Mexican Texas

(Continued from last week)

Filibuster

Noun

An irregular military adventurer, especially one who engages in an unauthorized military expedition into a foreign country to foment or support a revolution.

Philip Nolan 001

Purported to be Philip Nolan but whether this is a true image remains in doubt as it didn’t appear in print until long after Nolan’s execution. Image extracted from the public domain.

The term filibuster derived from the old English word “freebooter,” by which Anglo-Saxons invariably described such men as Sir Henry Morgan and the various other looters of the Spanish Main.  Morgan raided the Caribbean area and plundered Panama with the flimsiest license, but since he served a national purpose, the British turned a blind eye to his activities.  After all, he was only raiding Spanish property and ships.  He wasn’t alone, of course.  There was also Sir Francis Drake, William Dampier, and Woodes Rogers.  Besides, it was a very profitable enterprise.  The freebooters weren’t supposed to raid against their own kind, of course, but it did happen.  As privateers, these men only did what their government lacked the courage to do.

The French had their own group of freebooters who ranged the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.  They called them boucaniers.  In the 17thand early 18thcentury, French and English buccaneers were often allies.  Eventually, the word ‘freebooter’ in the French language became flibustier, and this word worked itself back into the English language as filibuster.  No matter what they were called, they all had the same purpose.

As their maritime assets were a regular target of the English and French freebooters, the Spanish had a different word to describe the filibuster or buccaneer: piratas(pirates) [1].  When the word filibusterodid come into Spanish usage, it primarily referred to Americans who engaged in insurgencies against the Spanish Crown.  The first of these was a man named Philip Nolan [2].

Nolan, an immigrant from Ireland, was an educated man who loved adventure and risk taking.  He was already well-known in Texas in 1785, where he engaged in the illegal and highly dangerous world of smuggling on the Mississippi River.  If the French permitted Anglo settlement and trade, the Governor of Texas, Manuel Muñozdid not.  Nolan was a mustanger … a man who captured wild horses in Texas and sold them to the ever-increasing population of the American south.  It might be successfully that no white man knew Texas better than Philip Nolan.  He was the first English speaking person to make an accurate map.  He was astute, as well.  In making his map, Nolan saw Spain’s weaknesses and he was overcome with the heady scent of empire.  There was something about Texas’ open space that drew Nolan in.

In 1797, Nolan presented the Baron de Carondelet, Governor of Louisiana, with a copy of his Texas map.  With much gratitude, Carondelet offered him a contract to sell horses to Louisiana.  He did this knowing that Nolan’s operations in Texas were illegal —but, as Carondelet and Muñoz were frequently at odds with one another, the legality of Nolan’s contract may not have mattered. More importantly, however, Philip Nolan entered into a secret arrangement with General James Wilkinson, who was the Senior Officer commanding the U. S. Army.  Wilkinson suggested that Nolan gather a force of reliable men and detach Texas from New Spain.  Wilkinson agreed to provide Nolan with material support.  Thus, in October 1800, Nolan returned to Texas with a party of about twenty armed Americans and a handful of personal slaves.  By the appearance of this band, it was just another mustang raid, but there was a new governor of Texas.  Juan Bautista de Elguezábal had a text-book case of phobia toward all Anglo-Americans.  History tells us, however, that Spain’s fear of Anglo encroachment was not at all an unreasonable one and it was becoming somewhat dominant within New Spain’s northern frontier.

Elguezábal was well-aware that Americans were squatting in parts of East Texas.  He issued an arrest order for all Norte Americanos whose conduct was in the least bit suspicious.  Philip Nolan was fully qualified for arrest.  The Spanish claimed to have solid evidence that Nolan planned to foment a revolution and make himself the king of Texas.  Elguezábal ordered that Nolan be “put out of the way” if he ever again returned to the Spanish frontier.

Philip Nolan met an armed Spanish patrol in East Texas but successfully faced them down.  He got as far as the Brazos River, and had already assembled several hundred head of horses, when a company of soldiers under Lieutenant Miguel Francisco Músquiztracked him down and, in the dead of night, quietly surrounded Nolan’s encampment.  A vicious attack occurred at dawn of the next morning, during which Nolan was shot and killed.

Nolan’s second in command, Peter Ellis Bean [3], took charge of the Nolan party, but outnumbered and nearly out of ammunition, Bean surrendered.  Also factoring into his decision, Bean assumed Spanish officials would return his men to the United States.  Instead, the soldiers marched them to Mexico.  What we know of Nolan’s demise comes from Músquiz’ journal: “Nolan’s negroes begged permission to bury their master’s body, which I granted after causing his ears to be cut off in order to send them to the Governor of Texas.”

Deep inside Mexico, Bean and his mean were held captive in several towns pending a royal decision about their eventual fate.  That decision finally arrived in 1807.  It ordered that every fifth man be hanged as a pirate and that the rest of the men be sentenced to ten years’ hard labor.  By this time, all but nine of the captured Americans had died from illness or other reasons.  Ultimately, only one man was hanged: Ephraim Blackburn, and except for Blackburn and Bean, the names of these other men have been lost in time.

Bean was not a model prisoner.  He was unruly, disrespectful of Spanish priests, and attempted escape on several occasions.  After one of these failed attempts his Spanish masters placed him in stocks and left him there for fifteen days.  Bean remained recalcitrant, but despite this, he received parole in Chihuahua, and he went into business as a hat-maker.  After five years of good behavior, the hapless Bean and several others attempted to escape through New Mexico.  They were recaptured and Bean was marched to Acapulco where he remained in prison until 1811.

