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The History of Texas: Mexican Independence, 1821

(Previous Section: Jean Lafitte)

COMMODORE AURY, having returned to the coast of Texas about the 10th of May, 1817, put in at Matagorda bay, for the purpose of making preparations to remove his government to that point; and, after spending some days at this place, he proceeded to Galveston. At his departure from the island on the 5th of April, he had burnt and destroyed all the houses and cabins, leaving only an advice-boat and his collector, Pedro Rousselin. But when he returned, he found the Lafitte government in " full blast," and his collector Rousselin occupying the same office in the new administration ! He found also that the place had degenerated into a nest of pirates; that the privateers cared little for the nationality of the vessels they met with on the sea, provided the cargo was valuable; and that, although Ducoing was pretending to act as judge of admiralty, yet his decisions were dictated by the captors, who, unless it suited their interest or convenience, would not even furnish him with a paper on which to form a judicial opinion. Aury, to acquit himself of the charge of being connected with these offenders, addressed a letter to Manuel Herrera, the Mexican minister, dated July 1, 1817, informing him that he had for the present determined to abandon Galveston, that he had taken Rousselin the collector with him, and that all proceedings there after the 31st of July would be without his consent. He addressed a similar letter to Beverly Chew, the collector at New Orleans, on the 28th of the month."

But Aury did not remain long at Matagorda. When Toledo deserted the patriots and went over to the royalists, he communicated to the Spanish government the designs of the former upon Florida. Spain then concluded to cede that province to the United States. Of this fact the patriots received intimation, and took immediate steps to conquer the territory in question before Spain should part with it. The agents of the revolted colonies of Venezuela, New Grenada, Mexico, and La Plata, then at Philadelphia, on the last day of March, 1817, commissioned Sir Gregor McCregor to take immediate possession of both the Floridas. Accordingly, on the 30th of July following, he took possession of the small island of Amelia, lying on the west of the peninsula, between the mouths of the St. John and St. Mary rivers. Aury, getting news of this, hoisted sail, taking a final leave of Texas, and went to assist McGregor in his conquest.


By the close of the year 1817, the followers of Lafitte on Galveston island had increased to nearly a thousand men. They were of all nations and languages—refugees from justice and victims of oppression, who had fled from their own countries, and, hearing of his prosperous state, came hither to find employment. Lafitte made a show of fair dealing, and obtained commissions from some of the revolted colonies of Spain; but, though he assumed to act as a privateer, he was in reality a pirate, and so were his chief men. The names of Dominic, Jim Campbell, Churchill, Franks, Roach, Lambert, Marotte, Pluche, Giral, Felix, Lopez, and Brown, his active lieutenants, were a terror to the commerce of the gulf of Mexico. Complaints of their rapacity were repeatedly made at Washington city; and the authorities of the United States would have broken them up, but for the Spanish minister. The island of Galveston was claimed by both governments; and the jealousy of Spain would not suffer that the United States should disperse the buccaneers from their haunt, lest the latter power should afterward hold it on her own account. On the other hand, as Spanish commerce suffered ten times as much by their depredations as that of any other country, if that government was willing to submit to it, of course, the United States ought not to object! In fact, Lafitte's men inflicted on Spanish commerce in the gulf a blow from which it has never recovered. It was a retributive justice visited upon that nation for her bigoted adherence to the royal exterminating order of Philip II. They had sown to the wind, and had reaped the whirlwind !

About this time, Texas was reinforced by a party of French under General Lallemand, of the artillery of the imperial guard. After the second restoration of the Bourbons, several of the military officers of Napoleon retired for safety to the United States. They were kindly received; and a large tract of the public lands in Alabama was given them, on condition of their cultivating there the vine and the olive. They were not, however, successful. Some of them, attributing the failure to the climate, sought one more favorable. Among these were Generals Lallemand and Rigaud. They were about a hundred in number; and, proceeding up Galveston bay and Trinity river, they settled at the first high land. After erecting a fort, they prepared for cultivating the soil. But the scarcity of provisions, the privations they underwent, and the jealousy of the Spaniards, soon induced them to return to Galveston, where they added grace and elegance to the society of Campeachy. General Lallemand returned to the United States, to furnish them with an excellent treatise upon artillery. Many of his followers remained upon the island, and probably others proceeded to New Orleans. They were on excellent terms with the Indians, and it is probable that, if they had not been interrupted by the Spaniards, they would have ended their days at the Champ d'Asile, the significant name given by Lallemand to their settlement.

