Saturday, April 17, 2021

Ebenezer Allen and Texas Annexation

Allen H. Mesch

© Allen H. Mesch Used with Permission.

After the defeat of the Mexican Army in 1836, the newly established Republic of Texas hoped the United States would recognize Texas independence and quickly add Texas to the Union. Most of the Republic’s citizens considered themselves to be Americans and believed the “United States was waiting to embrace them with open arms.” In September 1836, Texas voted overwhelmingly in favor of entering the Union. However, Texas President Sam Houston believed the admission faced many obstacles. Despite the support for annexation, Houston thought it was premature to consider admittance when the United States and President Andrew Jackson refused to acknowledge the country's existence. The two governments were unable to negotiate an agreement for the next nine years.

Houston (1841-1844) was re-elected to the presidency after Mirabeau Lamar’s term (1838-1847). Houston chose Anson Jones as his secretary of state. Houston and Jones worked to obtain an annexation offer from the United States and recognition of Texas’ independence from Mexico. They wanted to receive both proposals simultaneously which would allow the Texas government to decide which alternative to accept. However, by the fall of 1844, the annexation of Texas appeared to be dead.

In November 1844, President Houston selected Clarksville attorney Ebenezer Allen to fill the opening created when Houston appointed Attorney General George Whitfield Terrell[1] as chargé d'affaires to Europe.[2] Allen and his family came to Texas from Maine in 1840. In September 1844, Texans elected Dr. Anson Jones (1844-1846) president. Jones’ election created a temporary vacancy in Houston’s cabinet and in December 1844 Houston asked Allen to serve additionally as secretary of state ad interim.[3]

After Dr. Jones’s election, he consulted with friends and other politicians to select officers for his cabinet. For the position of Attorney General, Jones selected a lawyer from Red River County - Ebenezer Allen.

Several years later, President Jones described his prior knowledge of Mr. Allen. Jones wrote, “... when I called him to that station I was almost a stranger to him personally, having never seen him but once or twice, and knew nothing of his opinions on this [annexation] or scarcely any other subject. I approved him because he had the character of possessing great ability and honesty.”[4]

 After Jones organized his cabinet, France and England demanded Texas send “highly appreciated” Secretary of State Ashbel Smith to represent the Republic of Texas at their courts. Jones knew he would need a person who was comparable to Smith, with “the utmost firmness and caution,” to successfully manage affairs in Smith’s absence. Jones’ cabinet recommended Ebenezer Allen to replace Smith. Allen was regarded as “a man of excellent sense, high character, and of the best disposition in this matter.”[5] In addition to his position as attorney general, Allen was “charged with the duties of secretary of state ad interim.”[6]

While Jones was non-committal about annexation, Secretary Allen was strongly in favor of independence. Two months before his appointment, he wrote to William Kennedy, the British consul at Galveston, about his position:

 You are well aware of the fact that I have from the beginning been decidedly opposed to the Annexation of Texas to the United States. It is my first object to defeat, if possible, the consummation of this most obnoxious measure, so decidedly hostile, as I conceive it to be, and fraught with such evil consequences to the ultimate prosperity and high destiny of this Country. If I am successful in the accomplishment of this great result, I shall consider it the proudest period of my life.[7]

U.S. President John Tyler reopened annexation talks. Tyler appointed Andrew Jackson Donelson[8] to represent the United States in the Republic of Texas.[9] In December 1844, chargé d'affaires Donelson was worried about annexation. The actions by the U.S. government had shifted Texas public opinion from annexation to independence and favorable commercial terms with the English.[10]

 During the U.S. Congressional debates, Secretary Allen warned Donelson that Texas officials and citizens would be disappointed with a “vague” treaty lacking a “definite, tangible, and eligible process” to achieve annexation. The Republic “would feel compelled to consider their connexion [sic] with the measure dissolved.”[11]

The U.S. Congress finally agreed to ratify a joint resolution to annex Texas. The new American President James Polk sent chargé d'affaires Donelson to Texas to persuade Texas to accept the joint resolution “without qualifications.”[12]

On March 31, 1845, Donelson presented the United States proposal to the Jones administration. President Jones received him cordially and listened carefully to his remarks. Jones preferred to hold a public election on annexation. If the voters approved annexation, Jones would call a convention to make the changes necessary for Texas’ admission to the Union. Jones said, “the gravity of the subject required him not to act in haste: and that, although he had a decided opinion, he would dwell awhile on it, until he was aided by the advice of his cabinet.”

Dr. Jones commented on his position in a memorandum written on February 19, 1850: “A party in the country have accused me of being opposed to annexation, basing the charge upon the assumed fact that the members of my Cabinet, and the other officers of the Government were opposed to it, and reflected my sentiments.” He believed Ebenezer Allen was the only cabinet member who “preferred independence over annexation.” Despite his opinion, Jones thought Allen was “perfectly ready and willing to do all” in his power to carry “out the will of the people.”[13]

While the Jones administration considered how to proceed with the U.S. proposal, the president learned about the “successful progress of the preliminary treaty with Mexico.”[14]

Donelson pressured Jones to accept the joint agreement. He sent unsolicited “suggestions” via Allen to President Jones on the approval process. Although the chargé d'affaires later apologized for interfering in the process, the chargé d'affaires continued trying to manipulate the Republic's decisions.

The public thought the Jones administration was too cautious and too slow in response to the American government. Public support for annexation grew and the animosity of Jones increased. He was burned in effigy, and threats were made to overthrow his government.[15] Texans favored the terms offered by the United States and demanded quick action by Congress or a convention of elected representatives to ratify the U.S. joint resolution and form a state government. Secretary Allen advised Jones on the state’s political situation and recommended calling a convention:

    There can be no doubt that a convention, framed upon a plan recommended by the Executive, would be as legal, satisfactory, and efficient as one formed upon a plan proposed by Congress.

    If you think the measure a safe one, and not premature, I should be glad to see your proclamation issued recommending a convention to be assembled at as early a day as practicable, and presenting a basis whereby to regulate the election of deligates [sic].[16]

Allen urged “most forcibly” that “the call of a convention, to be assembled under the advisory proclamation of the Executive, would not only neutralize and render harmless all the elements of [the] opposition, and defeat the machinations of your enemies, but would even place you in such a position that they themselves, however loath, would be bound to sustain you, and to support your course and administration.”[17] Jones did not need Allen’s warnings because the president was aware of “the storm” and felt “its blasts all around me.”[18] On May 8, 1845, President Jones instructed Allen to issue a proclamation in which Jones recommended that the citizens of Texas elect delegates for a convention to take “prompt and decisive action” on the United States Annexation proposal.[19]

The representatives to the convention met on July 4, 1845, to consider the U.S. Congress joint annexation resolution. By a vote of fifty-five to one, the delegates approved the offer of annexation. Next, the convention prepared the Constitution of 1845 for the new state.[20] Jones informed Polk “that the Deputies of the People of Texas” at their Convention accepted the United States government’s proposal for annexing “Texas to the American Union.”[21]

Jones ordered the Texas Congress to meet on June 16, 1845. He asked congress to choose between annexation or independence. Congress rejected the treaty with Mexico, approved the joint resolution of annexation, and passed motions censuring Jones.[22]

Allen sent Donelson a copy of the joint resolution adopted by both houses of the Texas Congress on June 21 and approved by the President on June 23.

