Born to Emmanuel and Helen Sterne in Cologne, Germany, on April 15, 1801, Adolphus Sterne spent his childhood in a community torn by religious and political discord. While working in a passport office at age sixteen, he learned that he would soon be conscripted into the military. Rather than submit to such service, he forged a passport for himself and left Germany for the United States. He landed originally in the port of New Orleans in 1817. Raising funds for a few years, he worked as a peddler and a store clerk until 1824. He then won appointment from the Mexican government to sell goods to soldiers stationed in Nacogdoches, a new settlement in the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas. By 1826, Sterne had established a profitable general merchandise store in the area.
Although Sterne swore an oath of allegiance to Mexico and joined the Catholic Church, he agreed in 1827 to assist Hadan Edwards and other Anglo immigrants involved with the Fredonia Rebellion against Mexico. Sterne contributed to the effort by using his contacts to smuggle ammunition and coffee from New Orleans to the rebels in Nacogdoches. When the rebellion was put down, however, Sterne was arrested and tried for treason. He was initially imprisoned at the “Old Stone Fort” in Nacogdoches before being moved to Mexico City. Later, he won his release by promising that he would never again take up arms against the Mexican government.
After his release, on June 2, 1828, Sterne married Eva Rosine Ruf, whom he had met on frequent travels to Louisiana. The two and their seven children worked and established his store again in Nacogdoches, becoming one of the wealthiest families of Texas. Their home became legendary as a refuge for such figures as Sam Houston and Davy Crockett.
In 1832, Sterne once again broke his oath to Mexico by assisting in the Battle of Nacogdoches, smuggling supplies, providing information, and even helping to bury dead enemy soldiers. A strong supporter of Texas Independence and a personal friend of General Sam Houston, Sterne travelled as an agent of the provisional government of Texas to New Orleans. Once out of Mexican territory, he was able to personally raise and finance, although he never took up arms himself, two militia companies. Known as the “New Orleans Greys,” Sterne’s men were instrumental in the battles of the Texas Revolution. In fact, he continued to help supply and assist the revolution until the victory in San Jacinto.
After Texas secured its independence, Sterne became an active leader in the Lone Star republic. He served in the Constitutional Congress of 1833 and later commanded a company at the Battle of the Neches in 1839, helping to expel the Cherokee Indian tribe from East Texas. In 1840, he became the Nacogdoches postmaster, while also serving as a deputy clerk, an Associate Justice, as a member of the Board of Health, and as Overseer of Streets for the county. He became an elected representative of Nacogdoches to the House of Representatives for the Second Legislature in 1847 and followed in the Third Legislature. In 1851, he was elected to serve in the Texas Senate. At the age of 56, Sterne passed away, most likely due to pneumonia, while on a business trip to New Orleans in March 1857. Adolphus Sterne is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Nacogdoches, Texas.