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
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.

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: (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.  (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. (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, 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, [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.]

Friday, April 21, 2017

Reuben Ross Letter from San Jacinto

In 1836, a wave of "Texas Fever" swept the United States and young men from across the country rushed to Texas in an enthusiastic response to the Texas Revolution. A similar wave of volunteerism had come the year before, with tragic results. Many of these early volunteers died at the Alamo and Goliad. But when news of these atrocities reached America, a new crop of volunteers headed South.

One of these was Reuben Ross, Jr.  Reuben was no stranger to Texas. His uncle who he was named for, Reuben Ross, fought in the 1812-13 Gutierrez-Magee Expedition, which sought to aid Mexican revolutionaries in their efforts to free Texas - and ultimately Mexico - from Spanish dominion. He briefly became the commander of the Anglo volunteer contingent before his Tejano girlfriend in San Antonio alerted him to a plot to assassinate him. He fled and thus avoided the fateful Battle of Medina in August, 1813, in which the Spanish crushed the revolutionaries and hunted down the survivors, Anglo and Tejano alike.

Ross Sr. returned to Mexico after Mexican Independence in 1821, visiting Mexico City and arguing for a pension for his revolutionary service to Mexico. (This is a fascinating topic and I'll write about it in the future.) But while he was in Mexico, Ross was killed by highway robbers and his dream of earning land rights in Texas and settling down as a Mexican Citizen were dashed.

Reuben Ross, Jr. had grown up on his namesake uncle's stories and was still a child when his uncle died in Mexico. Thus, unlike most Americans who had little knowledge of Texas, Reuben Ross, Jr. clearly had a romantic vision of the province long before the Texas Revolution.

Hearing news of Alamo and Goliad, he penned a letter to his father. The latter thinks the son is studying law, but in his letter, Reuben Ross breaks the news. He's going to Texas instead.

 "...for I begin to feele [sic] for my own credits sake at least that it was nearly time should I remain at the Law I think I can obtain license by the Aprile [sic] Court but I confess to you I have recently thought a great deal of another profession which with your apropation nothing could prevent my adopting which is that of arms--You see the enemy has at last appeared in Texas & war is inevitable."

Ross tells his father that he can't even focus on his studies. All he thinks about is Texas.

"The present state of affairs in that country has almost unfitted me for study. The last intelligence brought us an invitation from the Commander in chief [Sam Houston] calling upon the people of the United States for Volunteer Assistance -- and if I have a wish paramount to all others soley with regard to my own destiny--it is to make [a military career] in the acceptance of that invitation.

"There is now the only field for youthful enterprize and hundreds from all quarters without Capitol [sic], Profession or Occupation will eagerly avail themselves of the advantages offered..."

Reuben Ross letter to his father detailing his plans to pursue his new profession "that of arms" in Texas.
Ross's brother John had already rushed to Texas, and now Reuben would join him. He made his way by land to Texas and for what he hoped was martial glory. Entering Texas, he found families caught up in the Runaway Scrape and his group of volunteers accompanied them some time to protect them. Finally seeing them safe, they moved on to San Jacinto but arrived a week after the battle, missing it entirely. Nonetheless, Reuben Ross wrote a letter to his father describing the aftermath of the battle which itself is rather extraordinary. Here it is in its entirety:

Randolph Ross, Esq
Lynchburg, Vigrinia

(Postmarked June ? New Orleans)

New Orleans
May 29, 1836

My Dear Father

You will no doubt be surprised to receive a letter from me dated at this place. Indeed I can hardly realize to myself that I am now here. Barely two months ago I left Natchez in all the buoyancy of spirits that the anticipation of youthful adventures and youthful enterprise would impart to this feelings of a sanguinary being. I travelled [sic] into this land of Texas with the imaginary prospects before me of advancement of fame and of Profit and I am now after the lapse of but a few days in New Orleans writing down my disappointments. I will give you in a few words (as I know it will interest my father) a detail of my hopeful adventures. I left Natchez an the 5th of [April] in company with Judge Quitman and sixteen Natchez Volunteers for the seat of war in Texas. On the evening of the 11th we halted 8 miles east of Nacogdoches and met a report that the enemy

