JOHN H. REAGAN - The Old Roman
October 8, 1818 -M arch 6, 1905
By Forrest Bradberry, Jr., Reagan Camp #2156 Historian
John Reagan was born in Sevierville (present day Gatlinburg), Sevier County Tennessee, the oldest son of Timothy and Elizabeth Reagan, a farming family. His early education was minimal at best, primarily because of his rural environment. Records indicated, at times, he briefly attended Nancy Academy, Boyd’s Creek Academy and Southwestern Seminary in Maryland. In 1838, he settled at Nacogdoches in the Republic of Texas. Shortly after arrival, he joined the local militia during the Cherokee War and participated in the battle on July 15, 1839 where the Indian leader Chief Bowl was killed. Following this he was a frontier scout, surveyor until elected as justice of the peace and captain of a militia company in Nacogdoches. Studying the law, in 1846 he received his temporary law license and opened an office in Buffalo near the Trinity River.
Reagan’s political career began in earnest after Texas joined the union in 1846. He was elected the first county judge of Henderson County, then a member of the 2nd Texas Legislature. Losing reelection, he moved to Palestine, Anderson County, Texas and bought a farm on land west of town which had originally been the site of Fort Houston, a post for the Republic of Texas. He named his home, appropriately, Fort Houston. A democrat, in 1852 he ran and won a vacant judge position in the 9th Judicial District and reelected in 1856. In 1857 he was elected to the US Congress, serving until Texas withdrew from the union in 1861.
He was a member of the Texas Secession Convention of 1861. During the convention he was included in a committee to approach Governor Sam Houston, an anti-secessionist, to support Texas and the Resolution of Secession. The governor would not change his position. Reagan was appointed a delegate to the Convention of Southern States in Montgomery Alabama. Here, he accepted appointment as Postmaster General of the Confederate States of America by Jefferson Davis, the Confederate President. He became a trusted friend and confidant of President Davis and remained in this position throughout the war.
It has been noted the Confederate Postal Service has been the only national postal service to have actually made a profit. As Postmaster General, Reagan was also responsible for the southern telegraph system. Trying to maintain postal services and telegraph service throughout the war was most assuredly an almost impossible task. The movement of armies with their fluid successes or failures, territory and towns changing hands multiple times in some cases, and the enormous task in obtaining supplies and equipment necessary to provide for any reasonable attempts to establish, expand or the reasonable maintenance of telegraph and postal services and facilities cannot be overemphasized. As the war progressed and the successes of the Union forces became ever increasing and the Confederate forces and territories shrunk and became separated or isolated, the problems were magnified beyond imagination.
In the closing days of war, during the flight of the Confederate government, Reagan accompanied President Davis, the last of the original cabinet appointees. President Davis appointed him Secretary of the Treasury shortly before they were captured in May 1865. He was imprisoned at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor for a few months and from there wrote the “Fort Warren Letter” in which he encouraged the people of Texas to recognize the war’s outcome, emancipation and suffrage of their former slaves and the terms of the federal government. He hoped Texas would avoid conflict and retribution by the occupying forces. The letter made Reagan extremely unpopular in Texas for years until his premonitions were proven right and Texas suffered the ruthlessness and indignities of reconstruction. It was because of his courage to sacrifice his personal popularity for the people of Texas he acquired the honored nick name “The Old Roman.”
Returning to his home at Fort Houston, Reagan began rebuilding his farm and his life. In 1872 he was elected to the State Constitutional Convention. In 1874, 1876, 1878 and 1880, he was elected to Congress for the 1st District and US Senator in 1887. In 1891, the Governor appointed him head of the Texas Railroad Commission, a position he held until he retired in 1903. He completed his “MEMOIRS” which was printed in 1906. He died at Fort Houston on March 6, 1905. The Texas Legislature turned out in a body to remember the Old Roman and attend his funeral.