Thursday, November 21, 2013

Royal Friends of Texas: Great Britain

The United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland has a very old and strong history with the “Lone Star State” which is all the more interesting for the fact that Texas is one of the (relatively few) parts of the world that was never part of the British Empire. The degree of influence the British have had on Texas has been so great, recounting it all could fill a library. However, here we will touch on some of the basics and look at a few unique incidents for illustration. Part of the reason the British influence on Texas has been so great is due to the fact that it was both direct, in Anglo-Texan relations, and indirect because the majority of the early settlers in Texas were Americans of Anglo-Celtic ancestry. One figure who played a major part in the War for Texas Independence was James Grant who was from Ross-shire, Scotland. He even became, at one time, one of at least four claimants to the position of commander-in-chief of the Texas army. Grant is most known for his effort to lead an offensive against the Mexican city of Matamoros after the successful capture of San Antonio. Many people, such as General Sam Houston (once he found out he would not be in charge) tried to dissuade the volunteers from following Grant on such a hair-brained scheme but no one can say Grant lacked courage because he set off to attack a Mexican city of 12,000 with less than a hundred men, by some counts not much more than fifty. Of course, it all ended in disaster when his tiny band ran headlong into the advancing column of General Jose Urrea and was completely wiped out. He was killed at the battle of Agua Dulce on March 2, 1836 -Independence Day.

Baker's San Felipe flag
At the famous battle of the Alamo, the British Isles were well represented. Out of the tiny garrison, 12 were from England, 4 were from Scotland, 12 were from Ireland and there was even one Welshman present. Probably the most visible of the British volunteers was 27-year old John McGregor, a sergeant in the artillery, who boosted the morale of the troops by playing his bag pipes during the 13-day siege. Numerous British natives fought in almost every major battle of the war. Even for the native Texans, the Anglo-Celtic heritage of the majority was not taken for granted. For example, when the first Anglo colony in Texas, San Felipe de Austin, organized a militia company for the war it flew a flag based on a design by Stephen F. Austin himself which featured the British Union Jack in the canton to represent the British ancestry of the people, along with red and white stripes to represent the United States, a Lone Star which has always been the symbol of Texas and the colors of red, white and green to represent their history with Mexico. This symbolism was not all that unique either. There were two proposals for independence flags which also featured the Union Jack, one in the canton of a reversed Mexican tricolor with a Lone Star in the middle and another, oddly enough, on a red, white and blue tricolor with the face of George Washington in the center.

During the 1820’s six Englishmen were given empresario contracts by the Mexican government to establish colonies in Texas but none did so. Beale’s Rio Grande colony included a number of English families and after independence the Republic of Texas authorized a large grant to the Peters colony in 1841 that settled large areas of north Texas and was named for English immigrant William S. Peters. It is interesting that, due to strong trade ties between Great Britain and Mexico, the Republic of Texas was not immediately recognized by the British government. At least not officially. There was a Texan envoy in London but, while everything worked as though there was official diplomatic recognition, there never was officially because of British fear of offending Mexico. It can, in some ways, be compared with the way countries today deal with the Republic of China on Taiwan without officially recognizing it as such for fear of losing access to the lucrative markets of the People’s Republic of China on the mainland. It was diplomatic recognition in all but name. Also interesting is that, during the war and after, Britain was the primary supplier for the Mexican navy. Because of this, all of the ships the Republic of Texas Navy faced at sea were British ships, some even with British crews and British officers all in the pay of Mexico. What is surprising is that, given that, the Republic of Texas Navy heavily copied the Royal Navy of Great Britain when it came to everything from uniforms to regulations.

An early Texas flag proposal
As the period of independence for the Republic of Texas was drawing to a close and tensions began to increase between the United States and Mexico over the idea of American annexation of Texas, the British found themselves in the middle of the diplomatic bargaining. Originally, this was not by choice. The leadership in Texas, at that time very much in favor of joining the United States, was trying to encourage the U.S. government to annex Texas but Washington was slow to act due to northern opposition over the admittance of another slave-holding southern state. To make America jealous, the Texas officials began to make hints that if the U.S. did not come around to favoring the annexation of Texas, then Texas might decide to join the British Empire instead. America, of course, was not at all pleased by this (probably not entirely serious) threat and the idea of having the British on both their northern and southern borders. So, America came around to favoring annexation pretty quick.

