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AUSTIN

AUSTIN. The Austin, a sloop-of-war and flagship of the Texas Navy first known as the Texas, was commissioned into the navy on January 5, 1840. The ship, constructed in Baltimore by the firm of Shott and Whitney, was 125 feet in length and thirty-one feet across the beam, with a displacement of 600 tons and a draft of 12½ feet. She carried a crew of twenty-three officers and warrant officers and 151 sailors and marines and was armed with sixteen medium twenty-four-pound cannons, two eighteen-pound medium cannons, and two eighteen-pound long cannons.

The Austin was the flagship of the navy from April 1840 through July 1843 and was commanded, except for the period that she lay in ordinary from July through December 1841, by Edwin Ward Moore, senior officer of the navy. While in ordinary she was commanded by Lt. Alfred G. Gray. On July 26, 1840, the Austin sailed for the Yucatán port of Sisal to assist the Federalist rebels against Mexico's Centralist government. The ship arrived on July 31, cruised the Bay of Campeche as far as Veracruz by August 23, and blockaded Tampico through October. In November she took part in the capture of the capital of Yucatán, San Juan Bautista; the navy earned for Texas $25,000 in ransom from the city.

After a return to her home port of Galveston for repairs, the Austin once again sailed for Yucatán on December 13, 1841, and arrived at Sisal on January 6, 1842. From there she again cruised the Mexican coast in search of prizes. In company with the San Bernard, the Austin took the Progresso off Veracruz on February 6 and, running northward as far as Tuxpan, took the Dolorita and the Dos Amigos, out of Matamoros, Tamaulipas. During this cruise Yucatán was paying $8,000 monthly toward the maintenance of the Texas navy.

On April 24 the Austin returned to New Orleans for refitting. From there, despite the fact that Commodore Moore, his ship, and his crew had been declared pirates by Sam Houston, she sailed for the Yucatán on April 15, 1843, hoping to engage the powerful new Mexican steam warship Moctezuma and to break up a rumored amphibious assault on Galveston Island. The Austin, accompanied by the brig Wharton, intercepted the Moctezuma, the steam frigate Guadaloupe, and two brigs and two schooners on April 30, and sprang to the attack. Although overwhelmingly the stronger, the Mexican fleet withdrew, and a running fight ensued for about two hours. The Austin was struck once in the fighting and lost some of her mizzen rigging. The commander of the Moctezuma and twenty of his crew were killed, the Mexican fleet was driven from Yucatán waters, and the siege of Campeche was raised as a result of the action. On May 16 the Austin and the Wharton pursued the Moctezuma and the Guadaloupe fourteen miles, during which the Austin sustained seventeen hits to hull and rigging. By 3:00 P.M. she could no longer keep up the chase and withdrew to Campeche. This battle became the subject of the engraving on the cylinder of the famed Colt Navy revolver.

A bolt of lightning further damaged the Austin's rigging on June 25, and on June 29 Moore set a course for Galveston, there to answer Houston's piracy charge. The arrival of the Austin and the Wharton at their home port on July 14, 1843, effectively ended all operations of the Texas Navy. When annexation occurred, the Austin was transferred to the United States Navy, on May 11, 1846. She was thereupon towed to Pensacola, where she served for a while as a receiving ship, the only vessel of the Texas Navy to be commissioned into United States service. The ship leaked so badly, however, that after two years she was run aground and broken up, being, according to the commandant of the Pensacola Navy Yard, "unworthy of repairs."

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Alex Dienst, "The Navy of the Republic of Texas," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 12–13 (January-October 1909; rpt., Fort Collins, Colorado: Old Army Press, 1987). C. L. Douglas, Thunder on the Gulf: The Story of the Texas Navy (Dallas: Turner, 1936; rpt., Fort Collins, Colorado: Old Army Press, 1973). Jim Dan Hill, The Texas Navy (New York: Barnes, 1962). Tom Henderson Wells, Commodore Moore and the Texas Navy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1960).

Thomas W. Cutrer

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Thomas W. Cutrer, "AUSTIN," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qta02), accessed September 02, 2014. Uploaded on June 9, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.