Monday, January 16, 2017

Independence and the Search for Pensions

The new Mexican republic in 1823 recognized the Republican Army of the North as a legitimate revolutionary force that contributed to the independence of the nation, and independence revived hopes for pensions among veterans of the campaign. In recruiting the Americans, Gutiérrez promised land to all who fought, and now a number of them stepped up to make their claims. One claimant was the estate of Joseph Carr of Mississippi, who was listed in Niles’ Weekly Register as “missing” after the Battle of Medina, but who evidently escaped. His wife submitted a claim in 1825 that included several original documents he had brought back from Texas, which are preserved in the Texas State Archives. One is a note from Gutiérrez dated June 14, 1813 that states:
We the Governor and Junta of the State of Texas in conformity to the proposals by us made to the American Volunteers dated April 13, 1813, and accepted by all the Commanding Officers of Said Volunteers on the 16th of said month do hereby certify that Joseph W. Carr is entitled to one League square of Land to be located on any unappropriated land in this State according to the 1st and 2nd Articles of said proposals.

Along with this note, with the same date, is a document signed by then American commander, Perry, certifying that Carr was owed a total of $426.33, “for the payment of which the State of Texas and the faith of the Mexican Republic stand pledged to the said Volunteer.”[1] It is unlikely that Carr’s estate ever got the $426.33 or the league of land. Although the Mexican government had the land in abundance, it wanted settlers, not estates, occupying Texas lands. Carr’s case is rare, because such documentation was generally lost in the chaos after the Battle of Medina. The archives of the expedition had been abandoned in San Antonio in the flight after the battle, and the only alternative was eyewitness accounts. Even if these could be obtained, pension-seekers had to travel to Mexico to make their claim and navigate the bureaucracy of a brand-new nation, all amid a language barrier. The government had precious little to offer veterans, but promised $40 and a league of land to any who could surmount the barriers and make a claim.
Only one Gutiérrez-Magee veteran is known to have actually succeed in submitting a completed pension claim. George Orr, a Pennsylvanian and one of the original captains in the expedition, fought all the way through, surviving the Battle of Medina, and submitted a claim, but it was denied. Orr nonetheless settled in Atascocita, Texas, where he and fellow expedition veteran Henry Munson served as alcaldes.[2] Other Americans who applied for pensions were Aylett Buckner, Thomas Luckett and Reuben Ross.
Ross, originally from Virginia, was an early company captain in the expedition. When Magee died and Samuel Kemper took command, Ross became second-in-command of the Americans. When the Spanish royal officials were murdered and a disgusted Kemper took a leave of absence to go to the U.S., Ross assumed command. His experience was one of the more colorful of the whole expedition. At the Battle of Rosillo, Colonel Ross fought a “swashbuckling saber duel” with a Spanish colonel named Montura, and after the force captured Béxar, he fell in love with a local woman whose father was a Spanish soldier. As the decisive battle neared, she warned him that the Spanish were planning to incite the locals to rise against the Americans and Ross in particular was to be killed. Already disenchanted in Gutiérrez, he fled the city and abandoned the expedition, leaving Perry in command.[3]
Ross returned to Virginia for a time, then in 1821, settled in Sparta, Tennessee. He had been 30 years old at the time of the expedition, and now, ten years later, he had a family – and debts. On paper, he was wealthy, owning property and slaves, but it was a house of cards. His father, Randolph Ross, sold him 21 tracts of land and 10 slaves, leaving Reuben a $20,000 debt to Randolph, which he was to pay in annual installments of $2,000. Yet the land Randolph Ross had sold to his son was itself under a lien for a loan, as were the slaves, who were mentioned by name in the loan and therefore could not be hidden. Eventually, Randolph Ross’ creditors came calling and put Reuben Ross squarely in their sights. The complex case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Tennessee and was still pending in 1828 when a desperate Ross sought salvation through his claim on the Mexican government.[4]
To make his claim, Ross had to venture to Mexico and argue his case in person, which he did. His preserved letters document the trip, his hopes for a pension and his worries about his wife and family, who he had left behind to face the creditors alone. To a friend in Mexico who he had enlisted to help, he wrote of his object in September 1825: “In the settlement of my accounts by the Junta [of] 1813 the Government was due to me some upwards of $10,000 for cash, merchandise &c. &c. advanced and rendered this connected with my humble services I have though w[oul]d intitle [sic] me to some remote claim at least on the existing government.”[5] Before he left for Mexico, Ross traveled through Philadelphia and there found the same Spanish community that Bullard had embraced thirteen years before. He became close with a Manuel Simón de Escudero, a member of the new Mexican provisional congress, who was in the city on business. He described Escudero to his wife: “This Gentleman was one of the first, with Hidalgo to take up arms in favor of Liberty in the South American Provinces.” Ross reported to his wife that Escudero had decided to take up his case: “Previous to our parting, he gave me a letter,” to the Secretary of State for Internal Relations. Ross continues: “The letter to Belasco is one of the best and warmest that I ever saw, he requests Belasco to make me acquainted with the president and to consider my claims and negotiations with the Government…you will please consider Ross as Escudero, and Escudero as Ross, for Ross is my friend, and you will therefore please furnish him with any and everything that he may wish.”[6]
Ross sailed from New York to Veracruz, and on April 8, 1826, wrote his wife that he was leaving from there into the interior of the country. To his surprise, he was not the only American veteran making the trip. He had encountered a man named “Ofeete,” who is unknown to the histories of the expedition, but whom Ross clearly knew. “This man’s deposition I have taken who has a very retentive memory and has given a naritive [sic] of all the important services rendered by me during the campains [sic] in Texas,” Ross wrote. The second man is not named, but Ross indicated his next stop was a visit to Gutiérrez, who had since returned to Mexico and was now the governor of Tamaulipas. Another expedition member who was seeking a pension at the time was Luckett, who wrote to Ross in Mexico. Luckett was stuck in Washington and apologized that he had missed Ross there when the latter passed through, “as I should have had the pleasure of embracing an old friend & fellow soldier.” Luckett informed Ross that a mutual friend “has disclosed to me your views” on a business venture. “How would you like to associate yourself with me, in trade, with whom you have cooperated in Battle?”[7]
The business venture to which Luckett referred was likely a plan to establish a steamboat line on the Rio Grande, which was referenced in a March 1827 document by H.I. Offeet – the same man Ross had encountered in Mexico – with Reuben’s father and other relatives as shareholders.[8] But that was only one iron in the fire. Ross’ grander plan was to monetize his grant to pay his debts, for he wanted to become an empresario. Certainly aware of the contract recently obtained by a newcomer to Texas Stephen F. Austin, Ross believed that his service to Mexico justified at least as much, if not more than what Austin had received. Prior to leaving, he signed up eight stockholders in Tennessee for his company, and by 1828 he felt confident enough that he would get his contract.  In a letter addressed to “The President & Company of the Ross Association,” he described a visit to Saltillo for “the double purpose of procuring testimony and conferring with the Governor of Coahilla & Texas in relation to a grant for land.” He was then shunted back to Mexico City, had papers lost by officials there, and finally received a positive decision to bring in colonists, with the caveat demanded by the Mexican government that two thirds of the proposed 400 families be Mexicans. Ross then accepted an offer of the government to visit Nacogdoches as a commissioner to treat with the leaders of the Fredonian Rebellion, but it had been suppressed before he arrived. Nonetheless, Ross took advantage of the travel to return home briefly to Nashville, but by January 1828 was back in Mexico, he told his investors, to tie up a few loose ends.[9]
Had he been successful, Ross may have become one of the great empresarios of Texas, but it was not to be. Traveling across the interior of Mexico in the summer of 1828, his party was attacked by robbers and Ross was killed. He left behind his long-suffering wife Frances and two nephews who he had adopted and wrote to as “my dear sons.” They were John and a namesake Reuben Ross. Both later followed their uncle’s path, and in 1836 came to Texas to fight in the revolution. Reuben Ross the younger fought at San Jacinto and John, too late for the revolution, was appointed by Republic of Texas President Sam Houston as an Indian agent.

