Washington-on-the-Brazos in Texas History
Washington-on-the-Brazos in Texas History
By Webb L. Moore, San Marcos, Texas
Washington, Texas, known in history as Washington-on-the-Brazos, is located in Washington county, Texas, and, as its name indicates, is on the Brazos river, near the confluence of that stream and the Navasota river. It is on the highway which connects the two little cities of Navasota and Brenham, and is six miles from the former and twenty miles from, the latter. Today Washington has a population of about one hundred people. As one drives along the two or three quiet streets, it is difficult to imagine that, in surroundings so peaceful, only a little more than a century ago, were enacted scenes that have influenced profoundly, not only the course of
Texas history, but that of the United States and Mexico as well. It is the purpose of this story to set forth in part, at least, the ways in which Washington has contributed so very largely to Texas history.
In 1819 Captain Randall Jones, with twenty one men, sent by General James Long, United, States Army, came to the confluence of the Brazos and Navasota rivers. Here, on the high bluff opposite the junction of the two streams, Captain Jones set his men to building a port, a fort, and boats, which, according to his orders, were to be used in exploring the regions along the course of the Brazos. This work was soon interrupted, however, when a force of Mexicans appeared, on October 15, of the same year, and scattered the small American company and destroyed their buildings.
Two years later Andrew Robinson with his brother in law, John W. Hall,settled near the site of Captain Jones Fort. He built a ferry across the river which served the community until 1880. The following year, 1822, John B. Coles and Amos Gates with his brothers, William and Charles, located about five miles down the river. The next year Samuel Gates joined his sons. About this time the Kuykendall brothers, Abner, Joseph, and Robert, also moved into the community. In 1824 Andrew Robinson received from Stephen Austin and Baron de Bastrop a conveyance to one half league of land including the ferry. In the same year Robinson deeded 640 acres of this land to John Hall and wife. John Hall, who was ambitious to found a city, soon took steps to survey and plat a townsite on a portion of the land he had so recently received from his wife's father. This work was completed some months later, and the new town was named Washington by a doctor Asa Hoxie, in memory of his home town, Washington, Wilkes county, Georgia. Washington took on active growth at once, and soon became the distributing center for the adjacent territory. There was one principal street, Main, on which stood, in 1836, the town's three principal dry goods stores, two saloons, and the Independence Hall. The town boasted two hotels, one operated by H. R. Cartwell and the other owned by Esquire Roberts. In 1836 Washington had a population of about 250.
In 1888 Texas leaders became convinced that the revolution in Mexico, led by General Santa Anna, would destroy the federal constitution of 1824 and establish a centralized form of government. The question of whether Texas should agree to this change became as a matter of supreme interest. Stephen F. Austin, in a speech delivered in Brazoria, declared that the question could be decided by the people of Texas. He recommended the immediate calling of a general consultation of the the people composed of delegates chosen for that purpose. The consultation met November 3rd, declared for the constitution of 1824, and set up a provisional government with Henry Smith as governor. The organization of a regular army was ordered and Sam Houston was chosen commander in chief. General Houston at once established his headquarters at Washington, and the town for the first time became a place of public interest. From here, on December 12th, General Houston issued a ringing call for volunteers to uphold the new state government and protect the rights of Texas against Santa Anna, who was then threatening to invade Texas. Volunteers began to arrive, including two companies from Alabama under Colonel Wyatt, and Washington became a place of considerable military activity. Meanwhile the sentiment in favor of a declaration of absolute independence from Mexico had grown apace among the people. The early days of 1836 found many people, including Austin, Anson Jones, and Houston, with the conviction that their political connection with Mexico could no longer be maintained in justice to themselves. Steps to call a convention were taken. The convention met March 1, 1836, at Washington, On the following day this convention adopted a draft of the declaration of independence which was to make Texas a free and independent nation. The convention also elected General Houston commander in chief of the army to be organized under the new Republic, drew up a constitution, and provided for a provisional government which was to govern Texas until an election could be held. David G. Burnet, colonial empresario, was named provisional president, and Washington became the first capital of the new Republic. But this new government was to remain at Washington only nineteen days. Santa Anna captured San Antonio March 6th, and then moved eastward. The government fled before the invader to Harrisburg, and then to Galveston. During the next few years, immediately following the victory at San Jacinto, the Republic of Texas had no permanent seat of government. Finally, in 1839, Austin was selected as the permanent capital and the government remained there for the next three years. Then, in February, 1842, during the second administration of Houston, the government was in flight again. Texas was being invaded by General Woll of Mexico. The President, seeking greater protection for his government, moved, with his cabinet, to the town of Houston. Congress met here during the summer of that year, but following its adjournment, President Houston located the government again at Washington. From this time until the close of the active life of the Republic, in 1845, Washington remained the seat of government.
