History Friday: The English Visitor

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 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 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 – 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 it’s 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.

(I put a similiar characterin Deep in the Heart, transplanted to early Austin rather than Richmond, and used direct quotes from Maillard’s history.)

6 thoughts on “History Friday: The English Visitor”

  1. I now can guess where Maria del Rosario Castro of San Antonio got her history lessons. That Santa Ana, what a guy!

    Thanks for the post, fascinating stuff.


  2. Yep, D6 – quite a guy; brutal, treacherous and double-dealing, all the way. He was the bad boyfriend that Mexico kept returning to, over and over, hoping every time that he would mean it THIS time. I’m actually astonished that he lived to die of old age and natural causes; with his record you would have thought a fatal meeting with the rope, a firing squad, an outraged husband/father or a gypped business partner would have been a far more likely cause of death.

  3. Texas has more interesting history than a lot of countries! But I take it along with Housoton, Austin, Nicholas Doran Maillard is nowhere to be seen ;-)

    I am “reading between the lines” and surmising that Mexico had always hoped to reannex Texas?

  4. Yep – there was a long cold border war, all during the years of the Republic of Texas; I was a little surprised myself to find out how intense it was. Mexico pretty much lost any real chance of reclaiming Texas after Annexation and the Mexican War, though. Didn’t stop them dreaming about it.

  5. Of course when Germany offered Mexico a chance to get it back in 1917 in the Zimmerman Telegram proposal, then-President Venustiano Carranza did have the proposal evaluated by his military staff. They concluded that it was a bad idea as the Americans would quickly overwhelm them, Germany had no means of actually aiding them, and even if they occupied Texas they would find it impossible to pacify the Anglo-Texans.

    Every so often somebody gets it right. I wonder of the actual analysis was ever made public from the Mexican archives. It would make for interesting reading. And a good basis for an alt-history novel.

  6. James, sounds like some British banks if not BP itself lost a lot of money on the Yukos nationalization. History repeats.

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