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John William Stayton (1830-1894)

Associate Justice, Texas Supreme Court, 1881-1888
Chief Justice, Texas Supreme Court, 1888-1894

John William Stayton was born December 24, 1830 in Washington County, Kentucky, where his ancestors had been early settlers. When he was four years old his father died, and his mother died when he was fourteen. Following his mother's death Stayton lived and worked on his grandfather's farm until apprenticing himself to a blacksmith at the age of seventeen. Although his childhood dream was to become a lawyer, his grandfather did not support the notion. Stayton used his earnings from the blacksmith shop to hire a night tutor, and in 1852 he became an assistant in a county school. Beginning in 1854 he studied law under the tutelage of his uncle Henry Pirtle, a Louisville judge, and then enrolled in the University of Louisville. He received his LL.B. in 1856 and was married the same year. He and his wife had three children.

In October 1856 Stayton and his new bride moved to Texas and settled in La Grange, where Stayton was admitted to the bar. They moved the following year to Pleasanton, the county seat of Atascosa County, where he practiced law and worked as a blacksmith to earn extra money to support his family. In 1858 he was elected district attorney of the Eighth Judicial District, and he was reelected the position two years later.

When the Civil War broke out, Stayton joined the Confederate army as a private, was soon promoted to captain, and spent the rest of the war in the military. Following the war, he relocated his family to Clinton, in DeWitt County, and taught school. In 1866 he returned to private legal practice with Samuel C. Lackey. In 1871 he moved to Victoria, where he established a successful law practice with A. H. Phillips. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1875. Stayton was said to have been an indefatigable researcher who read forty pages of law every day except Sunday, and he reportedly had the largest library of Roman and Spanish law texts in Texas.

When Gov. Oran Roberts promoted associate justice Robert S. Gould to chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court in November 1881, he appointed Stayton associate justice to fill Gould's former seat on the bench. Stayton was then elected to a six-year term by popular vote in 1882. In 1884 he was nominated as a candidate for U.S. Congress, but the Texas Bar Association circulated a petition which they published in the Austin Statesman, asking him to remain on the court. Stayton declined the nomination and stayed on as an associate justice. In March 1888, following the resignation of chief justice Asa H. Willie, Stayton was appointed by Gov. Lawrence Sullivan Ross to fill that post. He was elected by popular vote to a six-year term that November. Stayton died July 5, 1894 while visiting his daughter in Tyler.

Notable opinions

Cline v. Upton, 56 Texas reports 319 (Tex. 1882) (ruling length of absence from a homestead does not constitute an abandonment but could be taken into consideration as evidence of intent to abandon).

Lippencott v. York, 24 S.W. 275 (Tex. 1893) (finding trust deed valid where husband and wife contracted a mechanics lien to fund improvements to their property, debt being assigned to a party extending payment date; construing constitution as protecting forced sale of homesteads; and delineating difference in effects of common law contractual liens and liens, such as the mechanics lien, created and governed by statute).

Taxas Constitution references - Art. XVI, ยง37, 50


Davenport, Jewette Harbert. The History of the Supreme Court of the State of Texas 146 (Austin, Texas: Southern Law Book Publishers, 1917).

Lynch, James Daniel. The Bench and Bar of Texas 315-322 (St. Louis, Missouri: Nixon-Jones Printing Co., 1885).

Roell, Craig H. Stayton, John William, Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001).

Extended bibliography

Bentley, H. L. The Texas Legal Directory (Austin, Texas: Democratic Statesman Office, 1877).

Davenport, Jewette Harbert. The History of the Supreme Court of the State of Texas 146 (Austin, Texas: Southern Law Book Publishers, 1917).

Johnson, Francis White. 5 A History of Texas and Texans 2489 (Chicago, Illinois & New York, New York: The American Historical Society, 1914).

Lynch, James Daniel. The Bench and Bar of Texas 315 (St. Louis, Missouri: Nixon-Jones Printing Co., 1885).

Memorial and Genealogical Record of Southwest Texas 566 (Chicago, Illinois: Goodspeed Brothers, 1894).

Rose, Victor M. Some Historical Facts in Regard to the Settlement of Victoria, Texas 202 (Laredo, Texas: Daily Times, 1883).

Speer, Ocie. Texas Jurists 84 (Austin, Texas: the author, 1936).

Additional information available in Southwestern Historical Quarterly as follow:
Volume 60, page 7, 18
Volume 61, page 63
Volume 67, page 26