John Thomas Kirby, biography c. 1914
[from A History of Texas and Texans]
  Source: Johnson, Frank W. A History of Texas and Texans. Vol. III, pgs 1066-1067. Chicago: American Historical Association, 1914.

JOHN THOMAS KIRBY. The life story of the late John Thomas Kirby, who died at his old home in Tyler county, April 8, 1909, might he condensed into a few words.

Born in Kentucky, near the Cumberland River, February 4, 1821, he was taken by his parents first to Alabama and then to Mississippi, where he grew to manhood, was married in the latter state in 1841, and in 1850 came to Texas, locating in the country about old Peach Tree Village, in Tyler county, where for nearly sixty years he had his home. Aside from a brief term of service as sheriff, and in the Confederate government during the war, he lived the simple life of a tiller of the soil.

Such statistics of biography as the above furnish no basis upon which to judge the real character of such a man as was the late John. T. Kirby. His life contained few events of the dramatic quality, but was exceedingly rich in those elements of manhood which constitute noblemen in all ages. It was said of him: “Texas contained no more lovable character than John T. Kirby. He was one of the most picturesque characters of East Texas, and was known far and wide and dearly beloved. He possessed an intellect of remarkable quality and soundness; his wisdom and his wide knowledge and accurate judgment marked him as an unusual man. He had a keen sense of humor and was famed for his wit and unvarying good nature and love of fun.”

Love of land, of peace and industry, cardinal virtues in the lives of men and nations, were the ever present and controlling influences in the long life of John T. Kirby. Never a cosmopolitan citizen, he preferred the quiet, clean life of a farmer, and few there are who would deny the soundness of his choice when he manifested a fondness for the retired and comfortable country home which all the worldly success of his children could never induce him to leave. Quietly and unassumingly he passed his years and with friendship bonds as true as steel held worthy place among those who knew him. To his descendants he left a good name, as a legacy, and the memory of his life is an inspiration to all who aspire to worthy place in the hearth and memory of the people. While he passed on to his children a liberal inheritance of character and attributes of highest manhood, it should not be forgotten that he in turn derived from his ancestry many of the fine qualities so conspicuous in his nature. His parents were James and Elizabeth (Longino) Kirby, and their ancestors were among the pioneers of early Virginia and the Carolinas. The Kirby family came originally from England, and ¿ was founded in America by three brothers, who all served in the war of the Revolution. One of these brothers was Ednumad Kirby, who married Mary Shepherd, who moved from Virginia to North Carolina, where their son James was born, and the latter in turn moved from North Carolina across the mountains to Kentucky. Grandfather of the late John T Kirby in the colonial days was an Indian fighter, a commander of local militia during the Revolution, and high sheriff of the county in which he lived. Elizabeth Longino has an even more notable ancestry. Her parents were John Thomas and Mary (Ransom) Longino. The Longino stock, it is said, goes back to the Roman Empire, and the geneological tree is headed by the famous Roman senator Lucullus Longellus. John Thomas Longino was a distinguished Italian who suffered exile from his native land and came to North Carolina in 1773. Among his descendants was Houston Longino, at one time governor of Mississippi. About ten years after Mr. Kirby brought his family to Tyler county and at the beginning of the war he was elected sheriff of the county. In that office at such a time, when the fury of partisan politics was at its height, he was confronted with arduous labors, dangers and duty. As an officer he was both fair and fearless, and it can be safely said that seldom does a man of such strength and nobility of character fill official station in any community. In 1862 Mr. Kirby resigned his office as sheriff to enlist in the Confederate army. He endeavored to join Company F of a regiment in Hood ‘a brigade, but was not allowed to do so. Instead he was assigned to what was considered a more important duty at the Texas headquarters in Rusk. There his duties consisted in looking after the interests of the Confederate government, attending to the receipts and shipments of goods, the collection of taxes and a general oversight of farms owned by soldiers who were anay at the front. Though not a soldier, he endured and áuffered all the losses and sacrifices that were borne by his compatriots and that befell the actual fighting men of the south. Concerning his devotion to the chief occupation of his many years, Colonel S. B. Cooper recently said in an address delivered as a memorial to this splendid Tyler county citizen: “He was a farmer by education, association, and condition. He plowed, he planted, he tilled, and lie reaped from a sense of duty the reward of pleasure and profit. He loved nature, the free air and the earth—the mother that supports and sustains all life. His rustic home was the castle of his affection and hospitality; his well tilled field the pleasure of his eye, and the promise for his support, and the filled cribs a satisfaction and a solace. He was never so happy as when surrounded with and being entertained by the self-reliant, independent, home-owning farmer neighbor. He was a blacksmith by inclination and necessity, and, Vulcan-like he hammered the hidden bars of iron into coulters, plowshares and horseshoes, and his work was a model of skill and care and faithfully done.” Along the same line, comes a quotation from an editorial written at the time of his death: ‘‘He devoted his life to til1ing the soil. Commercialism did not appeal to him; in the march of events he was unmindful of the struggle for gain and the strife for political and commercial supremacy. He was content to continue in his peaceful and happy occupation of a farmer, and even in his older age could not be persuaded to leave the old homestead. “His old home grew dearer to him and to his children with every passing year, and when, a few years before his death, the house was burned, his son John H. Kirby at once set to work and constructed on the same spot an exact duplicate of the old home, which meant so much to them all. The finest flower of that place was its hospitality.

