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INDEPENDENCE

INDEPENDENCE. The schooner-of-war Independence was originally commissioned as the United States revenue cutter Ingham but was purchased in New Orleans for the first Texas Navy. The ship was commissioned into Texas service under the command of Capt. Charles E. Hawkins and first appeared in Texas waters on January 10, 1836. She carried seven light cannons, six six-pounders, and a long nine-pounder pivot gun. Through March 1 the Independence cruised between Galveston and Tampico and destroyed "a considerable number of small craft, with all material on board that could be used to the injury of Texas." When Hawkins was promoted to commodore, the Independence became the flagship of the Texas fleet. By March 12 he had returned his ship to New Orleans for refitting.

While it was patrolling out of Matagorda soon after the fall of the Alamo, the Independence skirmished indecisively with the Mexican ships Urrea and Bravo, which were supporting the army of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, but was forced to withdraw to Galveston, new home port of the Texas Navy. In early June 1836 the Independence bore commissioners Peter William Grayson and James W. Collinsworthqqv to New Orleans on the first part of their journey to Washington to negotiate United States recognition of Texas.

During this period the Independence was the only Texas ship in the Gulf of Mexico. It was assigned to blockade duty off Matamoros but returned to New Orleans for refitting in September. In January 1837 Hawkins died. His ship remained in the city without a captain until George W. Wheelwright was assigned to command. Wheelwright at last sailed from New Orleans on April 10, 1837, bearing the Texas minister to the United States, William H. Wharton, back to Texas. Off the mouth of the Brazos River the Independence encountered two ships of the blockading Mexican fleet, the Vencedor del Álamo and the Libertador. In a running cannonade observed by the entire population of Velasco, the two Mexican brigs-of-war gave the Texas ship a cruel raking, and by 11 A.M. the larger and better armed Libertador closed in on the Independence. Neither ship was substantially harmed by the exchanges of broadsides, but Captain Wheelwright was wounded and taken below; he was the only Texan casualty. Lt. John W. Taylor took command and continued the battle, but by 11:45 both Mexican warships had closed to within a pistol shot of the Independence, and the Libertador was in position to rake its stern with a broadside. Taylor prudently struck his colors, and Wharton and all of the ship's officers and men were taken prisoner. Although kindly treated, all were imprisoned at Matamoros until, singly or in small groups, they were exchanged or escaped. The Independence was commissioned into the Mexican navy under its Texas name and continued to serve in the Gulf against its former masters.

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 in Forgotten Battles and Shirtsleeve Diplomacy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1937; rpt., Austin: State House, 1987). John Powers, The First Texas Navy (Austin: Woodmont Books, 2006). 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, "INDEPENDENCE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qti01), accessed August 01, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on March 29, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.