Captain John Austin

Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea.

TEXANS TAKE FORT VELASCO

HISTORY

FLNG

Brazoria County Parks Program Manager and local historian, James Glover, adds his personal take on events in this story.

James Glover describes the attack on the Correo

 

When Austin returns from his Mexico trip via New Orleans, he travels by ship to Velasco. He arrives on the San Felipe, which is a schooner owned by McKinney and Williams. They're carrying lumber to Velasco and several barrels of gunpowder and a bunch of muskets that are being illegally imported — a full month before Gonzales! They're hailed by the Mexican ship Correo blockading the port. The San Felipe lands at Quintana, puts Austin off so that he couldn't be hurt and picks up riflemen. There are also some cannons on the ship, too, so if they can get within 400 yards of the Correo, they'll start shooting at them.

 

They head out to sea, and chase the Correo. Canfield in his book says that Austin watches it sail off, which means he probably went up on top of the location of the gun mounts in the county park and looked from there to watch the ship. I used to tell people when they were renting cabins at the Quintana County Park, "Just think. Where you're sleeping tonight is a place that Austin probably walked past on the night of September the 2nd, 1835, as he was watching these ships in the distance, hoping to catch the flashes of gunfire."

When the winds die, the ships are becalmed. They can't move.  McKinney and Williams send out the steamboat Laura.  It's a sidewheel steamer, very small little thing. They throw a line to it from the San Felipe, and tow it across the Correo's bow so that all of the guns on the San Felipe are brought to bear on the Correo, and the Correo can't return fire because the bow guns don't point directly forward. They fire one broad shot, kill one man outright, mortally wound another. They even unseat one of the Correo's cannons. Considering these cannons weighed about 3,000 pounds, that's a lot of force to knock that off its carriage. They did that with canister, grapeshot and cannon balls. The Mexicans finally surrender the ship, and the Texans take it to New Orleans and sell it as a war prize.

Texas at War with Mexico

The Battle of Velasco

Stephen F. Austin's conversion from ardent supporter of cooperation with Mexican administration of the Texas colonies to active revolutionary was accelerated by the Mexican Law of April 6, 1830. Its intent was to stop further colonization by blocking settlers from the United States. Mexico also enacted a series of onerous trade tariffs. A customs office was set up in Anahuac, some 50 miles from Brazoria, the seat of Austin’s colonies. Customs Director George Fisher required that every shipment leaving Brazoria or Velasco first obtain papers of clearance from Anahuac, requiring a 100-mile overland ride. After two colonist shippers ignored the edict, several Texans in Anahuac were taken prisoner, including William B. Travis of Alamo fame. A force of 160 angry colonists organized in Brazoria. When negotiations failed, the men under the command of Captain John Austin (no relation to Stephen) boarded the schooner Brazoria to travel to Anahuac and free the prisoners. But first, they needed to travel past Fort Velasco, a poorly constructed Mexican compound of drift logs located at the mouth of the Brazos, now modern-day Surfside. The fort contained a small Mexican garrison and single nine-pound swivel cannon under the command of Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea.

 

At midnight, on June 25th, 1832, Captain Austin began the attack on Fort Velasco, a two-pronged battle by land and sea, the latter supported by the Brazoria’s twin cannons. By 11:00 a.m. that morning, the white flag was raised above the fort’s splintered walls. News of the fall of Fort Velasco made its way to Anahuac and precipitated the release of the prisoners. However, the outcome of this skirmish did not immediately lead to war, as both sides were not wanting nor ready for conflict.

 

Texans are unconquerable as they would by their humanity gain as many hearts as they would by
their valor.”
– Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea.

 

Colonel Ugartechea was treated with such chivalry by the Texans that upon his return to Mexico he said, “Texans are unconquerable as they would by their humanity gain as many hearts as they would by their valor.”

 

All during the early uprising, Stephen F. Austin had been away from Texas for several months in Saltillo attending a session of the Mexican legislature. Upon his return, he met General José Antonio Mexía, who had been sent to Texas to investigate the Velasco incident.