[1] “Carr (Joseph W) Legal Papers” Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin, Texas.
[2] W. T. Block, A History of Jefferson County, Texas (Nederland, TX.: Nederland Publishing Company, 1976), (accessed Sep. 25, 2016).
[3] Schwartz, 50.
[4] Galt v. Dibrel and others. Nashville, December, 1836 in George S Yerger, ed. Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Tennessee Vol. 10 (Louisville, KY: Fetter Law Book Company, 1903), 111-119.
[5] Reuben Ross to Col. Jas. C. Hays, Sep. 11, 1825. Reuben Ross Family Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
[6] Reuben Ross to Frances Ross, New York, Feb. 5, 1826. Ross Family Papers.
[7] Reuben Ross to Frances Ross, Mexico. April 8, 1826. and Thomas Luckett to Reuben Ross, Washington, March 6, 1826, Ross Family Papers. Luckett is sometimes spelled Lockett in expedition sources, but he signed his name Luckett.
[8] H.I. Offeett to Reuben Ross, Ross Family Papers.
[9] Reuben Ross to the Ross Association, Mexico, January 12, 1828, Ross Family Papers. The Fredonian Rebellion is the only post Gutiérrez-Magee filibuster that had no known veterans of that first filibuster as participants. Indeed, members of the expedition who were in Texas at the time, including Aylett Buckner and Edmund Quirk, were hostile or neutral towards the Fredonians.

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