An Explanation of the
Battle of Fort Velasco
It has come to my attention that many of our friends do not know what the Battle of Velasco was about; several, much to my surprise, had never heard of it. So, I have established a brief explanation of the events and their context in Texas history.
In 1828, Mexican General Meir y Teran headed a Border Commission expedition across Texas to verify the northeastern border between Mexico and the United States of the north. He noted a preponderance of wealthy, autocratic anglos and realized that Mexico would soon lose her hold on this very valuable province. As a result, and in part to head off the anticipated separation, Teran made several suggestions to the Mexican Legislature which were later incorporated into the Law of April 6, 1830.
In 1830, the Mexican Legislature enacted the Law of April 6. This law prohibited slavery throughout Mexico (including Texas), established customs houses and garrisons at key entry points to Texas, halted anglo immigration from the United States of the north, terminated unfulfilled empressario contracts, and established tariffs.
Reaction to the Law of April 6, 1830, among anglo settlers in Texas was furious. Some colonists were invigorated in their call for separate statehood for Texas (as opposed to the state of Texas and Coahuilla), while others clamoured for revolution and an independent Texas republic. Most colonists did not realize that Austin’s and McGloin’s colonies were relatively unaffected by the law since their contacts were completed and legal land titles were only a matter of paperwork away. The establishment of customs houses created a great deal of political strife, due mainly to poor choices in customs officers, and made it a bit more difficult to do business in some instances. The establishment of garrisons and building of fortifications caused an uproar, especially when colonists learned garrisons were to include inmates from Mexican prisons (this did materialize and did cause some problems, but only in a very small percentage of the overall garrison force in Texas).
In June of 1832, three illegal aliens — from the United States of the north – were arrested by Col. Juan Bradburn, in charge of the garrison at Anahuac on Galveston Bay. When it finally came to charges, they were accused of illegally being in Mexico and of practicing law in Mexico without benefit of a license. When civil authorities attempted to intervene, Bradburn declared them illegal under the Law of April 6, and held his prisoners for military trial. Revolutionary activists then took over the action and minor skirmishes ensued. A stalemate was reached when Bradburn withdrew into an unfinished brick fortification. Realizing they could not take the Mexican position without artillery, the Texians under William McAlpin Robertson sent to Brazoria for cannon. At about the same time, Samuel Williams, Austin’s secretary in San Filipe, dispatched Texian militia to Anahuac in support of Bradburn (they did not arrive until the situation was resolved). At Brazoria, colonists organized a militia, commandeered a schooner and loaded it with cannon, and headed down the Brazos River to Velasco and Anahuac. Col. Domingo Ugartechea, in command of the garrison at Velasco, refused passage since the colonists intended to attack the Mexican post at Anahuac. The Texians reorganized into companies under John Austin and Henry Smith, fortified the schooner, and made plans to attack Fort Velasco. The plan was for Austin’s company to attack from the north, while Smith circled between the fort and the shoreline and attack from the driftwood piles; the schooner was to drift downriver into cannon range and bombard the fort. About midnight, before everyone was in position, a colonist under Austin had the misfortune of having his gun discharge and became the first casualty of the action. Ugartechea fired 109 of 113 rounds for his main cannon before surrendering due to a lack of ammunition and no hope of reenforcements; the Texians were receiving both supplies and additional men all the while. Ugartechea surrendered with the Honours of War – his men retained their assigned arms and minimal ammunition – and was removed with his garrison across the river to Quintana, where they were to await transport to Matamoros. Hearing the news of the Velasco defeat, Bradburn knows he cannot hold out; he awaits the arrival of Col. Jose de las Piedras from Nacodoches to turn over his command and flee for the Sabine. With Velasco and Anahuac cleared of their garrisons, and Piedras soon recalled to Mexico, Texas was left with virtually no official Mexican presence.
Several months after the battle, when Mexican authorities visited Velasco to inquire into the matter, the colonists declared they had acted in support of Santa Anna, then campaigning in central Mexico against President Bustamente. No one was fooled, but it was enough to satisfy the Mexican government – until the problem of anglo predominance could be dealt with. Many colonists were dismayed at the lack of support from the United States; with that support, they could have pitched their lots for independence.
During the conflict, S.F. Austin was in Mexico City, lobbying for repeal of the more odious provisions of the Law of April 6; covertly, he was wrangling for separate statehood for Texas. Three years later, he would lead another militia into Bexar at the start what would become the revolution of 1836.