The elder José Ángel Navarro, a soldier and leading citizen of early Texas, oldest child of María Josefa (Ruiz) and Ángel Navarro, was born in San Antonio de Béxar in 1784. He was a lieutenant of infantry when the Spanish general Joaquín de Arredondo led an army into San Antonio in August 1813 after the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition. The general, learning that Navarro's relatives were on the side of Mexican independence, discharged him and caused him to flee for his life into the interior of Mexico. His widowed mother hurried her minor children out of town, and his brother Antonio, an uncle, and a brother-in-law sought safety in Louisiana. In 1821 the family was together again, and José Ángel proclaimed to San Antonio the new independence of Mexico and accepted the surrender of the Spanish governor (see MEXICAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE). From this time the fortunes of the Navarros improved. The sons ran the mercantile store founded by their father. Navarro was able to make the second largest donation to rebuild their burned-out church, San Fernando. He witnessed the marriage of his niece, Ursula Veramendi, to James Bowie in 1831.
On December 19, 1832, San Antonio became the first Texas town to present a list of grievances to the legislature of Coahuila and Texas. The Béxar Remonstrance was signed by Navarro as alcalde, with six others. Included was a plea that state authorities seek the repeal of that part of the Law of April 6, 1830, that banned immigration from the United States; it also urged that steps be taken to separate Texas from Coahuila. In 1835 Navarro was elected political chief of the Department of Bexar. By this time, Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna had dissolved the congress and made himself ruler of Mexico, and was resorting to the use of military force to put down the state governments, including that of Coahuila and Texas. He sent Col. Domingo de Ugartechea and his cavalry to set up a command post in Bexar. A conflict arose between Navarro, who had been requested to send 100 men of the civic militia to the capital at Monclova, and Ugartechea, who had received orders from his superior, Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos, to prevent any militia from leaving Texas. Navarro sent the militia and wrote Ugartechea that "the civic militia depends exclusively on the authorities of the state and are in no manner subject to the orders of military officers." When Cos arrived in Bexar with some 800 soldiers on October 9, 1835, Navarro refused to let him use his home as headquarters. In November, when the Texas volunteers were converging on Bexar after their victory at the battle of Gonzales, Samuel A. Maverick and other local Americans took refuge from Cos at Navarro's ranch. Joseph H. Barnard was a guest in the Navarros' town house, and was joined by Horace A. Alsbury, husband of Navarro's daughter Juana (see ALSBURY, JUANA NAVARRO) after the fall of the Alamo. By Concepción Cervantes, Navarro had three "natural" daughters, Juana Gertrudis, María Petra, and María Gertrudis. The last went by the name Gertrudis; she and Juana were present at the battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836 (see ALAMO NONCOMBATANTS). The older of Navarro's two sons by his wife, María Juana Ramírez, was not yet five years old when Navarro died at his home on June 13, 1836.