Tough Pioneer Woman

School children often read that Jane Long was the “Mother of Texas.” She was a courageous woman who followed her husband when he led a group of filibusterers intent on freeing Texas from Spanish rule. However, many Native American, Mexican women, and several English-

Jane Long

speaking women came to Texas before Jane Long arrived in 1819.

Born in 1798, the youngest of ten children, Jane Herbert Wilkinson lost both her parents by the time she was thirteen. She lived with her sister on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi, where she met the dashing James Long after he returned from the Battle of New Orleans. They married before her sixteenth birthday, and for several years James Long practiced medicine, operated a plantation, and worked as a merchant in Natchez

James Long, filibusterer

James Long and many of the residents in the Natchez area were unhappy over the Adams-Onís Treaty, in which Spain gave Florida to the United States in exchange for setting the boundary of the Louisiana Purchase at the Sabine River. Initially, they expected, and even Thomas Jefferson stated, that the border should be the Rio Grande, which would have made Texas part of the United States.

Citizens of the United States had already made several filibustering attempts to wrest Texas from Spain when James Long in 1819 was named commander of an expedition financed by subscriptions totaling about $500,000. Over 300 young men volunteered, expecting to receive a league of Texas land in exchange for their service.

When James Long left for Texas, Jane was pregnant and remained behind with their eighteen-month-old daughter, Ann. The second girl, Rebecca, was born on June 16. Twelve days later Jane left with both children and Kian, her young slave girl, to join her husband in Texas. By the time they reached Alexandria, Louisiana, Jane was sick. She left both children and Kian with friends and plunged on, finally reaching Nacogdoches in August.

The citizens of Nacogdoches declared the independence of Texas, organized a provisional government, and named James Long its chief. Supplies did not arrive as expected from Natchez, and Long made a fruitless attempt to persuade the pirate Jean Laffite, who occupied Galveston Island, to provide supplies and men for the expedition. Finally, in October Spanish authorities sent more than 500 troops to Nacogdoches and drove the Long Expedition out of Texas.

As they fled to Louisiana, the Longs learned of the death of their baby, Rebecca. Undeterred by his failure, Long organized a new expedition. By March 1820, he took Jane, their daughter Ann, and the slave girl Kian with him to Bolivar Peninsula that extended into Galveston Bay across from the eastern end of Galveston Island. Long organized his forces at Fort Las Casas on Point Bolivar and continued to court the elusive Jean Laffite.

In later years, when Jane recounted her experience on Bolivar Peninsula, she claimed that she dined privately with Laffite to get his support for her husband’s expedition. She also said that she made a flag, which she called “The Lone Star” for Long’s troops to carry with them.

Finally, in September 1821, Long and fifty-two men sailed to La Bahía (present Goliad) with plans to capture the town. In the meantime, Mexico won its independence from Spain and had no intention to allow citizens from the United States to take Texas. Long held La Bahía for only four days before Mexican forces overpowered his troops, marched them to Mexico City and killed Long.

Jane, who was expecting another baby, had promised her husband that she would wait for him with several others families at Fort Las Casas on Bolivar Peninsula. After a month, the food supply ran low, and the Karankawa Indians in the area were increasingly unfriendly. The families began to leave, but Jane insisted on waiting for her husband until she, her daughter Ann and Kian were all who remained at the fort. With the help of Kian, Jane gave birth to daughter Mary James on December 21, 1821, at a time when it was so cold that Galveston Bay froze.

In early 1822, an immigrant family arrived, and Jane reluctantly moved with them up the San Jacinto River. The following summer, she received word that James Long was dead, and she returned to Louisiana. After her baby Mary James died in 1824, Jane Long returned to Texas and received a league of land in Stephen F. Austin’s Colony. Family tradition says that many of Texas’ leaders courted Jane including Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Ben Milam, and Mirabeau B. Lamar. She refused all their proposals, remaining loyal to James Long—the love of her life. After living several years in San Felipe, the headquarters of Stephen F. Austin’s colony, she opened a boarding house in Brazoria.

The Bolivar Peninsula Cultural Foundation, which maintains Jane Long’s memorabilia, states that Jane held a ball at her boarding house in Brazoria when Stephen F. Austin returned in 1835 from prison in Mexico. It was at the ball that Austin made his first speech favoring Texas independence from Mexico. The foundation claims that during the Texas Revolution in 1836 Jane fled Brazoria ahead of the advancing Mexican Army and that she saved the papers of Mirabeau Lamar, which included his original history of Texas.

In 1837, at the age of thirty-nine, Jane Long moved to her league of land, part of which she sold to developers for the town of Richmond. She opened another boarding house and ran a plantation with the help of twelve slaves. At the beginning of the Civil War, Jane owned nineteen slaves and 2,000 acres valued at $13,300. After the war, she worked her land with tenant farmers. When her daughter Ann died in 1870, the value of Jane’s estate had diminished to $2,000. Jane Long died at her grandson’s home on December 30, 1880.

Today, the Bolivar Peninsula Cultural Foundation has dedicated a Jane Long Memorial on Bolivar Peninsula, which consists of a monument, Texas historical markers, and three flags—the United States, the Texas, and the Jane Long flag.

