José Antonio Mexía, Mexican military officer, the son of Pedro Mexía and Juana Josefa Hernández was, by his own account, born in 1800 in Jalapa, although contemporary Mexican historians alleged that he was a native of Cuba. The deaths of his father and brother in the Mexican war of independence forced him to seek refuge in the United States, where he acquired such proficiency in the English language that in November 1822 Texas governor José Félix Trespalacios named him interpreter for a Cherokee Indian delegation to Mexico City. In 1823 and 1824 he served as secretary of the state congress of Tamaulipas, and from 1825 to 1827 as collector of customs in Tuxpan. In 1825–27 he took an active part in the growth of York Rite Masonry, and, after 1827, in the affairs of the Federalist party. After serving briefly as a captain in the army in 1823, he again entered active service in 1827, when he was named to the staff of Gen. Vicente Guerrero. Thereafter he received several promotions-to lieutenant colonel in 1828, to colonel in 1829, and to brigadier general in 1832.
Mexía served in the United States as secretary of the Mexican legation from November 1829 to March 1831. While in the United States he became an agent and lobbyist for the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company. As a supporter of Antonio López de Santa Anna during the popular disturbances of 1832 in Mexico he led the liberal army in its capture of Matamoros. After the Anahuac Disturbances in June 1832, he led the so-called Mexía's expedition to Texas to suppress what was thought to be the beginnings of a rebellion. Stephen F. Austin and other Texas leaders convinced him that the settlers were loyal to Mexico. While a senator from the state of Mexico in 1834, Mexía joined Federalist forces that rose in protest against Santa Anna's assumption of dictatorial powers. After a two-month campaign, Mexía surrendered in the state of Jalisco and was ordered into exile by Santa Anna. In New Orleans he devoted most of the next year to organizing and outfitting a volunteer force of some 160 men (most of whom were from the United States), who sailed under his command in the Tampico expedition of November 1835. With the survivors of this abortive attack on Tampico he landed in Texas in December. After failing to win the support of Texas leaders for his proposal to attack Matamoros, he returned to New Orleans. During his final three years in exile, Mexía traveled to Cuba and Central America for the New Orleans export-import company of which he was a partner. He was involved also in negotiating an agreement for the construction of a Nicaraguan canal.
Tempted to return to Mexico by the resurgence of the Federalists late in 1838, he landed in Tampico on January 3, 1839, and joined Gen. José de Urrea as second in command. Four months later, on May 3, 1839, at Acajete, near Puebla, Urrea's undermanned forces were routed by government troops. Mexía was captured and executed by a firing squad on the same day on orders of Santa Anna. In the eyes of his countrymen he had been guilty of unpardonable treason in bringing foreign adventurers into the country.
In Mexico City on August 5, 1823, Mexía married Charlotte Walker, the twenty-two-year-old, English-born daughter of Christopher and Elizabeth (Cove) Walker. Charlotte died of typhus in Mexico City on September 25, 1864. Two of the children of this marriage were closely associated with the development of northeastern Texas during the last half of the nineteenth century. The first of these, María Adelaida Matilda, was born at Tuxpan on August 27, 1826. By April 8, 1848, she had married George Louis Hammeken, an American of Danish extraction who was involved in the building of a Mexican railroad in the 1850s. Adelaida died in Mexico City on December 22, 1878. The second of the children, Enrique Guillermo Antonio Mexía, was born in Mexico City in January 1829. After a career in the Mexican military, he managed his and his sister's vast estates near the site of present Mexia, Texas. He died in Mexico City on September 19, 1896. In November 1833 the state of Coahuila and Texas granted Mexía's daughter Adelaida and his son Enrique separate titles to eleven-league tracts of land in Limestone, Freestone, and Anderson counties. In 1871 the Houston and Texas Central Townsite Company named the town of Mexia for Enrique and the Mexia family, thus perpetuating the Mexía name in Texas geography as well as Texas history.