Lafitte was a well-formed, handsome man, about six feet two inches in height, strongly built, with large hazel eyes, black hair, and generally wore a mustache. He dressed in a green uniform and an otter-skin cap. He was a man of polite and easy manners, of retired habits, generous disposition, and of such a winning address, that his influence over his followers was almost absolute. He located his town on the ruins of Aury's village, built him a house, which he painted red, and threw up around it a fort. Very soon many other houses were erected. His followers, who had wives or mistresses, brought them there, and society at Galveston, whatever may be said of its morals, began to have all the elements of permanency. Through New Orleans they were supplied with building-materials and provisions; a "Yankee" boarding-house sprang up; and, to complete the establishment, they constructed a small arsenal and dockyard.*

* United Service Journal. The knowledge we have of Lafitte's establishment was acquired through the agents of General Long, who visited him in 1819, and Were entertained by him with great hospitality for some weeks.

The Cooshattie Indians, who, out of regard to the Spaniards, had emigrated west as far as the banks of the Trinity, were constant visitors at Galveston. So likewise were the Carankawaes, who sometimes resorted to the west end of the island. On one occasion, some of Lafitte's men stole away one of their best-looking squaws, and detained her. Determined to have revenge, the Indians sought an opportunity, when a party of the buccaneers were hunting down on the island, and killed four of them.

Battle of Three Trees

When the Indians came over from the main land, they left their canoes in an inlet on the bayside, and encamped at the "Three Trees." This fact was soon known at Campeachy (the name Lafitte had given his town), and preparations were made to attack them. They were about three hundred strong. Lafitte marched against them with two hundred men and two pieces of artillery. The battle consisted of repeated skirmishes, and lasted two or three days. The Indians were at length compelled to retreat to the main land, with a loss of thirty killed, and a large number wounded. Lafitte lost none of his men, but had many wounded with arrows. The Carankawaes once again ventured to come on the island while Lafitte was there, but fled on the approach of his men sent against them. It was this conduct of the pirates toward these Indians that afterward made the latter so hostile to the Texan colonists under Austin.

The condition of the settlements on the frontiers of Louisiana, and the other states bordering on Florida, had now become such, that an immediate treaty of limits was indispensable. Spain having announced her willingness to part with the Floridas, the main difficulty was in settling the boundary between Louisiana and Texas. The United States proposed the Colorado; Spain proposed a line near Red river. In the discussions between the two governments in 1803, Mr. Pinkney had offered, as a consideration for certain territory, that the United States would guaranty to Spain her possessions west of the Mississippi. At that time Spain did not want that guaranty; but in 18181 the Spanish government, as a condition of the cession, insisted upon this guaranty, which the United States refused. This point being settled, the American government first proposed, in lieu of a guaranty, to make a desert of twenty leagues west of the Colorado. It then modified it by proposing that for thirty miles on each side of that river no one should be permitted to settle. The cabinet of Madrid wisely refused such a proposition, but whether with a wise motive is doubtful. At last, the Sabine was agreed on as the boundary-line between the two nations, and the treaty was signed on the 22d of February, 1819.

This treaty, though ratified by both governments, was unsatisfactory to many, inasmuch as it bartered Texas—to which they considered that the United States had a just claim—for Florida, which they did not esteem as valuable. As it was a fundamental maxim with the United States never to relinquish any part of her territory, the demurrers to the treaty considered the abandonment of Texas to Spain as a violation of that maxim, and of the constitutional integrity of the Union. This dissatisfaction continued, and was only allayed by the disruption of Texas from Mexico in 1386, and her reannexation to the Union in 1819.

The province of Texas, unconscious of these negotiations of the high contracting parties, and prostrated by the Gachupin war and the terrible visitation of the conquerors, had almost relapsed into a state of nature. But preparations were making at Natchez to bring her again to life. A public meeting was held in that place early in 1819, and a company of volunteers raised for the invasion of Texas. The command was tendered to Dr. James Long, formerly of Maury county, Tennessee. He had been a surgeon in Carroll's brigade at the battle of New Orleans, and at the close of the war had settled at Natchez, where he was pursuing his profession. He accepted the command, and, on the 17th of June, set out on his march with a force of seventy-five men, continuing his course without opposition to Nacogdoches. On the route he had received large additions to his party, so that at Nacogdoches he mustered a force of about three hundred men. Among them were Colonel Samuel Davenport (the contractor in Magee's expedition), Bernardo Gutierres, and other refugees from Texas, who sought this opportunity of returning to their country, from which they had been absent about six years.

