JOHN T. NOLAN , Pioneer Physician

Dr. John Tilghman Nolan, 1810-1881, arrived in Dallas in the mid-1870s. He was born in Lincoln County, Georgia, and grew up in Conecuh County, Alabama. He received his higher education in Transylvania University of Kentucky. In 1833, he married and began his practice of medicine in Benton, Yazoo County, Mississippi. His son, Francis Scott Nolan, born in 1834.  He lost his wife to a fever shortly thereafter.

Dr. John T. Nolan

Dr. John T. Nolan

In 1836, he married Jane Garnett Frazer (Frazier) of a proud wealthy family of Lexington. They lived in Benton where two daughters were born. In 1842, a second son, John Tilghman Nolan, Jr., was born in Kentucky. Afterwards, the family moved to Ascension Parish, Louisiana. Virginia Kincaid and Mary Elizabeth were the third and fourth daughters. Two other children died in infancy, the last in 1852, with Jane succumbing at that birth. They were buried in Kentucky.
In 1853, the elder son was enrolled in Centenary College. He withdrew in his sophomore year to join his maternal grandparents, the Robert Hamilton Scotts, of Hempstead County, Arkansas.

Grief over personal loss was expanded by the death of a childless uncle. The doctor was involved in the distribution of several large properties involving a contested will and the location of many heirs, most of whom sold their shares to Dr. Nolan. These transactions took several years.

Dr. Nolan emerged from these problems in possession of an uncle’s plantation known as Westover. In 1860, it was described as one of the finest sugar plantations of the State. He was a prominent official of the parish.

Then came the Civil War. Westover was in the midst of the struggle between the Confederate and Union forces for control of Baton Rouge and the Mississippi River. Because he was a representative of the parish, he was detained by the northern forces until the contest was decided. The three youngest daughters were in charge of the plantation, the son having joined the Confederate Army. The house was frequently a temporary shelter for the friends fleeing from Baton Rouge. The girls once had to flee further west themselves. The buildings were not wantonly destroyed, but there was some damage and much pilfering of foodstuffs by hungry soldiers.

Finally, Dr Nolan was released and able to send the daughters with several trustworthy slaves and supplies to a safe haven in Falls County, Texas, where there was a small holding from the 1860 property divisions. After the war, Westover was a shambles. Debts owing the plantation for produce sold before the war could not be collected, the wealth in slaves had vanished, and a mortgage was foreclosed. When Dr. Nolan finished distributing their mother’s legacies to his children, his own economic status was at a low ebb. He went to Falls County.

His daughter, Virginia, married her second husband, William J. Walter, a Civil War veteran and newspaper man. He worked in New Orleans until they joined Dr. Nolan in 1871. Two years later, they sold out and moved to Dallas. Both men were listed in the Dallas City directory in 1875 at 602 Main, Herald Office. From then on they were listed at the family residence at 804 Browder Street, comer of Browder and Pace (Royal). In the census of 1880, Dr. Nolan was seventy-two. He died the following year. Though believed to be buried in Greenwood Cemetery, his grave has not been found.

In Dallas, he was survived by Virginia and her five children, the youngest an infant. Two years later, there was an uncontested divorce. She kept the house and custody of the children, changing the names of the Walter children to Nolan and assuming her own maiden name.

William Walter died at his home 22 August 1901, still day editor of The Dallas Morning News. In 1888, Virginia died of typhoid and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery. The stone at her grave was supplied by Nolan Brown, her son by her first husband.

The family was in Dallas during the period of its growth from a village of under 5,000 people (in 1870) to a city with a population of over 10,000 people the year Dr. Nolan died. Three of them are known to have spent their lifetime in the city in some aspect of the printing business, dying there after 1953.

In 1980, descendants of the older son, who died in 1880, discovered what had become of their ancestor. No record had been found on his whereabouts after the Civil War.

By Mrs. M. E. H. Jackson for Dallas County Pioneer Association‘s Proud Heritage.
Photo: Dr. J. T. Nolan, 1810 – 1881