The Mexican Revolution broke out in 1810.  When Bean learned of this in 1811, he volunteered to fight for the Crown. Spanish authority released Bean almost immediately, but he just as quickly deserted to the rebel cause, finding his way to the revolutionary General José María Teclo Morelos Pérez y Pavón(a Roman Catholic priest who replaced the executed Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla), who was then besieging Acapulco.  Bean soon rose in rank and stature among the rebels, in large part because of his knowledge of munitions.  He established several powder mills and furnaces for casting cannon.  In time, Bean convinced Morelos to send him back to the United States to win sympathy and material aid to the rebel cause.  Now a colonel, Bean was back in Louisiana by 1814. In New Orleans, Bean encountered Jean Lafitte and soon after, they offered their services to Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans.  The valiant conduct of both Lafitte and Bean gained the former a pardon for his piracy, and the latter promises for help for the Mexican insurgency.

There can be no question at this part of the narrative that the Spanish were prescient in their concerns for Anglo meddling in Spanish-Mexican affairs.

BEAN 001Meanwhile, Philip Nolan’s sponsor, General Wilkinson, was engaged in what can only be called mind boggling intrigue.  He wore the uniform of a senior American officer, but most of his efforts were for his own benefit.  Wilkinson may not have been a typical American —but he neither was he unusual in the early 1800s.  The emerging United States was short on professional officers and competent diplomats.

Peter Ellis Bean continued his engagement with Mexico.  He married a lady from a respectable family and fully intended to take her to the United States.  In 1816, however, Bean was nearly captured by royalist forces near Veracruz and he only just managed to escape back to New Orleans.  By mutual consent, his Spanish wife agreed to remain in Mexico.  Back in the United States, Bean quartered himself in the Neutral Ground [4] where he was safe from agents of Spain and the United States.  In the next year, he decided to visit his Tennessee relatives.  In 1818, perhaps thinking that his Spanish wife was dead, he married a woman by the name of Candace Midkiff.  He moved with her to Arkansas in 1820.

With news of Mexican independence, Bean moved with his family to Nacogdoches, settling near the Old San Antonio Road, with every intention of seeking a reward for his revolutionary services.  In 1825, Bean returned to Mexico, where he received a grant of land, received a commission as a colonel in the Mexican Army, and appointed as a government agent to the Cherokee Indians in East Texas.  While in Mexico, he renewed his relationship with Magdalena, but retained his home with Candace in Texas.

Nacogdoches TX 001Back in Texas, Bean was instrumental in defusing the so-called Fredonian Rebellion [5] by keeping the Cherokee neutral.  It is likely that Bean sympathized with the Texas Revolution after 1833, but as an officer of the Mexican army, he took no active part in it.  When the fighting began, he volunteered to place himself under arrest.  Initially, Sam Houston granted Bean parole, but later had him detained.  After Texas independence, Bean continued to reside in Nacogdoches until 1843.  He returned to Veracruz and his first wife. He passed away in 1847, aged 63-years. At the time of his passing, he owned considerable property in East Texas, regarded as a wealthy man, and one well thought of by the people who knew him.

As for what happened next in Mexican Texas, see The Dickinson’s of the Alamo.

Sources:

  1. Fehrenbach, T. R. Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans, 1968, 2000
  2. Jackson, J. Indian Agent: Peter Ellis Bean in Mexican Texas.  College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2005.
  3. Lay, B. The Lives of Ellis P. Bean.  Austin: University of Texas Press, 1960.
  4. The Handbook of Texas online.
  5. Brown, C. H. Agents of Manifest Destiny: The Lives and Times of the Filibusters.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980.

Endnotes:

[1] As one might expect, given the number of depredations foisted upon the Spanish by English and French buccaneers, the word in Hispanic society is revolting.  Antonio López de Santa Anna referred to the Texian rebels as pirates at the time he issued his “no quarter” order at the Battle of the Alamo and at Goliad in 1836.  Traditionally, the Spanish summarily executed pirates whenever they were captured.

[2] Writer Edward Everett Hale named Philip Nolan as the primary character in his book, “Man Without a Country.”  The story was published in The Atlantic Monthlyin December 1863.  Hale’s story was entirely fiction and had no bearing on the actual life of Philip Nolan.

[3] Bean (1783-1846) was born in Tennessee who settled in Natchez (present-day Mississippi) until joining Nolan’s filibuster to Spanish Texas.

[4] A no-man’s land between Louisiana and Texas where by agreement, neither the United States, nor Mexico exercised any control.  The Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 finally resolved the issue of control over the Neutral Ground.  Until then, the area provided sanctuary for murderers, rapists, thieves, and brawlers.

[5] The first attempt by Anglo settlers to settle in Texas (1826-1827) and secede from Mexico.  The settlers were led by Haden Edwards, who declared the Republic of Fredonia just outside Nacogdoches.  The rebellion was short lived, resulting in the cancellation of Edwards empresarial contract.  While nearby Cherokee initially agreed to support the new republic, Bean and Stephen F. Austin convinced leading citizens to repudiate the rebellion.  In 1827, a force of one-hundred Mexican soldiers and 275 militia from the Austin colony marched into Nacogdoches and restored Mexican control over this area. The incident, while short lived, convinced Mexico to increase its military footprint in the northern frontier.

About Mustang

US Marine (Retired), historian, writer.
This entry was posted in History. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mexican Texas

  1. Kid says:

    In stocks for 15 days… Sounds uncomfortable.

    Liked by 1 person

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