with Contemporary Historical Events and Sketches of Her Own and Her Husband's Families. San Antonio: The Naylor Company, 1938.


Strong, Bernice. Unpublished biographical sketches of John James and John Herndon James, 1989.


Selected sources on some of the individuals documented in the John Herndon James Papers




Chabot, With the Makers of San Antonio.



Daniel Henry Ragsdale:


Hall, Martin Hardwick. "Ragsdale's Company, Company D, 5th Texas Mounted Volunteers," Military History of Texas and the Southwest 12 (1974), 302‑307.



A. Snider Pellegrini:


Crook, Carland Elaine. "Benjamin Theron and French Designes in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 68 (April 1965), 432‑454.


Looscan, Adele B. "Harris County, 1822‑1845," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 19 (July 1915), 37‑64.


Muir, Andrew Forest. "Railroad Enterprise in Texas, 1836‑1841," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 47 (April 1944), 339‑370.


Streeter, Thomas W. Bibliography of Texas, 2nd ed. Woodbridge, CT: Research Publications, Inc., pp.452‑453, 477.



John H. Herndon:


Muir, Andrew Forest, ed. "Diary of a Young Man in Houston," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 53 (January 1950), 276‑307.



Scope and content note


Correspondence, legal documents, financial documents, maps and plats, and printed material documenting legal and business activities in mid‑ to late‑nineteenth century Texas make up the John Herndon James Papers.


The bulk of the papers are defined by the law career of John Herndon James (1852‑1912), attorney and judge.  The earliest of the law‑related papers consists of items received and generated by the law firm of Devine and Simpson, a partnership of San Antonio attorneys Isaac P. Simpson and Thomas Jefferson Devine.  The bulk of the material is associated with the firm of Simpson and James, the partnership between Simpson and John H. James, which lasted from 1874‑1893, and items connected with James' legal activities following his appointment as a justice on the Texas Court of Civil Appeals in 1892.  A much smaller amount of material is connected with John H. James' father, John James (1819‑1877), and his work as a surveyor and land speculator.  Items related to other family members are also included, though these usually deal with business or financial matters.  Although John Herndon James was active until his death, the bulk of the papers date prior to 1899, with only a few scattered items beyond that date.


The papers offer detailed documentation of the activities of the law firms over a period of about 25 years.  Much of the firm's business was related to the acquisition and management of property, but a wide range of legal activity is represented, including debt collection, estate management, and various business‑related matters.  The firm's clients and others represented in the papers include a number of prominent San Antonio business and professional figures.


The material has been arranged into 15 series: Correspondence and Case Files; Abstracts of Title; Bills and Receipts; Notebooks; Books and Periodicals; Photographs; Printed Material and Ephemera; Miscellaneous Material; Letterpress books; Correspondence and Case Files‑Oversize; Land Patents; Oversize Deeds; Miscellaneous Oversize Material; Maps and Plats; and Newspapers.  The first eight series are contained in document boxes; the remainder are oversize items.  Items in these oversize series may be related to files in other series; this relationship is noted in the inventory.


Some of the most extensively documented clients and cases represented in the papers include: Adams and Wickes; Baldwin vs. Goldfrank, an interrelated series of lawsuits and legal actions involving land in the vicinity of Maverick County, Texas; Ludovic Colquhoun; the Comanche Creek Irrigation Co.; John and James Dobson; Dunlop and Minor; M. Halff and Brother; Harris and Masterson; John H. Herndon; James P. Hickman; Holmes and Bierschwale; Henry Laager; Dan and Nat Lewis; John T. Lytle; Patrick Murphy; A. Snider Pellegrini; J.B. Polley; Daniel Henry Ragsdale; Erastus Reed; David Noble Rowan; Henry Rubey; San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway Co.; James and M.W. Speed; Stoner Pasture Co.; and James R. Sweet.  Smaller, but still significant amounts of material, are related to numerous other individuals and businesses, including many prominent Texans.


Family members whose files contain significant documentation include Scott H. James and Thomas M. James, brothers of John H. James; Mary Y. Milby, maternal grandmother of John H. James; Alfred Giles, prominent San Antonio architect, and brother‑in‑law of John H. James; and Thomas G., May C. and Tyler C. Williams, the father and siblings of James' wife, Maria Williams James.


The papers were originally processed in 1990.  The arrangement was revised and some additional material was incorporated in 1992.



Series Outline



Boxes 1‑35


The bulk of the papers is found in this series, and much of the material in the remaining series is connected with this series.  The series was created during processing of the material, in an attempt to gather together into files all items related to particular clients, legal actions, or correspondents, which are filed alphabetically by name.  This series includes papers related to the law firms of Devine and Simpson, Simpson and James, and John H. James in his capacity as a judge and individual.


