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Shirley Brooks Greene

KELSEY, JOHN PETER (1818–1898). John Peter Kelsey, builder, merchant, judge, and rancher, was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on January 11, 1818, the son of James and Rachel (Du Boise) Kelsey. In 1839 he signed on as a master mechanic with a building firm bound for Galveston, Texas; he built the first two-story house in that city. From Galveston he traveled to southwest Texas, to Camargo, Tamaulipas, and Monterrey, Nuevo León, and to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he borrowed money from a brother to buy merchandise. With his goods he sailed to Corpus Christi Bay, set up a tent on the Aubrey and Kinney Ranch (see KINNEY, HENRY LAWRENCE), and began selling his goods; shortly thereafter he built a one-room store. He participated in the defense of Corpus Christi during the Comanche raids of 1842 and 1845. In October 1847 he married Amanda Brooks; they adopted two daughters, one of whom died of yellow fever at the age of seven. During the Mexican War Kelsey engaged extensively in freighting and wholesale merchandising at Corpus Christi and Rio Grande City. He moved to Rio Grande City in 1848 and established a mercantile-commission business. Much of his merchandise was furnished by the Brownsville, Texas, wholesale house of José San Román. He was elected chief justice of Starr County in 1852. He purchased thousands of acres of ranchland in Jim Hogg County and may have introduced barbed wire into this section of Texas. He also experimented with crossbreeding to improve his cattle and sheep stock. In 1861 Kelsey's Unionist sympathies forced his departure from Texas; he moved his mercantile business and home to Camargo. During the Civil War he did a thriving business in the contraband cotton trade. He returned to Rio Grande City in the late 1870s. In 1882, and again in 1886 and 1888, he was elected county judge of Starr County. He ranched in Starr and Jim Hogg counties until his death, on May 9, 1898. When Kelsey died, his estate was appraised at somewhat over $75,000. He was buried in the old cemetery in Rio Grande City. Kelsey Memorial Methodist Church in Corpus Christi was named in 1948 in honor of John Peter Kelsey and his wife.

John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: Daniell, 1880; reprod., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). Corpus Christi Caller, April 14, 1898. Lewis E. Daniell, Personnel of the Texas State Government, with Sketches of Representative Men of Texas (Austin: City Printing, 1887; 3d ed., San Antonio: Maverick, 1892). Anna Marietta Kelsey, Through the Years: Reminiscences of Pioneer Days on the Texas Border (San Antonio: Naylor, 1952).

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

Handbook of Texas Online, Shirley Brooks Greene, "KELSEY, JOHN PETER," accessed August 19, 2019,

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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