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  • History Friday – The English Visitor

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on December 21st, 2012 (All posts by )

    You cannot hope to bribe or twist (thank God!) the British journalist. But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.

    The English visitor, a lawyer and pamphleteer named Nicholas Doran Maillard landed up in Texas early in 1840, when the Republic of Texas had just achieved four years of perilous existence . . . and inadvertently provided the means for an exception to Humbert Wolfe’s stinging epigram. In that year, Texas was perennially cash-broke but land rich, somewhat quarrelsome, and continually scourged by Comanche depredations from the north and west, and the threat of re-occupation by Mexico from the south. Texans had first seen immediate annexation by the United States as their sure and certain refuge. But alas, that slavery was permitted and practiced within Texas – so and annexation was blocked by abolitionists.

    This left the Republic seeking recognition and even strong allies elsewhere, namely with France and Britain – neither of whom particularly approved of the ‘peculiar institution’ but were more than willing to play the great game of international politics, especially if a renewed or strengthened foothold on the North American continent might come out of it. Both England and France eventually recognized the independent Republic; Sam Houston cannily referred to it all as a flirtation, in order to reinforce the relationship with the United States.

    Into the middle of it came Nicholas Doran Maillard, who settled into the small town of Richmond, founded by settlers from Stephen Austin’s colony in 1822, in a deep bend of the Brazos River near present-day Houston. By the time Nicholas Doran Maillard came along, Richmond had existed as a town for about twenty years, incorporating many elements and refinements such as a newspaper, the Richmond Telescope. The charming and cultured Mr. Maillard was heartily welcomed by the residents of Richmond – he was very popular for his ability in mixing drinks, for one, and he also served a stint as editor of the Telescope. He said that he was writing a book, and so he talked to everyone, making copious notes. Richmond at the time was the home to a number of prominent figures in early Texas, to include Jane Long, the wife of an early adventurer, Sam Houston’s chief scout, Erastus ‘Deaf’ Smith, and Mirabeau Lamar – who would feud bitterly with Sam Houston. Mr. Maillard gave every evidence of enjoying his time in Richmond and appeared to leave with reluctance after six months, pleading the death of a relative back in England.

    Two years later, his book was published – and everyone who had thought Mr. Maillard a fine fellow was howling for his blood, once they read it: The History Of The Republic Of Texas, From The Discovery Of The Country to the Present Time; And The Cause Of Her Separation From the Republic of Mexico. It was not a history, save in the sense that an account of events was presented – it was more of a vicious and extended calumny against the Anglo settlers of Texas, presenting the very worst construction upon the events of the rebellion against Mexico, and casting aspersions against everything from the weather, to the ladies’ propensity to dip snuff, and the popularity of the Bowie knife. Of Stephen F. Austin’s attempt to smooth over matters between the Mexican government and damp down the ‘war party’ in the last years before open revolt, Maillard wrote: “Colonel Austin, who was himself the most crafty of the political fanatics, political adventurers, would-be great men, and vain talkers, wrote in this bland style solely to escape from the clutches of the Mexican government, and not with a view to restore tranquility to Texas . . . In order to prepare my readers for these and many other assertions of a similar character put forth by the unprincipled Texans, I have in the preceding chapter shown what their conduct was while the federal system was in force in Mexico, and never did the history of a people brand them with greater treachery or grosser ingratitude and inconsistency.” Of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna – much hated in Texas and by those Mexican citizens who were of the liberal, or Federalist political persuasion, Maillard describe him as “ . . . the able and energetic measures of that extraordinary man, Santa Anna, who was at once the military leader and universal and patriotic pacificator of his country . . .” And if that were not sufficiently insulting, his account of the fall of the Alamo contained this sentence, describing the disposition of the bodies of its defenders, “I need scarcely apologize to the reader for this digression, as the record of the fate of all such monsters is due to the lovers of humanity.”
    The rest of the account of the War for Independence is similarly slanted: names of various participants are misspelled, and the account of the culminating battle of San Jacinto is entirely from the Mexican side. As a history – that is, an account of events written within a few years after the event, when many participants were still alive and their memories vivid – it was a lost chance. But it was not intended as a history, in spite of its title. The book was a bit of political theater, and perhaps a vendetta as well – for it was intended to discourage the British government from recognizing Texas.

    Maillard might also have been a passionate abolitionist . . . but there was one other motivation – a monetary one. The government of Mexico was deeply in debt to various English banking houses and bond-holders, for loans made before 1836; loans that had been secured . . . by Texas lands. Those bankers were under the threat of Mexico defaulting on ten million pounds worth of loans . . . and since Mexico had no longer control of those Texas acres, the English banks would have to eat the loss. But if Texas failed to find allies, and Mexico regained control of it’s former property, all’s well that ends well, wouldn’t you say, old chap?
    It didn’t work out as Maillard and his backers obviously hoped. Great Britain did recognize Texas, and five years after publication of his libelous little history, the United States annexed it as a state . . . which kicked off another war with Mexico. Nicholas Doran Maillard – if internet searches are any indication – labored in relative obscurity thereafter. His book is a curiosity, and given the historical inaccuracies contained therein, I would only trust it when describing the various mileages between the towns and cities in Texas.

    (A character based upon Doran Maillard appears in Daughter of Texas / Deep in the Heart, save that I transplanted him to Austin and had him stay for a bit longer. But I used the title of Doran Maillard’s book and quotes from it. More about him – including the supposition that his book was subsidized by British bankers is contained in Thomas Cutrer’s The English Texans.)