Texas 1819 Declaration of Independence

On arriving at Nacogdoches, General Long and the leading patriots established a provisional government, controlled by a supreme council. This council was composed of Horatio Bidelow, Hamlin Cook, Stephen Barker, John Sibley, Samuel Davenport, John G. Burnett, J. Child, Pedro Procello, and Bernardo Gutierres. The council issued a declaration, proclaiming Texas to be a free and independent republic. They then proceeded, in a few days, to pass such laws in regard to their organization, the raising of revenue, and the disposition of the public lands, as their present necessities required. Among their land-laws, they provided for the sale of lands on Red river at not less than one dollar per acre, and other lands farther in the interior at prices corresponding with their quality. One fourth of the purchase-money was to be paid in cash, and the balance in annual installments. They also established a printing-office, the first in Texas, of which Mr. Bigelow was the editor.

The next step taken was to occupy the country. David Long, a brother of the general, was dispatched with merchandise to the upper crossing of the Trinity, to trade with the Indians. Major Smith, who had come with a command of forty men, by way of Galveston, was stationed at the Cooshattie village on the Trinity. Captain Johnson was sent to establish a trading-post at the falls of the Brazos. Captain Walker, with twenty-three men, was dispatched to fortify the position a mile below the present town of Washington; and Major Cook was sent to Pecan point.

Having made these dispositions, General Long was desirous of obtaining the aid of Lafitte. He accordingly dispatched Colonel Gaines and another person to Galveston, to lay the matter before him. Arriving at Anahuac, they procured canoes, and coasted to the island. They were conducted to the "Red House," where, as previously remarked, they were received and treated with great hospitality by the pirate-chief. They made known the object of their mission, but received no aid. Lafitte informed them that General Long had his best wishes for his success; that he himself had been engaged for eight years in waging war against the royalists of Spain; but that the fate of Perry, Mina, and others, should be a warning against an invasion by land except with a considerable force.

General Long, believing that a, personal application to the buccaneer would meet with greater success, set out himself to visit Galveston. At the Cooshattie village, however, he received intelligence of the approach of the royalists, under Colonel Perez. He immediately dispatched orders to his out-posts to concentrate at the Cooshattie village, and hastened on his journey to Galveston.

During the general's absence, Major Cook, who had returned from Pecan point, and been placed in command of Nacogdoches, resumed his old habit of drunkenness. His example was readily followed by the republican garrison; and thus the post was rendered an easy prey to the enemy. General Long, meeting with no success at Galveston, returned to the Indian village before mentioned, where he was informed, by a letter from his noble wife, then at Nacogdoches, of the rapid approach of the royalists, and the wretched condition of the forces under Cook.

In the meantime, the royalists, on the 11th of October, 1819, attacked the trading-post of Captain Johnson on the Brazos, and took eleven of the party prisoners; while the others, seven in number, fled down the river to Walker's fort, at La Bahia crossing. They were pursued by three hundred and fifty of the enemy, who, on the 15th, attacked the fort, and drove the republicans out of it. The latter fled, leaving their arms, baggage, and provisions.

While the retreating forces of Walker and Johnson, about thirty-five in all, were making their way to the Cooshattie village, the royalists set out to attack the trading-post of David Long, on the Trinity. After a gallant defense, Long was killed, and his forces fled to Nacogdoches. They were pursued; but when the royalists entered the place, they found it entirely evacuated. General Long had barely time to escape with his family to the Sabine.

At Nacogdoches Colonel Perez sent a detachment of his men in pursuit of the fugitives, while with the main body he marched against the republicans under Major Smith, at the Cooshattie village. Smith, with the addition of Walker's and Johnson's commands, had about seventy-five men. Hearing of the advance of Perez, he retreated to a prairie on the river, about forty miles below the village, but was pursued, and a considerable battle was fought, in which there were several killed on both sides, but the republicans were routed and fled. The greater portion of them obtained canoes, and passed over the Trinity to Bolivar point, where they awaited the further orders of General Long. The latter, after conducting his family to Natchitoches, passed down, by way of Calcasieu, to Bolivar point, where he met the remnant of the republican army.* Here he established a fort, and fortified it. In this work he had the aid of Colonel Trespalacios. Having completed his arrangements, he repaired to New Orleans to obtain further reinforcements and supplies.

* James Bowie accompanied General Long in his first expedition. — United Service Journal.