Declaring the consent of the existing government of this Republic to the terms of the proposition for annexation… the people of this country have thus evinced by most decided manifestations their strong but natural preference for the advantages of voluntary incorporation into the American union, and their strong attachment to the free institutions of that great and glorious Republic.[23]

Texas voters ratified the new state constitution in October 1845. The U. S. Congress accepted the document on December 29, 1845, which became the date of Texas's legal entry into the Union.[24]

 


This article is based on Ebenezer Allen – Statesman, Entrepreneur, and Spy by Allen Mesch. Mr. Mesch is available for virtual book signings, podcasts, and presentations. You can order the book at Mercari (check for latest price), Amazon Books (book), and Amazon (Kindle E-book).



[1] George Whitfield Terrell (?−1846) was district attorney of San Augustine County in 1840 and he later served as district judge. In December 1841 he was made attorney general of the Republic by Sam Houston. From 1842 to 1844 Terrell was Indian commissioner and negotiated the Indian treaty at Bird's Fort on September 29, 1843. He was appointed chargé d'affaires to France, Great Britain, and Spain in December 1844 and continued in that capacity under President Anson Jones. Upon his return to Texas in 1845 Terrell was again made Indian commissioner. He was an opponent of annexation. He died on May 13, 1846. Handbook of Texas Online, Melvin B. Jaschke, "Terrell, George Whitfield," http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fte22.

[2] Moore, Francis, Jr. Telegraph and Texas Register (Houston, Tex.), Vol. 9, No. 47, Ed. 1, Wednesday, November 20, 1844, newspaper, November 20, 1844; Houston, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth78075/m1/1/?q=George+Terrell), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

[3] Texas National Register. (Washington, Tex.), Vol. 1, No. 2, Ed. 1, Saturday, December 14, 1844, newspaper, December 14, 1844; Washington, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth80096/), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

[4] Anson Jones, Republic of Texas, 74.

[5] Annie Middleton, "Donelson's Mission to Texas in Behalf of Annexation." The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 24, no. 4 (1921): 270. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30234808.

[6] Ebenezer Allen Letter to Charles Elliott, Diplomatic Correspondence of the Republic of Texas (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1911), Volume II, Part II, 1169.

[7] Middleton, 258. 87

[8] Andrew Jackson Donelson (1799-1871 was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on August 25, 1799. He attended Cumberland College, Nashville, and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1820. He spent two years as aide-de-camp to his uncle, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, before resigning his commission in order to study law. In 1829 President Jackson appointed Donelson his private secretary. Donelson remained in Washington in that capacity until the end of his uncle's second term on March 4, 1837. In 1844 President John Tyler appointed Donelson chargé d'affaires of the United States to the Republic of Texas. His duties were to present American propositions to President Anson Jones and to further the cause of annexation. Donelson performed both tasks with skill and diplomacy. In March 1845, Congress passed a joint resolution admitting Texas to the Union, provided that the state adopts a republican form of government before July 1846. He was subsequently minister to Prussia and in 1852 a candidate for the vice presidency of the United States. He died at Memphis, Tennessee, on June 26, 1871. Hugo Ellis, “Donelson, Andrew Jackson,” Handbook of Texas Online, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/donelson-andrew-jackson.Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[9] President Tyler appointed Andrew Jackson Donelson in March 1845. Handbook of Texas Online, Joseph Milton Nance, "Republic of Texas," http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mzr02.

[10] Middleton, 255-256.

[11] Jones, Memoranda, Republic of Texas, 505.

[12] Middleton, 266.

[13] Jones, Memoranda, Republic of Texas, 74.

[14] Jones, Memoranda, Republic of Texas, 453.

[15] Handbook of Texas Online, Herbert Gambrell, "Jones, Anson," http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fjo42.

[16] Jones, Memoranda, Republic of Texas, 458.

[17] Jones, Memoranda, Republic of Texas, 459-461.

[18] Jones, Memoranda, Republic of Texas, 459-461.

[19] Hard Road to Texas, Texas Annexation 1836-1845, “Part 5: The Final Showdown,” National Register Extra - -- Extra, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, https://www.tsl.texas.gov/exhibits/annexation/part5/anson_jones_may8_1845_proclamation.html.

[20] Handbook of Texas Online, Ralph W. Steen, "Convention of 1845," http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mjc13.

[21] “Jones to Polk,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1908 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1911), Vol. II, Part II, 386-387.

[22] Handbook of Texas Online, C. T. Neu, "Annexation," http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mga02.

[23] Ebenezer Allen Letter to Andrew Jackson Donelson, June 23, 1845. Hard Road to Texas Annexation, United States Diplomatic Correspondence, Texas Secretary of State records, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, https://www.tsl.texas.gov/exhibits/annexation/part5/eben_allen_june23_1845_1.html (page 1) and https://www.tsl.texas.gov/exhibits/annexation/part5/eben_allen_june23_1845_2.html. (page 2)

[24] Handbook of Texas Online, C. T. Neu, "Annexation,", http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mga02.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Travis' Letter and the Ghosts of 1813

Today marks the 185th anniversary of William Barret Travis' letter from the Alamo. Of course, any excuse to reprint it is a good one. Here it is:

Commandancy of the Alamo — Bejar, Fby 24th 1836 —

To the People of Texas & all Americans in the world —

Fellow citizens & compatriots

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna — I have sustained a continual Bombardment & connade for 24 hours & have not lost a man — The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken — I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all despatch — The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am deter mined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country.

— Victory or Death

William Barret Travis Lt. Col. comdt.

 Travis' letter, and indeed the entire Alamo stand, on its face is full of bravery and bravado, but many have often wondered to what degree it was bravery or simple bombast. Did Travis really know what was facing him? Did he perhaps think that there was still hope that he could hold out and win? Historians and laymen alike have analyed and debated this. But in trying to understand Travis' stand, a huge bit of context has been universally lacking: Texas had been here before.

Twenty three years before, a ragtag army of Americans and Tejanos had gathered at the Alamo upon the news of an enemy approaching from the south promising to crush them without quarter. How they acted and how their own battle turned out held key lessons for Travis - lessons he undoubtedly knew.

