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Thomas F. McKinneyThomas F. McKinney

co-founder of Galveston, Texas

Thomas F. McKinney was born in Kentucky, in 1801, and grew up in Randolph County, Missouri.

As a youth, McKinney entered the St. Joseph-to-Santa Fe trade, carrying trade goods to Santa Fe and returning with silver, gold, horses, and mules. He later traded along the route between Chihuahua, Mexico, and Natchitoches, Louisiana.

In 1822, McKinney became one of Stephen Austin's "Old Three Hundred," when he migrated to Austin's colony in Texas and established a plantation at Quintana on the Brazos River.

In 1830, while keelboating cotton to the mouth of the Angelina-Neches River watercourse, he "discovered" the high river bluff at the site of present-day Port Neches. Upon his return to Nacogdoches, he applied to Empressario Lorenzo de Zavala for a grant of 4,428 acres, which was subsequently approved. McKinney intended to survey a townsite to be named Georgia, but his plans never materialized. In 1837, he sold two-thirds of his grant to Joseph Grigsby.

In 1833, McKinney partnered with Michel Menard in a steam sawmill business in Liberty County. Early in 1834, McKinney teamed up with Samuel May Williams to found McKinney-Williams and Company, which soon became Texas' largest merchandising and shipping firm and its first banking institution. In 1837, McKinney and Williams joined with other entrepreneurs (including Menard) to form the Galveston City Company and built wharves to handle the swelling volume of sea and river traffic. They collected commissions for transferring cotton cargoes from riverboats to seagoing export vessels, extended credit at interest to their clients, and also earned middleman's fees for shipping to upriver storekeepers the imports off-loaded in Galveston. They invested their profits from all these sources in a variety of ventures -- hotels, sawmills, steamboats, and land speculation.

McKinney was a staunch supporter of the "General Consultation," which assembled at San Felipe in 1835 to consider a list of grievances against Mexico. He even made arrangements with New Orleans merchants to accept McKinney-Williams drafts for gunpowder and munitions for the Texas army -- to the tune of about $150,000. The fledgling Texas Republic repaid the firm in land script totalling 108,000 acres. Over time McKinney-Williams came to hold more than 1.5 million acres of Texas land.

After the death of his partner in 1857 McKinney lost all interest in merchandising and allowed his banking and cotton-trading activities to lapse. During the Civil War he served the Confederacy as a cotton buyer and purchasing agent. The war and Reconstruction years, coupled with many cotton market reverses, took their toll on his personal fortune, and by the time of his death in 1873 he had lost most of his wealth.

W.T. Block. "Thomas F. McKinney: Pioneer Neches River Keelboatman." reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise, July 5, 1977.

Stephen Austin
Port Neches

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This page was last updated on June 23, 2017.