Chapman, William Warren (1814–1859)

By: Caleb Coker

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: June 23, 2020

William Warren Chapman, soldier and influential citizen of South Texas, the fourth child of James and Ethelinda (Preston) Chapman, Jr., was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on January 31, 1814. He entered West Point on July 1, 1833, and graduated seventh in general order of merit, but second in military affairs, in the class of 1837. After West Point he served in the second Seminole war in Florida. He was stationed at Fort Foster on the Hillsborough River north of Tampa Bay from November 1837 until May 1838. He began as quartermaster of the fort but was commander at the time the fort was abandoned in the spring of 1838. After leaving Florida in May of 1838 he served briefly in Tennessee, where he assisted in the relocation of the Seminole and Cherokee Indians to the Western states.

On July 7, 1838, Chapman was promoted to first lieutenant in the Second Artillery. He married Helen Ellsworth Blair (see CHAPMAN, HELEN E. B.) in Westfield, Massachusetts, on August 29, 1838; they had a son and a daughter. Chapman was assigned to Fort Niagara near Buffalo, New York, from 1838 through 1841, during the Canadian border disturbances. From 1841 through mid-1846 Chapman served in the garrison at Fort Columbus, Governors Island, New York.

On May 11, 1846, he was promoted to captain. He joined the army of Gen. John E. Wool in San Antonio, Texas, as staff assistant quartermaster, traveled with Wool's column into Mexico, and fought in the battle of Buena Vista, February, 22–23, 1847 (see MEXICAN WAR). He was brevetted major for gallant and meritorious conduct in that battle. In November 1847 he left Wool's staff and became quartermaster of the army depot in Matamoros, Tamaulipas. Matamoros was then under martial law, and, in addition to his duties as quartermaster, Chapman was also appointed collector of revenue and given responsibility for the administration of civil government. With characteristic energy, he improved the city streets, the central plaza, and the schools of the Mexican city during his tenure.

Upon the termination of hostilities with Mexico in mid-1848, the army decided to build a new fort across the Rio Grande from Matamoros. Chapman selected the site and constructed the permanent military facility, known as Fort Brown. This fort replaced the original Fort Brown that had been bombarded by the Mexican army during May 3–9, 1846, while Zachary Taylor's army was otherwise occupied at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma a few miles north. The city of Brownsville was laid out and developed simultaneously with the construction of the permanent Fort Brown. From mid-1848 until mid-1852 Chapman was the quartermaster at the fort. After the first year his duties were enlarged to include responsibility for the military depots at Brazos Santiago and Point Isabel, Texas. In 1850 he sent an expedition on the first official exploration of the Rio Grande to determine the navigability of the river and the economic potential of the region. Chapman and his wife were prominent and well-regarded citizens of early Brownsville.

In mid-1852 Chapman was appointed quartermaster of the new army headquarters in Corpus Christi under Gen. Persifor F. Smith. Chapman remained at the military facility until it was closed in 1857. During his military service in the fledgling community of Corpus Christi, Chapman was prominent in civic and business affairs, including a partnership with Richard King in the acquisition of the first tracts of land to be incorporated into the King Ranch. Thereafter during 1858 he was briefly assigned to the military depot at Fort Schuyler in New York. In 1859 he was transferred to Fort Monroe, Virginia. He died on September 28, 1859, at Old Point Comfort, Virginia. His son was a life-long resident of Corpus Christi.

Helen Chapman, The News From Brownsville: Helen Chapman's Letters from the Texas Military Frontier, 1848–1852, ed. Caleb Coker (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1992). Chapman Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

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

Caleb Coker, “Chapman, William Warren,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 01, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994
June 23, 2020