Anahuac Disturbances

Anahuac, Texas is located a little less than an hour’s drive due east of downtown Houston. Early inhabitants are said to have included Native tribes such as the Caddo and Atakapan followed by European explorers. There were other European settlers living there by 1824 after which Mexican dictator Santa Anna overthrew the constitutional government of Mexico, leading to rising tensions in the area. The conflict and tension in Mexico between those who favored either the federalist or the centralist form of government was an undercurrent of the Texas Revolution and a complication for the Mexican government while trying to hold on to Texas.

There were disturbances at Anahuac in 1832 and 1835 that immediately preceded what are viewed as the major battles of the Texas Revolution. These disturbances between Mexican authorities and Texas residents were over a number of issues including the incarceration of local lawyers William Travis and Patrick Churchill Jack for supporting slave trading (illegal in Mexico), and taxation and customs assessments on commerce. Travis and Jack were arrested while in the process of defending slave holders who were trying to recover fugitive slaves.

Mexican Brigadier General Juan Davis Bradburn (1787-1842), whose birth name was John Davis Bradburn, was directed to establish a military and customs post in the location. Bradburn did so and set about building a more permanent installation. In addition to collection of taxes, the Mexican forces were charged with enforcing a more restrictive 1830 law regarding settlement of Texas and (among numerous other provisions) was designed to restrict Anglo-American settlement in this area. Coincidental with this law, land titles of Anglo-American settlers and squatters that were in limbo at the time were not being processed.

In 1831, the Mexican government appointed a land commissioner named Madero who began issuing titles to residents who had settled prior to 1828, taking a more (and pre-1830) federalist position, whereas Bradburn represented Santa Anna’s more restrictive centralist position. Bradburn had Modero arrested though he was released fairly soon. Also revealing more internal tension between centralist and federalist factions in the Mexican government, before Modero left the area, he organized a city counsel of sorts in nearby location near Anahuac with Liberdad (liberty) in its name.

It should be note that not every Anglo-American settler was opposed to the Mexican government in principle. In the area where Modero established his town there was a family whose head was John M. Smith and who owned a plantation. Smith was one of the individuals who was granted his title to his property. Smith was also said to be the leader of a group known as the so called Tory faction of the disturbances and had become a friend of Bradburn. The name Tory had been given to supporters of the British during the American Revolution, the Tories of Texas supported the Mexican government and locally supported Bradburn.

Bradburn would eventually be removed after the arrests of Travis and Jack and armed conflicts had occurred between the locally organized militia and Mexican troops. After the removal of Bradburn (and later the garrison) from Anahuac, the Tories were treated harshly by some of their fellow settlers.

Another point of irritation occurred in late 1831 when Mexican authorities, along with other activities, began collecting duties from ships in the nearby Brazos River and Galveston Bay leading to some hostilities between the ships and Mexican troops.

In the summer of 1832, the Battle of Velasco also occurred elsewhere, but was related to the Anahuac conflict. Texas militiamen trying to transport an artillery piece to Anahuac to attack the Mexican garrison there attacked Fort Velasco where they clashed with Mexican troops led by Domingo de Ugartechea at the fort, then located near the current city of Surfside Beach. The result was a defeat for the Mexican troops and between one and two dozen dead or injured on each side. Ugartechea was allowed to surrender and return to Mexico. Following the conflict at Velasco, the Mexican garrison was withdrawn from Anahuac and the collection of duties and taxes was reduced for the next few years before enforcement resumed around 1835.

The latter dispute in 1835 seems to center around how taxes were enforced and collected. A merchant and boat captain named Andrew Briscoe asserted that the taxes were not being uniformly assessed and collected. Briscoe set out to test and defy the Mexican authorities by loading one of his boats with ballast and not goods. He was apprehended and arrested along with his business partner DeWitt Clinton Harris (son of John Richardson Harris, founder of Houston, and brother of Mary Jane Harris Briscoe, future wife of Andrew Briscoe). Travis again became involved and was motivated to organize a militia to get them released, which he did. However accounts also say that Stephen F. Austin was being held at the same time in Mexico City, so Travis apologized to the Mexican government so as not to further jeopardize the situation with Austin. Briscoe, Harris and others appear to have been released without significant bloodshed. Austin appears to have been held in one Mexican facility or another from about January 1834 to August 1835. He was finally allowed to leave Mexico in late 1835.

There were other confrontations between Mexican troops and Texans but the next major one is usually considered to be the Battle of Gonzales that began in early October, 1835.

These dates are usually key dates associated with the Texas Revolution:

  • October 2, 1835 – Battle of Gonzales.
  • December 5, 1835 – Siege of Béxar.
  • Feb. 23, 1836 – Battle of the Alamo begins.
  • March 2, 1836 – Convention of 1836.
  • March 6, 1836 – Fall of the Alamo.
  • March 27, 1836 – Goliad Massacre.
  • April 21, 1836 – Battle of San Jacinto.

The subject of bias in accounts of these and other historical events should be considered. For example, some of the most easily found accounts of the Anahuac Disturbances refer to the individuals who opposed the Mexican government only as bandits or insurgents while other accounts might refer to them as patriots. While it is difficult to avoid all bias in recounting these stories, the writer’s bias is something that a reader should be aware of.

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