Here took place many events of importance. Immediately upon reaching Washington the President dispatched an army, commanded by General Somervell, to the Rio Grande. This expedition resulted in the unfortunate Mier disaster. It was from here, in 1843, that the Snively expedition was sent north of the Red River to intercept and capture a Mexican trading caravan scheduled to pass along the Santa Fe trail. From here Houston and his Secretary of State, Anson Jones, negotiated with the United States looking toward the annexation of Texas to that country. Here in 1843 was held a great Indian council in which the government made treaties with the Caddo, the Waco, the Delaware, and other Indian tribes. Here, April 6th, of the same year, Houston received J. W. Robinson, through whom General Santa Anna made a move for peace with Texas on a basis of her remaining a part of the Republic of Mexico. Then it was from here, the next year, that the Regulator-Moderator War in East Texas was put down with a firm hand. Here, on December 9th, 1844, Anson Jones delivered his inaugural address, the last to be delivered by a president of the Republic of Texas. Then here, some months later, President Jones gave audience to the English and French ministers and carried on negotiations seeking to get Mexico to recognize the independence of Texas. Here the President welcomed the messenger bearing the official announcement that the Congress of the United States had passed a resolution providing for the annexation of Texas. Here, June 16th, 1845, the last Congress of the Republic of Texas met to pass upon the annexation proposal of the United States, and from here President Jones issued the proclamation calling for the convening of a convention of the people of Texas at Austin, July 4th, 1845, to express finally their will concerning annexation. Washington has also contributed largely to the leadership of Texas. The town was represented in the Independence Convention by Jesse Grimes, James G. Swisher, G. W. Barnett, and Benjamin B. Goodrich, the latter being a member of the committee to distribute copies of the Declaration among the colonists. Two of her sons, Zack and Whitefield Brooks, fought with Colonel Fannin at Goliad. Major B. M. Hatfield, "Camelback" Smith, and others of her sitizens valiantly supported General Houston at San Jacinto. In the first Congress of the Republic, meeting in Columbia, October 3, 1836, Washington was represented in the Senate by Jesse Grimes, and in the House by William W. Hill and W. W. Gant. Another of her citizen's, Captain W. P. Rutledge, in 1842, led from Washington a company for the purpose of intercepting General Woll. and turning him back into Mexico. In the convention to consider annexation A. S. Lipscomb, J. Hemphill, and V. R. Iron represented the town of Washington. Of the first Legislature of the State of Texas, meeting February 16, 1846, Jesse Grimes, senator from Washington, was chosen President pro tem. John Hemphill was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Abner S. Lipscomb as Associate Justice. Space will not permit me to dwell upon Josiah J. Crosby, scholar from South Carolina; Judge John Lockhart, th a jurist from Alabama; Richard Fox Brenham, the surgeon and soldier; Dr. John W. Lockhart, the physician and author, and countless others who, as citizens at one time or another of Washington, have left their mark upon the affairs of Texas stamped.
The citizens of Washington early became interested in education. In 1837 a school was organized and taught by Mrs. John Hall, the wife of the first Chief Justice of the Republic. Her work was continued by Judge W. F. Ewing as professor of the school. In 1838 Washington College was chartered and established. This institution, operating for some years, blazed the way for higher education in Texas. The coming of Reverend Z.. N. Morrell to Washington, in 1837, resulted in the organization of what was probably the first missionary Baptist church in Texas. In 1839 was established here, by Rev. A. Buffington, the "Tarantula, " which is said to be the second newspaper published in Texas.
Washington county was organized December 14, 1837, and Washington became the first county seat. It so remained until 1841, when Brenham became the seat of county government. In 1842 the first steamboat to visit the town on the waters of the Brazos, anchored at the foot of Main Street. This boat was the Mustang. Others soon followed and Washington, in the 1850 's, became a thriving trade and distributing center for all Central Texas, with a population of some 1500 or more. The selection of Austin, in 1845, as the permanent seat of our State government, and the failure of Washington to get the location of the Houston and Texas Central Railway within her limits proved a heavy blow to the town. Her decline was immediate an dshe soon ceased to be of either political or commercial importance. Nevertheless, because of her generous contribution of earlier years to the advancement of this fair State, Texans generally desire to keep her memory fresh in their minds. On July 4, 1899, the school children of Washington county erected a monument on the site where the Declaration of Independence was drawn up. During the administration of James E. Ferguson, as Governor of Texas, a large tract of land lying along the south bank of the Brazos river, and including the site of old Independence Hall, was purchased and designated Washington Park. In 1930 Governor Dan Moody and the Forty-first Legislature began the erection of a beautiful auditorium in the park. This building was completed two year slater by Governor Ross Sterling. The old capitol building has been restored, an Independence memorial celebration is held annually on March 2nd, in Washington Park, and Washington-on-the-Brazos lives again in the hearts and minds of Texans.