First, let me step back, because most of my readers will know none of this.



In the 1812-13 revolution - frequently referred to as the Gutierrez-Magee Filibuster - a band of American volunteers crossed the border to make common cause with Tejanos in their rebellion against Spain, defeating the royalists decisively at the Seige of La Bahia and the Battle of Rosillo before declaring the independence of Texas (as a Mexican state) and passing Texas' first constitution in April 1813. The mixed Anglo-Tejano army then defeated a first Spanish counter-attack against San Antonio at the Battle of Alazán in June 1813, but were crushed by a second one at the Battle of Medina in August of that year. In that battle, the republicans were routed, pursued mercilessly, and shown no quarter. Among the officers in the Spanish force that dealt in such blood and mayhem was a young officer, Lt. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

Of course, most Texans and Americans today know almost none of this earlier revolution. But that is not true of Travis' generation. The settlers who came to Texas under Stephen F. Austin and other empresarios knew about the first revolution very well. That's because many of them were veterans.

My research has uncovered 18 verifiable survivors of the 1812-13 revolution who settled in Texas, and there were undoubtedly many more. Travis undoubtedly interacted with them and had ample opportunities to learn their stories. Some were prominent citizens of the Texas colony and later republic, like James Gaines and Warren D.C. Hall. Republican Veteran Aylett Buckner was one of the Texans killed in the 1832 Battle of Velasco, and Travis almost certainly knew him well.

But the closest connection Travis had to the 1813 war was his next-door neighbor.

Travis came to Texas in 1831 and settled in San Felipe de Austin. Though he traveled across Texas as a young lawyer, this was his principle residence for the next five years. San Felipe was a small town, and everyone knew everyone else. Travis set up his law office in a small house next door to the office of one Goodwin Brown Cotton.

 

 

Display at the San Felipe de Austin 
State Historical Site. Cotton is on the Left.

Cotton himself was a veteran of the first revolution. The young man from Louisiana had come to Texas with the Cuban rebel José Álvarez de Toledo, and helped him wrest control of the rebellion from its initial commander, José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara.  He likely worked as an apprentice to a printer from Philadelphia, Aaron Mower, who set the type for the first paper in Texas history, the Gaceta de Tejas.

Cotton likely served in the Battle of Medina himself and fled with the rest of the republicans following the defeat. He returned to Texas in 1829 and reprised Mower's newspaper, simply changing the name to English: The Texas Gazette. This he published in a small house adjacent to Travis' law office.

The Texas Gazette
Through veterans like Cotton and others, William Barret Travis would have heard all the horror stories of Medina and its aftermath. It was the bloodiest battle in Texas history. Possibly as many as 1,000 rebels were killed on the battlefield and others were hunted all the way back to Louisiana. In the brutal conquest of San Antonio that followed Medina, between 1/4 and 1/3 of the population of Texas was killed or exiled.

So, when one reads Travis' bold words, it is important to note that these are the words of a man who knew without a doubt what was in store for him. Though he hoped for relief and a long seige - the Republicans of 1812-13 had held up at the Presidio La Bahia for four months - he knew it was a long shot, and he knew what Santa Anna, who had been with the Spanish Army in its brutal conquest 23 years earlier, was capable of.

Victory or death, therefore, meant exactly that. It was no bombast.

The marker for Cotton's Print Shop at San Felipe.
(The spelling is incorrect. Cotton is correct)


Markers at the San Felipe State Historic Site, 
showing respective locations of Cotton's Print Shop
(left) and Travis' legal office (right).

  


Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Mysterious King of Texas


In 1821, the Mexican Republic finally won its independence from Spain after a decade of war that had left it and especially its northernmost province of Texas devastated. It was around this time that a mysterious man passed through Northern Mexico into Texas with a stunning quest: to take rightful ownership of Texas as its soverign. But enough of my talk, let's turn over the narration to Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, the 2nd President of the Republic of Texas, who recorded the story:

PRISONER AT BEXAR 
When Mrs. Long was at Bexar, there was one day a great parade in the Streets; when enquiring the cause, she saw a prisoner just lead from Jail, tied on a mule; his hat covered over with silver immitations of every variety of animas-- He was emaciated and was begone, a mere skeleton, who could not to all appearances live many days-- He was now started to Monterrey, whence he had been brought. His history was brief. He had suddenly appeared in the streets of Monterrey a stranger to every body and without being able to give an account of himself. He spoke no language known to any one in the Interior or in Texas; but by signs, the people at Monterrey learnt or thought that they understood him to lay claims to Texas as his province & that he was supreme Govr. of it. He was apprehended as a spy, brought to Bexar long imprisoned there, speaking fluently in some unknown language, without understanding any one or being understood by any; and after being worn down to an anatomy in prison, they now started with him back to Monterrey, having nothing to urge against him other than that he could speak none of the dead or living languages known to the Mexicans-- He was never heard of more-- his fate as well as his history being a mystery-- *

So ends Lamar's account. Jane Long, whose husband had led a failed attack on Spanish Texas and been captured and killed by royalist authorities, came to San Antonio in September, 1822 and stayed until July of 1823, which allows us to date this viginette.

Ferdinand VII, King of Spain
Who was this strange man with his Munchausenesque ambitions? No one knows for sure, but an intriguing possibility suggests itself from events across the ocean in Europe. In 1820, Spain had successfully defeated rebels in the Americas, but was shortly to see its position utterly reversed when Spanish general Agustín de Iturbide switched sides to the rebels, thus securing Mexican Independence.

The trigger for this defection had been the Riego Revolt in Spain itself, in which King Ferdinand VII was deposed by constitutional rebels and briefly imprisoned. He was rescued by the forces of reaction when various European nations banded together to put and end to the revolt. Among those who came to the king's aid were his allies the Austrians, led by their chief statesman, the foreign minister Klemens von Metternich.


Metternich was a giant in 19th Century diplomacy - probably the most influential Austrian in history until Adolf Hitler, and he dominated the post Napoleonic European landscape until 1848. His most impressive title, of course was Chancellor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but his most interesting and unique title was "Duke of Texas."

You see, Ferdinand VII was very grateful to Metternich for his help in restoring him to his throne. So much so that he gave this special title to the Austrian chancellor. After all, why not? Mexico by that point was assuredly lost anyway. Giving away Texas (even if doing so only in a titular way), was kind of like gifting someone your house after you'd already lost it in the divorce settlement. Anyway, he certainly didn't have any expectation that Metternich would actually DO something about it. And no historian has ever suggested he did.

Klemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar,  
Prince of Metternich-Winneburg
zu Beilstein
But here's where we return to this curious story. Suppose someone took this title seriously. Metternich certainly never came to Texas, that we know. But suppose a minor cousin, an official or some other person in the Austrian court convinced the Chancellor to gift him Texas in payment for a service or debt? Perhaps he lost it in a game of cards. The scenarios are fun to contemplate.

Say this strange, unknown person then boarded a ship for the New World, sailing boldly in his fantastic hat covered in silver animal figurines. Interestingly enough, the Austrians, as well as Bavarians, have a tradition of the Tyrolean or Alpine hat, which is frequently decorated in various pins. In many cases, these can be animal figurines. The idea of decorating headgear is certainly not unique to the alps, but the similarities to the hat worn by the mysterious man are too hard to ignore.

This could account for the "unknown language" which he spoke. Presumably there may have been some people in Mexico who had heard of German, but very few who spoke it, and certainly not many who understood the Bavarian or Austrian dialects, which are strong enough to sound foreign even to some native speakers of German. If the mystery man was from the Hungarian side of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, all the more likely his language would sound like a complete babble to the Mexicans.
Example of a Bavarian Alpine hat
with fox, ram and boar figurines.

We will never know who the mysterious King of Texas was. Given the description of him recorded by Lamar, he had not much longer to live in 1822. If he was indeed some voyager from a distant land, perhaps there is more to his story that we will learn one day. Maybe somewhere in South Texas he left a stash of gold, or documents proving his claim. Perhaps somewhere in Vienna, a distant descendant will one day discover a mouldy document and come to claim all of Texas as his own. History is full of such delectable mysteries and what-ifs, and the King of Texas is certainly one of the more fascinating ones.

---------
* Source: Charles Adams Gulick, Jr. The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar Vol. 6, (Austin: The Pemberton Press, 1968), 181.


Thursday, July 4, 2019

A Rebel Seeks Aid for his Cause



In the summer of 1812, José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara was putting together a filibuster in the Neutral Ground between Louisiana and Spanish Texas. While weaving together a motley force of desperate men with disparate views, the Mexican revolutionary was well aware of the network of Burr Conspirators who had almost invaded Texas in 1806, and sought to tap these for his army.
 
Indeed, he had already reached out and obtained the very tentative support of Gen. John Adair of the Kentucky militia, who was a chief Burr protagonist. Adair was widely respected on the frontier, and it was hoped by Gutiérrez and his supporters, could bring thousands of volunteers to the cause. But there was a bigger fish than Adair: General James Wilkinson.
 
Wilkinson was the senior general in the United States Army, the Governor of Upper Louisiana (the Louisiana Purchase north of the Modern state) and like Adair, a confidant of Burr. But as the 1806 plot advanced, Wilkinson had gotten cold feet and panicked, defecting from Burr, exposing the plot to President Thomas Jefferson, and clamping New Orleans down under Martial Law, jailing his erstwhile associates and masterfully portraying himself as the savior of the Republic from a nefarious plot.
General James Wilkinson
 
In truth, Wilkinson had been plotting against the United States for years. He had been a paid spy for Spain, even as he had risen to the senior post in the U.S. Army. But he had also double-crossed his Spanish paymasters by sending his protégé Phillip Nolan into Texas, ostensibly to export wild horses, but more likely to plot plans to invade the Spanish lands, with his ultimate target the rich mines of New Mexico. It was Wilkinson who likely first suggested to Burr the idea of invading Spanish lands under the pretext of freeing them from tyranny. But successive American presidents, aware of rumors of Wilkinson’s schemes, kept him on the payroll, and as long as they did, he merely plotted, but did not act. Fear of giving up a certain job of power and responsibility for an uncertain scheme with the unpredictable Burr likely gave him cold feet in the end.
 
But Gutiérrez, who had been courted by former Burrites, knew of Wilkinson’s sympathies and sought to bring him into the cause. Perhaps he could be incited to do now what he had failed to do in 1806, now that there was a legitimate representative of the Mexican Revolutionaries with whom he could partner. So the rebel put pen to paper and wrote the general a note, dispatching it to be hand delivered by his trusted agent, Pedro Girard.




Gutierrez' original letter to Gen. Wilkinson,
National Archives, Letters Received, Sec. of War
Unregistered Series, Roll 6



 
 


The translated letter, which Wilkinson forwarded to the Secretary of War follows:

 

Natchitoches 16 July 1812

Although I have not the honor of a personal acquaintance with you, yet I know by reputation the noble, great & high qualities of your great soul, the greatness of which have made you for a long time past favorable to our glorious and just independence.

This encourages me to address you, believing that you will contribute with all your influence and power to favor the most just & greatest of causes which ever have been given rise to in this hemisphere, being interested in it the most sacred rights of humanity and the greatest interests of civilized nations.

I need not point out to you the duty of good men with respect to this cause, nor the great glories to be acquired by its exercise.


 Wilkinson added in his own hand:

 [The last paragraph of this letter cannot be read, written in the first instance by Gutierrez who writes & spells badly & copied by a worse hand the amount of it appears to be that Don Pedro Girard, his agent, has full force and will give any information to Genl. Wilkinson & his object was to induce persons to join the cause of the patriots.]
 

Wilkinson's signature on his letter to the Sec. of War
Girard met Wilkinson on a ship on the Mississippi River, as the general made his way back to New Orleans from an absence of several months in Washington. The two were known to each other. Wilkinson admitted this to his superiors in his report, but downplayed the association. “His agent Girard happens to be one of my ancient “employees” mentioned” in letters to the department, he said. The precise nature of Girard’s employment is unknown, but the quotations suggest he was a possible informant. Girard gave Wilkinson more information, but he did not pass it on because it was “scarcely worth the repetitions because [it is] not quite creditable.”

 “In sum,” Wilkinson wrote, “Mr. B. wishes to learn from me the disposition of the government and also my own dispositions & purposes, with respect to the Mexican conflicts. He wishes to get them and ammunition from me. He wishes to know what might be the feelings of the government in relation to the expedition they are projecting. He promises himself two thousand more men for the impending expedition, from Kentucky, Tennessee and this state, and the adjacent territory, but I have no clear evidence that they have as yet embodied two hundred. He had consulted Gen. Adair with regard to taking the command who was undetermined and it appeared are waiting events.”

 Unlike Wilkinson, who had landed on his feet after the 1806 Burr affair, Adair had been burned badly. He had lost a senate seat and his political career in Kentucky appeared to be shattered. Adair would wait, and wait. Ultimately, he would never join Gutiérrez in Texas.
 
