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Pryor Lea Papers

Identifier: MS-1053

  • Staff Only

This collection houses three letters written by U.S. Congressman Pryor Lea from Washington, D.C. to his brother Harmon Graves (H. G.) Lea (1805-1887) in Grainger County, Tennessee. The first brief letter, dated February 21, 1829, was written after a quarrel Lea had with Col. Davy Crockett regarding an unflattering letter Lea wrote describing Crockett’s character; this quarrel almost led to a duel between the two congressmen. The letter is intended to assure Lea’s family that he is no danger and that he means to provide proof for his accusations against Crockett. A second brief letter dated January 30 (no year listed, but from 1830) celebrates Lea’s triumph over Thomas D. Arnold, who contested Lea’s reelection to Congress in 1829 on the grounds of perjury and bribery; the committee overseeing the debate unanimously voted to allow Lea to keep his seat. A third letter, dated March 17, 1830, provides his brother with some information regarding bids that his brother had requested and describes some of the issues being argued in the House of Representatives at the time. Lea mentions the Great Road meetings (referring to the controversy in the House over building a road connecting Buffalo, New York to New Orleans, Louisiana) and the Indian Removal Act.

The collection also contains an obituary, an article, and a journal article documenting Lea and his life in addition to a postcard depicting Presidio de la Bahia, the former military fort where Lea lived after retiring from Congress. Nancy G. Miller has annotated the postcard.


  • 1829 February 21-1830 March 17, 1958 November, undated

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Conditions Governing Use

The UT Libraries claims only physical ownership of most material in the collections. Persons wishing to broadcast or publish this material must assume all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any claimants on for detailed information. Collections must be requested through a registered Special Collections research account.


0.1 Linear Feet (1 oversize folder)


This collection houses three letters written by U.S. Congressman Pryor Lea (1794–1879) from Washington, D.C. to his brother H. G. Lea in Grainger County, Tennessee. It also contains two newspaper clippings published following Pryor Lea’s death in 1879, a transcript of the eulogy read at his funeral, a postcard depicting the fort in Texas where he lived for a brief period, and a biographical article published in The Junior Historian (1958).

Biographical/Historical Note

Pryor Lea was born in Knox County, Tennessee on August 31, 1794. He attended Greenville College and studied law after graduating. He was admitted to the Bar in 1817 and began practicing law in Knoxville. Lea was elected to the Twentieth and Twenty-First United States Congresses, where he served from 1827 to 1831 alongside fellow Tennessee Representative Colonel Davy Crockett.

After retiring from Congress, Lea moved to Jackson, Mississippi in 1836. There, he established a law firm with his brother, Luke Lea, and Samuel Kennedy. Lea also helped co-found the University of Mississippi and served on its first board of trustees during his time in Jackson. The firm dissolved after Luke Lea was elected to Congress and Samuel Kennedy died. Pryor Lea and his family moved to Goliad, Texas in 1846 where they lived in a former Spanish fort, Presidio de La Bahia. While in Goliad, Lea advocated for the building of a railroad connecting San Antonio, Texas to Lamar, Texas by way of Goliad. This railroad would provide access to the Aransas Bay, a potential Texan port.

In 1861, Lea served in the Texas Secession Convention and voted for Texas to secede from the Union. He also served on a committee to publicize these proceedings and the new Confederate State Constitution in addition to serving a term in the Texas State Senate. After the war, Lea was appointed state superintendent of public instruction but was later removed because his earlier Confederate sympathies were believed to make him an impediment to reconstruction. Lea died unexpectedly on September 14, 1879 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Goliad, Texas.


This collection consists of a single folder.

Repository Details

Part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, University of Tennessee, Knoxville Repository

University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville TN 37996 USA