The Mexican constitution of 1824 gave the people of Texas rights similar to those enjoyed at the time by the citizens of the United States, but every new Mexican government attempted to increase control over Texas. To call attention to this, Texans removed the coat of arms from the center of a Mexican flag, and replaced it with the date of the constitution. It was this banner that flew from the walls of the Alamo.
For 13 days, less that 200 Texans held off an army of more than 5,000 men. The alcalde of San Antonio, an eyewitness to the last day of the battle, recorded: "The deadly fire of Travis' artillery resembled a constant thunder. At the third charge of 830 (Mexican soldiers) only 130 were left alive. The gallantry of the Texans who defended the Alamo was really wondered at by the Mexican army. Even the generals were astonished at how dearly victory was bought."
The Alamo fell on March 6, 1836. In addition to the 182 Texans who died, approximately 1500 of the best Mexican soldiers were killed and another 1500 seriously wounded. The Texans in the Alamo were fighting to protect the rights outlined in the Mexican constitution of 1824 and never knew that Texas had declared its independence 4 days earlier.
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Some leaders and groups--considered radicals at the time--wanted complete and immediate independence from Mexico, and were ready and willing to fight for it. Unlike the organized Mexican army, the Texas forces were formed from a number of such small groups, and Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin were often preoccupied with keeping these diverse factions from starting a war with Mexico prematurely.
One of the radical groups was formed in Lynchburg, Texas, by William Scott. To create a flag for his company of volunteers, Captain Scott commissioned an Italian immigrant to paint the chosen design on a piece of blue silk. The company of 30 men reported to San Felipe, the capital of Austin's colony, and were sent to join Colonel James Fannin's men.
By the end of 1835, sentiment in Texas for a complete break with Mexico was overwhelming. In November, the Mexican navy began regular attacks on the ships sailing to and from Texas, and word was received that Santa Anna was forming an army of thousands to invade Texas.
Public meetings were held in Nacogdoches, Goliad and Brazoria, and at each a resolution was adopted calling for complete independence from Mexico. On December 10th, the Council of the Provisional Government called for an election on the first of February throughout Texas to select delegates who would meet a month later, declaring independence and forming the new government of the Republic of Texas.
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Groups of volunteers were organized throughout America to join the Texans in their fight for liberty. One of the first was a group that left New Orleans by steamboat, sailing up the Mississippi and Red rivers to Natchitoches, Louisiana, and then marched towards San Felipe. As they crossed the Sabine river and entered Texas, a group of appreciative settlers made this flag and presented it to the militia.
At least nineteen of these men from New Orleans died defending the Alamo on March 6th, 1836. Like the divisions and battalions of a large army, several groups of volunteers at the Alamo carried their own banners, although all generally regarded the "1824" flag as the principal flag for Texas at the time. The 1824 flag had been create to call attention to the Mexican constitution of that year, which Santa Anna had revoked. Unlike any of the other historic flags of Texas, the Flag of the New Orleans Grays clearly indentified an American origin, and was therefore special to the Mexican dictator.
This flag was captured and saved by Santa Anna as proof that his army was not fighting against a revolution of Texans, but rather an invasion by American seditionists. Santa Anna sent the flag back to his government in Mexico City, where it has been held since 1836.
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In 1835, the Texan's fight for independence attracted attention throughout the United States. Public meetings were held in many towns, and representatives of the new Texas government were welcomed in cities from New Orleans to New York. Although the official policy of the United States was one of neutrality, hundreds of individuals headed west to respond to the call for help and to seek their fortune in Texas.
In addition, organized groups of volunteers were sent from communities in Kentucky, Ohio, Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama.
For one such group from Macon, Georgia, this flag was made by an 18 year old girl, Joanna Troutman. When the Georgians arrived at Velasco on the Texas coast, the flag was raised. It was one of the most inspirational symbols in the dark months between the defeat at the Alamo and the victory at San Jacinto.