When Britain did choose to get involved on the annexation, it was after America decided to put annexation up for a vote. Mexico, despite losing the War for Texas Independence and losing another campaign to re-take Texas, still claimed that the Republic of Texas was Mexican territory and threatened war if the U.S. annexed Texas. Britain did not want to see a war break out that would be bad for business and was also not pleased with the idea of America growing even stronger by annexing such a large and valuable country. So, the British tried to broker a deal by which Mexico would finally agree to recognize the independence of the Republic of Texas if the Texan and American governments would agree that Texas should stay out of the United States. For Britain, this would be a win-win scenario, avoiding a Mexican-American War that would disrupt trade and giving the United States some competition for dominance of the continent. Unfortunately for Britain, and Mexico as it turned out, the Mexicans refused to ever recognize the loss of Texas under any circumstances and the deal failed before it could even be proposed to Texas or America. The result, of course, was the Mexican-American War in which Mexico ended up losing New Mexico, Arizona, California and even more territory as well as Texas so, in retrospect, they would have been wiser to listen to Britain.

HRH PoW at the San Jacinto Monument
After the war, there was another effort to establish an English presence in Texas, known as the colony of Kent, in the area of Bosque County in 1850. This was part of a much grander scheme envisioned by the Universal Emigration and Colonization Company of London which planned for considerable expansion and development with Kent becoming a “Philadelphia on the Brazos”, selling grain to nearby Ft Graham and becoming a center of manufacturing with access to the Gulf of Mexico and from there to the markets of the world. However, the initial settlers proved unable to adapt to the harsher climate of Texas and by 1851 the project had mostly collapsed. After the War Between the States there was a major cattle boom in Texas and this attracted a great many new immigrants and many came from Great Britain. The list of their contributions would be too numerous to list. However, later on there was one group that did manage to stand out. Between 1880 and 1900 a number of British aristocrats came to Texas looking for wealth and adventure. One of the earliest was Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks (‘Texanized’ by the locals into “Marshbanks”) the first Baron of Tweedsmouth. His syndicate bought 244 square miles of land in Wheeler and Collingsworth Counties in 1883. The English lord referred to his property as a “cattle estate” which he grandly named “Rocking Chair Ranche, Limited” but which was known by the neighbors as “Nobility Ranch”. It was a unique blending of the Texas frontier and English aristocracy with the owners preferring to be known as “proprietors” rather than ranchers and who, rather than hiring cowboys, “engaged cow servants”.

The Queen at the Governor's mansion
Over the years, Texas and Great Britain have only grown closer. Especially after World War II there were many family ties between the two as Texas soldiers stationed in Britain married British wives and brought them home to Texas when the war was over. In 1953 the Anglo-Texan Society was established in London to encourage closer cultural ties between Great Britain and Texas with the famous author Graham Greene serving as the first president. In the following decades, Texas and Britain became close enough to start having a few royal visits. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh visited first, followed by the Prince of Wales in 1986 as part of the sesquicentennial celebration of Texas independence and the Duchess of York visited in 1990. Princess Royal Anne and Princess Margaret also visited Texas. The greatest moment came in 1991 when HM Queen Elizabeth II visited Texas, stopping in at San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and Austin where the Queen addressed a special joint-session of the Texas Legislature. The Queen visited the Alamo in San Antonio, took in a symphony in Dallas and the Johnson Space Center in Houston. It was the first time a British monarch had ever set foot on Texas soil but few would know it. British flags were everywhere, the Salute Battery of the Texas Army Guard fired a 21-gun salute to welcome the monarch along with an honor guard and saber arch leading to the capital building. The Queen was gracious as well, pointing out that the experience of the Texas oil fields had helped in the British development of North Sea oil and she grasped the nature of the Texas attitude pretty well, noting in her speech how “lesser mortals are pitied for their misfortune in not being born Texan” which was met with thunderous applause and a deafening cheer.

The Queen at the Texas Legislature
Today there are over two million Texans of English ancestry and even more when one adds in the Scots and Irish. Every major city in Texas has British specialty shops, tea rooms and the like. Scottish festivals and highland games are held in numerous cities across Texas and there is even an official Texas Lone Star tartan, designed by Lanora Davidson in 2012 and registered with the Scottish Tartan Board (and before you ask, yes I have and yes I do). Texas may have never been part of the British Empire (only flirting with the idea) but Britain and Texas have had close ties ever since the fight for independence. Unlike some other areas of the modern United States, Texas and Great Britain have never been enemies and have fought side-by-side on numerous occasions. You can find a Texas cantina in the heart of London and more than one English pub in the heart of the Alamo City (and most other Texas metropolises). Texas and the United Kingdom are and have always been close friends and allies, the British have added much to the unique flavor that is Texas and hopefully the two will only ever grow closer and their friendship long continue.

God Bless Texas and God Save the Queen!


  1. Before the Lone Star Tartan, there was the Bluebonnet Tartan:

  2. Perhaps if Texas were to gain independence from the USA in the future, it could join the Commonwealth of Nations.


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