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Somervell, Alexander (1796–1854)

Robert E. Cunningham, rev. by Randolph B. Campbell Biography

Alexander Somervell, entrepreneur, soldier, and leader of the Somervell Expedition, was born to James and Elizabeth (Magruder) Somervell on June 11, 1796, in Aquasco, Prince George County, Maryland. He moved to Louisiana in 1817 and was a planter in St. Landry Parish. In the early 1820s he moved to Missouri where he was a merchant. He moved to Texas in 1833 and was granted land in Stephen F. Austin's second colony. Somervell engaged in the mercantile business at San Felipe with James F. Perry. In October 1835 Somervell joined the volunteers marching from Gonzales to Bexar and was elected major. He participated in the siege of Bexar. He enrolled in the Texas army on March 12, 1836, and on April 8 was elected lieutenant colonel of the first regiment of Texas Volunteers, succeeding Sidney Sherman. He participated in the Battle of San Jacinto and remained in the army until June 7, 1836. He served briefly as secretary of war in David G. Burnet's cabinet. Somervell represented Colorado and Austin counties in the Senate of the First and Second congresses, October 3, 1836, to May 4, 1838. By the time he was elected brigadier general on November 18, 1839, he was living in Fort Bend County. In January 1840 he was appointed commissioner to inspect land offices west of the Brazos. The following year he was named county clerk in Austin County. In March1842, Sam Houston gave him command of the volunteers gathering at San Antonio in response to an invasion by Mexican forces commanded by Gen. Rafael Vázquez. The volunteers, however, wanted Vice President Edward Burleson to take command, causing a delay during which Vázquez returned to Mexico. A few months later, in September 1842, another invading Mexican army commanded by Gen. Adrian Woll occupied San Antonio, and once again Houston appointed Somervell to command Texas forces to meet the threat. In reality, Houston did not want war with Mexico and chose Somervell because he tended to move slowly and would not cross the Rio Grande. The result was the abortive Somervell Expedition. As a reward for his services, on December 17, 1842, Somervell was appointed collector of customs for the port of Calhoun near Indianola, which he held until 1850. In partnership with two others, he helped develop the town of Saluria on northeastern Matagorda Island in Calhoun County between 1845 and 1847. President Franklin Pierce reappointed Somervell as collector of customs at Indianola in 1853, but he died on January 20, 1854, under mysterious circumstances. He died from drowning and his body was found lashed to the timbers of the capsized boat carrying a considerable amount of money from Lavaca to Saluria. Somervell named his friend, James F. Perry, as the executor of his will, which left the majority of his wealth to his brother, James Somervell. The will entered into probate proceedings in Calhoun County, on May 6, 1856. Alexander Somervell's place of burial is unknown.

Baltimore The Sun, February 9, 1854. Sam Houston Dixon and Louis Wiltz Kemp, The Heroes of San Jacinto (Houston: Anson Jones, 1932). Gettysburg The Adams Sentinel, February, 13, 1854. Sam W. Haynes, Soldiers of Misfortune: The Somervell and Mier Expeditions (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990). Stephen L. Moore, Savage Frontier: Rangers, Riflemen, and Indian Wars in Texas, Volume IV, 1842-1845 (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2010). Joseph Milton Nance, Attack and Counterattack: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1842 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964). Texas House of Representatives, Biographical Directory of the Texan Conventions and Congresses, 1832–1845 (Austin: Book Exchange, 1941). Robert M. Utley, Lone Star Justice: The First Century of the Texas Rangers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

Time Periods:

  • Texas Revolution
  • Republic of Texas

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

Robert E. Cunningham, rev. by Randolph B. Campbell, “Somervell, Alexander,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 24, 2020, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/somervell-alexander.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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