Contributed by Scott James, Great-Great Grandson
Peter H. James was born in Hamilton County, Tennessee. His father was William James who married Elizabeth Harris on January 21, 1821 in Tennessee. Calculating Peter’s birthdate is a mystery. In the 1850 census living with his father he was listed as being age 18 (1831-1832). In the 1860 census he was listed as being age 30 (1829-1830). In the 1880 census he was listed as being age 54 (1825-1826). So the range from these three census records is 1825-1832. Unfortunately his obituary in The Granbury News does not list his age or date of birth. Peter James died November 22, 1898 and was buried in the Acton Cemetery, Acton, Hood County, Texas.
Peter and Nancy (McKenzie) James came to Hood County (at that time it was Johnson County), Texas with her parents in the late 1850’s (probably about 1859). They settled about one mile west of present day Acton, Texas. This area had been part of Navarro County. It became part of Johnson County in the 1850’s when that county was formed, and then in the 1860’s it became part of Hood County when that county was formed.
The first record of Peter in the Acton area was in the 1860 census for Johnson County, Texas (now Hood County). His father and mother in-law, James M. and Martha S. McKenzie, were living here, with Peter and his wife Nancy, and their daughters Martha and Mary. In the voter registration records for August 21, 1867 it shows Peter as having lived in the same Precinct #2 in Hood County, Texas for seven years.
From deed records it is shown that Peter began acquiring land in what was Johnson County and then Hood County. By the 1880’s he had several hundred acres of land just west of Acton. He came to Texas with very little. As each year progressed he accumulated more and more land, livestock and possessions. When he passed away there were several hundred acres to be divided amongst his family. By the tax record he was in the late 1880’s one of the wealthier men in his area of Hood County. Very little written records have been found for him. But the tax, deed and other records can paint a story of him. There is one photo of him, with the James clan of 1889; he is on horseback in front of the family.
Peter and Nancy had five children. They were:
Martha E. James who married William George Macy;
Mary J. James who married Columbus Bonapart Glenn;
James Calhoun James;
William Henry James who married Eliza Jane Day; and
Myra Donzella Evaline James who married James Alexander Rogers.
We gather a little information about Peter James in the following pages of the book “Hood County History” (1895) by Thomas Taylor Ewell:
Page 7 – “Probably among the first to settle about the present site of Acton were W.L. Rippetoe, —- Vannoy, Geo. Smart, Hiram Stell, Allison family and Peter James.”
Page 38 – “The glowing accounts of this delightful new country, given by Farris and wife, in the following year brought W.A. Karnes, brother of Mrs. Farris, accompanied by his mother that cheerful watermelon raiser and substantial farmer, Peter James. Both of these men settled and opened their farms in convenient proximity to Acton village, and have ever since been quite useful citizens, contributing to the general welfare of this community and the county at large.”
An interesting story is gathered from The Granbury News account about a smallpox quarantine at Peter James’ house in 1898.
The Granbury News — Front page of the paper — November 3, 1898:
“No little excitement has been created throughout the county by the discovery of small pox near Acton. The plain facts are these: Will Davis left El Paso on October 13th and arrived at the house of Uncle Peter James about 10 days later, where he was taken sick. In a few days he seemed to be developing a case of measles. (Just here we will say that small pox and measles are almost identical in their earliest stages and often fool the most famous experts). However, on last Saturday some blisters developed which proved it to be small pox. On Sunday a consultation of physicians was held and all agreed as to the nature of the disease.
Tuesday morning the commissioner’s court met and employed Dr. Lancaster to take charge of the case and act as health officer, giving him the usual authority in such cases. Experienced nurses were employed and the sick man put in their charge. A quarantine station has been established at the home of Jim Rogers and every person who was exposed to the disease has been placed in quarantine as a precautionary measure. Every effort will be made to prevent the spread of the disease, and all believe it can be done. Dr. Lancaster’s long experience in dealing with small pox is a warrant that the case will be well handled. He has never yet allowed the disease to spread, and the public can rest assured it will not in this instance. He requests us to say that only those who were actually exposed are in the least danger, and that there is no danger in passing through the Acton community, or in the people who have not been exposed going where they please”.
The Granbury News – Acton Annals – November 3, 1898:
“Mr. W.B. Davis, a nephew of Uncle Peter James, who came here on a visit from El Paso a short time ago, took sick last Monday a week ago with a high fever. Later he was found to have an eruptive disease, and when it was sufficiently developed to make a differential diagnosis of the case it was found to be small pox. A number of people who visited him were exposed with more or less risk, and are now under strick quarantine. Everything possible is being done to confine the malady with-in its present limits, and there is no danger of its spreading beyond the quarantine. There was necessarily a little excitement at first, but everything is quiet now, and there is no more risk in coming to Acton than to any other town in the county”.
The Granbury News – Cresson Items – November 10, 1898:
“Mrs. Glenn, of this place, who is a daughter of Uncle Peter James, was taken into the quarantine lines last week. She was exposed while on a visit to her father before the quarantine was established. She has been vaccinated and we do not think she is in any great danger”.
The Granbury News – Acton Annals – November 10, 1898:
“Mr. W.H. Davis, the small pox victim, died last Friday night and was buried in the Acton graveyard on Saturday. It was a sad affair and the family and friends have our profound sympathy. The story that “Billie” Davis knowingly brought the dreaded disease into the community and into the family of the good old people who raised him is not believed by any one who knew him. He made a statement to that effect on his death bed, and surely no one who is willing to give him justice will slander him in that way. Besides Dr. Lancaster says his statement is not only possible, but probable, as he had the same experience himself. There are no new cases to date (Tuesday), and everything is being done that is possible to keep the disease from spreading”.
The Granbury News – Cresson Items – November 17, 1898:
“Mrs. Glenn has been released from the quarantine station”.
The Granbury News – Front page of the paper – November 24, 1898:
“Uncle Peter James of Acton died on Tuesday night, after intense suffering from kidney disease. Thus passes away one of the oldest and best-known citizens of the county. No man had more warm friends among all classes of people than had Uncle Peter. He was honest, conscientious and patriotic – the qualities needed to make a good citizen”.
The Granbury News – Acton Annals – December 1, 1898:
“Uncle Peter James whose death was reported in The News last week was one of the pioneers of this section, having come here in the fifties”.
The Granbury News – Acton Annals – April 6, 1899:
“Uncle Billie Rodgers preached the funeral of Uncle Peter James to a crowded house last Sunday”.
The Granbury News – Acton Annals – August 10, 1899:
“Mrs. W.H. Davis, wife of the small pox victim who died here last fall, is in from El Paso”.
[Sources: Newspaper articles in The Granbury News, located in the Hood County Library on microfilm, found by Scott James, 1990]
The family of Peter James still resides on the original acreage he acquired and settled on in the 1850’s. Peter’s son, William H. James, lived there, his grandson Elvus T. James lived there, and his great-grandson, Charles L. James, is currently living on the farm where Peter settled. Numerous other descendants of Peter and Nancy James still reside in Hood County today.