Wilkinson reported further:

“I did not hesitate to reply, that [manuscript torn] the expedition to be not only unauthorized by, but in opposition to the dispositions of the government, that whatever might be the governmental or national sympathy, a scale of discretion and justice governed the conduct of the executive departments; and that no illegal assembly of the citizens of the U.S. in any, for whatever purposes could be satisfied or justified, and that where such appreciation had the tendency to involve the country in war, with a nation now at peace with us, it would at last be discouraged and discountenanced. Girard wishes something to say to Bernardo from me, for I declined writing.”

“Tell him to have patience,” Wilkinson told Girard, “to wait the maturation of the fruit,  to trust in the justice of God, to believe in my devotion to the liberty of mankind, and to merit the friendship and protection of my country, by respecting its government and supporting its laws.” 
 
Wilkinson, the great conspirator, who had dreamed of invading Spain for years, would not do so. News had already arrived of the United States’ Declaration of War against England, and the general, responsible for the entire Southwest, would have more than enough to worry about preparing for the defense of New Orleans. In two years, he would be reassigned to Canada and his place taken by a more able, and more loyal, officer, General Andrew Jackson.
 
But the revolutionaries would march anyway. In fact, they already had, 10 days before Wilkinson’s meeting with Girard. The advanced force of the army commanded by Augustus Magee and Gutiérrez, had already entered Texas, routed the first Spanish forces, and would take Nacogdoches within a day of Wilkinson’s letter.
 
Sources: U.S. National Archives: Letters Received by the Secretary of War Registered Series, Roll 49; Letters Received by the Secretary of War Unregistered Series, Roll 6.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Alamo Hero Charles Despallier: Second Generation fighter for Texas Liberty


Today is the anniversary of the fall of the Alamo. One of the defenders who died that day was Charles Despallier. Typical histories note him as simply an outsider, like many, with no real ties to Texas. But the fact is, Charles’ family had fought for Texas for decades before that date.
One of the key figures in the Gutierrez-Magee Expedition of 1812-13 was Bernard Despallier. He was a French Creole from Louisiana who had served as a militia captain in the Spanish service there, and was loyal to Spain even when it went to war with France. As a result, felt himself threatened when the French and later Americans got control of the province, and asked and was permitted to settle in Trinidad de Salcedo in 1806. He married a Tejana, Maria Candida Grande.
When the Spanish expelled foreigners three years later, Despallier was sent back to Louisiana. When Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara came through Nacogdoches, Despallier befriended him and when the Mexican rebel returned from Washington, D.C., Despallier was one of his confidants as he put together his filibustering expedition. Despallier was also a gifted writer and began composing (in Spanish) propaganda pamphlets to send into Texas. Governor Salcedo would later single out Despallier and Gutiérrez as the two people most responsible for the expedition that invaded his state.
When Augustus Magee led the expedition into Texas in early August, 1812, the number of Hispanics in the army was small enough to count on one hand. But as soon as they began bringing in deserters, and after the fall of Nacogdoches brought new volunteers, a sizeable Hispanic troop was now available. Despallier, fluent in Spanish and probably somewhat competent in English too, was selected to lead this contingent, since Bernardo Gutiérrez was at that time still in Natchitoches organizing things.
Bernard Despallier continued to lead Spanish/Mexican troops, ultimately joined by Miguel Menchaca, who became the principle leader of that contingent of the army. As a native Tejano, Menchaca took a greater role as that contingent swelled. By the Battle of Medina, the Spanish/Mexican troops likely outnumbered the Anglo volunteers.
Despallier suffered personal losses in the rebellion. After the rebels had taken Nacogdoches and Trinidad, they sought to send in infiltrators into Bexar to bring in propaganda pamphlets that Menchaca had written. One of the men chosen for this task – a man in his 60s named Luis Grande – was Despallier’s own father-in-law. When they were captured by Governor Salcedo, Grande was likely executed. (I’ve found a sentence of death for his co-conspiritor, but not for Grande).
After the defeat at the Medina, Bernard Despallier fled to Texas. He was one of the few people exempted by name in the later Spanish offer of amnesty. Instead, a reward was placed on his head. Bernard stayed in Natchitoches in exile, raising his family. Son Blaz Philipe Despallier had been born in Texas in 1809, and sometime during or shortly after the expedition, Bernard’s wife bore another son, Charles. Both sons would later fight for Texas.
As Mexico became independent and opened up, Bernard Despallier was too old to return to Texas, but his sons were connected to many of the early Texas settlers. Victor Madison Despallier, another son, was a friend and attorney for James Bowie. Charles Despallier immigrated to Texas, where he became influential enough to be one of the signers of the Goliad Declaration of Independence of 1835.
When the Texas revolution broke out, Charles was likely involved from the beginning. His brother Blaz Philipe came to Texas to join them. The brothers were no doubt fired in their eagerness  by their father’s stories of his own Texas revolution – and the memory of their grandfather Luis Grande. They fought in the Battle of Béxar, in which the Texas forces, led by Ben Milam, took San Antonio.
Blaz Philipe after the battle served as a scout for William Barret Travis, but at some point he had contracted disease in the campaign, a not-infrequent occurrence during war in that era, and returned to Natchitoches to recuperate. Nonetheless, his younger brother Charles remained at the Alamo. He served as a scout as well and took out messages from Travis pleading for aid. He returned with the “Immortal 32” of Gonzales, and stayed in the mission for the remaining days of the siege, dying in the final battle. Lists of Alamo defenders include him, but also include a “Carlos Espalier” who is likely a double counting. (Historians disagree on this point, but since the original French of the name is D’Espallier, it is almost certainly a reference to the same person).
Charles Despallier, therefore, one of the dead who fell 183 years ago today, was not just some adventurer who had never heard of Texas, but a second-generation fighter for Texas liberty. He deserves to be remembered as such.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Nathaniel Cogswell - A Warning Unheeded


The Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition of 1812-13 sought to liberate Spanish Texas and open a pathway of American aid to Mexican rebels fighting to free themselves from the crumbling Spanish Empire. Historians have generally glossed over the individuals who were involved, painting instead with broad brush-strokes to interpret the history of the expedition through the lens of diplomacy. But the history needs to be brought back to the men who fought it. This blog, and my research, seeks to do that.
– James Bernsen, August, 2017

Of all of the people associated with the Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition, some of the more extraordinary ones, like American special agent William Shaler, never even set foot within the borders of Texas. One of these men was Nathaniel Cogswell. This is his story.

