Texan schooner Invincible

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Texas Schooner Invincible.jpg
Invincible
Career (Republic of Texas) Texas Naval Ensign.svg
Commissioned: January 18, 1836
Decommissioned: August 27, 1837
Fate: Run aground and destroyed 1837
General characteristics
Class & type: Schooner
Tonnage: 125 tons
Length: 75 ft (23 m)
Propulsion: wind
Speed: variable
Complement: 70
Armament: 2-18 pounders
2-9 pounders
4-6 pounders
First Texas Navy
Ships
BrutusIndependenceInvincibleLiberty
Skirmishes
MatamorosBrazos RiverGalveston Harbor

The Texas schooner Invincible was one of the four schooners of the Revolutionary Texas Navy (1836–1838). She began her service in January, 1836 and immediately began attacking ships supplying the Mexican army in Texas, including capturing the United States merchant vessel Pocket and later the British ship Eliza Russell. Both of these actions caused diplomatic incidents between the Republic of Texas and the United States and the United Kingdom.

Invincible was refitted in New York City and barely avoided being seized by the United States Navy for violating the neutrality of the United States. She served until she was run aground at Galveston, Texas on August 27, 1837 while being pursued by two ships of the Mexican Navy and was wrecked. During her short career in the service of the Republic of Texas, she was a raider and flagship of the small navy.

Purchase and commissioning of the Invincible[edit]

Originally built to be a slave trader in a Baltimore shipyard, Invincible was purchased by Texas special agents Thomas F. McKinney and Samuel May Williams[1] in early 1836. After she was refitted in New Orleans, she was sold to the provisional government of Texas at a handsome profit to McKinney and Williams.[1] Invincible was purchased because the rebellious Texan government was disturbed by the appearance of Mexican navy raiders along the gulf coast. Captain Jeremiah Brown was given command of the Invincible on March 12, 1836 in Galveston.

Battle of Brazos Santiago and capture of Pocket[edit]

Captain Brown was immediately ordered to defend the Texas coast and seek out and engage the Mexican man-of-war Montezuma. The Invincible cruised south to the mouth of the Rio Grande, where on April 3, 1836, Invincible encountered the 20-gun Man-of-War in an area then-called Brazos Santiago (now called Boca Chica) at the mouth of Laguna Madre. After an exchange of broadsides the Montezuma ran aground on a sandbar, and her crew escaped. Invincible barraged the Mexican cruiser until she was destroyed.[2]

Later that same day, the Invincible sighted and engaged the United States merchant vessel Pocket. Pocket was displaying a signal pennant which indicated that the vessel was transporting cargo to support General Antonio López de Santa Anna's operation against the rebellious Texans. According to the Handbook of Texas Online, "Captain Brown boarded the vessel, examined the cargo and ship's papers, and discovered war contraband, arms, and ammunition that did not appear on the manifest. He also found a detailed map of the Texas coastline and military dispatches in Spanish."[1] In addition, the Texans found that Pocket was carrying high ranking Mexican army officers[3] in violation of the Neutrality Act of 1818. Pocket had been en route from Matamoros to Santa Anna's army in Texas with a contraband cargo of flour, rice, lard, biscuit, and 300 kegs of powder. Based on the accumulated evidence, Brown assigned a prize crew and escorted Pocket to Galveston. Invincible arrived on April 8, and there he learned from captured documents that Santa Anna had plans to capture all Texas ports and to station 1,000 men on Galveston Island. Thus forewarned, the Texas government quickly fortified the strategically important and most-populous Texas island. The provisions captured aboard the Pocket ultimately were consigned to Sam Houston's army.[4] Texas historian Jim Dan Hill, writing during the Texas Centennial in 1936 credited the Invincible with contributing mightily to Sam Houston's victory at San Jacinto by depriving the Mexicans of reinforcements that would have been brought by Montezuma and by redirecting Pocket's supplies to the Texans just before the battle.[5]

Charges of piracy[edit]

Brown immediately left Galveston after disposing of the prize because Invincible was due to be refitted in New Orleans. However, word of the Pocket's capture upset certain New Orleans merchants and insurance carriers, whose lobbying forced local federal officials to take action against the Texans under the guise of protecting American shipping in the Gulf of Mexico. On May 1, 1836, the captain and crew of the Invincible were arrested and charged with piracy under US laws. However, the charge was not substantiated, and the crew was released.[1]

After some delays, the schooner Invincible returned to Galveston where she was ordered to Anahuac where she was supposed to transport the captive Santa Anna to Veracruz as part of the Treaty of Velasco. On June 5, 1836, General Thomas Jefferson Green arrived in Anahuac with American volunteers aboard a Texas contract vessel, Ocean. The Ocean prevented the Invincible from getting underway, and Santa Anna was again detained and after an abortive escape attempt was clapped in irons. Thus relieved of his prisoner, Captain Brown sailed south to defend the Texas coast.