Lafitte Supports the Mexican Republican Movement

To return to Captain Lafitte. In 1819, he was taken into the service of the republican party of Mexico, and appointed governor of Galveston. But he soon got into a difficulty with the United States. A ferocious character, by the name of Brown, had applied to Lafitte to be taken into his service. After some hesitation, he was received, but with the express understanding that, if he interrupted the commerce of any other nation than Spain, he should be hanged. In October, 1819, Brown left the island, in command of two armed boats, and shortly after robbed an American vessel near the Sabine pass. The boats were pursued and captured by the United States revenue-schooner Lynx, Captain Madison, while the robbers escaped to the land, and followed the coast to Bolivar point, and thence went over to Galveston. The Lynx sailed down to the island in pursuit of them. Lafitte, suspecting the object of Captain Madison, performed his promise to Brown, and hung him on a conspicuous gibbet. Captain Madison, seeing Brown thus suspended, could not suppose that Lafitte, the polite republican governor of Galveston, would harbor such men. He therefore sent his lieutenant, McIntosh, over to the island, to demand Brown's associates. They were promptly delivered up. This conduct appeared satisfactory; yet the Lynx still hovered upon the coast. Lafitte, not wishing to be watched so closely, addressed a note to Captain Madison, informing him that Galveston belonged to and was in the possession of the republic of Texas, and was made a port of entry on the 9th of October, 1819; that he was appointed governor of the place; and that if the captain of the Lynx had any demands against him or his people, to make them known, and they should be attended to. No further attention was given by the United States to the movements of Lafitte until the following year.

Lafitte Compelled to Leave Galveston

In 1820, among other depredations committed by Lafitte's cruisers, an American vessel was taken, plundered, and scuttled, in Matagorda bay. A commission, consisting of Messrs. Davis, Oliver, and Johnson, was sent by the United States to examine into the affair. Their report was unfavorable to Lafitte, which, together with the repeated complaints of the Spanish minister at Washington, induced the American government, early in 1821, to dispatch Lieutenant Kearney, with the brig Enterprise, to break up the establishment at Galveston. Lafitte went over the bar to meet the lieutenant, conducted him to the Red House, and treated him with that politeness and hospitality which, as the prince of freebooters, he knew so well how to dispense; but Kearney's orders were positive, and were communicated to Lafitte. The buccaneer, therefore, immediately prepared for his departure from the island. He paid off his followers, supplied them with money, and gave them leave to disperse. He then sent to New Orleans for William Cochrane, one of his trusty lieutenants, who repaired to Galveston with sixty men. He had the Pride, his favorite vessel, got in readiness; and the very day he was to sail, General Long, with Colonel Milam and other recruits, reached the island. Long dined with Captain Lafitte; and the next tide carried outside the bar the Pride and other vessels comprising the fleet of the renowned buccaneer-chief, who abandoned the shores of Texas for ever.*

* Lafitte and Cochrane still continued to cruise against Spanish commerce for some years. In 1822, the former visited Charleston. Cochrane was captured, and thrown into the castle of San Juan d'Ulloa, off Vera Cruz, where he remained till the close of the Mexican revolution, when he was received into the service of the new republic, and rose to the rank of commodore. Lafitte occasionally visited Sisal, and the island of Margarita, near the mouth of the river Orinoco. He died at Silan, a town of Yucatan, about fifteen miles from Merida, in 1826, and was buried in the Campo Santo of that place. —De Bow's Review, October, 1851; United Service Journal, 1852; Letter of Thomas M. Duke, of May, 1843, to F. Pinckard.

Before proceeding further with the movements of General Long, it will be proper to refer to the more important features of the Mexican revolution.

The viceroy Apodaca, who superseded Calleja in September, 1816, found that the royalists had  dispersed rather than conquered the republicans; and, to win them back to their loyalty, he adopted a mild and pacific policy. This had almost the desired effect. The partisans of the revolution threw down their arms and surrendered upon the mild terms of Apodaca. This was so universal, that, with the exception of the country between the capital and Acapulco, there was not a single republican remaining under arms. In an almost inaccessible mountain on this road, however, the revolutionary chieftains Guerrero, Asensio, and Colonel Bradburn (of Virginia, who had gone to Mexico with Mina), had fortified themselves, and with some fifteen hundred followers made occasional excursions into the surrounding country.

For the purpose of reducing this last stronghold of the revolutionists, the viceroy appointed General Iturbide to the command of the department of the south, and gave him a force of three thousand veteran troops. He had his headquarters at Iguala, on the road to Acapulco, and about eighty miles from the city of Mexico.

