James Alexander Ventress
James Alexander Ventress was born on February 12, 1805, in Robertson County, Tennessee. In 1809, he moved with his family to Wilkinson County, Mississippi.
Ventress studied in the local academies in Wilkinson County and in New Orleans. At the age of 20, he set out on a tour of Europe, where he studied law, science, and the arts at the University of Edinburgh, the Sorbonne, and the University of Berlin. While in Europe, Ventress invented medical and measuring instruments and firearms, did some creative writing, and had a serious interest in translating and producing French drama.
He returned to Wilkinson County in 1834. Ventress was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1835, rising to Speaker of the House in 1841. He was elected to the Mississippi State Senate in 1841 and served through 1844.
The bill establishing the University of Mississippi was passed by the state House on February 21, 1844. Ventress had worked for the establishment of the university from his first days in the Mississippi Legislature. He was named first among the 13 charter trustees of the university, and thus officially recognized for his years of work on behalf of the school. Ninety-four years later, in 1938, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed a resolution praising Ventress for his “untiring efforts” and naming him “Father of the University.” He served as a trustee of the University of Mississippi until his death in 1867.
A planter and businessman, Ventress owned land in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. In addition to managing his scattered properties, he continued his scientific experimentation, acquired a significant library for his home, and undertook a major renovation of his home, LaGrange, with the aid of a famous Philadelphia architect.
In 1848, Ventress married Charlotte Davis Pynchon. They had five children, three of whom lived to adulthood—James A. Ventress Jr., William P.S. Ventress, and Lawrence Trask Ventress.