James Austin Sylvester, captor of Antonio López de Santa Anna, was born at Baltimore, Maryland, in 1807. At an early age he moved with his parents to Newport, Kentucky. Later he became a printer's devil with the Cincinnati Enquirer, where he continued to work until the beginning of the Texas Revolution. On December 18, 1835, Sylvester and fifty other men joined Capt. Sidney Sherman to form a company of Kentucky riflemen to fight for Texas independence. The newly formed company arrived in Nacogdoches early in 1836. On January 10 the provincial governor of Texas, Henry Smith, commissioned Sylvester a captain in the reserve army. Sylvester and his company left Nacogdoches on February 26 for Gonzales, where the Texas army was reorganized. Sylvester was appointed second sergeant and color bearer in the active army, but he still maintained his captain's rank in the reserves.
After the Alamo fell on March 6, 1836, Sylvester marched with Gen. Sam Houston's army from Gonzales to San Jacinto. Meanwhile, Santa Anna, after his victory in San Antonio, marched to Harrisburg, which he burned to the ground before proceeding to San Jacinto. According to one account, the Mexicans captured Sylvester at Harrisburg, but he managed to escape. On April 21, during the decisive battle of San Jacinto, Sylvester carried the flag of the Kentucky volunteers that the women of Newport had presented to them (see FLAGS OF THE TEXAS REVOLUTION). The day after the battle, the Texans began looking for members of the Mexican army who had not yet been captured. Sylvester was with the main body of men under Gen. Edward Burleson. With a small party of men, he left the main group at Vince's Bayou to hunt. He was alone when he found a Mexican dressed in a private's uniform. Not realizing he had captured the president of Mexico, he escorted the leader to the main camp of the Texas army. Not long after the battle of San Jacinto, Governor Henry Smith commissioned Sylvester a captain in the cavalry. He served under Gen. Thomas Jefferson Chambers. He remained in the army until June 1837, when he was discharged from the service. He moved to Texana in Jackson County and became the deputy county recorder. In 1842 he participated in the Somervell expedition. The next year Sylvester, who never married, left Texas and took a position on the New Orleans Picayune. He remained with that newspaper until his death on April 9, 1882. His remains were later removed from the Odd Fellows Rest Cemetery in New Orleans and reinterred at the State Cemetery in Austin.