Crisp, Downing H. (unknown–1844)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: December 1, 1994

Downing H. Crisp, naval officer, was born in England, the son of a commander in the Royal Navy. He was said to have once been a midshipman in the Royal Navy himself. He joined the Texas Navy in 1836 and was assigned as second lieutenant of the Austin. On October 4 Crisp saved the twenty-six-man crew of the Mexican brig Segunda Fama, which had been run aground by a norther on Blanquilla Reef near Lobos Island. In November he took part in the joint Texas-Yucatán raid on Tabasco. Funds acquired when the city paid a ransom demand of $25,000 allowed Crisp to purchase much-needed supplies and remain at sea until the end of February 1841, but he became seriously ill with the yellow fever that ravaged the fleet.

On March 24 he was assigned by Commodore Edwin W. Moore to command of the Texas war schooner San Bernard. After a season of patrolling off the Texas coast to intercept smugglers and to make surveys and maps, Crisp and the San Bernard conveyed Texas agent James Webb to Veracruz. They reached port on May 31 but were denied landing rights by Mexican officials. Crisp wished to exchange calls with the officers of the American and British vessels anchored there, but felt such acute embarrassment over his ragged uniform-Texas naval officers were not paid for years on end-that he exchanged courtesies by letter and signal only. After lingering off the coast until the end of June, he steered for the Yucatán. While crossing the Bay of Campeche his rotten topmast was carried away, however, and he was compelled to return to Galveston, where he arrived on June 20.

President Mirabeau B. Lamar was unable to negotiate a permanent peace with Mexico and once again ordered his fleet to the Yucatán. Crisp and the San Bernard sailed from Galveston on December 11, 1841, and arrived at Sisal on December 29; they once again patrolled between the Yucatán port and Veracruz and occasionally as far north as Tuxpan. Crisp and his men participated in the capture of the Mexican merchant vessel Progreso on February 6 and the Doric, the Doloritas, and the Dos Amigos in April. Off Tampico Crisp was ordered back to Galveston with dispatches and reports but returned to Moore and the rest of the Texas fleet on April 24. On July 19 Crisp was confirmed in grade as lieutenant.

At the end of this cruise he returned to Galveston, where in early September he reported his ship badly worm-eaten. He had been authorized to have her repaired at New Orleans, but no funds were provided to pay for the work. On September 18 the San Bernard was driven ashore by a hurricane, and for want of the $500 required to refloat her and have her repaired, she became a deserted, rotting hulk in Galveston harbor. On December 21, 1842, Crisp wrote to Sam Houston that the condition of his ship was "destitute and deplorable" and that for want of funds he and his officers were subsisting on the charity of the citizens of Galveston. They received neither pay nor rations from the government, and Crisp discharged his enlisted men, ate his pet pig, and at last in January 1843, having raised $27.08 by selling a broken bell and several pieces of old copper, departed for England in hopes of securing a berth in a European ship.

Crisp returned from England to take command of the Austin in January 1844. With a treaty of annexation pending, Sam Houston urged the United States to take Crisp into its naval service at his present rank, stating that he was "worthy of [his] rank" and was a gentleman "who will obey orders." Before a treaty could be arranged, however, Lieutenant Crisp died, on June 3, 1844, of yellow fever in Galveston. His brief history of the navy of the Republic of Texas is preserved in the William Bollaert papers at the Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin.

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). Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker, eds., The Writings of Sam Houston, 1813–1863 (8 vols., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1938–43; rpt., Austin and New York: Pemberton Press, 1970).
  • Peoples
  • English
  • Military
  • Soldiers
Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution

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

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Crisp, Downing H.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 11, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994