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Joshua D. Brown first settler of Upper Guadalupe River and James Kerr Lower Guadalupe River

2011 April 22
by Jan Wilkinson

On January 26, 1856, Kerr County was formed from Bexar Land District No. 2. At the request of Joshua D. Brown, the name of Brownsboro was changed to Kerrsville, for his friend and fellow veteran of the Texas Revolution, Major James Kerr. Kerrsville became the county seat but later the “s” was dropped and the town became “Kerrville.”

Joshua D. Brown came from Gonzales to become the first settler at the headwaters of the Guadalupe River in what became to be known as Kerr County. In 1856, Joshua named his newly organized county Kerr because James Kerr was his friend [UPDATE: James Kerr was JDB’s father Edward Brown’s first cousin by marriage.  His first cousin Henry Stevenson Brown’s wife was Margaret Kerr; James Kerr was her brother] and because Kerr was the first American to settle on the Guadalupe River at Gonzales before the state was the Republic of Texas. Major James Kerr was an important part of Texas’s beginning and played a key role in the break with Mexico and the struggle for establishment of an independent Republic of Texas. Joshua D. Brown participated in the revolution of Texas along with Kerr in many military campaigns.

Kerr was a life-long friend of Stephen F. Austin, the most successful Texas Empresario, who was instrumental in bringing the American settlers to this new land, known as “Original Three Hundred”, and Kerr followed him to Texas from Missouri.

Major James Kerr (was a Lieutenant in the War of 1812) was surveyor-general of the Green DeWitt Colony, whose grant was awarded by the Mexican government on April 15, 1825, to settle 400 colonists on the Guadalupe River, and also the DeLeon Colony. Kerr, like Austin, was an unwavering and loyal Anglo-Mexican patriot working for the welfare of the Texian colonists, their economic and political freedom as adopted citizens of Mexico, above all interests.

The families who arrived in Texas had to deal with the hardships of this new land. Most of the Mexican forces found in Texas at this time were presidarios, the worst convicts of Mexico. The Mexican government drafted these convicts into the armies. The settlers and the presidarios were constantly at odds with each other. Because of the attacks from the Indians in the area, the Mexican Commandant at Bexar presented the people of Gonzales with a valuable four-pound cannon.

There was a Mexican garrison at Anahuac that was controlled by Mexican forces of mostly the dreaded presidarios. There was an attack of a lone woman by four presidarios where all but one got away when some men working nearby came to her screams. The settler decided that hanging would be too big an insult to the flag of Mexico, so they tarred and feathered the soldier and walked him to the garrison with a warning that if anything like this offense happened again that there would not be a presidarios left alive.

In 1831, the Mexican presidarios were not happy with this little incident and their reaction resulted in the arrest of several soon to be heroes, namely one William Travis. This was the beginning of the spread of the words “Revolution”. The Mexicans released the Anglos. James Kerr was a member of the first organized gathering to make public pronouncement against the dictator Santa Anna.

In 1835, the Mexican government sent Captain Castenado to Gonzales to retrieve the old iron cannon and his orders were to use force if necessary but no matter what get the cannon. The Texians heard of his travels and Captain Albert Martin sent messengers to the settlers in the surrounding areas to come to his aid. James Kerr was among the patriots who rallied to the defense of the cannon when a Mexican force of one hundred and fifty men was dispatched from San Antonio to Gonzales to seize the cannon. The Texians attacked the force and drove them back to San Antonio with no Texian casualties. This was the beginning of the War of Independence for Texas.

The people of Gonzales began doing what they could to support the upcoming revolution by donating all their iron. The women brought in their flat irons, pots and pans. One woman even gave the spindle from her spinning wheel. Using the Gonzales ladies cherished silk dresses a committee had designed a flag. It would have a white field without a border and in the center a picture of the treasured cannon. Over the cannon a single five-pointed lone star was sewn and under the cannon the words, “Come and Take It”.

Major James Kerr died in Jackson County on his farm 7 miles north of Edna on Kerr’s Creek and was buried in the Kerr Cemetery. Engraved on the vault over his site is

“Sacred to the memory of Dr. James Kerr, born in Boyle County, Kentucky, September 24, 1790. Emigrated to Missouri in 1808, then to Texas in the year 1825. Having participated in most of the trying scenes of the struggle for Texas Liberty, he died in Jackson County December 23, 1851.” (UPDATE: the year of death should be 1850 per the probate of the will of James Kerr at the county clerk’s office in Edna, Texas and the writings in A Texas Family by Major James Kerr Crain; marker is incorrect.)


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