Change and turmoil were constant throughout the ten-year existence of the Republic. Another Congress convened on October 3, 1836, at Columbia (present-day West Columbia) and elected its first official president, Sam Houston. A national flag had been introduced at the first Congress in March. It had an azure background with a large central golden star. The Lone Star flag as we know it today was not adopted until January of 1839.
Upon declaring independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836, Texas announced that its lands were now the Republic of Texas, an independent and sovereign nation. The 58 Texas delegates who assembled at Washington-on-the-Brazos elected an interim president, David G. Burnett, while conflict with Mexico still raged. Dark days followed the Congress meeting. The Alamo fell four days later. General Sam Houston began a long retreat from the Mexican army. Battle after battle was lost by the Texians, including the massacre of James Fannin and nearly 400 troops on March 27. When, the following month, Houston located Santa Anna's army along the banks of the San Jacinto River, camped and unaware of the Texian troops, he couldn't believe his luck. In a surprise attack on April 21st, in a furious 18 minutes, Houston and his men dramatically changed history.
"The flag that flew over the Republic in West Columbia, and in Houston as well, was the blue flag with a star on it. If you read the accounts, that was the flag they lowered in Austin when Texas ceased to be a republic and became a state. Although the other flag had been adopted—the one we use today and adopted in '39—that's the one they lowered when the republic was no more. I would imagine one reason was that the blue one was easier to make.
"McKinney and Williams were there (in Quintana) from at least 1831, probably before that. I'm pretty sure that the Seaburn House in Quintana Park was actually built by Thomas McKinney as one of the ventures. In Mary Austin Holley's first journal, they already had all their buildings in place, including a cotton press. By '32, they had a big warehouse and several out buildings and were working on their shipbuilding shipways. Interestingly, the McKinney and Williams company flag became the official flag of the Texas Navy in '37."
History rarely advances in a straight line. In the aftermath of the Battle of San Jacinto, General Santa Anna was taken prisoner and transported to Velasco (present-day Surfside) where Sam Houston carried out negotiations with him to bring an official end to the conflict. Two treaties were signed, stipulating that all Mexican troops would withdraw south of the Rio Grande; Texian private property would be restored and respected; and all prisoners of war would be released unharmed. Santa Anna also promised to persuade Mexican Congress to acknowledge the Republic of Texas and recognize the Rio Grande as the border between the two countries.
In reality, the independence of Texas, its borders and even its later annexation by the U.S. were not formally recognized by Mexico until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (February 2, 1848), which ended the Mexican-American War.
Many of the conflicts with Mexico, before and after independence, were battles fought along the Gulf Coast. Texas revolutionary forces had commanded a small navy that fought Mexican ships carrying military provisions and reinforcements. For much of the revolution, their home port was Quintana, where shipbuilder and merchant McKinney, Williams and Company was located. After the victory at San Jacinto, the Independence would carry Texas commissioners to New Orleans to begin negotiations for U.S. recognition. In April 1837, the Independence returned from New Orleans and encountered two Mexican blockaders within view of Velasco. After a six-hour battle, the Independence was forced to surrender and taken as a prize.
Against President Houston’s wishes, Secretary of War S. Rhoads Fisher and his commodore, Henry L. Thompson, left Texas in June 1837 with the Invincible and the Brutus, determined to do something about the Mexican blockade. The ships bombarded the Yucatán town of Sisal, claimed possession of several Mexican islands including Cozumel and captured the British merchantman Eliza Russell. Upon returning to Galveston, the ships did battle with two Mexican brigs. Both Texas ships, however, ran aground in Galveston Harbor and were wrecked by storms, thus ending the first Texas Navy.
"The neat thing is that you have five wooden sailing ships and one steamboat called the Zavalla in the Texas Navy. And they're fighting the Mexican Navy. The Mexicans had purchased from England two brand-new steamships that are ironclads. And they have huge cannons on them that have a range of seven miles for a 68-pound cannon ball. The biggest gun on a Texas Navy ship was only 18 pounds.
"At one point during their battles, the flagship of the Texas Navy was shot all the way through with one of the 68-pounders. They pulled their sails in, checked their damages, stuffed wet canvass over it, tied ropes across it and went right back into battle. They fought for two days against those Mexican steamboats, with wooden sailing ships... and beat them!"
The Texas Congress authorized the spending of $280,000 and made plans to borrow $5,000,000 more to buy new ships while Mexico's blockade of Texas continued. From this vote, a remarkable series of battles—both military and political—commenced and raged for the rest of the Republic's history. President Houston was never comfortable with a standing professional army and navy. It also aggravated him that the second Texas Navy was a pet project of President Mirabeau B. Lamar, his political archenemy. Houston was a passionate supporter of annexation of Texas by the U.S. Some historians believe that he was playing a game of chicken, deliberately placing Texas in jeopardy on the high seas so that the U.S. public would demand intervention and annexation to save Texas.
Thus began a tortured drama. President Lamar made Edwin W. Moore the commodore of the second Texas Navy. On September 18, 1841, Lamar agreed to participate in Yucatán's rebellion against Mexico and sent Moore and the navy to protect the Yucatán coast. Yucatán would pay Texas $8,000 a month for the services of three ships to defend its coast against Mexican raiding, and the two republics would split the proceeds from any prizes seized. On December 13, 1841, Houston was sworn in as president (for his second term), and he issued an order recalling the ships. But Moore ignored the orders. On the morning of April 30, 1843, the Austin and the Wharton engaged six Mexican vessels off the coast of Lerma.
The Steamship Zavala
Moore wrote that despite his naval successes, "I expect 'Old Sam' will hang me." And true to form, on May 6 Houston issued a public proclamation denouncing Moore for mutiny, treason and piracy. Moore was suspended from duty and ordered to return to Texas immediately for court-martial. This back and forth battle finally ended on February 19, 1846, when Texas and the U.S. agreed to annex the Republic lands and make them the 28th state of the Union. The Texas Navy was transferred to the United States Navy, which promptly sold all the vessels except the Austin. The other vessels of the Texas Navy had already been abandoned in Galveston harbor, lost at sea or wrecked by storm. The final blow to this legendary group of sailors came when the United States Navy refused to accept the Texas naval officers into their crews and canceled their commissions.