A Revolutionary Legacy

Nathaniel Cogswell was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, on Jan 17, 1773, to Thomas Cogswell and Ruth Badger. At age two, he experienced his country going to war, and it would remain the most important event of his life. One could easily say that the American Revolution was in Nathaniel’s blood. His grandfather, also named Nathaniel Cogswell, was retired merchant and prominent citizen in Haverhill. He demonstrated his patriotism by loaning funds to the cause – which he never recouped – and donating various equipment for New England soldiers. Eight of his sons joined the cause, including Thomas Cogswell, who left his wife and young Nathaniel to join the troops surrounding Boston in 1775. He led a company at Bunker Hill and was promoted successively throughout the war, from captain to major to lieutenant colonel, ultimately becoming Wagonmaster General. The position was in authority over all wagons and baggage for the army, and as such. Thomas Cogswell became a frequent correspondent with George Washington. [1]
Letter from George Washington addressing
a dispute of rank between Thomas Cogswell
and William Hull during the Revolutionary War.
His younger brother, Amos Cogswell joined the army within the first month of the war, on May 10, 1775, and served well beyond its end – Dec. 31, 1783. Amos was made a captain and transferred to another regiment. He fought in the siege of Boston and in the battles of Trenton, Princeton, White Plains, Saratoga and Monmouth. He was present for many of the most dramatic episodes of the war. In an 1820 petition, he stated, “At Trenton, I waded across the river and took two Hessian prisoners under the Bridge; in doing which I got a bad cold, and have had the rheumatism more or less ever since.”
In the lean days after the war, the Cogswell brothers were with the army at its camp at Newburgh, New York, monitoring the last British troops in New York City. The privations of the camp sprouted the famous Newburgh Conspiracy, in which a number of officers penned a letter to congress demanding relief before they would disband. Tensions were high in a meeting of officers on March 10, 1783 when General George Washington stepped into the room and asked to address them. After a short speech in which he pledged to support their claims, Washington tried to read a letter from a congressman to make a point. Unable to read the words, he reached for a pair of spectacles. The sight was shocking to most officers, who had never seen their commander wear glasses. Washington, noting their looks, told them, “Gentlemen, you must pardon me. I have grown grey in your service and now find myself growing blind.”[2]
Grave of Revolutionary War officer,
Thomas Cogswell, father of Nathaniel.
(Courtesy of Findagrave.com)
The moving incident, which the Cogswell brothers may have witnessed, caused many in the room to weep and ended the conspiracy. It also formed a tight bond between Washington and his officers which was sealed two months later on May 13, 1783 with the founding of the Society of the Cincinnati. In this case, we know that the Cogswell brothers were there, along with a Samuel Cogswell, probably a cousin. All three were charter members of the club, a sort of Revolutionary version of the American Legion.[3] Finally released from active duty, General Thomas Cogswell returned home later that year.
Nathaniel, now eight, therefore grew up amidst well-established and recognized Revolutionary War heroes, including his namesake grandfather, who lived on until 1810. Although the latter had lost some of his wealth, the family was by no means impoverished. Nathaniel’s father Thomas had returned from the war with a young black man named Prince, who served as his servant. New Hampshire had just that very year abolished slavery, so Prince was evidently free. He served the Cogswells faithfully for the rest of his life as a servant at their home in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. His age is unknown, but he was likely a few years older than young Nathaniel.[4]

  An Excellent Education

At age 11, Nathaniel was sent to the prestigious Phillips-Exeter Academy in nearby Exeter, New Hampshire.[5] The school was among the most exclusive of the early Republic, and would ultimately be the training ground of three Gutierrez-Magee participants, Cogswell, Augustus Magee and Horatio Bigelow (Nathaniel was by far the oldest, enrolling in the school 18 years prior to Magee).
It was an exclusive school and boasts some of the weightiest names in early American history. George Washington’s nephew Bushrod attended a few years before, as had future senator Daniel Webster. Among Magee’s own classmates was another boy his same age, George Pickering, whose father Timothy had been Secretary of State in the Washington and Adams administrations.[6] Future graduates included President Franklin Pierce and the sons of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Grant (and in the modern era, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg). Of Phillips Exeter, it would be said in 1859 that “Such a galaxy of names as appear upon the catalogue of this institution will not, perhaps, be found in connection with any other academy on this continent.”[7]

Phillips-Exeter Academy in 1810. Cogswell, along with later
students and Gutierrez-Magee participants Augustus Magee
and Horatio Bigelow, attended in this building.
Graduating from Phillips-Exeter, Cogswell continued on to Dartmouth College, where he earned his Master’s Degree in 1794.[8] Cogswell chose to enter the legal profession and read law under Ebenezer Smith. Like his father, Smith had served the entire duration of the Revolutionary War, in his case, in the Massachusetts militia.[9]  After several years under Smith, Cogswell was admitted to the bar and began his own practice as a lawyer in 1805 in Gilmanton, New Hampshire.
At age 32, Cogswell was among the most highly-educated young men of his generation, well-connected and comfortable enough financially to take a tour of Europe, which he did sometime in the next two years. As a family history relates, “He had letters of introduction to persons of distinction in London. His fine person, genial nature, and attractive manners made him a favorite in society.” [10]
It was an unusual – and adventurous – time to travel abroad. The Napoleonic Wars were still raging, although the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 had at least made England safe from invasion. Fighting continued on the continent, though actual warfare was sporadic, with many months between battles. The actual dates of Cogswell’s trip are unknown, but it was likely in 1807 during Napoleon’s East Prussian campaign of that year (East Prussia corresponds to modern East Germany and Poland). He returned in 1808 to found a new legal practice in Newburyport, Massachusetts.[11] He was 35, good looking (if the family history is to be believed) and single. He was also a man eager after attention and distinction, and ready to make a name for himself in his new home when he returned.
Napoleon on the Battlefield of Eylau, 1807. This battle, in present-day
Poland, was fought during the period in which Nathaniel Cogswell
visited Western Europe.
The first decade of the 1800s was among the most partisan of times in American history. The Revolution of 1800, which had seem Thomas Jefferson and the Republican Party triumph over the Federalist John Adams had exposed a divide in American society.[12] The root of the split was the old debate from 1783 about how much power to vest in the federal government (more if you’re a Federalist) or how much to retain in the states (the Republican position). The Cogswell family by social status should have been Federalist, but despite their background, drifted into the Republican Camp. The Society of the Cincinnati, of which Thomas Cogswell had been a founding member, was mistrusted by Republicans, often seen as a conspiratorial, monarchist institution. Nonetheless, on March 19, 1801, Thomas Cogswell penned an effusive letter of congratulations to Jefferson on his winning of the presidency.[13] Nathaniel, like his father, had embraced the Republican Party. His enthusiasm – probably freshly invigorated in a reaction to his recent trip to Europe – impelled him to bring his passion for the cause into the public arena.

