William B. Travis
|William Barret Travis|
August 1, 1809|
Saluda County, South Carolina
|Died||March 6, 1836
The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
|Allegiance|| United States
Republic of Texas
|Years of service||1835–1836|
|Commands held||The Alamo|
Signature of William B. Travis
William Barret+s Travis (August 1, 1809 – March 6, 1836) was a 19th-century American lawyer and soldier. At the age of 26, he was a lieutenant colonel in the Texas Army. He died at the Battle of the Alamo during the Texas Revolution.
Ancestry, Early Years, and Education
Travis's grandfather, Berwick Travis, came to the British Colonies at the age of 12, being stuck in indentured servitude for more than a decade. A descendent of the Travers of Tulketh Castle in Preston, England, Berwick had a life that hardly resembled his ancestor's glory. After working his period of servitude, he traveled south to the colony of South Carolina, where he received a grant of over 100 acres of land in present day Saluda County, South Carolina. There he married Anne Smallwood a year later and lived out their lives, having seven children (four daughters and three sons), including Mark Travis and the famous Baptist missionary Alexander Travis.
Mark Travis married Jemima Stallworth on June 1, 1808, and gave birth to William Barret Travis on August 1, 1809. Records differ as to whether his date of birth was the first or ninth of August, but his youngest brother James C. Travis, who was in possession of the Travis family Bible at the time of his statement, indicated that he was born on the first. Mark and Jemima followed with nine other children over the next twenty years.
Travis's uncle Alexander followed the massive migrated to the new territory of Alabama following the War of 1812, setting in modern day Conecuh County. He urged his brother and family to come join him, as the land was cheap and easy to receive. Mark took his family, including young Travis, then at the age of 9, to Alabama to follow in his brother's footsteps. They settled in the newly forming town of Sparta, where Mark Travis purchased the very first certificate from the Sparta Land. Young Travis grew up here, while his father tended to the farming, his uncle Alexander became prominent in the town, organizing the Old Beluah Church (among other churches), preaching in neighboring counties and in nearby Evergreen, Alabama, no doubt leaving a strong influence on Travis.
During this same time Alexander founded the Sparta Academy, serving as superintendent. Here Travis received his first formal education, studying in subjects ranging from Greek and Latin to history and mathematics. After a few years Travis is believed to have moved on to an academy of Professor William H. McCurdy, to the west of Conecuh County in Monroe County, Alabama.
After completing his education at the age of 18, Travis gained a position as an assistant teacher in Monroe County, a position he held for less than a year until he was 19. There he met a student, Rosanna Cato, whom he immediately felt an attraction to and began a relationship with. He held the position for less than a year.
Life in Claiborne, Ensuing Debt and Troubles
Eager to get away from farm life, Travis made his move to Claiborne permanent, gaining a desire to be trained in law. Studying under famed lawyer James Dellet. At the time Claiborne was a major city in Alabama set right along the Alabama River, where trade and social life seemed miles ahead of the still-growing community of Sparta.
During his tour of the United States in 1825, famous General Marquis de Lafayette made a stop in Claiborne, where festivities were headed by Dellet. Historians disagree as to whether Travis witnessed Lafayette or not, though many make the claim that Travis viewing his speech that evening may have made a major influence on his life, and may explain Travis's later attempts for theatrics and flair during his own speeches. His uncle Alexander was well known in Claiborne, so it is likely he would have been invited, and Travis being invited along at a time when he was making his transition to Claiborne are not that unreasonable.
Mounting Debt and Failure
Travis and Cato married on October 26, 1828, Cato giving birth to their first son, Charlie, a year later (though there is evidence to support Charlie was born out of wedlock or possibly even a year beforehand 
While still studying law under Dellet, Travis was eager to begin his presumable success and join the high ranks of Claiborne society. He opened a newspaper entitled the Claiborne Herald, which like many other newspapers of the day, published stories ranging from activities in Congress to stories of adventures across the world, local notices, advertisements and more. Travis essentially operated the newspaper himself, and while it provided a modest income during the first few months of operation, it was hardly enough to support himself, Rosanna and young Charlie. The stress of lack of finances led to carelessness at the "Herald", where advertisements were accidentally printed upside down and the typewriter wasn't set, letting words fall out of line. Advertisements that had expired were still being published. He could hardly contribute to his own paper, and though he asked for help, he received none and continued to struggle.
