The Texas Navy Fortune Favors the Brave - The Story of the Texas Navy

Introduction | San Felipe: Opening Shots | Privateers | The First Navy | War with Mexico

After San Jacinto | The Second Navy | The Tabasco Incident | The Yucatán Alliance | Mutiny! | Blood Feud |

Back to Yucatán | The Trial of  Edwin Moore | Epilogue | Resources & Finding Aids | Bibliography

Blood Feud

In the spring of 1842, while Moore was in New Orleans attending to the repairs of his ships, he received orders to return to the Gulf. In May, he met with Sam Houston and Secretary of War Hockley in Galveston. The naval station at Galveston was in a shambles. No fence had been built around it, and cattle and horses wandered in and out at will. The powder magazine was defective, resulting in the deterioration of the supply of gunpowder, and sailors had looted the blacksmith shop of most of its tools. A number of boats had run aground, and the area was littered with the remains of wrecked and rotting ships.

In this atmosphere, Moore learned that President Houston did not plan to release $20,000 in discretionary money that Congress had appropriated for the Texas Navy. Publicly, Houston was calling for volunteers to avenge the Santa Fe disaster and sacking of San Antonio by Mexican forces. But privately, it seemed impossible to figure out what the president really wanted. He had rescinded the blockade order just nineteen days after sending it to Moore; he told Moore he wanted him to lead an invasion of Mexico at Tampico, then failed to call Congress into session in time to approve it.

Edwin W. Moore to the War Department, July 1842
Houston orders a blockade of the Gulf Mexico, July 1842

Edwin W. Moore to the War Department, December 1842
"Not one dollar": Moore asks for more funding,
December 1842

George W. Hill to Frederick Dawson, January 1843
On the secret sale of the Navy, January 1843

By this time, Moore and his officers had been serving for nearly two years without pay or commissions, and many seamen had deserted for lack of pay. Moore had come to despise Houston. In July 1842, he accused Houston to his face of "humbug" and considered resigning "in disgust." However, he later wrote that he "still hoped to redeem the enterprise from failure, which was so important to the salvation of my country." To prepare for the Tampico expedition, Moore used his own credit to equip and provision the Austin, San Bernard, San Antonio, and Wharton, and went into partnership to buy a small steamer, the Merchant, which he and his partner lent to the Navy free of charge. Moore would rely on the hope of prize money and further help from Yucatán as a source of funding for the navy.

Before Moore could complete the repairs, the San Bernard and Archer were wrecked in a storm in the Gulf, the San Antonio was lost on a mission to Yucatán to try to establish contact with the rebel government, and the Merchant sank. In the meantime, a Mexican force had once again sacked San Antonio. Great Britain made another offer to broker a peaceful settlement to end the Texas-Mexico conflict. A love of peace was not the British motive; Britain had constructed the two new Mexican steamships, the Moctezuma and the Guadaloupe, and the ships were manned by British sailors and commanded by British officers. Rather, the British were interested in dominating the region's trade and preventing Texas from joining the United States and extending U.S. influence into Central America. Houston, however, accepted the British offer. He was playing his own diplomatic game, playing the British off the United States in hopes that American fears of British influence would lead to the annexation deal Houston longed for.

Back in New Orleans with the rest of the fleet, Moore received confusing orders. He was to leave at once and begin to prey upon Mexican warships in order to press Mexico to the bargaining table. At the same time, he was told that if he could not find the funding to make the fleet seaworthy, he should bring the vessels back to Galveston. At this point, Moore lacked even the funds to complete the repairs and raise a crew to take the vessels to Galveston or anyplace else.

Moore still had hopes, as one visitor to the San Jacinto reported early in 1843, that he would "go to sea, take the Moctezuma and the Guadaloupe, and whip the Mexicans all around!" His friends back in Texas warned him that he was running out of time. Sam Houston had appointed a commission to try to sell the Texas Navy, and delivered a secret message to Congress denouncing Moore and accusing him of malfeasance with funds authorized by Congress to outfit the Navy.