Fourth of July Oration

In the early 1800s, with the Revolution Fresh and the veterans everywhere, the Fourth of July was akin to a holy day of the Republic. It was the most important public event in every community across the small, but rapidly-growing nation. As such, Fourth of July orations were sober, important affairs, and to be chosen to give one was an honor – and a weighty responsibility. The addition of partisanship – so much stronger in divided New England – made them more than an opportunity for distinction. They were competitive events which each side of the ideological divide used for propaganda purposes, wrapping themselves in the revolution and claiming to be the true inheritors of the Spirit of ’76, while their enemies were not.
Nathaniel Cogswell's July 4, 1808 speech. Copy in the Historical Society of
Pennsylvania library. (Author photo).
Nathaniel Cogswell was chosen to be the keynote speaker in the Republican celebration of Independence on July 4, 1808 in the Reverend Giles’ meeting house in Newburyport. But the audience was much larger than merely the local citizens in the room, because Cogswell’s oration – and others across the country that day – would be ultimately reprinted in pamphlet form and distributed across the country.
Cogswell began with a tribute to revolutionary soldiers who, like his father and uncles, had endured “with undaunted fortitude and patience, the numerous privations and hardships which they were doomed to suffer.”[14] Their model, however, should not be forgotten by his generation. Turning to the crowd before him, he noted that many veterans were still there who had become “old and grey in the cause of freedom.” Others, he told his fellows of his generation “are just entering upon the theater of action.” Cogswell led his listeners through a detailed history of republics, contrasting them with the persecutions and bondage of monarchies. He followed with a spirited lauding of Washington and “the great and good” Jefferson. He praised the “enlightened, independent, and virtuous yeomanry,” who were the heart of the nation, and added that, “so long as they retain and own the soil which they cultivate, so long are our liberties on a sure, a certain, and immovable foundation.”[15] These were popular Republican themes from a young lawyer not only seeking to win a debate, but probably also to ingratiate himself and further his career among the older, richer men in the audience. Wrapping up, Cogswell proclaimed that America was “The first and only independent nation on the fourth quarter of the globe.” [16] At the time, he could not have possibly imagined what lay in store for himself personally when the fourth quarter of the globe began to add new nations alongside America.

Self-promotion and Criticism

The address was apparently well-received by the crowd, but then, Cogswell was preaching to the Republican choir. Still, he was a young man basking in the limelight and he wanted to make sure he got his due credit. A week after the oration, on July 11, 1808, Cogswell wrote two identical letters to President Thomas Jefferson and Sec. of State James Madison, the two leading Republicans, crowing of his success. The letter read:
Cogswell's letter to James Madison, July 11, 1808.

Sir,
The fourth of July was celebrated in this Town, with considerable éclat, both by the Republican & federal Parties.
There were two Orations, a federal, & a Republican one. I have taken the liberty of enclosing them both for Your perusal.
There are some hopes, that, the majority of the Citizens of this Town, which was the cradle of the Essex Junto, and which has been emphatically called the political Algiers of America, will eventually support those Characters, who, from principle are attached to republican forms of Government, in [. . . .] to those who are the open and avowed advocates of [. . . .] Monarchy.
I am, Sir, with the highest respect & consideration, Your Most Obt. & very Hube. St.
Nathel: Cogswell [17]
Although the crowd in Giles’ Meeting House was enthusiastic, the response was far less pleasant once the Federalist writers weighed in. The Monthly Anthology and Boston Review was brutal in its review. Before quoting extracts from the speech, the writers warned their readers,
“Gentle Reader, for mercy’s sake, and as you dread the twitching torturing pains of a side-ache – hold your sides – for here comes – here comes Nathaniel Cogswell, Esq. plenum sed, with his silk gown, satin breeches, open clock’d stockings and all, with his oration in one hand and with the other hand extended, and brandishing in fierce gesticulation…here he comes and hark! He begins.”

The Monthly Anthology compares Republicans like
Cogswell to "idolators," a biting attack in a religious age.
To mockery was added savage critique:
“The oration is remarkable for its language; which, being unnaturally compounded and jumbled wildly together from the two most abhorrent things in nature, rumbling bombast and the tamest and most drowsy strain of narration, we decidedly think…the worst and the flattest – the very flattest that ever was, or ever will, may, can, shall, would, might, could or should be spoken or written by any man, woman, child, monkey, baboon, magpie, parrot, flounder, porpoise and so downwards, or upward, if you please…”

We have no indication what Cogswell thought of his roasting in the press, but for a young lawyer with such ambition, a new calling began stirring in his breast. To an heir of Republican war heroes in the Napoleonic Age, the idea of a world being dramatically reshaped on behalf of liberty must have seemed too good for him to sit on the sidelines. He had a “passion for military life” according to his family history and joined the Massachusetts militia, serving on the staff of Major General James Brickett.[18]

Embracing Revolution

But Massachusetts didn’t hold him for long. Sometime in the next three years, Cogswell, still unmarried and rootless, moved to Pennsylvania. It was there that he found a cosmopolitan city in Philadelphia literally teeming with revolutionary exiles from all over the world. Cogswell was already an enthusiast for Republicanism, and he certainly still followed events in Europe closely. After all, soon after his return from his European Tour, in May, 1808, the Dos de Mayo uprising in Spain against Napoleon had occurred. Now he was in Philadelphia, among exiles from that war, but also a new community of Latin American Republicans created by the chaos in the Spanish Empire. After Napoleon had suppressed the insurrection in Spain, he had installed his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne, leading to an outbreak of revolutions in the empire’s New World territories in 1809 and 1810.
Sometime in 1812, Cogswell became friends with a Cuban revolutionary, José Álvarez de Toledo y Dubois, who was then working to support the efforts of revolution in the Mexican Province of Texas. Toledo was working alongside a fellow revolutionary, José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, who had departed for Louisiana to raise an army of American volunteers for the cause. Gutiérrez and Toledo had agreed that the latter should stay in Philadelphia to create propaganda, raise funds, and send volunteers to Gutiérrez at his base of operations in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Cogswell enthusiastically joined the effort, and Toledo made him an officer of the thus-far nominal Republican Army of the North.[19]

