JAMES MARTIN PATTERSON, often referred to as the pioneer merchant of Dallas, was the prototype of those mercantile-minded settlers of the 1840s and 1850s who were to give the town its most persistent characteristic—that of a trading post and supply depot. When the founder of the town, John Neely Bryan, arrived in 1841, he actually brought a pack of baubles and hardware along with a view of doing a land office business with the Indians in the Three Forks of the Trinity area. But Bryan, with more grandiose ideas that ranged from hunting for gold in California to creating a river metropolis on the Trinity at Dallas, never worked seriously or long at storekeeping.
Born during the War of 1812 on his father’s Blue Grass farm four miles from Lexington, Kentucky, Patterson reached Dallas in February, 1846. He was then thirty-four years old. There were only five or six families living in as many cabins on the banks of the Trinity. In May he joined hands with J. W. Smith to establish the first general store in Dallas. Patterson and Smith went to Shreveport, some two hundred miles to the east, where they bought their first stock of goods. They transported it in ox-drawn wagons to Dallas. In 1850 the first federal census to include Dallas listed only three merchants—Patterson, Smith, and Madison M. Miller. The latter was a pioneer landowner living west of the Trinity, who opened a large general store at Pleasant (now Lancaster) in 1846.
In 1851 Smith’s brother, J. N. Smith, joined, the firm, which continued with Patterson as a member until 1854. The first large cotton crop was grown and picked in Dallas County in 1851, and in the winter of 1851-52 Patterson and Smith built a seventy-five-foot-long flat-bottomed boat which they launched in the Trinity and headed toWard Galveston. “They loaded it with cotton and hides,” it was recorded, “and started it down stream with Adam C. Haught as master in March, 1852. This was the first attempt to navigate the Trinity River from Dallas.” It is not recorded whether the flat-bottomed boat successfully made its way to Trinity Bay and the port of Galveston.
James Patterson came from a river-boating family. His father, Francis Patterson, emigrated as a mere boy from Western Pennsylvania to Kentucky about 1780. With his sister, two half-brothers, and some twenty other families, they floated down the Allegheny to its junction with the Monongahela ( at Pittsburgh), then proceeded west on the Ohio. The boat was of their own construction and carried their horses, cattle, and farming implements. It landed at the mouth of Bear Grass Creek, the present location of Louisville, Kentucky.
In Texas, Patterson married Sarah Elizabeth Self of Farmers Branch in 1848. In 1854 Patterson was elected chief justice of Dallas County, the former name for county judge. He proved a highly successful holder of this key frontier office and was reelected successively through the Civil War to its close in 1865. Convinced of the economic future of Dallas, Patterson invested largely in town lots, and toward the end of his life he was the owner of virtually all property facing North Akard from Pacific to Ross Avenue. His home property was located in the same lower North Dallas area, where Patterson Avenue, which was named for him, is today.
Originally a member of the Whig party, Patterson joined the Democrats after the other party dissolved. He favored secession of Texas in 1861, and as county judge he headed the commissioners court which turned over all cash assets in the county treasury to the Confederacy. This was chiefly $5,000 in gold—a large sum of money for that period. After the South lost the war, some local spoilsports went into federal court alleging that Judge Patterson and other members of the commissioners court had no legal right to turn over the $5,000 to the Confederacy. The federal judiciary held that Patterson and his fellow members of the court were obliged to reimburse Dallas County for the $5,000. The burden of this restitution fell heaviest on Patterson, but the demand for repayment was met in full. Patterson lived until the mid-1890s; he died in Dallas and is buried in the historic Pioneer Park cemetery on Akard adjoining the Memorial Auditorium.