After the Georgia battalion reported at San Felipe, Colonel William A. Ward, in command of the Georgians, led his men to the aid of Colonel Fannin at Goliad. This flag was saluted again on March 8th, 1836, when Fannin's men received word of the official declaration of independence of Texas. In the weeks that followed, virtually the entire Georgia command, the "Red Rovers" of Alabama and the Texans including Fannin, a total of almost 390 men, were taken prisoner and massacred at Goliad after they lost the battles of Refugio and Coleto.
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In 1831 the Mexican government provided the colonists of Gonzales with a six-pound cannon to defend themselves from hostile Indian attacks. In 1835, the Mexican authorities demanded the return of the cannon. When the colonists refused this request, 100 Mexican dragoons were dispatched to retrieve the cannon. The Texians fired upon the Mexican dragoons, which caused the Mexican dragoons to retreat to San Antonio. This skirmish has come to be known as the “Lexington of TEXAS”. Needing a flag to fight under, the community leaders decided on a flag that would proclaim separation as well as defiance. The rising lone star represented the separation from Mexican rule, and the picture of “the old cannon” with the words “COME AND TAKE IT” showed their defiance to the Mexican government. The phrase “COME AND TAKE IT” came about when, one of the Texians responded to the request by the Mexican dragoons to return the cannon, when he pointed to the cannon and said, “There it is-come and take it”.
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This was the banner the Texans carried at one of the greatest turning points in American history. Santa Anna's army of over 6,000 men swept across Texas to Lynch's Ferry, a gathering point for retreating Texas settlers.
Santa Anna led one column onto a narrow peninsula, surrounded by San Jacinto Bay and Buffalo Bayou, and set up camp. The Texas army rushed to the opportunity, marching nearly all night, and at dawn of the next day were on the edge of the grassy plains of San Jacinto.
After brief skirmishes, the Texans advanced at 4 o'clock on the afternoon of April 21st, 1836. With cries of "Remember the Alamo" and "Remember Goliad," they charged into the Mexican camp. The attack was so sudden that the battle was over in less than 20 minutes. Of the original Mexican force of 1500 men, 630 were killed on the spot, 208 were wounded and 730 were captured.
Only 743 Texans were in battle; 6 were killed and another 25 wounded, including Sam Houston. Santa Anna was captured, and the war was over. By early June, the entire Mexican army had crossed the Rio Grande, and Texas was free!
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The first Constitutional Convention met at Washington on the Brazos on March 1st, 1836. Most of the delegates were under 40 years old, and all had been elected for the express purpose of declaring the independence of Texas from Mexico and forming a government for the new republic. No one knew when they all might have to leave to fight the advancing Mexican army.
Flying over the hall was the flag designed and made by Sarah Dodson.
Recognized as the first "Lone Star" flag, she originally created it for her husband Archelaus, a member of the Robinson company of army volunteers formed in September, 1835, at Harrisburg, Texas. After serving at Gonzales, this company marched under the Dodson flag to San Antonio to lay siege to the Alamo.
Like practically all of the Texas volunteers, these men returned to their homes after San Antonio had been taken from the Mexicans, not realizing the strength of the Mexican reinforcements invading Texas. After the Mexicans crushed the remaining forces at the Alamo and massacred the Texans at Goliad, the Robinson company was assigned to protect the retreating civilians. This exodus was known as the "Runaway Scrape."
The "Dodsn Flag" resembled the flag of Revolutionary France, but with longer proportions and the Texan Lone Star in the canton. Stephen F. Austin disapproved of the obvious symbolism and requested the flag not be used.
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The first Constitutional Convention had begun its work by declaring Texas' independence from Mexico, writing a new constitution and electing the first leaders. A committee of five delegates, all signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence, was selected and their choice for a design for a new flag was approved by the entire convention on May 11th, 1836. The "Zavala Flag" was the first Official Flag of the Republic of Texas.