 

James Glover tells of Austin's meeting with Mexía

 

Austin meets with Mexía and kind of smooths things over. He takes a boat ride from Tampico with him and says, "Look, this is what's going on, and I'm sure everything will be fine." Well, Mexía jumps off the boat there at Velasco and talks to other people that let him know what was going on. He then sails up to Brazoria, and the town turns out with these big banners that say, "Viva Santa Anna; we're on your side, guys. This action we took was because the garrison was on Bustamante's (Santa Anna's political foe) side."  Of course, Mexía is not an idiot. He says, "All right. I understand that this is a pretty good deal, guys, but I can see through it. Keep your noses clean because we will be coming back." So, there were no repercussions for the Battle of Velasco... as yet. That came three years later when the revolution started.

 

Austin and the Texas Revolution

The nagging issues of governance would not be settled easily between the colonists and Mexican government. Austin traveled to Mexico again for negotiations in July of 1833, where he was successful in repealing the hated Law of April 6, 1830, and achieved important reforms in Texas local government. However, Santa Anna had thrown out the Constitution of 1824 and established a virtual dictatorship. He also rolled back the recently negotiated state government rules for Texas. On Austin's return trip, he was arrested at Saltillo for suspicion of inciting insurrection and taken back to Mexico City. He would sit in jail there for 18 months until December 1834. When he was finally released, he returned to Texas via New Orleans a changed man.

Austin's front-line military involvement in the Texas Revolution included the battle of Gonzales in October of 1835 but was relatively short. He was elected to command the volunteers gathered at Gonzales and he led them against the Mexican army at San Antonio. However, in November that year, the provisional government elected him to serve as commissioner to the United States to solicit loans, volunteers and munitions, fit out warships and seek United States’ recognition of Texas's independence. Austin would spend all his war years in this capacity. After the war ended on April 21, 1836, he offered himself for the presidency of the new republic but was defeated in the election of September 1836. Instead, he served as Secretary of State.

Texas Revolution in the Brazoria Area

Although the Brazoria area would escape most of the military action during the revolution, it was the site of a naval battle. Texas rebels boarded the American ship San Felipe and steamship Laura on September 1, 1835, and then proceeded to attack the Mexican treasury vessel Correo de Mexico off Quintana Island.

 

The area would again figure prominently at the war's commencement. After the Battle of San Jacinto, the victorious Texas army and new Republic of Texas President David Burnet were at odds about what to do with Mexican General Santa Anna. Some were ready to execute the architect of the massacre at the Alamo, while others counseled mercy. In the end Santa Anna was taken from the battlefield to Velasco on the steamship Laura, the one that had fought bravely off the coast of Quintana. He, along with Ramon Martinez Caro, his secretary, and Colonels Juan Nepomuceno Almonte and Gabriel Nunez Ortega, were briefly housed in a building there, which they described as "the second story of a house whose first floor was a restaurant, where we were never in greater danger, nor were we ever exposed to so many vexations and insults." Eventually the general and his aides spent several months, from July until November 1836, as guests/prisoners at the Orozimbo Plantation near Columbia while a peace treaty with Mexico was being drafted.

 The Santa Anna Oak, where it is claimed that Santa Anna was chained during his imprisonment at Orozimbo Plantation.

During his incarceration, there were several assassination attempts made on Santa Anna's life and, on his part, he attempted to escape several times. Finally, the Treaty of Velasco was signed, and Santa Anna was returned unharmed to Mexico. Texas was now an independent republic.

 

Original drawing by Peter Krag  of design for Republic of Texas flag and seal, approved  in 1839

 

 

Death of Stephen F. Austin

Austin was not able to serve out his full term as Secretary of State. On December 27, 1836, at the age of forty-three, he died. Ironically, for the man who had found so much land for so many in Texas, he passed without establishing a traditional homestead. His final residence was a shared space at his sister's home, Peach Point Plantation. Located between Jones Creek and the Brazos River and ten miles south of Brazoria, the plantation was settled in December 1832 and was the property of James Franklin Perry and his wife, Emily Austin Bryan Perry. Two rooms built at the east end of the main house were set aside for Austin's use as a bedroom and office. After his death, his body was brought down the Brazos River aboard the steamboat Yellowstone for burial in the family cemetery in Jones Creek. In 1910, his remains were moved to the State Cemetery in Austin.

 

 

ARCHIVE

FREEPORT LNG REPORT FROM QUINTANA ISLAND - SUMMER 2016