On February 27, 1829, Travis passed his law examination and received permission to legally practice. He opened a law office, borrowing $55.37 to set up  as well as $90 earlier in the year to help pay for the "Herald". Now in debt and no practical income, he took in three boarding students and purchased two slaves to help Rosanna with the workload, yet it just increased the amount of food to have in the house, pushing Travis into further debt.
In 1829, the "Herald" declined, hardly getting out six issues in the fall for a newspaper that was intended to be weekly. It went from a paper to a two-sided sheet. Still no one had replied to help Travis with publishing, and by the end of the year the "Herald" had gone out of print.
With hardly any law business coming in, the debts continued to mount. The earlier loans had never been paid, and more came - $192.40 in May 1829, $50.12 in June, and $50.00 in July. His law practice was essentially useless, as he failed to make any mark on society, and men like Dellet continued to be trusted more than Travis. By the end of his law practice in Claiborne, he had only six cases, taking in less than $4.00 total. By the spring of 1831, his debt was totalling $834.
Dellet, with those Travis owed money to coming to him, had no choice but to file suit for the debts to be repaid. At one point during a suit, Travis filed a plea that the case be dismissed on the ground of infancy (he was still considered a minor in many parts of Alabama). Dellet responded by forcing Travis to stand, yelling at the courtroom "Gentlemen, I make 'proofest' of this infant!". Travis stood humiliated in front of a courtroom roaring with laughter. The clerk issued orders for his arrest on March 31, 1831.
At some point in his time in Claiborne, Travis had been introduced with stories of Texas, then a outlying state in the Republic of Mexico. In Texas was massive amount of land speculation, immigration, and settlers coming in from the United States and Europe. There was also a strong demand for lawyers to deal with the influx of immigrants and land dealings. Quickly he made the decision to go to Texas, explaining to Rosanna (now pregnant with a second child) his choice. Promising to make a enough there to pay back his debts, Rosanna trusted him to eventually return or send for her and the family. At some point, Travis managed to avoid arrest and leave for Texas.
Texas and the Alamo command
In May 1831, upon his arrival in Mexican Texas, a part of northern Mexico at the time, Travis purchased land from Stephen F. Austin, who appointed him consul from the United States. He set up law practice in Anahuac and helped start a militia to oppose Mexican rule. He subsequently became a pivotal figure in the Anahuac Disturbances, and was imprisoned for his involvement.
Travis was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel of the Legion of Cavalry and became the chief recruiting officer for a new regular Texan army. Governor Henry Smith ordered Travis to raise a company of professional soldiers to reinforce the Texans under James C. Neill at the Alamo Mission in San Antonio.
Travis considered disobeying his orders, writing to Smith: "I am willing, nay anxious, to go to the defense of Bexar, but sir, I am unwilling to risk my reputation ... by going off into the enemy's country with such little means, so few men, and with them so badly equipped." James Bowie arrived at the Alamo with 30 men on January 19, 1836. On February 3, Travis arrived in San Antonio with eighteen regulars as reinforcements. A compromise was reached between Bowie and Travis for command of the Alamo, with Bowie in command the volunteers and Travis in command of the regulars. When Bowie's health began to fail, it became a moot point and Travis became the official commander of the Alamo garrison. On March 6, 1836, following a thirteen-day siege, Santa Anna ordered the assault on the Alamo at the predawn hours.
Travis died fighting to the end, and his remains were burned along with the other Alamo defenders.
Travis's famous letter from the Alamo
On February 24, 1836, during Santa Anna's siege of the Alamo, Travis wrote a letter addressed "To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World":
- Fellow citizens and compatriots;
- I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country. Victory or Death.
- William Barret Travis
- Lt. Col. Comdt.
- P.S. The Lord is on our side. When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn. We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels and got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.
He gave this letter to courier John William Smith to deliver. The envelope that contained the letter was labeled "Victory or Death". The letter, while unable to bring aid to the garrison at the Alamo, did much to motivate the Texan army and helped to rally support in America for the cause of Texan independence. It also cemented Travis's status as a hero of the Texas Revolution.