Detail from Republic of Texas currency

Detail from Republic of Texas currency (1840 $10 serial)

Prints and Photographs Collection,
Texas State Library and Archives Commission. #1989/84-12.

Moore, who had accrued $35,000 in personal debt trying to keep the Navy afloat, was outraged but still wanted to act. He dispatched a pilot-boat, the schooner Two Sons, to Yucatán in another attempt to find aid there. This time, the message got through. The Yucatecans were interested and sent back Colonel Martin F. Pereza to conclude an agreement similar to the one they had with President Lamar two years earlier. For $8000 a month, Moore and the Texas Navy would break the Mexican blockade of Yucatán and continue to patrol Yucatecan waters until Mexican forces left the area.

With his funding crisis solved for the moment, Moore made plans to sail for Yucatán in February 1843. Stores and food were quickly loaded on to the ships, and Moore recruited a rough bunch of men—some experienced sailors, others from New Orleans jails and workhouses—to bring the manpower up to acceptable numbers. But before he could get underway, two of Houston's commissioners, Colonel James Morgan and William Bryan, arrived with their orders to take control of the navy away from Moore and sell the ships.

Moore passionately defied the commissioners, telling them, "You don't get them. You shan't have them." He reminded the commissioners that he still had sealed orders for his sea voyage and would be neglectful of his duty if he failed to go to sea and carry them out. He showed the commissioners that the ships were in good repair and ready for action. He told them that he was under an obligation to Yucatán to render the assistance he had promised and that the men would doubtless riot and burn the ships if told that the mission was off and they would not receive the pay and prize money they were counting on. He then offered a bargain to the commissioners; he would accept their authority, if they would allow him to go first to Galveston and answer Houston's charges in person.

Apparently, he was persuasive. William Bryan decided to go back to Texas for further instructions. As for James Morgan, he came around to Moore's point of view, soon writing that the ships were in "apple pie order" and the crews "bully." On April 15, 1843, Moore and Morgan left New Orleans with the Austin and the Wharton.

What Went Wrong?

Sam Houston, so often the hero of Texas history, appears something of a villain in the story of the Texas Navy. Why did Houston dislike the Navy and want to abolish it?

James Morgan to Sam Houston, April 1843
Commissioner James Morgan reports to Sam Houston, April 1843

One of Houston's objections to the navy stemmed from his personal philosophy about military service. Many early Americans, including Houston, were against the idea of a standing army of professional soldiers. Defense should instead consist of citizen militias made up of ordinary people who enlisted for a short period of time and then returned to their homes. Houston wanted to apply this philosophy to the navy. Rather than maintain a standing navy, Houston foresaw citizen-manned forts or shore batteries which would repel any attempts at a sea-borne invasion, with ships that could be manned by volunteers. Although they seem impractical today, Houston's ideas were shared by a great many Americans at the time.

Another reason for Houston's dislike of the Navy was political. The second Texas Navy was a pet project of President Mirabeau B. Lamar, Houston's political arch-enemy. It was only natural that Houston would oppose anything so important to Lamar.

However, it was Houston's dream of Texas annexation that played the key role in the crisis that wrecked the Texas Navy. In the spring of 1842, a great many Texans thought that "Old Sam Jacinto" had gone insane. In addition to starving the Navy of funds, he also stopped the Texas army from pursuing the raiders who had sacked San Antonio. Houston also made no move to replenish the army's weapon supply, badly depleted by the Santa Fe fiasco. But there was a method to Houston's madness. Public opinion in the United States was strongly in favor of Texas annexation, but Northern politicians in Congress had blocked consideration of Texas joining the United States. Many historians believe that Houston was playing a dangerous game of chicken, deliberately placing Texas in jeopardy so that the United States public would demand intervention to save Texas, thus putting Texas on the road to annexation.

By pitting Britain and the United States against each other in secret diplomacy, even as Mexico prepared to launch a major invasion of Texas, Houston was about to get the crisis he needed to provoke the United States into making a move.

Then Commodore Moore sailed for Mexico and fought the Mexican fleet to a standstill. Texas independence was saved, and Houston's hopes for annexation were ruined.

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Page last modified: June 24, 2019