© 1997-2007, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved

DeWitt Colony Government

The Hispanic Municipality Structure. As an integral part of the new Republic of Mexico’s frontera, the DeWitt Colony adopted the ancient Roman municipio or municipality governmental structure similar to today’s county government unit, an rural area surrounding a more populated town or city in this case Gonzales. Like its Spanish predecessor, the Presidio-Villa-Mission triad, the municipality’s role was to provide security while an economy and culture evolved. The municipality was run by the ayuntamiento which had civil and criminal jurisdiction, a unit of government under the colonization laws of Mexico and State of Coahuila y Texas required to be formed when the colony reached a population of 200 or 40 families. The ayuntamiento was composed of the alcalde, regidores and syndico procuradores all chosen by electors chosen by popular vote except in provisional or interim situations in which appointments were by the Jefe-Politico (regional political chief) or a similar commissioner of the government. The alcalde was a relatively unique position, a combination of councilman, misdemeanor judge, political and economic committee chair and sometimes sheriff. The alcalde had authority to levy fines of up to $10 without appeal and up to $200 with right of appeal. Cases of robbery, gambling, profanity, seduction, drunkenness and counterfeiting were tried by a jury of six presided over by the alcalde. Capital offenses were referred to the Commandant General’s office in Monterrey. Obviously, the responsibilities and demands on the alcalde were considerable. The regidor was essentially a councilman and the syndico procurador the regional attorney and treasurer.

District of Gonzales, San Felipe Ayuntamiento 1828-1832. The original DeWitt colonists at Old Station on the coast answered to jefe-politico in San Antonio de Bexar Josť Antonio Saucedo who appointed James Norton temporary alcalde when the population was at forty. Norton’s most notable crisis as temporary alcalde was the confrontation with DeLeon and Manchola from Bahia and the following Oliver scandal in 1826 as well as participation in the position paper which was mostly guided by colony attorney James Kerr denouncing the Fredonian Rebellion . Because it was still too small to qualify for its own ayuntamiento, the colony answered to the ayuntamiento of San Felipe de Austin from 1828 to 1832 as the District of Gonzales, representatives were appointed to that body and DeWitt Colonists were subject to the rules and regulations laid out for the San Felipe ayuntamiento. In 1830, A.M. Clare was appointed syndico procurador and Fielding Porter was comisario of police in 1829 and 1830. The murder of Porter by Hirman Friley, Friley’s apprehension and transport for trial to San Felipe and Saltillo and his escape aided by tobacco smuggler, Texas ex-patriot and author Noah Smithwick was the most notable incident of the period. J.B. Patrick was elected comisario to finish Porter’s term with 38 votes to Silas Fuqua’s 18 and was reelected. Thomas T. Miller was elected syndico procurador from the Gonzales District in the same general election.

DeWitt Colony/Gonzales Ayuntamiento 1832. Land Commissioner Jose Antonio Navarro in 1832 appointed the first DeWitt Colony ayuntamiento that was independent of San Felipe de Austin, with Ezekiel Williams alcalde, Winslow Turner and Silas Fuqua as regidores and Stephen Smith as syndico procurador. No sooner than it was organized, the independent status brought on a call by Jefe-Politico Ramon Musquiz that they convene and convey their sentiments concerning the events surrounding the confrontations at Anahuac and Velasco and their conclusion with the declarations of support for the ouster of Bustamente and the return of Santa Anna under the Republican and constitutional banner by the Austin colony ayuntamientos in summer of 1832. This represented the first time that DeWitt Colonists had ever been called on to divert their attention from the demands and rigors of building homes and a society on the frontier and to come together to express a political position that might have far reaching consequences on their futures. Heretofore, the colonists had taken for granted the sincerity of their adopted government and religion to uphold the promises of economic freedom, opportunity and self-determination espoused in the colonization laws and Constitutution of 1824 under which they had been invited. So far DeWitt Colonists had nothing to complain of except for the lack of promised government protection against depredations by the aboriginal bands and renegade outlaws from both north and south of the border. Aware and respectful of their neighboring Bexar citizens' loyal position to the Mexican government, their dependence on the dedication, friendship and guidance of Land Commissioner Jose Antonio Navarro and their vulnerability to government forces from south of the border independent of faction, the Gonzales ayuntamiento took a neutral stance, while indicating customary respect to their governmental superior who they relied on to look after their interests, the Jefe-Politico. According to Edwards in History of Texas, the Gonzales ayuntamiento transmitted the following printed on the right column of the letter paper which in Mexican tradition indicated dependency to the recipient:

