While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Priscilla Myers Benham
Cornelius Ennis
Cornelius Ennis. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Railway Flyer
Houston and Texas Central Railway Flyer. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Railway Logo
Houston Tap and Brazoria Railway Logo. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

ENNIS, CORNELIUS (1813–1899). Cornelius Ennis, mayor of Houston, merchant, Confederate blockade runner, and railroad entrepreneur, was born on September 26, 1813, in Belleville, New Jersey. His father's family had come to New Jersey from Ireland in the latter part of the seventeenth century, and his mother was a descendant of the Doremus family, who were among the first settlers from Holland. After receiving a liberal education in New Jersey Ennis went in 1834 to New York City, where he worked in a drugstore. He moved to Houston, Texas, and opened a drugstore in 1839. After George W. Kimball became a partner, Ennis expanded into general merchandising. They sent the first shipment of cotton from Galveston to Boston in 1841.

His success in business allowed Ennis to marry Jeannette Ingals Kimball, his partner's sister, in 1841; they had four children. Ennis and his wife supported Christ Episcopal Church.

In 1842 Kimball sailed to New York with cotton and partnership funds to be invested, and was drowned with his family in a storm off the Florida coast. This serious setback did not hinder Ennis's cotton-export business for long. Realizing that improved transportation was necessary for expansion, he turned to railroads. He was an incorporator of the Houston and Texas Central Railway, which began in 1853; along with Paul Bremond, William M. Rice, Thomas W. House, William R. Baker, and William J. Hutchins, Ennis served on the board of directors for many years. He was also the railroad's general superintendent and comptroller. For several years he had offices in New York, where he obtained loans and purchased supplies to complete the road. Ennis, Texas, an early terminus of the road, was named in his honor.

As mayor of Houston from July 1856 to December 1857, Ennis supervised the completion of the city-owned Houston Tap Railroad, begun in April 1856. This tap into the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway preserved the Brazos cotton trade with Houston. After the city sold the tap road in 1858, the new owners renamed it the Houston Tap and Brazoria. Ennis served on the board of directors of HT&B, which brought the first carload of sugar and molasses to Houston in 1859. He also succeeded in having arrested and sent to the penitentiary a band of robbers who had preyed for years on shippers and teamsters going to Houston.

Houston Ship Channel
Houston Ship Channel, 1800s. Courtesy of the University of North TexasImage available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107. 
Ennis's Headstone
Cornelius Ennis's Headstone. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

During the Civil War Ennis ran cotton through the Union blockade to Havana, Cuba, then to England via Mexico. At his own expense he purchased an ironclad steamer, the Jeannette, for $40,000 in gold. He used the ship to carry the rifles, gunpowder, percussion caps, clothing, and other equipment he bought in Havana for the Confederate government. His successful blockade running enabled him to expand his cotton-export business after the war, when he opened a branch office in Galveston with Frank Cargill and N. Anderson. He also invested heavily in the Galveston News and the Dallas News (see DALLAS MORNING NEWS). Alfred H. Belo, president of the News, married Ennis's oldest daughter, and Cargill married the second daughter. The youngest daughter married Cesar Lombardi, a Houston merchant and later president of the Dallas News.

Ennis also continued his interest in railways. The Houston Tap and Brazoria was sold to Houston businessmen in 1870, and three years later it was taken over by the International-Great Northern. Throughout these changes Ennis continued to serve on the board of directors. He promoted the Houston Ship Channel, street railways, and public utilities of all kinds. He lived in Houston sixty years and died on February 13, 1899, in his home. He was interred at Glenwood Cemetery in Houston.


John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: Daniell, 1880; reprod., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). Houston Post, February 14, 1899. Jesse A. Ziegler, Wave of the Gulf (San Antonio: Naylor, 1938).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Priscilla Myers Benham, "ENNIS, CORNELIUS," accessed August 11, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fen05.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on February 7, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...