The Eliza Russell and Little Penn Claims
During its 1837 adventure in the Gulf, the Texas Navy seized two British ships, the Eliza Russell and the Little Penn. The Little Penn was deliberately wrecked after being stripped of everything of value. The Eliza Russell was captured and sent to Galveston as a prize. It was quickly released, as shown in this letter, but was damaged by storms before it could leave Texas.
The owners of the Little Penn filed a claim for 3640 pounds sterling in damages, and the owner of the Eliza Russell sued for 865 pounds. Texas admitted fault in the Eliza Russell case, but protested that it had no money to pay the claim. Texas never admitted responsibility for the Little Penn incident.
The claims soured British-Texan relations for some time to come. Texas finally paid off the Eliza Russell claim in 1843.
The author of this letter, Gail Borden, was a newspaper publisher, a mapmaker and surveyor, and a leader during the Texas Revolution. At this time he was serving as the first collector for the Port of Galveston.
In later years, he continued his interesting involvement in civic affairs, but his lasting fame is as an inventor. In 1853, he developed a process for making condensed milk. His success led to the founding of the Borden Company, famous for its "Elsie the Cow" mascot.
Republic of Texas.
District __ [?] Port of Galveston.
August 29th 1837.
Captain Joseph Russell
Master of British
Schr Eliza Russell.
In pursuance to an order from the Treasury
Department issued to me in conformity with instructions from his
Excellency the President, I inform you that I am ordered to release
the Schr Eliza Russell whereof you are master.
You will please find enclosed the necessary clearance, this
day issued from the office of the Custom house to effect the corres-
The documents relating to your vessel accompany this, for
which you will please receipt me for their delivery.
You will please make out your claims against the Govern-
ment for Stores furnished the prize Crew, to the correctness of which
I will take your affidavit and pay you the amount.
I am authorized to state to you that although the President
has not the power to authorize payment for the detention of the
vessel, the subject will be submitted without delay to the next
congress, and it is believed that the necessary appropriation will
be made by that body to indemnify the parties concerned.
I herewith enclose you a copy of the letter authorizing your
release and which I trust will go far to convince you that his
Excellency the President and the Government over which he has the
Gail Borden to Joseph Russell, August 29, 1837. Texas Navy Papers, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.