Hood County Texas Genealogical Society
JOHN ALEXANDER FORMWALT
1820 - 1914
From History of Texas, Published in 1896
JOHN ALEXANDER FORMWALT, justice of the peace at Granbury and an honored pioneer of Hood County, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, April 22, 1820, and was the second son of Jacob and Rebecca (Troup) Formwalt. His great-grandparents, who were among the first settlers of Knoxville, founded the family in Tennessee. They were of German birth and from the fatherland came to America in colonial days. His father, Jacob Formwalt, was a native of Virginia and a soldier of the War of 1812; and his mother, Rebecca Troup Formwalt, was born in Georgia. They were married in Huntsville, Alabama, about 1816. Two sons-William, deceased, and John A. were the fruits of this marriage. Not long after their marriage the parents removed to Knoxville, and thence to Jackson, Tennessee, being numbered among the first settlers there. In 1826 they went to Florence, Alabama, and two years later to Pulaski, Tennessee, where in the subscription schools John A. received his primary education, therein pursuing his studies until twelve years of age. At the age of eighteen he pursued a one-term course in a private school, which was taught by an Englishman in the mountains of Alabama.
In 1840 young Formwalt made his first visit to Texas, arriving in Red River County in November. He remained in the Lone Star State for six months and then returned to Tennessee, having made the trip on horseback. In 1843 he located in Pontotoc County, Mississippi, where for a few years he engaged as clerk and bookkeeper for a mercantile firm, but when his abilities and reliable character came to be recognized he was elected to the office of county clerk, which position he filled from 1847 until failing health rendered it necessary for him to seek a change of climate. This was in 1849, when the California gold excitement was intense; and in company with others he journeyed to the Pacific slope, where for nearly two years he was engaged in mining with gratifying results. In 1850 he returned to his home in Mississippi, and a year later, selling out his interests there, he emigrated to East Texas, making the trip with ox teams and reaching his destination after three months of travel. Locating in Anderson County, he purchased and operated a farm for two years and then removed to Palestine in that county, where he embarked in merchandising. He was also appointed postmaster, serving in that capacity for three years, when, selling out his business he also gave up the office and resumed farming. In 1856 he became a resident of West Point, Freestone County, and in 1859 went to his present location, then a part of Johnson County. Here he purchased a section of land near Thorp Spring and has ever since been one of the most prominent farmers and stock-raisers of this locality, also one of the most important men in matters of influence in the development of the best interests of Hood County. In the affairs which have had for their object the general welfare, he has taken an active part and is recognized as a wide-awake, progressive and valued citizen.
In politics Major Formwalt is a Democrat, though he has never been a politician. He was first appointed to his present office of justice of the peace to fill a vacancy and has subsequently been three times elected thereto. For half a century he has been a Master Mason in good standing, and in religious belief he is a Presbyterian. He has always liberally contributed of his means to educational interests, and school, church and social interests find in him a friend.
Mr. Formwalt has been twice married, first at Pontotoc, Mississippi, in December, 1845, to Miss Cortney Lane McEwen, daughter of Colonel D. K. McEwen. By this union he became the father of seven children, namely: William, John, Charles, Hood, Ada, Sam and Helen, all save Sam still living and respected citizens of Texas. The mother of this family died in 1880, and on December 25, 1882, Mr. Formwalt married Mrs. Burdett, widow of John Burdett and daughter of Judge Jowers, of Palestine, Texas.
Major Formwalt is tall and graceful in his bearing and though of German origin his diction is perfectly free from any foreign accent, and is of the best type of southern English. In character, spotless; in candor, courage and generosity, civilian of the soldier type, his tendencies having been toward a military life. At the time of his first settlement in his present locality it was a very sparsely settled frontier community, subjected to depredations of marauding bands of fierce and thieving Indians, who inhabited the unsettled parts of Texas on the Upper Brazos. Mr. Formwalt was always a leader and among the foremost to organize the citizen militia into pursuing and chastising parties, which he led far into the haunts of the savages. These first crude experiences of a militia man were, at the breaking out of the Civil War, to find a more expansive field and his military genius and ambition were to find scope. In October, 1861, as a true-born Southerner, he enlisted as a private in Captain William Shannon's company to serve in the Confederate Army, but in the following spring Colonel A. Nelson, to whom this company reported, well discerning in the modest private qualities fitting him for command, sent Formwalt to the Brazos settlement to raise a company, which was soon accomplished. Mr. Formwalt was elected its captain, and he immediately reported to, and his company was organized into Colonel Nelson's Tenth Regiment of Texas Infantry. This noted regiment, upon the promotion of Colonel Nelson, was subsequently commanded by Colonel Roger Q. Mills, and Major Formwalt participated in all the many desperate battles in which his command took part. He was captured January 11, 1862, at Arkansas Post, and suffered imprisonment at Columbus, Ohio, for five months, when he was exchanged. His service thereafter was in the Army of the Tennessee. At the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, in the assault led by those heroic generals, Pat Cleburne and H.B. Granbury, Formwalt, as senior captain, led his regiment to the charge and fell, severely wounded, being one among many other heroes whose blood mingled to enrich the soil of that sanguinary field. He was afterward promoted to the rank of major.
Not long after this the war terminated and Major Formwalt returned to his home in western Texas to find that his brave wife with her little ones had by the farm and the loom managed to clothe themselves, although they suffered many hardships and dangers known only to those who were within the territory so frequently invaded by the Indians. Much of his property was wasted and gone, but, with spirit yet undaunted, with his usual energy he resumed the labors of the civilian and soon again became prosperous in husbandry. A few years later he embarked in a mercantile business at Granbury, but his kindly nature was in the way of success, and after a few years' experience in this line, he again retired to the farm much crippled in fortune.
Though spending his later years in judicial office, the military title of Major is far more fitting to Mr. Formwalt than that of judge, for, possessing the bluntness and courage of the Scottish chief, he combines with it the grace and courtesy of the faithful Christian gentleman. Deeply imbued with sentiments of patriotic devotion to his country, had his life been spent under favoring circumstances, honor and glory might alike have attached to his name and fixed it well upon the pages of his country's history; but as the fatality of events have decreed he is now serving his neighbors in the humble office of magistrate at the age of seventy-six years, but with buoyant step and figure erect appears not to exceed sixty. It has already been fitly written:
"The march of the soldier is ending;
On the hilltops over the river
The campfire lights are ascending
To our God, the merciful giver,
Where comrades assembling in glory
At the heavenly gates are waiting;
While mortals in song and in story,
Their valorous deeds are relating."
Major John Alexander Formwalt died January 8, 1914 and was buried in Granbury Cemetery in Hood County, Texas.
History of Texas, 1896, Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Co.
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