Travis married one of his former students, 16-year-old Rosanna Cato (1812–1848), on October 26, 1828. The couple stayed in Claiborne and had a son, Charles Edward, in 1829. They had a son Charles and a daughter Susan. They were officially divorced by the Marion County courts on January 9, 1836, by Act no. 115. Rosanna married Samuel G. Cloud in Monroeville, Alabama, on February 14, 1836. However, they both died of Yellow Fever during an epidemic which afflicted the state in 1848.
Charles Edward Travis (1829–1860) was raised by his mother and her second husband. He won a seat in the Texas legislature in 1853. In 1855, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a captain in a cavalry regiment (which was later renamed the 5th Cavalry Regiment (United States) commanded by Albert Sidney Johnston) but was discharged in May 1856 for "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman" following an allegation that he had cheated at cards. He appealed the decision to no avail and then turned to studying law, earning a degree from Baylor University in 1859. He died of consumption (tuberculosis) within a year and is buried beside his sister.
Susan Isabella Travis was born in 1831, after Travis had departed for Texas. Although her paternity has been questioned, Travis did name her as his daughter in his will. In 1850 she married a planter from Chapell Hill, and their son was William Barret Grissett.
- McKeehan, Wallace L. "Gonzales Alamo Relief Defenders". Sons of DeWitt Colony Texas. Texas A&M University. Retrieved January 23, 2009.
- Davis 1998, p. 262.
- Davis, William, "Three Roads to the Alamo" 1998, pg. 189
- Davis, pg. 190
- Alabama Territory. A List of Taxable Property Taken in the County of Conecuh
- Riley, B.F., Makers and Romance of Alabama History, 1951, pg. 98
- William Travis Autobiography, 1833. Their is no mention that Travis was given a position at the same academy. As McCurdy's academy opened when Travis was 16 and he changed schools to one in Monroe County at 16, it can be assumed that he went there, as well as taught there.
- Davis, pg. 193
- McMillan Papers; Letford, "Story of William B. Travis". There is no firm evidence Travis studied under Dellet, though members of his family claimed so as well as a former probate judge of Monroe County
- Travis Family Bible. Travis wrote in his own handwriting that Charlie was born in 1828, though this has been modified in someone else's handwriting to say 1829. This was a common practice in the 18th and 19th centuries to purify marriages and family bibles from children being born before a wedding or before nine months had passed.
- Claiborne Herald, February 27th, 1829
- Davis, pg. 199
- Davis, pg. 90
- Davis, pg. 201
- Davis, pg. 203
- Davis, pg. 204
- Davis, pg. 205
- Curtis, Gregory (January 1986). "The First Texas". Texas Monthly: 26, 88–89. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
- "The Turtle Bay Resolutions". Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
- Davis 1966, p. xiv.
- McDonald, Archie P. "William Barret Travis". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
- Hardin 1994, p. 117.
- Davis 1966, p. xii.
- Cutrer, Thomas W. "Charles Edward Travis". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
- "Chappell Hill, TX". Texas Escapes. Blueprints For Travel, LLC. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
- Charles Edward Travis at Find a Grave
- Susanna Isabella Travis Grissett at Find a Grave
- William Barret Grissett at Find a Grave
- Davis, Robert E. (1966). The Diary of William Barret Travis. Waco, Tx: Texian Press. OCLC 732686506.
- Davis, William C. (1998). Three Roads to the Alamo. New York, NY: HarperCollins World. ISBN 9780060173340.
- Hardin, Stephen L. (1994). Texian Iliad. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292730861.
- Meischen, Betty Smith (2003). Trails West: Book II the Trail to San Jacinto. New York, NY: Writer's Showcase. ISBN 9780595258970.
- Lord, Walter; A Time To Stand; University of Nebraska Press; ISBN 0-8032-7902-7
- Davis, William C. Three Roads to the Alamo; HarperCollins Publishers; ISBN 0-06-017334-3
- McDonald, Archie P.; William Barret Travis; Eakin Press; ISBN 0-89015-656-5
- William Barret Travis from the Handbook of Texas Online
- Travis "Victory or Death" Letter at Texas Heritage Society
- "Travis, William Barrett". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1889
- Timeline of the life of William Barret Travis
- First Hand Alamo Accounts