Texans love stories of pioneer settlers and heroes. Angelina Eberly fits the bill. Born in Tennessee in 1798, Mrs. Eberly married her first cousin, made the journey to Matagorda Bay on the Texas coast in 1822 and finally, with the help of several slaves, opened an inn and tavern in the new village of San Felipe de Austin on the Brazos River.
After her husband died, Mrs. Eberly continued operating the hotel until Texans burned the town in 1836 to prevent it from falling into General Santa Anna’s hands during the Texas War for Independence from Mexico.
After the war she married again and moved with her new husband in 1839 to the new Texas capital of Austin where they opened the Eberly Boarding House.
History reveals Texas’ politics as contentious during the days of the republic as they are today. The constitution of the new republic allowed the president to serve only one, two-year term, which meant Sam Houston, first president and hero of the war for independence, stepped down to allow the election of his successor and nemesis Mirabeau B. Lamar.
Immediately, the new President Lamar inflamed the already contentious political climate by appointing a site-selection commission that moved the capital of the republic from old Sam’s namesake city of Houston to a little village on the Colorado River in the wilderness of Central Texas. The builders had only nine months to erect a city in time to house the next legislative session. The new capital, which rose out of the forest was named “Austin,” in honor of Stephen F. Austin, the father of early Texas settlement.
The temporary capitol, a plank-covered building with a dog run separating the two chambers, faced a wide dirt street named Congress Avenue. The other government agencies were placed in even less pretentious blockhouses made of logs cut from the plentiful cedar trees covering the hillsides. The president’s white house was constructed quickly of unseasoned pine from nearby Bastrop and placed on a high hill overlooking the town and the Colorado River coursing below.
One of the early businesses was Mrs. Angelina Eberly’s Boarding House where President Lamar and his cabinet often dined. When Sam Houston won reelection in late 1841 for another two-year term, he took one look at the president’s crumbling house and refused to occupy the structure. The green timbers had dried and warped, causing cracks in the plastered walls and damage to the roof. Instead, President Houston moved into Mrs. Eberly’s Boarding House.
Indians attacked individuals who dared to roam away from the capital. After dark, residents walked at their own risks in the town’s streets. Part of the defense plan included a six-pounder canon, loaded with grapeshot. Sam Houston and his supporters used the Indian threat as one of the arguments for moving the capital away from its location on the western frontier. Finally, when Mexican troops captured San Antonio on March 5, 1842, Houston moved the Congress to Washington, a tiny village on the Brazos River.
Determined to keep the last symbol of the capital in their town, Austin residents demanded the republic’s archives, which consisted of diplomatic, financial, land, and military-service records, remain in Austin.
When Mexicans invaded San Antonio again in December 1842, Sam Houston found his excuse for action. He instructed two army officers to take eighteen men and two wagons to Austin in the middle of the night and quietly remove the archives from the General Land Office.
No one ever explained what Angelina Eberly was doing outside in the middle of the night, but when she saw the wagons leaving with the archives, she ran to the loaded cannon and fired it to warn the citizens of the robbery.
The military men traveled about twenty miles that first day up to Kenney’s Fort located near present Round Rock. The next morning, when the officers rose to continue their journey, they discovered the citizens of Austin circling the fort with their cannon aimed toward the enclosure. Without further ado, the military men returned the files to the Austin citizens, thus ending what has been dubbed both “The Archives War” and “The Bloodless War.”
With most of the republic’s business handled in Washington, Austin struggled for several years, the population dropping below 200 and its buildings deteriorating. Finally, in 1845 a constitutional convention approved Texas’ annexation to the United States and named Austin as the state capital. In 1850 Texas residents finally voted to officially designate Austin as the Texas capital.
Ever eager to find a good business location, Angelina Eberly moved in 1846 to Lavaca (present Port Lavaca) where she leased Edward Clegg’s Tavern House while she surveyed the coastal area for the best location for her business. Upon seeing nearby Indianola becoming a thriving seaport, she moved down the coast and opened her American Hotel. At the time of her death in 1860, her estate appraised at $50,000, making Mrs. Angelina Eberly the wealthiest citizen of Calhoun County.
Today, Austin residents honor their cannoneer with a larger-than-life-size bronze sculpture at the corner of Congress Avenue and Seventh Street.