Today we celebrate the Battle of Gonzales, where Texian settlers defied the Mexican government's demand that they turn over a cannon. That defiance took the form of a flag that said, "Come And Take It," and a load of scrap metal fired from the old cannon. Historians call that the first shot of the Texas Revolution. They are wrong wrong wrong.
The true first shot occurred a month earlier and at sea.
Firing on the Correo de Mexico
Mexican authorities had been attempting to assert authority over the colonists by imposing tariffs and tonnage fees on cargoes moving through Texas ports. Before that time Texas had enjoyed free trade, first by statute and after the statute's expiration, de facto.
Since nearly everything that came into the colonies came by sea, the fees and tariffs hit the Texians hard in their purses (yes, men carried purses back then.) They were somewhat less than happy.
The main revenue enforcer on the coast was Lt. Thomas M. Thompson of the Mexican Navy, commander of the war schooner Correo de Mejico.
Thompson was an Englishman by birth, and American by naturalization and a bartender in New Orleans before accepting a commission in the Mexican Navy. He enjoyed wielding authority.
On September 1, 1836. The brig Tremont was outbound to Pensacola from Velasco (Freeport) with a load of lumber. Thompson brought her to and boarded her. When the Tremont's captain couldn't produce a manifest for his cargo, Thompson declared the ship seized.
Texians watching from shore were indignant. Volunteers piled aboard the little steamboat Laura to take the Tremont back. She had no trouble catching them, as the two sailing vessels were becalmed.
When they were within range, the Texians opened fire on Thompson's ship with rifles. This caused Thompson to cut the Tremont loose so he could slowly bring his cannon to bear. The Laura then took theTremont in tow and steamed out of range. There was much rejoicing.
Just then (cue the Hollywood soundtrack) a sail appeared on the eastern horizon. The Laura chugged out to investigate and an hour later returned with the San Felipe in tow, bristling with cannon and her hull filled with arms for the Texians. Aboard was Stephen F. Austin, returning to Texas by way of New Orleans after a two year stay in a Mexican dungeon.
The San Felipe's cargo and passengers where quickly unloaded and she made for the Correo. In a heavy exchange of cannon and rifle fire, over the next day and a half, the Correo was rendered defenseless and Thompson hoisted the white flag.
Because Thompson was unable to locate his commission in the Mexican Navy, the mischievous Texians packed him and his crew off to New Orleans to stand trial as pirates.
Want more on the Texas Revolution? Take a look at Noah Smithwick's Recollections of Old Texas Days.