To have a better understanding of the events that followed in Mexico, it is necessary to observe that a revolution had occurred in Spain; the old constitution was re-established, and the cortes had introduced many reforms among the Spanish clergy. The intelligence of these important changes had but recently reached Mexico, and produced great alarm among all classes of the clergy; and they found no difficulty in persuading the lower orders of the people that the introduction of such reforms into Mexico would be followed by the ruin of their ancient religion !* The viceroy himself was opposed to the peninsular reforms, and made no secret of his aversion to their introduction into the colony. The Mexican press, more-over, under the new liberty it enjoyed, declared that independence of the mother-country was the only remedy against such impending evils.

* Letter of James Smith Wilcocks, dated Mexico, October 25, 1821: American State Papers, Foreign Relations, vol. iv., p. 837. Ed. 1834.

Iturbide's Pronunciamento of Mexican Independence, 1821

Iturbide, though by birth a native, was the son of European Spaniards, and was capable of anything that would promote his own ambitious views. He had distinguished himself in the royalist cause; but he saw in the late revulsion of popular feeling, and in his present position, that a change of sides would be to his advantage. After forming his plans, and securing the co-operation of the clergy, together with the aid of the patriots Guerrero, Asensio, and Bradburn, he seized a million of dollars of the king's treasure, then on its way to Acapulco for transportation, and issued his pronunciamento, drawn up at Iguala. This document proposed the independence of Mexico; that the government should be a constitutional, limited monarchy; that the crown should be tendered to the Bourbon family in succession, commencing with King Ferdinand VII.; if they all refused, then the Mexican cortes should designate the monarch; and that the Roman catholic religion should be protected.

The pronunciamento was dated on the 24th of February, 1821. Iturbide sent a copy of the plan to the viceroy, for his approbation. Apodaca, left to himself, would have concurred in it; but he was overruled by his council, and Field-Marshal Linan despatched with an army against Iturbide. The latter, however, having the patriots, a good portion of the Spaniards, and, above all, the clergy, on his side, had taken Acapulco, and was on his march to Valladolid, before Linan left the capital. The whole country was soon in arms. The royalists were everywhere defeated; and those of them yet remaining in the city of Mexico, suspecting the fidelity of Apodaca, proceeded, on the 5th of July following, to imprison him, and place General Novella in the viceregal chair.

A few days after this event, Lieutenant-General Don Juan O'Donoju, who had been sent out by the reformed government of Spain as captain-general and political chief of Mexico, arrived at Vera Cruz. Learning the state of things then existing, he wrote to Iturbide, applauding what he had done, and requesting an interview. It took place at Cordova; and, on the 24th of August, 1821, the two chieftains agreed to the plan of Iguala, with some modifications, and signed and published the treaty.

Until intelligence could be received from Spain, a regency of six persons was appointed, of which Augustin de Iturbide was president; and, until the assembling of a Mexican congress, there was likewise appointed a legislative junta of five persons, of which O'Donoju was a member. Thus the revolution in Mexico was accomplished; and, by the refusal of Spain to acknowledge the treaty of Cordova, she became independent.

General Long remained only a short time at Galveston after the departure of Lafitte; but, collecting his forces in transports, he sailed down the coast to the mouth of the San Antonio river, and marched upon La Bahia. It appears that, in this expedition, the Mexican colonel Trespalacios was playing the part of Gutierres; he was nominally in command But, in order to raise funds, Trespalacios and Milam, instead of landing at the mouth of the San Antonio, proceeded on to Mexico. The forces under Long took possession of La Bahia without difficulty.

The proclamation of the treaty of Cordova put an end to the royalists and the campaign. Yet it seems that Long and a portion of his followers were taken prisoners and sent to the city of Mexico. The general himself was set at liberty, and then assassinated in the city. His men were released and sent home on the 11th of November, 1822, at the instance of Joel R. Poinsett.

The faithful wife of General Long remained at Point Bolivar many months, awaiting her husband's return. At last, receiving news of his death, she rejoined her friends in the United States.

Thus, in 1822, Galveston was again desolate. The town of Campeachy was laid waste, and the island only visited by occasional hunters after Lafitte's buried treasure.

We have herein traced the history of Texas through the dim records of a hundred and thirty-six years, rarely finding in that long period a congenial spot for human happiness. Ignorance and despotism have hung like a dark cloud over her noble forests and luxuriant pastures. But a new era is about to dawn upon the province. Austin and Edwards are preparing for a conquest more glorious than those of Napoleon, and infinitely more useful to the world.

[Next Section of Texas History: Stephen F. Austin's Colony]




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