Dimmitt, Philip (ca. 1801–1841)

By: Craig H. Roell

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: June 16, 2020

Philip Dimmitt, a pioneer Texas trader and merchant and major figure in the Texas Revolution, was born in Jefferson County, Kentucky, about 1801 and traveled to Texas about 1823 with a letter of introduction to Stephen F. Austin. He settled in La Villita at Bexar and for several years was commissary contractor to the Mexican garrison there. He married María Luisa Lazo, whose father was a De León colonist and kinsman of Martín De León, and by marriage received a three-league headright in De León's colony. The Dimmitts made their home on a ranch bordering the town of Guadalupe Victoria. Dimmitt, who was popular among his fellow Mexican citizens, maintained trading posts on the Guadalupe River near Victoria, at Goliad, and at Dimitt's Landing on Lavaca Bay, where he established a wharf and warehouse. He accumulated "a large fortune by honest and judicious mercantile operations," according to a contemporary, the historian and statesman Henry Stuart Foote. Dimmitt also fought Indians on the Nueces River.

In 1835 he purchased land from an original member of the Power and Hewetson colony, but hostilities with Mexico interrupted his family's resettlement. When George M. Collinsworth's group of volunteers from Matagorda arrived at Guadalupe Victoria en route to capture Goliad, Plácido Benavides, Silvestre De León, José M. J. Carbajal, Dimmitt, and some thirty Mexican rancheros joined the expedition, though most did not sign the "Compact of Volunteers" drafted on October 9, 1835. While at Victoria Dimmitt received word from a contact at Goliad that Mexican general Martín Perfecto de Cos had left La Bahía with only a skeleton garrison and was en route to Bexar. Collinsworth's force then attacked and captured Goliad, and soon La Bahía was reinforced with additional volunteers, who elected Dimmitt captain (see GOLIAD CAMPAIGN OF 1835).

Dimmitt, a tough but respected disciplinarian whom Foote called "a very intelligent and chivalrous officer," commanded Goliad from about October 14, 1835, to about January 14, 1836. He was particularly well informed about activities in northern Mexico through various members of the De León family and his brother, who lived in Zacatecas. Though the capture of Goliad gave the Texas army needed provisions, Dimmitt supplied the army as well from his own warehouses. On October 21, 1835, he issued an "Appeal to the Inhabitants of Texas Residing East of the Guadalupe" for support. To show his allegiance to the Mexican Federalists, he designed the green-white-red tricolor flag that later became the traditionally recognized banner of the Texas force in the battle of the Alamo. "I have had a flag made," he wrote Stephen F. Austin on October 27, 1835, "the colours, and their arrangement the same as the old one-with the words and figures, `Constitution of 1824,' displayed on the white, in the centre." A peculiar feature of his Goliad commandancy was a permanent board of advisers, which included James Kerr, James Power, John J. Linn, Ira Ingram, Carbajal, Benavides, and others. Dimmitt's correspondence with Austin indicates his perception that La Bahía should be fortified to keep Cos from receiving seaborne reinforcements through Copano, and also to protect the municipalities of Refugio, Goliad, and Guadalupe Victoria, which had jeopardized themselves by pledging allegiance to the Constitution of 1824.

In October 1835 Dimmitt sent Thomas G. Western, James Kerr, and John Linn to negotiate a treaty of neutrality with menacing Karankawa Indians and then ordered an attack on the Mexican garrison at Fort Lipantitlán, which was successfully carried out by Ira Westover. This significant victory freed the citizens of San Patricio Municipality to elect delegates to the Consultation and organize a militia, supplied Goliad with additional cannons and provisions, eliminated the threat to Copano, and cut the Mexican line between Matamoros and Bexar. On the way back to Goliad, Westover's force encountered Governor Agustín Viesca, recently escaped from prison, and brought him back to La Bahía. Dimmitt, though courteous and hospitable, refused to recognize Viesca's office, since his sentiment was changing towards preferring Texas independence from Mexico. This outraged Linn, Kerr, James Grant, Westover, Viesca, and others still intensely loyal to Mexico, who launched a barrage of letters to Stephen F. Austin in protest. Austin, who wanted to restore the Constitution of 1824 and feared that Dimmitt's acts would alienate the Federalists of northern Mexico, removed Dimmitt from office without a hearing on November 18, 1835. The entire Goliad garrison immediately issued a series of protesting resolutions. The General Council, which itself denied Governor Viesca's authority, refused to remove Dimmitt and instead recognized his commandancy.

About December 6, 1835, Dimmitt and a small force proceeded to Bexar and participated in the final assault against Cos (see BEXAR, SIEGE OF). Dimmitt may have taken the famed "Constitution of 1824" flag to Bexar at this time or in late January, when he hurried reinforcements to James C. Neill's garrison at the Alamo. He returned to Goliad from Bexar about December 14 and designed what has been called the first flag of independence, depicting a bloody arm holding a bloody sword on a white field, which was raised on December 20, 1835, at La Bahía to commemorate the Goliad Declaration of Independence, which he and Ingram framed.