from two to three thousand strong Mexicans and Indians were marching down upon that place. We moved on in the morning and found the road literally covered with families and the above reports confirmed by [unintelligible] sent out to raise troops for the the defense of the town. We held a consultation the result of which was an offer of our services through Gov. Quitman.[1] To the military commandant for the protection of the family [unintelligible] on the road – The proposition was accepted and we rode in. Arriving in time to save the town from burning which was contemplated and the subject
of debate when our proposition reached them the occurrences transpiring here are hardly worth your attention. Suffice it to say that since days of anxiety of false alarms and the fatigues of watching and scouting terminated our defense of Nacogdoches against an imaginary foe. And likewise terminated our prospects of more useful service to Texas or advantage to ourselves. It was that ill spent time that deprived us of a participation in the famous battle of San Jacinto.
We reached head quarters on the 28th and I visited Gen’l Houston in his tent an hour after, he was prostrated From a wound he had rec’d in the ankle and exceedingly Feverish and fretful. I remained but a short time and left him [unintelligible] at the changes that so short a time

seemed to me to have made in his appearances, manners and disposition, i subsequently saw him but his mind was too much occupied with subjects of  higher importance to entertain or give consideration to our which would [unitelligible] only me. I had no inducement to remain, it would have been an unpopular measure perhaps to have his  commissioning any who had not participated in the recent victory. It would certainly
have been impolitic in such a one to receive them. The Army of Texas – including most of the officers consists of poor and illiterate men they are extremely jealous of their authority and no kind of harmony existing between them. I had only the choice to enlist
as a private soldier and be stationed at [unintelligible] point perhaps for months. (for we considered the war as being closed) or return to the united states – my pride would not acknowledge a subjection to the orders of such as I saw in authority there, and I departed. Had I been in Texas a month previous to the battle I should have been there now I doubt not as I wished. I came over in company with Gen’l. Houston and staff. The distinguished Mexican prisoners I saw frequently and became well acquainted with several of them Santa Anna with all his villainy is a most noble looking fellow if you imagined him the greatest in Mexico. You might go there and pick him out at a glance from a crowd of ten thousand. I met John [his brother] here two days after my arrival he is in our business he will complete by tomorrow and we go to Natchez
I will write you again shortly.

most affectionately,
Your son R. Ross.

[1] Governor of Mississippi in 1835-1836

 The full letter, in the archives of the Briscoe Center in Austin, Texas:

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Happy Texas Independence Day!

On March 2, we celebrate the birthday (rhetorically) of the greatest place on Earth: Texas.

I first began my lifelong passion with Texas history as a child, listening to Henry Guerra's legendary radio broadcast, "13 Days of the Alamo" on WOAI radio. Fortunately, they can all be heard via YouTube today. Here's the March 2 broadcast.

As I began my professional career, I began writing a yearly email every March 2 to remind my coworkers and friends about Texas Independence Day. Eventually, as I was deployed to Iraq, I turned this into a 4-part blog, starting with the early history of Texas and moving to the revolution itself.

Texas Independence - Part I  Details the Spanish Imperial collapse and the Gutierrez-Magee Expedition 


Texas Independence - Part II Enter Moses and Stephen F. Austin and the early colonization of Texas.


Texas Independence - Part III The Battle of Gonzales to the Battle of Bexar


Part IV: Revolution and Epilogue The Alamo and San Jacinto


Monday, January 16, 2017

The Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition, 1812-1813

On August 8, 1812, an army of approximately 130 men, mostly Americans, crossed the Sabine River into the Spanish province of Texas under a green flag and a lofty name, the Republican Army of the North, to make common cause with the revolutionary movement in New Spain. The Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition, the largest of all American private military incursions in Spanish territory, dramatically wrested parts of Texas from the clutches of Spanish royalists for nearly a year before collapsing amid recriminations and a royalist counteroffensive. 

One year after the army first set foot on Texas soil, a Spanish army under General Joaquín de Arredondo crushed the rebels at the decisive Battle of Medina on August 18, 1813, restoring royalist control in the province for another eight years. The revolt, begun by an American volunteer invasion force and completed by a mixed, but mostly native Mexican army, failed in its objective to republicanize Texas. Nonetheless, the war and aftermath ultimately sealed the fate of Spanish, and eventually Mexican, Texas. If an American demographic conquest was still uncertain before 1812, it became inevitable afterwards. 

My Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition page will feature some of my original research into the expedition that I conducted for my master's thesis, Origins and Motivations of the Gutiérrez-Magee Filibusters. Departing from the well-worn path of chronology of the expedition, I focused specifically on the men who made it up. Historians heretofore have ignored these men on the ground with musket in hand, but a careful analysis of these men tells us much about the inspiration for the expedition that nearly succeeded in freeing Texas from Spanish authority.

Visit the site at: