José Antonio Navarro

"I have sworn to be a Texan.
I shall not forswear."

José Antonio Baldemero Navarro was born in San Antonio de Bexar, Province of Texas, on 27 February 1795. He was of Corsican descent, the son of Angel Navarro (born about 1749) who left his native Ajaccio, Corsica about 1772. According to his own biographical sketch, Angel Navarro ran away from his Corsican home at age 13 or 14. He spent time as a servant in Genoa, Barcelona and Cadiz and finally came to Spanish colonial Mexico as a servant where he learned the merchant trade in Nuevo Leon and Real de Bayecillos.

He was in San Antonio by 1779 where records indicate he was a 27 year old unmarried merchant possessing one horse. He married María Joséfa Ruiz y Peña (born 1766), daughter of Juan Manuel Ruiz of Queretaro and Manuela de la Peña of Saltillo. Memoirs of a contemporary named Rodriguez remarked: Angel Navarro "a countryman of Napoleon Bonaparte, the latter going toward the rising sun to become the greatest man mentioned in secular history, and the former [Angel Navarro] towards the setting sun of a small border town in the wilds of Texas."

Angel Navarro served in the Spanish army before emigrating to Texas, was a San Antonio merchant and in 1790 was alcalde. In addition to José Antonio Baldomero (b. 1795), Angel and María Ruiz Navarro had children José Franciso Eduardo (b. 1783), José Angel (b. 1784), María Gertrudis, María Simona, María Joséfa Candida (married Juan Martin Veramendi), José Francisco Salas (b. 1794), María Antonio (b. 1797), José Luciano (b. 1800), José Anselmo (b. 1802) and José Eugenio (1803-1838). José Antonio Navarro's older brother, José Angel Navarro, handled the surrender of Spanish governor Martinez and San Antonio government archives, to the plan of the Mexican Iturbide government for independence and was jefe-politico of the province of Bexar in 1835.

Angel Navarro II left three orphan daughters: Juana who was adopted by Juan Veramendi, Gertrudis adopted by Luciano Navarro and Joséfa (Chipita) adopted by Luz Escalera. Juana Navarro Perez Alsbury was the adopted sister of Ursala María Veramendi, wife of Colonel James Bowie. Juana and sister Gertrudis Navarro were present during and survived the Battle of the Alamo in March 1836. At this time the Navarro families returned from refuge in the United States to which they had flown because of revolutionary activities against Spain.

The Navarro family came to know young Lt. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna when he visited San Antonio as a young Lieutenant in the Spanish Army. José Antonio Navarro picked up some background in commerce and law in New Orleans and Saltillo, but to no small extent was self-educated by reading any books he could get his hands on. After his father's death in 1808, he took part in the Magee, Gutierrez and Toledo resistance movements against Spanish rule in 1812-1813 along with renowned Bexareno Texan relations uncle José Francisco Ruiz and his brother-in-law Juan Martin Veramendi. He was a personal friend of Stephen F. Austin and helped him acquire his first empresario contract with Mexico.

Don José Navarro was largely self-trained in law and specialized in Spanish and Mexican law. When Coahuila y Texas became a state in 1824, Navarro was elected to the legislature where he was a fierce champion of the liberal Federal Constitution of 1824 and development of the state through colonization. In January 1831, Governor of the state, José María Viesca, appointed him commissioner of the DeWitt Colony. Navarro played a key administrative and political role in development of the colony equal to empresario Green DeWitt and surveyor James Kerr. He was responsible for survey and issuance of legal land titles and organization of the Gonzales Ayuntamiento when the colony became eligible to establish its own government. His signature appears on all the land title documents of the colony. In 1835 he was elected as a deputy to the National Mexican Congress representing Coahuila y Texas, however, later resigned as the movement for independence gained momentum.

José Navarro played an often forgotten leading part in the colonization and independence movement of Texas. On 2 March 1836, he was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and served as elected Senator in the Congress of the Republic of Texas. Navarro owned granted and purchased lands in current Atascosa, Karnes, Guadalupe, Travis and Bastrop counties on which he developed productive ranch enterprises while he practiced law, was a merchant and served the people of the State at all levels of government. He was often referred to by the title of Colonel although he never served in the military because of a leg injury when he was young. The Navarro family home ranch in 1838 was north of current Seguin (then Walnut Springs) on San Geronimo Creek near Ewing Springs.