Dimmitt's garrison belonged neither to the regular army nor to Austin's volunteer army, but was an independent command composed of volunteers who captured and garrisoned La Bahía. It received great praise from acting governor James W. Robinson for gathering provisions, arms, and horses, which were supplied to the revolutionary army and to refugees at Refugio, Goliad, and Victoria. When Francis W. Johnson and James Grant arrived at Goliad with a force en route to capture Matamoros, in the Matamoros Expedition of 1835–36, both men, being loyal to the Constitution of 1824 and antagonistic toward Dimmitt, and each thinking himself to be commander of the Texas army, demanded that the bloody-arm flag of independence be lowered and seized the garrison's transportation stock and many supplies. These actions induced Dimmitt to resign his command on or about January 10, 1836, and discharge his men, many of whom subsequently served with Francis W. Thornton, who assumed command of Goliad.

Dimmitt arrived at Bexar about January 24 with about thirty volunteers to reinforce the Alamo and was appointed army storekeeper; his warehouse at Dimitt's Landing then served as a depot for government stores landed at Lavaca Bay. Though many of the volunteers returned home upon the arrival of William B. Travis and his men on February 3, Dimmitt remained in San Antonio scouting for Travis and James Bowie until February 24. He was with B. F. Nobles when the two were cut off by the arrival at Bexar of the Mexican army. Dimmitt retreated to the vicinity of Victoria, where until early March he operated a station to recruit volunteers to relieve the Alamo. On March 12, Sam Houston ordered Dimmitt to join him at Gonzales, and though he had recruited but twenty-one volunteers, rumors spread that he headed a force of 200 to relieve Fannin at Goliad or Travis at Bexar. Dimmitt arrived at Gonzales to find it occupied by the Mexican army. After a fight on Kerr Creek, his force retreated down the Guadalupe River to Victoria. The men arrived on March 19 exhausted and without food and learned the next day of Fannin's surrender. Mexican general José de Urrea entered Victoria on the twenty-first, and Dimmitt apparently helped with evacuations and joined the refugees in the Runaway Scrape. After April 15 he arrived on Matagorda Island to bring recruits to General Houston's army, which was then moving to San Jacinto, and with John J. Linn he arrived on April 22, 1836, bringing the first supplies and reinforcements to Houston's victorious army after the battle of San Jacinto.

After the revolution Dimmitt settled in Refugio, where he became a justice. In 1841 he bought part of the Aldrete family ranch on the Aransas River. In May he and a partner, James Gourley, Jr., began building a trading post near the site of present Calallen, about fifteen miles from the post of William P. Aubrey and Henry L. Kinney, cofounders of Corpus Christi. Aubrey and Kinney had a monopoly on contraband traffic with the Mexican forces operating from Fort Lipantitlán, on the Nueces River. On July 4, 1841, Dimmitt and some comrades were captured by Mexican troops, who also looted merchandise valued at $6,000. Aubrey and Kinney's post, however, was bypassed. Dimmitt was taken to Matamoros. Various mass meetings were held at Aransas City, Lamar, Refugio, and Victoria, which demanded that the Texas government obtain the hero's release and threatened private retaliation. Some newspapers reported treason, asserting that Kinney utilized his friendship with Mexican general Pedro de Ampudia to get the general to attack Dimmitt so as to eliminate trade competition. Aubrey and Kinney were eventually arrested and charged with treason but were acquitted on August 22, 1841, perhaps through the influence of President Mirabeau B. Lamar, who depended on Kinney and his private force of about sixty men to hold the disputed Nueces region for Texas. In September Lamar sent Kinney to Mexico to petition for Dimmitt's release, but he was unsuccessful. The Centralist government in Mexico had issued a warrant for Dimmitt's arrest for his role in the Texas Revolution, particularly for the Goliad Declaration of Independence. Dimmitt and his comrades, together with nineteen other Texans, were put in irons and marched to Monterrey in August 1841 en route to prison in Mexico City. At Saltillo the Texans tried to escape by drugging their guards with alcohol laced with morphine. Eighteen escaped, but eleven were overtaken and shot, and the others were pursued into the mountains. Dimmitt, separately confined and unable to escape, overheard that he would be shot if the fugitives did not surrender. Facing either execution or interminable imprisonment, he chose to take his own life by morphine overdose, remarking: "I do not fear death but dread the idea of ending my life in a loathsome dungeon. Tell them I prefer a Roman's death to the ignominy of perpetual imprisonment, and that my last wish is for my country's welfare." Dimmitt's love for his country was evident even in his children's names, which included Antonio Alamo Dimmitt and Texas Philip Dimmitt. In 1858 Dimmit County was established and named in his honor. See also FLAGS OF THE TEXAS REVOLUTION.

Eugene C. Barker, ed., The Austin Papers (3 vols., Washington: GPO, 1924–28). Philip Dimmitt Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Catherine George, The Life of Philip Dimmitt (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1937). Hobart Huson, Captain Philip Dimmitt's Commandancy of Goliad, 1835–1836 (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1974). Hobart Huson, Refugio: A Comprehensive History of Refugio County from Aboriginal Times to 1953 (2 vols., Woodsboro, Texas: Rooke Foundation, 1953, 1955). John H. Jenkins, ed., The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835–1836 (10 vols., Austin: Presidial Press, 1973). John J. Linn, Reminiscences of Fifty Years in Texas (New York: Sadlier, 1883; 2d ed., Austin: Steck, 1935; rpt., Austin: State House, 1986). Mary Agnes Mitchell, The First Flag of Texas Independence (Refugio, Texas, 1937). Joseph Milton Nance, After San Jacinto: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1836–1841 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963). Kathryn Stoner O'Connor, The Presidio La Bahía del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga, 1721 to 1846 (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1966).

Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution

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

Craig H. Roell, “Dimmitt, Philip,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 19, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dimmitt-philip.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 16, 2020