The elegant design was the work of Lorenzo de Zavala, the most accomplished statesman among the delegates. Interestingly, Zavala, a native of Spain, had served as Mexico's Secretary of the Treasury, Minister to Paris and as President of the Constitutent Congress in 1824 before siding with the Texans.
Selecting a flag for the new republic had been on the minds of the delegates and the people of Texas for some time. Four months earlier, before his capture and execution by the Mexicans after the battle of Coleto, Colonel Fannin had written, "Give us a flag to fight under, as unlike theirs as possible. We need one and have nothing [here] to make it of, and hope the Convention will furnish one in time to hoist it in defiance of Santa Anna."
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In December of 1836, the new government of Texas met at Columbia and the First Congress accepted the suggestion of David Burnet, first president of the Republic of Texas, to recognize a new design for the "National Flag" of Texas. Records available to the congress were fragmentary, and little regard was given to the previous Zavala design adopted eight months earlier. The "Burnet Flag" was the second official flag of the Republic of Texas.
On March 3rd, 1837, the Republic of Texas, under this flag, was recognized by the government of the United States of America as a sovereign and independent nation. Later that year, Texas applied for annexation and statehood, but the offer was declined by American President Martin Van Buren in the face of strong opposition led by John Quincy Adams. Massachusetts had sworn to withdraw from the Union if Texas was admitted, since a new southern state would upset the balance of slave and free states. Sam Houston, serving as the second president of the Republic of Texas, withdrew the request for annexation two months later, and Texas remained a free and sovereign nation for nine more years.
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If the Mexicans had controlled the Gulf of Mexico and completely blockaded the Texas coast, it is very unlikely that the move for independence in Texas would have been successful. In November of 1835, the General Council formed the Texas Navy, purchasing the first ships: the Independence, Brutus, Liberty and Invincible.
Evidently, these ships flew both the Alamo flag and a new design created by Charles Hawkins, who was later appointed as the first Senior Captain and as Commodore of the Texas Navy. Hawkins' design was approved by President Burnet in April of 1836, and ratified by the First Congress of the Republic that December. In addition to protecting the Texas coast, the navy also seized Mexican ships and sent their cargoes to the aid of the Texas volunteers.
Open hostilities at sea continued intermittently throughout the years of the republic, and in 1839 the Texans commissioned six fine new ships. With the new fleet, the Texans were able to put pressure on the Mexican government by sinking and capturing their vessels, attacking the coast, and stopping foreign ships headed for Mexico.
The Texas flag was raised briefly over Cozumel, and three Texas ships sailed 70 miles up the Tabasco River to San Juan Bautista, where the astounded citizens paid $25,000 to prevent the destruction of the city. The Texas Navy's victory in 1843 over superior Mexican forces at Campeche is distinguished as the only time sailing ships defeated steam-powered craft in a major sea battle.
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A month after Santa Anna was defeated, the Mexican government repudiated the treaties he signed and refused to recognize the independent sovereignty of Texas. Their threats of an invasion made a strong defense a continuing concern for the Texas army. On one foray in the spring of 1842, San Antonio and Victoria were taken and held for several days by Mexican forces.
Even so the new republic flourished, and in keeping with the rising prominence of Texas, a more distinctive national flag was sought. Meeting in the village of Houston in January of 1839, the Third Congress of the Republic of Texas approved a new design by Charles Stewart, the second man to sign the Declaration of Independence. The "Stewart Flag" was the third official flag of the Republic of Texas
The strong growth continued; France officially recognized Texas in February of 1840 and opened a legation in Austin; England followed in 1842. However, annexation by the United States was still an important issue. It was hotly debated in several countries, including Texas, and was the deciding issue in the American presidential election of 1844. The vast majority of Texans, being Americans by birth, were in favor of the plan, and the issue was settled the next year. On February 19th, 1846, the flag of the Republic of Texas became the state flag of Texas, and three months later the United States declared war on Mexico.
Interestingly, the legislature in 1879 inadvertently repealed the law establishing the state flag, but the legislature adopted a new law in 1933 that legally re-established the flag's design.