José Navarro was active in the movement to annex additional Mexican territory to the Republic of Texas. In response to President Lamar's bidding, he accompanied the Santa Fe Expedition under General Hugh McLeod in 1841 as a commissioner because of his knowledge of Mexican law, fluency in Spanish and persuasiveness as an orator. His role was to persuade the residents of Santa Fe and New Mexico to secede from Mexico and join the democratic Texas Republic. He was captured, imprisoned in Acordada prison for two years and then in the infamous dungeon of San Juan Ulloa. He was singled out as a native Tejano Texan and summarily sentenced to death as a traitor to his native land. An interview in the Lamar Papers with Laredo alcalde Soto suggests that Santa Anna was particularly vendictive toward Navarro because of an incident he learned of since both Soto's father and Santa Anna were 3rd Lieutenants under Arredondo in San Antonio in 1813. Santa Anna wanted to marry Navarro's sister, but the family barred it because of Santa Anna's generally bad character and his forgery in which he "robed Arredondo's military chest." Santa Anna offered him the chance to recant and an office in the government if he would pledge his allegiance in writing to the Mexican state and denounce the Republic of Texas. He replied, even over the advice of his family, with "I have sworn to be a Texan. I shall not forswear." His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. With the aid of local Vera Cruz army officers after Santa Anna had been deposed from office, he escaped in 1845 to Havana, Cuba, then New Orleans and then returned to Galveston. Navarro possessed considerable fiscal assets and used them generously to aid his fellows and Texans. Col. William G. Cooke who was also appointed a commissioner and was among the Santa Fe expedition prisoners who were forced to march to prison in Mexico remarked "had it not been for the generosity of Mr. Navarro many more of the Texan prisoners would have perished than did." After his release in April 1842, Col. Cooke returned to San Antonio and married José Navarro's niece, Angela Navarro, daughter of Don Luciano Navarro.

Navarro was the only native Tejano delegate to the Texas Statehood Convention of 1845, which decided for annexation with the United States. He was influential in staving off factions who attempted to limit suffrage in the new Republic to the "free white population." He contended that the words "white" in any legislation were "odious" and "ridiculous." Navarro is credited with the statute in the state constitution that:

" soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered in the house, or within the enclosure of any individual, without the consent of the owner; nor in time of war, but in a manner prescribed by law."
No doubt this was prompted by his long experience and witness of the vandalism and depredations of undisciplined military and para-military under Spain, Mexico and the Republic of Texas. In June 1842, a petitioned from San Antonians to the President of the Republic appealing for protection against deserters from American volunteer forces from the Nueces River mentioned:
"We have been informed that some thieving volunteers, lately drove off a thousand head of cattle towards the Colorado, beloinging to citizens of Bexar. Messrs. Navarro, Flores, Erasmo Seguin, and others, who have ever been faithful to our cause, have suffered greatly. Shame to the men who claim the name of soldiers, and act the part of theives by robbing their own countrymen!"
José Navarro served three terms in the first Texas State Senate. He encouraged secession of Texas in 1861 and all four of his sons represented Texas in the army of the Confederate States of America, two achieving the rank of Captain.

Don José Antonio Navarro married Margarita de la Garza of Mier, Tamaulipas, Mexico, in 1825 and they had children mentioned in his will of 15 February 1871: José Antonio George, Angel, Sixto Eusebio (m. Genoveva Cortinas of Nacogdoches), Celso Cornelio (m. Agapita Garcia), and Joséfa (m. Daniel Tobin). Some records include Arturo, Carmen, and María Gertrudis. The Handbook of Texas says that he had a son Angel Navarro III (m. Concepcion Ramon Callaghan) who was a Harvard law school student and was a Bexar County representative in the Texas legislature for three terms. José Antonio Navarro died on 13 January 1871. Some records claim he died at his home ranch near Seguin in Guadalupe County and others claim he died in his San Antonio home as described by Feliciano Flores

"after more than twenty years in service to his beloved his home in San Antonio in an old fashioned stone building which is still standing at the corner of Nueva and Laredo Streets, surrounded by his loving family, there passed away one of the greatest characters in Texas history..."
Navarro is buried beside his wife in San Fernando Cemetery in San Antonio. Navarro County was named in honor of this unwavering Tejano Texan who can be claimed by the DeWitt Colony as one of its own and one of its greatest. The Navarro county seat, Corsicana, was named in honor of Navarro's Corsican-born father.
© 1997-1998, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved.