Born in Nova Scotia. Came to Texas in 1843. Became District Judge, 1851. On the powerful Public Safety Committee of the Texas Secession Convention, 1861. Named with Samuel A. Maverick and Philip N. Luckett to take possession of the federal property in Texas. Backed by Col. Ben McCulloch and 1,200 minute men, forced surrender of 3,000 troops with arms, ammunition, supplies and $30,000 cash. Served throughout the Civil War as one of two Confederate Judges in Texas. Tried cases of persons accused of Union sympathies; dispositions of goods owned by Northern enemy; and maritime disputes arising from the coastal blockade and shipwrecks. In 1864 was made Special Commissioner to settle disputes among foreign merchants handling cotton (South's only medium of trade for vital supplies) across the Mexican boundary.
At war's end, left with other Texas leaders hoping to continue fight from Mexico. On his return became only Southerner besides President Jefferson Davis to be twice indicated for treason. Was pardoned in June 1867 by President Andrew Johnson. On Texas Supreme Court and University of Texas Board of Regents. This town named for him in 1882.