From History of Texas Published in 1896
JUDGE J.J. MATTHEWS – In the present connection we shall revert to the life of one who has long figured prominently as an honored resident of Texas, and who is conspicuous, in a further sense, as a representative of one of the leading pioneer families of the Lone Star state. The history of the Matthews family is prolific in interest and instruction and is well worthy of prominence in a work which has to do with the representative men and women of this section of the Texas commonwealth.
J.J. Matthews was born in Madison county, Alabama, July 5, 1828, and in his sixth year was brought to Texas by his parents, Dr. M.W. and Sarah A. (Gahagan) Matthews. Before proceeding, however, with the history of the Judge we would speak at length of his parents and ancestry, the latter tracing back to England and dating in America from the colonial period.
Walter Matthews, the great-grandfather of our subject, was born in England, came to America before the Revolutionary war and was a soldier in that war, serving as a commissioned officer. At the close of the Revolution he made a settlement in Georgia, which was then a wilderness inhabited chiefly by Indians and wild animals, and in that frontier district he passed his life and reared his family. His son Joseph, the Judge’s grandfather, was born, reared and married in Georgia, the lady of his choice being Miss Pannia Crisp, likewise a native of that state. At an early day they removed to Kentucky, where he developed a farm and where he resided for a number of years. It was in Kentucky that his son, Dr. M.W., was born. Dr. M.W. Matthews grew up on a frontier farm, like his father before him, and on attaining to young manhood followed his father’s example in leaving the parental home and seeking his fortune in a locality more remote from civilization. He went to Alabama, in which state he was married to Miss Sarah A. Gahagan, a native of Virginia, and a daughter of James Gahagan and wife, nee Vivian, her parents having emigrated to this country from Ireland and made settlement in Virginia, where her father died. After a short residence in Alabama Dr. Matthews removed to Gibson county, Tennessee, where his father’s family had previously settled, and lived neighbors to David Crockett. They continued their residence in Gibson county until the fall of 1835, when they emigrated to Texas and settled in Red River county, near where Clarksville now stands. As soon as he could get his family settled the Doctor joined the brave Texans who were fighting for the liberty of their land, and was a participant in the memorable battle of San Jacinto. He was sitting by the side of General Houston when Santa Anna was brought in after the battle. Soon afterward Dr. Matthews returned to Red River county and joined his family and there directed his energies toward opening up a farm. In many respects he was a remarkable man, one of great versatility; was always ready for any emergency and capable of filling most acceptably all the positions to which he was called. He was elected to and served in the first and second congresses of Texas, and he was president of the board of land commissioners of Red River county four years.
While in Kentucky he began the study of medicine, and he practiced his profession in Tennessee; but after coming to this state he turned his attention to law and soon after formed a partnership with David Sample, with whom he was associated in legal practice for some time; and he practiced law, more or less, up to the time of his death. Nor were these the only professions he adopted. When only about 18 years of age he began preaching in the Christian church, and preached at intervals all his life, traveling about over the Texas frontier, frequently giving his time and labor and paying his own expenses. His ministry resulted in the salvation of many souls. The influence of his life can never be measured here; only eternity can compute the good accomplished by such a man. About 1846 he removed to Lamar county and settled near where Paris now is, then a district uninhabited save by red men and wild beasts, and there he opened up another farm, at the same time practicing law and medicine among the scattered settlers whenever occasion offered, and on the Sabbath meeting his preaching appointments. At the close of the civil war he removed to Limestone county; he maintained his residence there about ten years and from thence he went to Mills county, where he died in April, 1895. His wife had died in 1872, at the age of 60 years. They were the parents of eleven children, of whom five are still living.
Reverting to Dr. Matthews’ removal to Texas, we would further state that his father and mother came here at the same time he did, and in Texas passed the residue of their lives and died, his death occurring six years before hers, while he was 87 and she 68 years of age. For over 60 years they had traveled life’s pathway together. Grandfather Matthews was an old-line Whig, and for many years served as magistrate in the several communities in which he lived. He was a man of learning, above the average of his day and place, and taught some of the first schools in Texas. By many a pioneer is his memory revered.
J.J. Matthews, the immediate subject of this review, spent his boyhood on his father’s farm, assisting in the work of the farm and in the caring for the stock, and remained with his parents until the time of his marriage. While his educational advantages were limited to the “rude log seats of learning” in the frontier community in which he lived, he had what was better, namely, the influence of refined, educated and Christian parents. After his marriage, which was in 1851, he located in Hawkins county. During the late war he was stationed in Camp Colorado, in the frontier service, and was efficient in affording protection to the border settlers. Previous to the war he gave his attention chiefly to the stock business, at various places, and in 1861 he settled in Johnson county, in the vicinity of which he has since lived, and here he continued the stock business until the country became more thickly settled and Hood county was organized, when he turned his attention more especially to farming. He assisted in the organization of Hood county and also Somervell county, and thus without moving from his locality he has during the past 35 years lived in three different counties; and during his residence in Texas he has lived under four different governments. He now has a farm of 160 acres, nicely improved and under cultivation, and is pleasantly situated to enjoy life in this favored clime. About the time Hood county was organized he was elected a justice of the peace and county commissioner, in the later office serving one term. In 1878 he was elected county judge, his office holding until 1884, and in 1888 he was again elected to the same position for another term of six years. At the end of his last term, having completed his 12th year as county judge, he refused to allow his name to be used again in this connection, notwithstanding the fact that he was earnestly urged to run for a third term.
Judge Matthews was married January 23, 1851, in Grayson county, Texas, to Miss Laura Milam, a native of this state and a daughter of Jefferson Milam, of whom mention is made elsewhere in this volume. They have had eight children, of whom three sons and two daughters are now living, viz.:
Jennie, wife of Samuel Waters, of Waco;
Jefferson M., who resides in Harris county;
J.W., in the lumber business in Cleburne;
Eliza, wife of M.A. Curry, of this county;
And Collins, at home.
One son, M.W., died at the age of 34 years, leaving a widow and four children; the others died in infancy.
The Judge and his wife are identified with the Christian church, having been consistent members of the same for many years. His father was both a Mason and an Odd Fellow, took all the degrees in Masonry that could then be conferred in Texas, and the Judge has been a member of the Masonic order since 1859, when he was initiated into its mysteries at Gainesville. For some years past he has had a membership in Glen Rose Lodge, No. 525, F.&A.M. His political views are those advanced by the Democratic party.
History of Texas, 1896, Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Co.