Kirby hospitality was exceptional even in a southern community noted for that quality. It was a social center for a large section, and during the years before the railroad had penetrated the neighborhood, the travelers passing through almost always availed themselves of a welcome at the Kirby threshold. Of this characteristic of neighborliness, Colonel Cooper also spoke in the course of his address : "He was a neighbor in the fullest sense that the word implies. He was generosity and hospitality exemplified. His generosity was only limited by the length of the cable tow of his purse, and measured by the horizon of his opportunity. His hospitality was open and genuine. Every wayfaring man shared his house and his table; every sojourner his friendship and liberality, and every neighbor his home and kindness. The doors to his corn crib and smokehouse had neither lock nor bar, and were always open to the worthy hungry. If a Lazarus came to his gate, and asked crumbs from his table, he was invited inside and was made to sit and feed from the loaded table.”

Mr. Kirby was born and reared a Christian, but never connected himself with the church until the latter years of his life when he joined the Baptist denomination.

For more than fifty years he was a member of Mount Hope Lodge A. F. & A. M., and in Masonry he found some of the cardinal principles which exemplified his life and character. In Masonry he asserted, "brotherly love and charity -— the real kind, that maintains hospitality at home, relieves distress whenever found and cares for the widows and orphans.”

From the date of their marriage in Mississippi on December 16, 1841, until his death Mr. Kirby had the companionship of a noble woman whose life in its sphere was not less noteworthy than that of her husband. Sarah Payne was born in Copiah county, Mississippi, July 16, 1824. By blood and birth, she was the equal of her true and loyal husband. Her forebears were pioneers and mountaineers, and helped to advance civilization into the American wilderness. She was denied the opportunities of an academic education, but received the highest cultivation and refinement, morality and honor, and the noblest virtues of womanhood. During the long years of her residence at Peach Tree Village her name was always associated with that of her husband, and it was from her that radiated the qualities which gave charm to the Kirby household. She died May 3, 1909, less than a month after her husband passed away. Mr., and Mrs. Kirby had a number of children, and lived to see about them many grandchildren and great-grand children. The children who survived their father and mother were: James L., and John Henry; Mrs. Lee Weathersby; Mrs. W. W. Fortenberry; and Mrs. Aurelia Burch.

As a memorial to his parents, the tribute of a loving son and a concrete expression through brick and stone of the long continued activities of John T. Kirby and wife, in the community, John H. Kirby recently built and gave to Peach Tree Village a handsome little structure known as ‘‘Peach Tree Village Hall.” Marble tablets on the corner stone of the building bear appropriate inscriptions, one of which reads: “Erected to the Memory of John Thomas Kirby and Sarah Payne Kirby, who resided in this neighborhood nearly sixty years, and departed this life in the year 1909.” Another expresses the purpose for which the hall was erected and dedicated: “This hall is dedicated to the freedom of the Christian religion and to the promotion of education.”

Text and images were digitized and proofread from the original source documents by Murry Hammond. Contact Murry for all corrections and contributions of new material.