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 »


Keith Guthrie

MATHIS, THOMAS HENRY (1834–1899). Thomas Henry Mathis, tobacco merchant, founder of Rockport, and rancher, was born in Stewart County, Tennessee, on July 14, 1834, the son of James and Isabella (Boyd) Mathis. During his boyhood and adolescence he worked on a farm. At the age of twenty he left home to attend a school conducted by his cousin, Joshua Thompson Mathis, in southern Arkansas, where he subsequently stayed for fifteen months as a teacher. In 1856 he organized a school of his own at Warren, Arkansas. The following year he attended Bethel College, and in 1858 he taught school in Murray, Kentucky. In January 1859 he moved to Southwest Texas. In the following months he and his cousin J. M. Mathis and two other men made a successful trading trip into Mexico. In 1861 Mathis moved from Gonzales to Victoria and enlarged his business. As a result of the blockade of Gulf ports by the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War, he was forced to close his business, but began to run tobacco and managed to elude the blockade successfully. Also, in the spring and summer of 1862, he had great success in forwarding supplies from Texas to the soldiers of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department. Mathis joined the Confederate Army in the fall of 1862. He was a member of Company E, Duff's Regiment. After the war he resumed his tobacco trade between Tennessee and Texas.

In February 1867 Thomas and J. M. Mathis built the first wharf in Rockport. The firm of J. M. and T. H. Mathis chartered the Prince Albert, the first steamboat ever to enter Aransas Bay for commercial purposes. After the loss of the Prince Albert at sea, the firm persuaded the Morgan Lines to run its ships into Rockport and became the agent for that company. In 1869 J. M. and T. H. Mathis gave $5,500 for the improvement of the pass into Aransas Bay between St. Joseph and Mustang islands to provide access to the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico. They built the Orleans Hotel and a number of other prominent buildings, constructed bridges, made county roads, and were active in securing other public improvements. The Mathis cousins joined with three other ranchers in 1871 to form the Coleman, Mathis, Fulton Cattle Company (see COLEMAN-FULTON PASTURE COMPANY). It was one of the first cattle firms in the state to fence a large pasture. In 1879 the cattle company was dissolved, but J. M. and T. H. Mathis continued in business together for another year.

Thomas Mathis contributed to bringing the Western Union telegraph, the first telephone line, and the first meat-refrigerating plant in Texas to Rockport. He was also one of the leaders in introducing blooded cattle and horses into Southwest Texas. His own ranching operations were extensive. In later years he owned 24,000 acres of fine land on the Nueces River in San Patricio County, all well fenced and well stocked with thoroughbred and graded cattle and horses. His total investment in real estate and personal property at this time was about $240,000.

Mathis was married first to Mrs. Cora Linda Lampkin Caldwell, who died of typhoid shortly after the marriage. On August 26, 1875, he married Mary Jane Nold in Murray, Kentucky. They made their home in Rockport and had eight children. Mathis was a Democrat. He died in Rockport on March 19, 1899, and is buried there.

Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company Records, 1881–1930 (Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin). Keith Guthrie, History of San Patricio County (Austin: Nortex, 1986). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

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, Keith Guthrie, "MATHIS, THOMAS HENRY," accessed June 04, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmacr.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. 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...