Thomas H. Mathis: Businessman and pioneer

The following is part one of a series of blog posts on the history of the Mathis family.

Thomas H. Mathis

Thomas Mathis, great-grandfather of Walter Nold Mathis, was born in Stewart County, Tennessee on July 14, 1834 to an agricultural family. At 20 years of age, he moved to Southern Arkansas to attend a school overseen by his cousin, Dr. Josiah Thompson Mathis. A couple of years later, Thomas organized his own school in Warren, Arkansas before attending Bethel College in Mishakawa, Indiana.

Thomas H. Mathis

Lured by the prospect of the livestock industry, Thomas moved to Southwest Texas in January, 1859. Together with another cousin, John M. Mathis, he made a moderate profit through the sale of livestock and was well on his way to growing his business until the outbreak of the Civil War. Forced to close his cattle business due to a blockade of Gulf ports imposed by the Union Army, Thomas turned his attention to tobacco. During the Civil War, tobacco was plentiful for men serving on both sides – however, it was very difficult for civilians to obtain and maintain their habit. Thomas was successful in dodging the blockade and importing tobacco from Tennessee and Kentucky thus meeting Texans’ demand for the product. In the fall of 1862, Thomas left his business to join the Confederate Army, serving until the end of the War, after which he returned to the tobacco industry.

In February, 1867, Thomas and John Mathis relocated to Aransas Bay – by joining forces with other local businessmen, the town of Rockport was founded. In their new town, Thomas and John created the firm of J. M. and T. H. Mathis, built a wharf, and chartered a steamboat. This steamboat, the Prince Albert, was the first to enter Aransas Bay for commercial purposes. Only a couple of years later, the Prince Albert was lost at sea – this did not deter the men, however. In August, 1869, the Mathis’s firm convinced the Morgan Lines, the first steamship company in Texas, to run ships out of Rockport. The Morgan Lines had sailed their inaugural vessel, Columbia, in 1837 and had survived the commandeering of their steamships by both armies during the Civil War.

Not only did the Mathis’s firm persuade the Morgan Lines to run ships out of Rockport, they also became agents for the company. This would be a partnership that would take both Thomas and John’s business to bigger and better places for their families and Aransas Bay.

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