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Introduction to 1835 James Cramp letters

Module by: David Messmer. E-mail the author

The Tampico expedition of 1835 was an episode of the Texas Revolution whose success “would almost certainly have changed the course of the war” (Barker 169) 1. It came about following Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s rise to power in Mexico, and the resulting revolutions that arose to resist his dictatorship. In February of 1833 Santa Anna and Velentin Gomez Farías were elected president and vice-president of Mexico, respectively. Santa Anna, however, retired his position for most of the first year of his term, allowing Farías to govern in his place. On April 24th, 1834, Santa Anna reclaimed his executive position, and, within a month, had dissolved the national congress, made himself dictator, and established a centralized government. This, in turn, led to insurrections by federalists throughout Mexico, while the provinces of Zacatecas, Coahuila, and Texas refused to accept the new government. Santa Anna dealt with Zacatecas quickly and harshly, then turned his attention towards Texas (Barker 170).

The success of the Santa Anna’s centralist government at subduing the Zacatecas forced many liberals to seek refuge in New Orleans, where Texas’s insurrections against Santa Anna were finding ample support. George Fisher and José Antonio Mexia were two such refugees and they were “determined to organize and lead […] an expedition in a final effort to restore the federal system” (Barker 170). Though the United States’ position of neutrality would not allow for direct intervention on behalf of Texas, Fisher was able to raise enough money to send two companies of soldiers to Texas and to fund the ill-fated Tampico expedition.

The city of Tampico was Mexico’s second most important port city (Vera Cruz being the most important) and provided a potential staging ground for military operations against Mexico (Coffey) 2. Furthermore, Fisher and Mexia hoped an attack on Tampico would result in “stirring up in the eastern States an insurrection which would prevent Santa Anna from sending troops to Texas” (Barker 171). Mexia communicated with liberals in Tampico and the plan was for them to time an insurrection with the sudden arrival of Mexia and his one-hundred and fifty soldiers, which they believed would lead to an easy victory and the claiming of the port. He set off on November 6th in the schooner “Mary Jane,” planning to arrive on November 14th and take Tampico by surprise.

However, a sequence of unforeseen events doomed the expedition to failure. First, word of the insurrection leaked to authorities in Tampico, forcing a premature uprising on November 13th. The timing could not have been worse as a new company of the battalion of Tuxpan had recently arrived and the insurrection was promptly defeated. Meanwhile, Mexia’s ship ran aground and by the time his troops had waded ashore and dried out their weapons the element of surprise was lost. On November 15th, his one-hundred and fifty soldiers, as well as thirty-five to fifty Mexicans who had joined the troop, finally attacked Tampico, where they were soundly defeated. Most of the company retreated and, on November 28th, fled to the mouth of Brazos (Barker).

Thirty-one of Mexia’s soldiers, though, did not escape and were taken prisoner. Three of these died of battle wounds and the remaining twenty-eight were executed on December 14th, 1835 in an attempt to send a clear message that insurrections against the centralist government would not be tolerated.

There is, however, an element of controversy surrounding these prisoners. The prisoners claimed that most of the one-hundred and fifty soldiers aboard the “Mary Jane” were tricked into fighting in Tampico. They asserted that they were told that they were being taken to Texas and that their participation in the war once they arrived was optional. The expedition to Tampico, according to the prisoners, was a complete deception and they only participated in the attack because Mexia forced them to do so. In the letters featured here, James Cramp, who was one of the prisoners who was executed, outlines the prisoners’ claims in a letter that all twenty-eight prisoners signed as well as in a personal letter to his brother. While the claims of these letters are probably highly exaggerated (as Barker points out, “the hundred hoodwinked and indignant men could have seized the ship and returned to New Orleans, or, at least, could have refused to fight after going ashore,” and it is unlikely that Mexia would have allowed an important military operation to rest in the hands of a group of unprepared soldiers only fighting due to coercion), it is likely that there was some element of deceit that took place during the expedition (178). Thus, while we will probably never know exactly what transpired aboard the “Mary Jane,” these documents provide an interesting insight into the events surrounding the ill-fated expedition at Tampico.

Footnotes

  1. 1Barker, Eugene. “The Tampico Expedition.” The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 6, no. 3 (January 1903): 169-186.
  2. 2Coffey, David. “Tampico.” The United States and Mexico at War. Donald S. Frazier, ed. Simon & Schuster Macmillan: New York, 1998.

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