Wavell, Arthur Goodall (1785–1860)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: August 1, 1995

Arthur Goodall Wavell, English soldier of fortune and colonial empresario, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 20, 1785, the son of William Wavell. He attended Winchester College from 1798 through 1804 and began his military career on April 10, 1805, as a cadet in the Bengal Establishment. Ill health returned him to England that same year, however. He joined the Spanish Army in 1810, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1811. Between 1811 and 1817, for his service against Napoleon in the battles of Cadiz, Barrosa, Tarragona, and Ateca, he was promoted to colonel and received the Cross of Distinction, the Military Cross of San Fernando, and the Order of Charles the III from the crown. In 1817 Wavell resigned his Spanish commission and in July 1820 joined the revolutionary Chilean army as colonel of an infantry regiment. After reaching the rank of major general and deputy commander of the army, he was sent to Mexico as a special aide. There he accepted a commission as a brigadier general in the Mexican army and was quickly promoted to major general. In Mexico he published textbooks on infantry and cavalry tactics and a code of regulation as well as several pamphlets on the defense of various regions of the country. While he was in the Chilean service Wavell had met Moses Austin and developed an enthusiasm for his colonization scheme in Texas. With the death of the elder Austin, Wavell helped Stephen F. Austin transfer the empresario grant to his name. Wavell gave Austin a room in his apartments, and the two men agreed to join forces and share equally in the profits from the Austin Colony. Years later Wavell "boldly affirm[ed] that but for [his] aid both pecuniary, & in his Papers, & urging men in Power to advance his claims . . . his Grant the Cradle of Texas would never have been obtained."

On June 26, 1822, Austin granted Wavell his power of attorney to form a company in England for the development of his Texas colony. Austin's land grant and such capital as Wavell might raise were to be the joint stock. On July 4 the partners agreed that all profits from land sales, mining, or commerce in the colony were to be divided between them. Wavell sailed from Vera Cruz on the French brig L'Azema, bound for Bordeaux. On September 3, however, the ship was attacked and captured by Spanish pirates, and Wavell was robbed of $1,700 and all of his property including copies of Austin's grant and his map of Texas. The French ship then returned to Charleston, where Wavell transferred to the British ship London to complete his voyage. He arrived in Liverpool on November 11 and began his attempts to raise capital for his and Austin's enterprise. In May 1823 he informed Austin of the proposal of a London firm to furnish £20,000 in exchange for a half interest in the company. Austin did not respond to Wavell's letter. Wavell returned to Mexico, therefore, with no arrangement for English capital to support Austin's efforts, and the company that the two men had planned was never formed. Although the terms of the agreement for raising funds for Austin's colony had never been put into effect, Wavell still had claims against Austin for loans made to him in 1822, and in 1826 he appointed Benjamin Rush Milam as his agent to recoup his investment. No money, however, was ever recovered.

In 1824 Wavell wrote to Austin for advice on his own colonization efforts. Austin responded in wholly negative terms. "I am heartily sick of the whole business," he informed his former partner, and advised him that if he wished "to keep out of trouble let Colonization matters alone, either here or anywhere else." Nevertheless, on July 30, 1825, Wavell applied for a grant between Sulphur Fork and Kiamicha River on the Red River-an area recommended by Milam that Wavell himself had never seen. On March 9, 1826, the vice governor of Coahuila and Texas, Ignacio de Arispe, granted Wavell's request, giving him a six year time limit to complete the colonization of what is now Lamar, Red River, and Bowie counties as well as portions of Fannin and Hunt counties and Miller County, Arkansas. Wavell's efforts to promote the colony in England were fruitless, however, and Milam's attempts to draw colonists from the United States were hampered to a large degree by Mexico's hostility to slavery, without which the production of cotton was next to impossible. Too, the great Red River Raft, a log jam stretching 165 miles from Loggy Bayou to Carolina Bluffs, prevented river transport to and from the colony. The United States disputed the eastern border of the Wavell grant, correctly claiming that it was actually within the southwest boundary of Arkansas, and finally, on April 6, 1830, Mexico banned further immigration from the United States and refused to issue land titles to any of the colonists that Milam had recruited.

In 1826 Wavell attempted to visit his colony but was prevented by flood waters. In 1828 he returned to Mexico, but did not visit Texas, and in 1831 an attack of rheumatism stopped him from viewing his grant. With Milam's death at the siege of Bexar in 1835, colonization efforts came to a virtual standstill. In 1837 Wavell divided his share in the grant with Milam's heirs, and only in 1841 was the survey of the grant completed. In August 1843 and again in February 1844 Wavell approached the British chargé d'affaires seeking compensation for the loss of his claim, but was informed on both occasions that Her Majesty's Government would not support his claim. Accordingly, he petitioned the congress of the Republic of Texas for compensation, but as the laws of June 12, 1837, had voided all Mexican empresario grants, making them the property of the government, and forbidden any alien to file suit against the republic, his petition was never acknowledged, and Sterling C. Robertson was awarded part of Wavell's lands. At last Wavell attempted to petition the state of Texas for compensation for the $10,000 that he claimed to have expended toward the colonization of the state, and on March 18, 1853, retained Ashbel Smith as his attorney. Not until fall of 1856 was Smith able to see legislation passed that would allow Wavell to file suit for his claims in a Texas court. Under its terms he could request one league of land for every twenty families settled on his grant. This land would be equally divided with the heirs of Ben Milam. As Wavell and Milam had introduced only 140 families onto the colony, however, the value of the 15,498 acres to which Wavell would be entitled would not equal the cost of the suit. Wavell, therefore, dropped his Texas claims to pursue the study of the gunrafts then being developed by the Prussian navy, and he never again made mention of Texas in any of his correspondence. On May 27, 1827, Wavell was named a fellow of the Royal Society. He claimed to have recommended Gail Borden's meat biscuit to the admiralty as rations for the Royal Navy. He died in London on July 10, 1860. He was the father of ten children and the grandfather of Field Marshal Sir Archibald Wavell.

Robert W. Amsler, "General Arthur G. Wavell: A Soldier of Fortune in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 69 (July 1965). Eugene C. Barker, "General Arthur Goodall Wavell and Wavell's Colony in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 47 (January 1944). Thomas W. Cutrer, The English Texans (San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1985). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
  • Peoples
  • Scots
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • Military
  • Soldiers
Time Periods:
  • Mexican Texas

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

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Wavell, Arthur Goodall,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 16, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wavell-arthur-goodall.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995

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