A Warning Unheeded

But Cogswell in time began to suspect that Toledo was far from the ardent and pure revolutionary. In August, 1812 – shortly after Gutiérrez’ army had entered Texas – word arrived in Philadelphia that Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco Miranda had signed an armistice with royalists in that country. The event shocked the Spanish revolutionary community in Philadelphia. They, like fellow Venezuelan revolutionary Simon Bolivar, saw it as a cynical betrayal of the cause of liberty. But Toledo’s response was different, restrained, perhaps even complimentary of Miranda.
It shook Cogswell, who had a falling out with Toledo and his growing staff of highly-ranked civilians-turned-armchair officers in the Revolutionary Army of Mexico, none of whom – even Toledo – had even been to Mexico. Over the next few months, Cogswell tossed out accusations of betrayal against Toledo, whom he began to suspect of being a double agent of Spain. Cogswell, in turn, was accused by Toledo and his acolytes, including “Colonel” Henry Adams Bullard, as having committed theft or some other petty crime, and was presumably stripped of his position.
In fact, Toledo had been considering betrayal, and soon he acted on it. On October 5, 1812, the
José Álvarez de Toledo y Dubois
revolutionary visited the house of the Spanish Ambassador to the United States, Luis de Onís, and admitted he was part of a conspiracy to invade Texas. Toledo, so Onís claimed, was conspiring not just with private citizens, but with the United States government to foment rebellion. In a surprising offer, Toledo – who was running short of cash – offered to turn over his army to the Spanish in exchange for a pardon and cash.[20] Ultimately, Onís had no money, and Toledo left him with only a promise to cease fighting against Spain. Toledo would break this promise and by all appearances return to the revolutionary fold, but he was fickle, and several years later, after the expedition and subsequent attempts to liberate Texas failed, he would indeed switch sides and win a pardon from Spain.
But Toledo’s flirtation with betrayal was suspected by no one else in the band of Philadelphia revolutionaries, and Cogswell was left on an island of dissent. But the young lawyer, now committed to the cause of Mexican independence, wouldn’t let it go. After Toledo and his band of revolutionaries had departed to join with Gutiérrez, Cogswell decided he had to take action into his own hands. Cogswell wrote to Gutiérrez on Dec. 12, 1812, informing him of his suspicions. If Gutiérrez allowed Toledo to come to Texas, Cogswell wrote, he would “rue it in tears of blood.”[21] He continued by explaining how the Spanish had many agents in Philadelphia posing as Republicans, but actually spies. “Such a man is Mr. Toledo. I pledge my life on the issue, for I know it to be the fact.”[22] Cogswell felt so passionately about the danger from Toledo that he traveled to Natchitoches and lay out the case against Toledo before the American agent and behind-the-scenes sponsor of the expedition William Shaler.
The confrontation came in the Neutral Ground between Spanish Texas and Louisiana in early July, 1813. Cogswell and a small party met Shaler and Toledo and Cogswell laid out his suspicions. Had he any proof of Toledo’s meeting with Onís, it would have devastated the Cuban. But Cogswell had little more than vague information and intuition. He repeated the charges, by now familiar to Shaler, who acted as judge in the inquiry. By now, the latter had committed to intervene in the revolution in Texas by replacing the authoritarian and incompetent Gutiérrez with Toledo. Convinced Toledo was the only hope for the revolution, Shaler dismissed the idea in a letter to Sec. of State James Monroe.[23]
The Sad End of Nathaniel Cogswell
Cogswell was defeated and broken. He was probably already sick, having no immunity to the tropical diseases that were rampant in swamp-filled Louisiana. He was apparently trying to make his way downriver from Natchitoches to New Orleans, when his party stopped in Rapides, present day Alexandria, 30 miles downstream. He lingered there until around August 1, 1813, when he died.
Cogswell, of course, was vindicated by events. Three days after his death, Toledo arrived in San Antonio and took command of the Republican Army of the North. Although there is no evidence he actively attempted to betray the revolution, he instituted a number of changes that weakened the army and alienated many of the local Tejano supporters, who distrusted the Gauchupin from Cuba. On August 18, 1813, Toledo led the army that he and Gutiérrez had built up over 2 years into a trap. At the disastrous Battle of Medina, the Republican forces, including hundreds of Tejanos, Indians and American volunteers were routed and nearly annihilated.
Nathaniel Cogswell, lying in a new-dug grave, had tried his best, but failed.



[1] E.O. Jameson The Cogswells in America (Boston: Alfred Mudge & Son, 1884), 47 and 152.
[2] Newburgh Address George Washington’s Mount Vernon website: http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/newburgh-address/ (Accessed August 2, 2017)
[3] Jameson, 99.
[4] Ibid, 152
[5] Phillips Exeter Academy, Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Phillips Exeter Academy (Exeter, N.H.: J&B Williams, 1838), 56.
[6] Phillips Exeter Academy,14. Despite the title, there was no military training curriculum at the academy at the time.
[7] Austin Coolidge and John Mansfield, History and Description of New England, General and Local, Vol. 1 (Boston: Austin J. Coolidge, 1859), 491.
[8] George T. Chapman, Sketches of the Alumni of Dartmouth College, from the First Graduation in 1771 to the Present Time, with a Brief History of the Institution. (Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1867), 73. Some sources suggest Cogswell graduated at age 19, but he would have been nearly 21 in 1794.
[9] Everett S. Stackpole and Lucien Thompson, History of the Town of Durham New Hampshire, Vol. 1 (Unknown), 279. https://archive.org/details/historyoftownofd01stac  (accessed July 20, 2016).
[10] Jameson, 183.
[11] Ibid, 183.
[12] The Republican Party of the early 1800s is not the ancestor of the modern Republican Party. In the 1820s, with the Jacksonian takeover of the party it became the Democratic-Republican Party and later the Democratic Party.
[13] “Thomas Cogswell to Thomas Jefferson, March 19, 1801” The Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/resource/mtj1.023_0315_0316/?sp=1 (Accessed Aug. 2, 2017)
[14] Nathaniel Cogswell, An Oration Delivered before the Republican Citizens of Newburyport in the Rev. John Giles’ Meetinghouse on the Fourth of July, 1808 (Newburyport: W. and J. Gilman, 1808), 8.
[15] Cogswell, 19.
[16] Ibid., 4.
[17] “To Thomas Jefferson from Nathaniel Cogswell, 11 July 1808,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-8299. The letter to Madison is in the James Madison papers, also in the National archives and is identical.
[18] Jameson, 183.
[19] Jameson, 183. The author claims Cogswell was commissioned as a General. It’s doubtful that Toledo gave such a high rank out. Had he done so, Cogswell would have even outranked Magee, the eventual commander of the forces.
[20] Harris Gaylord Warren, The Sword Was their Passport (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1943), 17-18.
[21] “Colonel Nathaniel Cogswell to Generals Gutiérrez and Magee, Pittsburgh, December 29, 1812, quoted in Garrett, 212.
[22] Ed Bradley, We Never Retreat: Filibustering Expeditions into Spanish Texas, 1812-1822 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2015), 74.
[23] “William Shaler to James Monroe, 14 July 1813,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/03-06-02-0411. [Original source: The Papers of James Madison, Presidential Series, vol. 6, 8 February–24 October 1813, ed. Angela Kreider, J. C. A. Stagg, Jeanne Kerr Cross, Anne Mandeville Colony, Mary Parke Johnson, and Wendy Ellen Perry. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008, pp. 439–440.]