Corpus Christi History
Col. Henry L. Kinney
KINNEY, HENRY LAWRENCE (1814-1862). Henry Lawrence (or Livingston) Kinney, land speculator, was born near Shesequin, Pennsylvania, on June 3, 1814, the son of Simon and Phoebe (Cash) Kinney. After his mother's death in 1835 he moved with his father to Illinois, where he settled in Indiantown. He became involved in land speculation around Peru, Illinois, with his brother. The venture was ruined during the financial panic of 1837-38, and Kinney and his brother fled the state. In 1838 Kinney appeared in Texas and settled in the area around the site of present-day Brownsville. He began using the title "Colonel," which he claimed to have earned during the Seminole War in Florida, but there is no evidence that he took part in that conflict.
In 1841 Kinney, in partnership with William B. Aubrey, engaged in ranching and trading near Corpus Christi, a city that Kinney helped to found. Some of his business allegedly involved illegal trading with Mexico. His practice of buying out small ranchers and traders in the area developed considerable opposition, particularly from another merchant, Philip Dimmitt. When Dimmitt and several others were captured by a Mexican raiding force and taken back to Mexico, Kinney was accused of being an informant for the Mexicans and was indicted and tried for treason. He was eventually acquitted and resumed his activities. He was elected as a senator to the Ninth Texas Congress and served as a delegate to the Convention of 1845. James Pinckney Henderson appointed him to his staff for the campaign in northern Mexico at the beginning of the Mexican War. At the end of the war Kinney returned to Corpus Christi and began trading with a number of Central and South American countries. He also operated a fleet of prairie schooners that transported freight from Corpus Christi to the interior of Texas.
Kinney served in the Senate for the First, Second, Third and Fourth legislatures of the new state of Texas. He also became increasingly involved in buying large tracts of land and selling them to new immigrants. In 1852 he organized the Corpus Christi Fair in an effort to promote the region. But though the fair itself was a success, Kinney was less successful in luring settlers, and he began to lose a great deal of money. In order to recover some of his losses, he went to Washington in an attempt to persuade the government to invest in several schemes, including a camel corps to transport goods from Corpus Christi to San Francisco and an army hospital in Corpus Christi. None of the ideas ever materialized, and Kinney embarked on a new venture to establish a colony in Nicaragua. Financed by New York speculators, he contracted for thirty million acres of land along the Mosquito Coast. But he faced stiff opposition from the United States government, and when his largest financial backer died Kinney was forced to abandon his plans.
In 1850 he married Mrs. Mary B. Herbert, a widow with several children. The marriage, however, proved to be an unhappy one-in part because of Kinney's decision to legitimize his illegitimate daughter-and Mrs. Kinney took her children and settled in Galveston. After the failure of the Nicaraguan venture, financially ruined and distraught, Kinney returned to Texas and was elected to the Eighth Legislature. He was opposed to the secession movement, however, and in March 1861 he resigned his seat and moved to Matamoros, Tamaulipas. He was apparently killed there in a gunfight between two local factions on March 3, 1862.
Henry Kinney was a self-promoting land speculator and trader who is credited with founding the town of Corpus Christi. His land speculation and business methods were often controversial. Kinney arrived in the Brownsville area in 1838, after a failed business venture in Illinois. He began to use the title of "Colonel" based on his alleged service during the Black Hawk Indian War.
Kinney established a store in partnership with William B. Aubrey in Aransas. They smuggled military supplies for the Mexican Federalist army, which was waging a war of independence from the rest of Mexico. In 1839, Kinney built a local "jacal" on the Bluff overlooking Corpus Christi Bay. By 1844, Kinney's Trading Post controlled virtually all the Mexican trade. Kinney hired his own gunmen to protect the store from bandits and Indians. General Zachary Taylor chose Kinney's Post for his campsite on the eve of the Mexican-American War. Kinney served as Quartermaster for Taylor's troops in 1846 and sold town lots to some of Taylor’s soldiers.
After the War, Kinney returned to a small town, but he had big ideas for Corpus Christi’s future. He bought war surplus wagons, mules and horses at little cost and then promoted Corpus Christi as the ideal jumping off place for the California gold fields. When the 49'ers began to arrive, Kinney sold the wagons and livestock for huge profits, but the Corpus Christi route proved too hazardous, and the venture went bust.
Kinney began to buy up large tracts of land with the idea of promoting Corpus Christi to new immigrants. His promotional scheme involved organizing the first Lone Star Fair in 1852. Kinney expected 30,000 visitors, but only 2,000 came. Still, the Fair was considered successful, even though it did not attract large numbers of settlers. Several other schemes Kinney tried to promote including a camel corps to transport goods from Corpus Christi to San Francisco and an army military hospital in Corpus Christi never got financial backing. Another scheme to establish an independent colony in Nicaragua failed when financial backing disappeared and the United States Government opposed the scheme. He returned to Corpus Christi in 1858.
Kinney tried his hand at politics, representing Corpus Christi in the state legislature on four different occasions from 1846 until 1861. When the Civil War broke out, Kinney opposed secession. He wrote to President Lincoln offering his services as foreign minister to Mexico. He made that same offer to Jefferson Davis. Both Presidents declined to take him up on the offer. He resigned from the Texas State Legislature in 1861 and moved to Matamoros. He was shot and killed there in 1862, allegedly in a skirmish between two rival factions. Henry Lawrence Kinney, colorful and controversial trader, speculator and founder and promoter of Corpus Christi, is buried in an unmarked grave in Matamoros.