Jane Long Memorial, Bolivar Peninsula

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Jean Lafitte, Gentleman Pirate

The mention of Jean Lafitte stirs romantic images of a daring, adventurous fellow who charmed his way into New Orleans society by 1804 and flirted with the young women while he and his older brother Pierre ran a smuggling operation out of their blacksmith shop in the city.

Claimed as the Lafitte brothers’ blacksmith shop at 941 Bourbon Street, New Orleans.

In the early nineteenth century, countries lacking their own navy issued letters of marque, contracts with privateers who attacked enemy ships, robbed them, and returned a portion of the valuable cargo to the sponsoring country—the balance remained with the privateer and his crew.  The Lafitte brothers mastered the privateers’ tactics and expanded their smuggling empire to a barrier island near the mouth of the Mississippi River, a vantage allowing them to skirt the high tariffs on imported goods at customhouses in New Orleans.

Local residents appreciated the charming, well-educated young man who spoke four languages (French, English, Spanish, and Italian), swaggered down the New Orleans streets, and operated a black-market business providing locals with furniture, clothing, utensils, jewelry, laces, silks, calicos, and fine spices at discount prices.

The United States did not have a navy large enough to stand up to Britain’s powerful force when it declared war on Britain in 1812, which prompted the U.S. to issue letters of marque to private owners of armed ships–privateers.  Under this arrangement, New Orleans issued six letters of marque to privateers who worked primarily for Lafitte.  The men readily shared booty they seized from British ships with New Orleans custom officials, but they kept the goods captured from ships flying other national flags.  With the loss of customs revenue from Lafitte’s privateering, coupled with insufficient U.S. ships to act against Lafitte’s island empire, the government went to court.  A series of arrests and releases followed.

With the British poised to attack New Orleans in early 1815, Lafitte tried to redeem himself with authorities by offering his services to General Andrew Jackson.  At first Jackson refused Lafitte’s overture calling him “that hellish banditti,” but as it became clear the Americans stood to lose control of the mouth of the Mississippi River, Jackson welcomed the militia, the sailors, and the artillerymen under Lafitte’s command.  Lafitte’s men fought like pirates, and after Jackson’s decisive defeat of the British, he praised Lafitte’s men for having “exhibited courage and fidelity.”

As their reputation grew, Spanish colonial officials recruited the Lafitte brothers to spy on Mexican Revolutionaries working to secure Mexican independence from Spain from their base of operation on Galveston Island.

Pierre Lafitte kept Spanish officials abreast of plans in New Orleans to overthrow the colonial government while Jean Lafitte went to Galveston in 1817 and immediately took control of the island from the Mexican revolutionaries.

Spying for Spain quickly took second fiddle to Jean Lafitte’s plans for a new smuggling base on Galveston island, which he named Campeche.  Within a year the colony grew to nearly 200 and soon reached 1,000 men and a few women who took a loyalty oath to Jean Lafitte.  They constructed a two-story headquarters on the bayside docks, surrounded it by a moat, painted it red, and named it Maison Rouge.

Lafitte ruled with an iron hand, lived on his ship, The Pride, and issued letters of marque from a non-existing country authorizing ships sailing from Campeche as privateers to attack vessels from all nations.  The booty rolled in and Lafitte’s men quickly sold it on the black-market in New Orleans.

Although the United States passed a law in 1808 prohibiting the importation of slaves into any U.S. port, a giant loophole in the law allowed for slaves captured on slave ships to be turned over to custom officials who auctioned off the slaves with half the profits given to whomever turned in the slaves.  Lafitte and his men took full advantage of the law, captured slave ships, and sold their valuable human cargo for one dollar a pound (average weight of 150 pounds). James Bowie and his brothers were among the buyers who came to the island.  They marched their newly purchased chattel to customs officials in New Orleans who sold the slaves at auction and issued the reward for half the sale.  Then, the Bowies bought the slaves a second time and resold them legally all over the South.  Between 1818 and 1820 the Bowie brothers earned $65,000 in the slave trade.

James Bowie

During Lafitte’s occupation of the island, filibusterers such as Dr. James Long continued to make stops on Campeche seeking Lafitte’s support in their efforts to win Mexico and Texas independence from Spain.  Each visitor received a gracious welcome, enjoyed the finest of foods and wines at the Maison Rouge lavishly furnished with elegant linens and silver—privateering booty.  But, Lafitte did not commit himself to anything beyond his privateering business.

By 1821 the United States reached the end of its patience with Laffite whose men continued attacking U.S. ships.  The U.S.S. Enterprise sailed to Campeche to evict the inhabitants.  Given three months to evacuate, Lafitte burned all the structures on the island and without offering resistance sailed away on the Pride on May 7, 1821, and disappeared into the mists of legend.

Some say he buried his vast wealth all along the Texas coast, which prompted treasure hunters to shovel through every square inch of the barrier islands in search of booty.  Some say his men, overhearing him pacing the floor and muttering, “I buried my treasure under the three trees,” rushed to the site of the three trees, and quickly exposed a long wooden box.  Raising the lid, they stared into the face of Lafitte’s dead wife.  The most recent tale surfaced in 1948 when John Laflin, claiming to be Lafitte’s great-grandson (historians know of only one child, a son who died of yellow fever at age twelve in New Orleans in 1832), produced a journal Laflin said had been written by Lafitte between 1845 and 1850.  Eventually, paper and ink analysis confirmed its mid-19th century origin.  It is displayed in the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center near Liberty, Texas.