Monday, January 16, 2017

The Legacy of the Expedition

Many historians have ventured answers as to why the expedition occurred and how it may or may not have been driven by national leaders or national forces. Yet an investigation of the men who participated shows that they were free agents, westerners who took their fate into their own hands as they always had. In contrast to macro-view histories, only a few historians of the expedition have previously descended to the man-with-a-musket perspective, and only in passing. Richard W. Gronet notes correctly that, although “many of the North Americans joined the force for reasons of land, loot, and adventure, the guiding purpose of its commanders and many in the ranks was the seizure of Texas for the proclaimed Republic of Mexico.”[1] Ed Bradley strikes a different, but also accurate note, saying that “a large number of filibusters were motivated by material concerns,” but also supported a “balance of republican idealism and wished-for material gain.”[2]
These arguments in their own way are valid, but have heretofore lacked a key piece of evidence that can provide the test for the various premises. Were there men in the expedition who placed idealism on a pedestal and sacrificed their fortunes and sacred honor for a foreign revolution? Indeed: Henry Adams Bullard and Aaron Mower gave up their budding careers as a lawyer and a printer and followed a romantic figure, Toledo to the revolution. Did some men pursue monetary gain? Undoubtedly, some did, though certainly not all. Augustus Magee, born and raised in the Boston elite, when faced with disappointment in his career, could have simply resigned and returned home to wealth, yet he turned his back on his past and devoted himself to a desperate venture instead. Did men seek new lands for starting families or for speculation? Certainly they did, as the settlement data proves. Whatever their motivations may have been at the beginning of their journey, many of those who survived were attracted to Texas in later years to live in it.
The latter point is the most important, and is illustrative of the need for further research into the filibuster. The Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition has frequently been treated as a historical flash-in-the pan, unrelated to subsequent Texas history. It is appropriate to re-appraise this view of history towards a more contiguous narrative. Arredondo’s reprisal and its deleterious effect on the Spanish/Mexican population in Texas has long since necessitated a reappraisal on its own. Adding to this imperative is the fact that over a dozen of Stephen F. Austin’s first colonists – and possibly more since so many participants are lost to history – had experience in Texas that predated his by a decade. For these settlers, the sons of other veterans who followed their parents’ paths to Texas, and the thousands of westerners who knew them, colonization under the empresario was the second act in their Texas drama, directly connected to and dependent on the first, which the men of the Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition wrote in the years 1812-1813.

[1] Richard W. Gronet, “United States and the Invasion of Texas, 1810-14,” Americas 25 (January, 1969): 293.
[2] Bradley, 62.

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