On July 4, 1836, the Invincible went to assist another Texas naval vessel, Brutus, which was blockaded inside the port of Matagorda by the Mexican cruiser Vencedor del Alamo (English:"Victor of the Alamo"). After the Invincible approached the blockading vessel, the Vencedor withdrew without firing a shot. Invincible nevertheless chased her as far as Veracruz.

Repairs in New York: one step ahead of the bailiff and the U.S. Navy[edit]

On August 4, 1836, the Invincible sailed for New York City for repairs. Captain Brown and his crew intended to have the ship repaired and re-supplied before returning to Texas in early 1837. The ship's officers and crew soon learned that there were no funds to pay for the services and repairs rendered or for their personal expenses for meals and laundry, and New York authorities impounded the vessel in January, 1837.[6] The crew considered abandoning ship and returning to Texas by land. But fate intervened in the form of Samuel Swartwout, the U.S. collector for the Port of New York City (and a noted Texas benefactor). Swartwout helped settle the crew’s debts and save the ship from being sold at auction, like her sister ship Liberty.

When all the bills were settled, the Invincible departed New York with great haste, just ahead of a pursuing United States Navy vessel with orders to arrest the crew and detain the vessel for violating the neutrality of the United States.[1]

New captain and final battle[edit]

Captain Brown returned his ship to Galveston on March 14, 1837. That month he was relieved of duty by order of the new president, Sam Houston, and Invincible was placed under the command of Commodore H. L. Thompson.[4] Houston was skeptical of the need for Texas to have a strong navy fearing aggressive naval action would lead to international incidents.

The wreck of the schooner Invincible at Galveston in 1837 by E.M. Schiwetz

Invincible became the flagship of the two-ship Texas navy in June, 1837 after Independence surrendered to the Mexican warships Vencedor del Álamo and Libertador. Captain Thompson was accompanied on this voyage by Samuel Rhoads Fisher, Texas's Secretary of the Navy, as he set out from Galveston in June, 1837 to harass Mexican shipping and raid coastal towns. Invincible captured several prize vessels including the British merchantman Eliza Russell which caused a serious diplomatic challenge as Texas was seeking British recognition. Texas Minister J. Pinckney Henderson eventually smoothed over the contretemps but the Texas government had to pay British claims totaling about $4,000. As a result of this embarrassment, both Captain Thompson and Secretary Fisher were suspended by President Houston. Fisher later resigned, and Thompson died before a naval investigation could formally start.[1]

On August 26, 1837, Invincible escorted Brutus into Galveston harbor. Brutus had a Mexican prize vessel, Obispo, in tow. Invincible anchored in the channel overnight and the next day she was assailed by Vencedor del Alamo and Libertador. Brutus cleared for action and attempted to assist Invincible but she ran aground on a sandbar at the entrance to the harbor. Invincible was left alone to engage the two Mexican cruisers. After a prolonged engagement, the Invincible attempted to flee from the battle, but due to the shallow tide, snagged her rudder on the harbor bar and ran aground. She was then quickly pounded to pieces by the breakers until her hull completely disappeared.[2]

With the wreck of the schooners Invincible and Brutus, the First Texas Navy was at an end. The wreck site may have been discovered in 1995 by the National Underwater and Marine Agency, founded by Clive Cussler.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Invincible". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 2007-09-25. 
  2. ^ a b "Montezuma". Official website of the Texas Navies. The Texas Navy Association. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-09-25. 
  3. ^ Neu, C.T. (April 1909). "The Case of the Brig Pocket". Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 12: 276–295. 
  4. ^ a b "Jeremiah Brown". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 2007-09-25. 
  5. ^ Hill, Jim Dan (1937). The Texas Navy, in Forgotten Battles and Shirtsleeve Diplomacy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
  6. ^ Wright, Mark (Summer 2007). "Reading the Papers". TCU Magazine. [dead link]
  7. ^ "Invincible". National Undersea Marine Agency. Archived from the original on 2007-08-07. Retrieved 2007-09-25.