Thomas William Ward

Portrait of Thomas William Ward Headstone Photograph

Thomas William
(Peg Leg) Ward

Born in Ireland in 1806
Died at Austin, Texas
November 25, 1872

Erected by the State
of Texas

Back of headstone

Lost a leg in the storming
of Bexar, 1835
Mayor of Austin 1840
Commissioner of the
General Land Office
of the Republic from 1840
to Statehood
First Commissioner of the
Land Office of the State
U. S. Consul to Panama
in 1853
Full Name: Thomas William Ward
AKA: Peg Leg
Location: Section:Republic Hill, Section 1 (C1)
Row:N  Number:10
Reason for Eligibility: Republic of Texas Veteran; Chief Clerk, Republic of Texas House of Representatives; Commissioner, General Land Office for the Republic and State of Texas 
Birth Date: 1806 
Died: November 25, 1872 
Burial Date: November 26, 1872 
WARD, THOMAS WILLIAM (1807-1872). Thomas William (Peg Leg) Ward, second commissioner of the General Land Office of Texas, was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1807 to Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ward, landowning English immigrants. In 1828 Ward immigrated to Quebec and thence to New Orleans, where he studied engineering and architecture. Seven years later he answered the call for volunteers to help stand off Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna's army. Ward was one of the organizers of the New Orleans Greys, which fought at the siege of Bexar in December 1835. During the battle, Captain Ward, at the head of an artillery company, followed Benjamin R. Milam into San Antonio. During the ensuing battle Ward lost his leg to a cannonball, and Col. Milam was killed by a rifle shot. Legend has it that Milam's body and Ward's leg were buried in the same grave. The crippled Ward returned to New Orleans to be fitted with a peg leg. His stay in the city was brief, however, and he returned to Texas in the spring of 1836. Commissioned as a colonel by President David G. Burnet, Ward served under Gen. Thomas J. Rusk. For his service to the Republic of Texas, Ward later received 2,240 acres in Grayson and Goliad counties. After the Texas Revolution Ward settled in Houston and worked as a general contractor. On February 18, 1837, Augustus C. Allen signed a contract with Ward to build the Texas capitol in Houston. Despite missing the initial deadline due to material delays, Ward completed the building in time for the Second Session of the First Congress to meet in it. He served as a clerk and later a member to the Harrisburg County's Board of Land Commissioners during 1838. During the spring and summer of 1839, the capitol was moved to Waterloo, later renamed Austin. Ward followed the seat of government and in late 1839 served as the chief clerk for the House of Representatives during the Fourth Congress. He went on to become mayor of Austin in the fall of 1840. During a brief tenure Ward created eight districts with a representative from each serving on the city council. He also coordinated the sale of town lots.

In January 1841 he was appointed commissioner of the General Land Office, succeeding John P. Borden. Ward presided over the land office for the next seven years. Throughout his term he struggled to make sense of the often unclear and tangled land laws as well as the nightmare of conflicting surveys and untrained surveyors. The commissioner also had to combat rampant fraud and wrestle with dishonorable land speculators. Early on, Ward discovered that the job of land commissioner could be quite hazardous to one's health. In 1841 he lost his right arm when a cannon misfired during the official celebration of San Jacinto Day. The following year Ward became involved with the citizens of Austin in the Archive War. Ordered by President Sam Houston to cooperate in the removal of archives from Austin, Ward was among those fired upon by Angelina Eberly. During the state elections in 1848, George W. Smyth defeated Ward in the race for land commissioner. After his defeat Ward served as the commissioner for overseeing land claims within the Peters Colony. In 1853 he was again elected mayor of Austin but resigned in September to accept an appointment by President Franklin Pierce as United States consul to Panama. He returned to the United States in 1857 and, despite ailing health, was nonetheless active in the election of 1860 as a bitter opponent of secession. In 1865 Andrew J. Hamilton appointed him mayor of Austin. In October he left Austin to serve as Andrew Johnson's appointee as Corpus Christi's customs collector. He remained in this position until 1869 when Ulysses S. Grant fired him. Ward married Susan L. Marston, a widow with two children, on June 20, 1844. Three years later their home was built by the noted Austin architect, Abner H. Cook, on the corner of Hickory (now 8th Street) and Lavaca. Ward died in his home on November 25, 1872, from typhoid fever. He was buried with the honors of Masonry and Odd Fellowship in the State Cemetery. On August 16, 1872, the first county seat of Johnson County was named Wardville in his honor. Ward County, created in 1887, was also named for him. The state of Texas had a monument erected at his grave in 1932.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. De Cordova, Texas: Her Resources and Her Public Men (Philadelphia: Crozet, 1858). Adele B. Looscan, "Harris County, 1822-1845," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 18-19 (October 1914-July 1915). Thomas L. Miller, Bounty and Donation Land Grants of Texas, 1835-1888 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967). Alexander W. Terrell, "The City of Austin from 1839 to 1865," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 14 (October 1910).

Sara May Meriwether

Recommended citation: "WARD, THOMAS WILLIAM." The Handbook of Texas Online. [Accessed Mon Feb 17 12:19:16 US/Central 2003].
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