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James Collinsworth (1806-1838)

Chief Justice, Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas, 1836-1838

Born in Davidson County, Tennessee, in 1806, James Collinsworth received his education there. He studied law and was admitted to the Tennessee bar in 1826. He served as U.S. District Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee from 1829 to1834 and became a political ally of fellow Tennesseans, Sam Houston and Andrew Jackson.

Collinsworth moved to Texas in 1834 or 1835 and started a private law practice in Matagorda, then part of the Brazoria Municipality. He became an important figure in the Texas Revolution and a leader in the Republic of Texas. His military activities included organizing a company of some forty men during the Goliad Campaign of 1835. Ultimately the company grew to about 120 men and captured La Bahia Presidio; it was the first military action against a Mexican military installation during the Texas Revolution. Collinsworth was subsequently elected major of a regiment and would later be commended for his bravery and gallant conduct at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Collinsworth was one of Brazoria's representatives to the Convention of 1836, was elected its temporary chairman, and was among the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence. He was chosen to head the military affairs committee and was on the committee that drafted the constitution for the Republic of Texas. He also introduced the resolution to have Sam Houston named commander in chief of the Texas army, and Houston later appointed Major Collinsworth his aide-de-camp. Collinsworth served as acting secretary of state during the brief presidency of David G. Burnet, and in November 1836 he was elected to the senate of the Republic.

The Constitution of 1836 established a court system and provided for a supreme court. On December 16, 1836, at its first session, the Congress of the Republic of Texas elected James T. Collinsworth its first chief justice.

In June 1838, Collinsworth became a candidate for the presidency of the Republic. It was a bitter, three-way race between Collinsworth, Peter Grayson, and Mirabeau Lamar. But on July 11, Collinsworth drowned in Galveston Bay, reportedly following "a week of drunkenness." Whether he jumped or fell into the water is not certain, but it was generally assumed that he committed suicide. Two days earlier, Peter Grayson had ended his own life in Bean Station, Tennessee. Unopposed, Lamar went on to win the election.

Collinsworth died before a session of the supreme court had been held and therefore never wrote an opinion.


In Memoriam, 126 Texas reports xxxi (1936).

Ericson, Joe E. Collinsworth, James, Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001).

Ericson, Joe E. Judges of the Republic of Texas (1836-1846) 73 (Dallas, Texas: Taylor Publishing Co., 1980).

Presidio La Bahia, Goliad, Texas (visited May 30, 2006).

Roell, Craig H. Goliad Campaign of 1835, Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001).

Extended bibliography

Baker, DeWitt Clinton. A Texas Scrap Book Made up of the History, Biography and Miscellany of Texas and Its People 278 (Austin, Texas: The Steck Co., 1935).

Biographical Encyclopedia of Texas 227 (New York, New York: Southern Publishing Co., 1880).

Dixon , Samuel Houston. The Men Who Made Texas Free 115 (Houston, Texas: Texas Historical Publishing Co., 1924).

Dixon , Samuel Houston and Louise Wiltz Kemp. Heroes of San Jacinto 45 (Houston, Texas: The Anson Jones Press, 1932).

Ericson, Joe E. Judges of the Republic of Texas (1836-1846) 73 (Dallas, Texas: Taylor Publishing Co., 1980).

Kemp, Louis Wiltz. The Signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence 76 (Salado, Texas: The Anson Jones Press, 1944).

Speer, Ocie. Texas Jurists 22 (Austin, Texas: the author, 1936).

Thrall, Homer S. A Pictorial History of Texas 528 (St. Louis, Missouri: N. D. Thompson & Co. , 1879).

Additional information available in Southwestern Historical Quarterly as follow:
Volume 4, page 151, 341
Volume 12, page 268
Volume 13, page 194, 201, 206, 207, 221
Volume 23, page 170
Volume 30, page 241
Volume 31, page 137, 195
Volume 42, page 30
Volume 44, page 475
Volume 47, page 339
Volume 49, page 377n, 378
Volume 54, page 319
Volume 56, page 95
Volume 57, page 343
Volume 60, page 16
Volume 65, page 98
Volume 67, page 123
Volume 68, page 84

In Memoriam, 126 Texas reports xxxi (1936).