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INVINCIBLE

INVINCIBLE. Disturbed by the appearance of Mexican cruisers patrolling Gulf Coast waters during the latter part of 1835 and the beginning of 1836, the provisional government of Texas was compelled to procure vessels to combat the superior Mexican ships. The Invincible was one of those vessels, purchased by Texas special agents Thomas F. McKinney and Samuel May Williams.qqv The Invincible was a 125-ton schooner built in Baltimore, Maryland. By using his brother's credit and contacts Williams obtained the ship, which was intended for the African slave trade. McKinney and Williams sold the vessel to the Texas government after it was fitted out in New Orleans by William Bryanqv, Texas general agent, Thomas Green, a Texas supporter, and Edward Hall, Texas purchasing agent. McKinney and Williams made a handsome profit. McKinney was appointed the first commander but never sailed a day.

Once the fitting-out process was completed, the Invincible was ready to set out for the Texas coast. Meanwhile, a new commander, Jeremiah Brown, was appointed. Captain Brown, in addition to his commission, received orders to cruise the Gulf Coast and engage the Mexican cruiser Montezuma. Although the Montezuma had posed no immediate threat to Texas, merchants were afraid that it would impede vital shipping, so the Mexican vessel had to be destroyed. At 10:00 A.M. on April 3, 1836, somewhere near the mouth of the Rio Grande, the Invincible encountered the Montezuma. After a fierce exchange of broadsides the Montezuma ran aground, and its crew escaped ashore. Around 2:00 P.M. the Invincible sighted and engaged the Pocket, a United States merchant vessel. The Pocket was displaying a signal pennant indicating that the vessel was transporting cargo to support Antonio López de Santa Anna's operation against Texas. 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. Furthermore, the Pocket was carrying Mexican naval officers. Acting on this evidence, Brown assigned a prize crew and escorted the Pocket to Galveston. Brown immediately left that port after disposing of the prize because the Invincible was scheduled to be refitted at New Orleans. News of the Pocket's capture inflamed the wrath of New Orleans merchants and insurance carriers, whose lobbying forced local federal officials to protect commerce in the Gulf of Mexico. On May 1, 1836, the crew of the Invincible was arrested in New Orleans and charged with piracy. However, the charge was not substantiated, and the crew was released.

After some additional legal delays, the Invincible returned to the Texas coast, from where in June 1836 it was supposed to transport the captive Santa Anna to Veracruz. On June 5, 1836, Gen. Thomas Jefferson Green arrived with volunteers from the United States on a Texas contract vessel, Ocean. The Ocean prevented the Invincible from getting underway, and Santa Anna was again detained. 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. After the Invincible approached the Mexican vessel, the Vencedor withdrew without firing a shot.

On August 4, 1836, the Invincible sailed for New York for repairs. While there the ship was almost detained and sold because the crew could not pay the repair cost. Eventually, however, the bills were paid by Samuel Swartwout, a devout Texas supporter. The Invincible departed New York in a great hurry and just ahead of a pursuing United States vessel under orders to arrest the crew and detain the vessel for violating the neutrality of the United States.

On March 14, 1837, the Invincible arrived at the Texas coast. H. L. Thompson was appointed commander. Thompson, accompanied by Samuel Rhoads Fisher, secretary of the Texas Navy, set out in June 1837. During this voyage the Invincible inflicted severe damage on several Mexican coastal towns and captured prize vessels including, unfortunately, the Eliza Russell, a British ship. The Texas government eventually had to pay British claims totaling about $4,000. Both Thompson and Fisher were suspended. Fisher later resigned, and Thompson died before a naval investigation could start.

On August 26, 1837, the Invincible escorted the Brutus into Galveston harbor. The Brutus had a Mexican prize vessel, Abispa, in tow. The Invincible anchored overnight outside the harbor. The next day she was assailed by two Mexican cruisers, Vencedor del Alamo and Libertador, which apparently were pursuing the Texas naval vessels. The Brutus attempted to assist the Invincible but ran aground. The Invincible, therefore, was left alone to engage the Mexican cruisers. After a prolonged engagement, the Invincible attempted to flee from the battle, but ran aground and sank. The wreck may have been found in 1995.

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). Robert W. Kesting, William Bryan and the Navy from Abroad (M.A. thesis, St. Mary's University, 1985). C. T. Neu, "The Case of the Brig Pocket," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 12 (April 1909).

Robert W. Kesting

Citation

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

Robert W. Kesting, "INVINCIBLE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qti02), accessed November 27, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.