To His Excellency
Ramon Musquez
By the inhabitants of Green DeWitt’s colony in accordance to instruction.
As we have never been officially informed, either by the present reigning Government, headed by the Vice President Bustamente, or by their opponents, headed by Gen. Santa Anna, of the nature of these differences which exist between them; and as Citizens of a polity amenable only to our Federal head, we are as yet perfectly satisfied with measures heretofore pursued by that head in relation to us; and, were it otherwise, we feel our insufficiency to step between them and their explanations of the Constitution and laws of our adopted country!

Moreover, having never had laid before us in a tangible shape, the difficulties existing between the Colonists of Austin and the Commandants of the Forts Anahuac and Velasco: we are therefore, at this time, equally unable to decide as to the merits or demerits of either of the contending belligerents!

Therefore, to you, Sir, as our organ of Governmental correspondence we would have it made fully known, and by them perfectly understood, that we, the colonists of Colonel Green DeWitt, are by our present unprotected situation, liable to be cut of by the savage foe consequently, unable to render any physical assistance, if so requested, to our brethren of Mexico, of Vera Cruz, or of Texas. Humbly trusting, that our precarious condition will be a sufficient excuse for our neutrality---not only to you, Sir, who know our state experimentally, and who have more than once expressed a fatherly solicitude for our preservation---but to that Government you represent, on whose paternal care and munificent generosity we implicitly rely!!

Response to the Independence Consultations 1832 and 1833 . During its birth and while officially still an administrative unit under the San Felipe municipality of the Austin Colony, DeWitt Colonists as loyal Anglo-Mexican citizens firmly sided with their adopted government by denouncing and participating in military action to suppress the Fredonian Rebellion in East Texas in 1827.   Alcalde Jose Angel Navarro (brother of Jose Antonio Navarro) speaking for the Bexar Ayuntamiento expressed to the San Felipe Ayuntamiento cautious sympathy with the objects of the first convention of 1 Oct 1832, but regarded the meeting as "untimely and uncalled for" on the basis that "no hope can be entertained at present of a successful issue of the matters urged---all such meetings are prohibited by the supreme power and existing laws---the Political Chief of the department should have been consulted before such action was taken; and that on hearing of the event, that official expressed his surprise and displeasure that a movement so unusual should have been entered upon without his knowledge and consent."

According to author John Henry Brown in History of Texas, on 22 Nov Jefe-Politico Don Josť Maria de La Garza demanded the Ayuntamiento of Gonzales to explain what part, if any, they had taken in the convention. Alcalde Ezekial Williams replied on the 16 Dec 1832:

We acknowledge the receipt of your Lordship's communication of the 22nd of November, 1832, in which you request this body to say how far they have taken part in the convention held in Austin's colony, for the purpose, it is said, of making representations to the government. They answer that in no manner have they been officially concerned in said convention, and that the colonists of this jurisdiction have taken officially no part in it. God and Liberty. EZEKIEL WILLIAMS, Alcalde.

After the second consultation of Apr 1833 in San Felipe, the official response representated by alcalde of the Gonzales Ayuntamiento, James B. Patrick, on 27 Apr 1833 was now unequivocal as expressed in a note to Jefe-Politico Ramon Musquiz:

The Ayuntamiento of Gonzales heartily concurs in the action of the convention of April 1, at San Felipe, on the subject of separate State organization for Texas, being of the opinion that the people of Texas are in the legally prescribed condition for such a step, and they approve of the appointment of Stephen F. Austin, James B. Miller and Erasmo Seguin, on the part of friends of that measure, to represent them at the capital.

A position statement emerging from a general meeting of the citizens of the Gonzales Municipality in Jul 1835 clearly demonstrated the patience and desire for peace of the DeWitt Colonists even as clear signs of anti-Constitutional actions and military action against Texians were emerging.  The statement enunciated loyalty to their adopted government as Anglo-Mexicans, denounced land sales for speculation, disapproved of actions contrary to the revolutionary laws of Mexico, recommended change in local revenue laws, but expressed willingness to subscribe to them, and expressed faith in the central government to respond to the peaceful "wants" of Texas.  The statement precipitated opinion expressed from several messengers in contact with commander Col. Ugartechea in San Antonio that the citizens of Gonzales desired peace and were not in covert plans for active rebellion against the government.  John Fisher, secretary of the Committee of Safety and Correspondence, and later elected representative to the consultations of 1835, the independence consultation of 1836 and signer of the Declaration of Independence, expressed the majority sentiment represented by the peace factions:

Resolved: That we protest against any Provisional Government or organization contrary to the true intent and meaning of the Constitution and laws, tending to estrange the Jurisdiction of Texas from that of Coahuila as established by the constitutional act, unless the Federal Congress shall sanction the separation, and the loyalty and patriotism of the citizens of Texas shall challenge this benefit for us at their hands, and every act and deed, tending to interrupt the harmony and good understanding existing between Texas and the Federal Government, deserve the marked disapprobation and contempt of every friend of constitutional order in the country.

Another resolution in a meeting of citizens two days after the meeting which included DeWitt Colonists at Millican's gin on the Navidad River on 17 Jul, John Fisher's resolution clearly delineated the qualifications placed on loyalty to the government:

so long as the actions of the government justified this faith in its integrity, the people of Gonzales will continue their unqualified allegiance. But if it be discovered that the numerous reports are correct, that the government contemplates a formidable invasion of the rights and properties of the citizens of Texas, they hereby declare themselves resistance to such measures a virtue.

A letter of 25 Jul 1835 from James B. Patrick to James Kerr indicated that the majority of Gonzales residents concurred with the resolutions from the meeting at Millican's gin, e.g. that the actions of Santa Anna were hostile to state sovereignty and the constitution and that they would oppose any force introduced into Texas for other than constitutional purposes. 

In sum, these actions and positions illustrate the steady and patient course of loyalty and peace taken by the large majority of DeWitt Colonists as Anglo-Mexican citizens alongside the majority of native born Tejanos from San Antonio to the coast until that course became clearly impossible due to the belligerence, corruption and repression of a centralista dictatorship.  Once that impossibility was crystal clear, it was these same principled colonists who resisted actions of the dictatorship that became known as the Battle of Gonzales, the turning point or Lexington of the Texas Revolution.   

Gonzales Ayuntamientos 1833-1836. Commissioner Navarro called for a general election in December required by the Constitution of Coahuila y Texas. James B. Patrick was elected alcalde, Charles Lockhart regidor and Almond Cottle syndico procurador. Lewis D. Sowell and Adam Zumwalt were appointed tellers and Jose Ramon Bedford secretary by the new ayuntamiento. Minutes of the first Ayuntamiento of Gonzales dated January 25, 1833 through February, 1834 were recorded and give a picture of some of the day to day activities with which the new government was concerned.

In December, the Gonzales Ayuntamiento for 1834 was elected. Only Charles Lockhart was eligible for re-election. Elected were James C. Davis, alcalde; Charles Lockhart and Eli Mitchell, regidores and Thomas R. Miller, syndico procurador. The fact that the group was renting a municipal office and meeting place (Miller’s home) and appointed alcalde James C. Davis as treasurer indicated that income and therefore economic activity of the colony was increasing. Ezekiel Williams was appointed as a primary judge in April 18, 1834, possibly in response to State Decree no. 26 which separated judicial and administrative responsibilities of the alcalde which under the law was to be elected with same qualifications required for alcalde. Malkijah Williams was appointed sheriff of the municipality in August, 1834 and T.R. Miller was constable. Issues with which the Ayuntamiento of 1834 were concerned are reflected in the Minutes.

There are no minutes for 1835 and from 1836 to 1839 the municipal government was disbanded due to the Texas Revolution. The Gonzales Ayuntamiento of 1835 was the one who would guide the colony through the momentous events leading up to Texas Independence in spring 1836. Elected were: Andrew Ponton, alcalde; Eli Mitchell and Joseph D. Clements, regidores; Mathew Caldwell, sindico procurador. B.D. McClure was primary judge in March, 1835. A few of their activities are reported in the Texas Archives.

© 1997-2007, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
DeWitt Colony Government--Index