John Hemphill 1803 - 1862The county was named in honor of John Hemphill (1803-1862) who was the First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Texas. He also served as Adjutant General of the Somervell Expedition, an invasion of Mexico while the state was a Republic, and was a Member of the first State Constitutional Convention and of the United States Senate. John Hemphill was also a veteran of wars with Native Americans.
John Hemphill (Dec. 18, 1803 - Jan. 4, 1862)Hemphill's father, Rev. John Hemphill, emigrated to the United States from County Tyrone, Ireland, his mother, Jane Lind, was a native of Pennsylvania. Hemphill was born in South Carolina and educated at Jefferson College, graduating in 1825. Admitted to the bar in South Carolina in 1829, he eventually moved his practice to Texas in 1838.
Hemphill served as Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court for eighteen years while Texas was an independent republic and in the period of statehood before the Civil War. He was called the 'John Marshall' of Texas for the role he played in the development of Texan law. He was also famous for having fought with Native American warriors who attacked him in his courtroom while court was in session. He was considered an expert on Spanish and Mexican law, and is remembered for expanding women's rights and supporting homestead rights. Hemphill replaced Sam Houston as United States Senator from Texas when Houston did not support the right of states to secede from the United States.
As Texas was one of the first seven states to secede, Hemphill was among fourteen United States Senators expelled by resolution in 1861. He was subsequently chosen as a Texas delegate to the Provisional Confederate Congress, a position he held until his death in Richmond, Virginia.
Hemphill County, Texas, and Hemphill, Texas, are both named in his honor.