Files related to clients or to specific lawsuits may contain letters, legal and financial documents, and notes generated in connection with work done on a particular case.  Most commonly found are letters and various legal documents, including contracts, deeds, and other official records created in connection with court actions. 


The files built around a particular correspondent usually contain letters on a variety of subjects, along with related letters or attached documents.  These correspondents are usually other attorneys or businessmen.  Letters from federal, state and county officials, unrelated to other files, are filed under the particular government agency or county name. 


Several members of the James family are also represented in this series.  The material related to family members usually concerns business matters, but contain some personal information.  Some organizations are also represented in these files.


Material connected with the appointment of John H. James to the Texas Court of Civil Appeals, including petitions supporting his appointment, and applications for jobs with the court, are filed under James' name.


The amount of material related to each case or correspondent  varies widely, from a few items to several folders.  In several instances, due to the volume and complexity of the material, which may encompass several individuals or legal actions, related material may be found in different folders.  The index to the papers may be helpful in connecting these related items.  The predominant geographic sources of items located in the folders, and the date span, is indicated in the inventory.  In the case of lawsuits, the county where the case was filed is indicated.  Items from outside of Texas usually pertain to matters in the state.  Single letters and legal and financial documents which could not be connected with these files have been arranged chronologically at the end of this series, along with unidentified notes.



Box 36


Series contains documents that could not be positively connected with any of the Correspondence and Case Files, though some relationship with certain cases may exist.  Items are arranged alphabetically by the name of the most recent individual listed in the abstract as holding title to the subject property.



Box 37‑38


Series consists of financial documents connected with the professional and personal activities of John H. James, and document his dealings with local, state, and national businesses, organizations, and other entities.  Most reflect personal expenses, but some are connected with his legal practice.  Numerous San Antonio businesses are represented.



Box 39


A single item, a notebook containing memoranda and notes concerning legal work, by John H. James.  The notebook is labelled "Bexar Base Ball Club," and lists of names in the front pages of the notebook may concern that organization.



Box 39


Series contains a small number of items, most of them related to the legal profession, but with some personal items.



Box 39


Series consists of a single folder containing a small amount of business cards, invitations, and other printed matter.



Box 39


A single item.



Box 39


Consists of unidentified notes, apparently related to academic study.



Boxes 40‑42


Five bound books, containing copies of the business correspondence of the law firm Devine and Simpson, and its successor, Simpson and James.  The set is not inclusive of the entire period of existence of these firms, but does cover significant periods of time.  This outgoing correspondence can be related to the material found in the Correspondence and Case Files series.  An index to the correspondents, generated by the writer, is included with each volume.  The earlier volumes contain the letters of Thomas J. Devine and Isaac P. Simpson; most of the later letters are signed by John H. James.



Boxes 43‑47


An extension of the Correspondence and Case Files series, that accommodates files which contain a significant number of oversized items.  The series consists of items related to four individuals.  In one case, the oversized letterpress book and ledger of Ludovic Colquhoun have been separated from the material in the Correspondence and Case Files series, and are located here.  In the three remaining instances, all the material related to the client, both the non‑oversize and oversize material, has been placed together in oversize boxes.  In these three cases, the material is extensive, including maps and printed material of entrepreneur A. Snider Pellegrini, documenting his plans to colonize the proposed towns of Trespalacios and Marconia in the 1840's‑1870's; the estate of Confederate officer Daniel Henry Ragsdale, including a small amount of correspondence between Ragsdale and Governor Sam Houston, other documents related to frontier defense in Frio County, personal material, and records of his estate; and the estate of Daniel Rubey, which includes his business and financial records from Missouri and San Antonio.



Box 48


Contains patents issued by the Republic and State of Texas, for land obtained through various types of grants.  Included are both the original certificates and certified copies issued by the State.  Some items may be related to the Correspondence and Case Files; notes have been placed in the inventory to indicate the connection.  Notes have also been placed here, to indicate a relationship with other oversize items.  Items are arranged alphabetically by the name of the individual receiving the patent.



Box 49


This series also contains items which may be related to other series.  This relationship is noted in the inventory.  Items are arranged alphabetically, by the name of the individual deeding the property.



Box 49


Series includes the field notes of a land survey, and a number of items related to the 1890 Bexar County political campaign.  The latter folder includes newspaper clippings, publications, broadsides, other ephemera, and notes related to the campaign, in which John H. James was a candidate for district judge.



Box 50, Map case


Series includes items that have been separated from material in the Correspondence and Case Files series.  The connection is noted in the inventory.  In other cases, a relationship is likely, but could not be positively identified.  These items are arranged alphabetically, according to the area featured in the map.



Box 51


Series contains complete and partial copies of papers from a variety of sources, listed chronologically in the inventory.  Some papers, particularly the earlier issues, contain information on particular legal matters.  Also included are a small number of newspaper clippings, some related to legal issues, others collected for personal reasons.



Box 52


Files closed to researchers at the request of the donors.