GALVESTON – Splice the drumstick, marinate the trampoline, and look lively about it! For we are at this beach resort to re-tell another great Texas yarn of blood, betrayal and heavy drama – hey, this is Texas. Now, everyone knows the Republic of Texas had an army at the Alamo, San Jacinto and lately along the Rio disguised as the Texas Militia. But we also had a Texas Navy and Marine Corps. At one point Texas rented out its entire navy – ships and men — for $8,000 a month to Mexican rebels fighting Santa Anna. President Sam Houston, an army man, hated the navy and refused to pay its costs. He once declared the entire Texas Navy to be pirates and called on other nations to arrest the lot. By the time Houston left the presidency for the first time, the Texas Navy was down to one unsailable ship, two lieutenants, two midshipmen, a doctor, two pursers, and two seamen. The two seamen were both deserters from the U.S. Navy, and the ranking lieutenant was cashiered “in consequence of a repeated inebriety.” That kind of navy.
Our story beings in 1978. While putting together a display of artifacts of the Texas Navy and Marine Corps at the state archives in Austin, an archivist named Carol Jean Carefoot came upon a letter of four pages, written in dark, brown ink on both sides of the paper, by one Richard Pearse of Galveston to “His Excellency Sam Houston, President Rep. Texas Houston.” The postage was marked “Free.” Pearse, using loose spelling, tells the apparently unknown story of the Big Galveston Mutiny.
Here at midnight on April 23, 1838, 13 bad guys including former sailors who had been tossed out of the navy, some deserters and few waterfront riff-raff, sneak up to the Texas naval yard. Due to thin ranks and illness, the yard is guarded by only one sentry with an officer on duty back in an office. Asleep in his quarters is the commander of the Texas Navy, Capt. Thomas Thompson, known as “Mexico” Thompson because he was English-born, served in the U.S. Navy then joined the Mexican Navy to fight against us. He was captured by Texas sailors twice. The second time he saw the light and joined the Texas Navy eventually became its commander. He was recovering from a wound. His wife, who was ill, was also asleep nearby.
These bad characters are led by Giles who was once a pirate with Jean Lafitte, and “has been tried for murder,” currently he is “late of the navy.” Hews is also a deserter who was once charged with the murder of his own wife. Lewis “was discharged from the navy for disorderly conduct, was a chief instigator” and hated Thompson. It seems a lot of sailors felt that way. Quickly the mutineers act. One of them approaches the sentry at the gate, feigning intoxication. As the pretend-drunk is talking to the sentry, Giles creeps up behind him, knocks him down and grabs his musket. The officer back in his office is overpowered by Hews.
The gang makes its way to the Thompsons’ quarters. Giles, who hates Thompson with a fury, and two others, enter the Thompsons’ house and approach the captain’s bedside. All three men “thrust their swords thro’ the mosquito bar, before he or his wife awoke.” Mrs. Thompson sits up, and almost impales herself on a sword. Thompson is repeatedly hit by Giles, who keeps telling the captain to give no alarm. Giles then tells Thompson about the takeover, and orders him to come along. Mrs. Thompson has an idea of what is about to happen to her husband, so she falls on her knees in the bedroom and “implored the miscreants to spare his – Thompson’s – life.” Thompson tries to comfort his wife, and the whole scene is so tear-jerking that the mutineers grow soft.
Mrs. Thompson wrings a promise from the gang that they will not kill her husband, and this allows the captain to make a speech: “Giles, you know, I fear not death. I have found it too often, and too many shapes, to tremble at it now. It is for my wife and children I feel. You have pledged yourself for the safety of my life. I claim the redemption of your pledge.” Pearse writes to Houston: “They were taken by surprise, and attacked by an enemy, of whom, they had not even dreamed. Their own consciences.”
The mutineers take Thompson outside and they immediately fall into an argument among themselves. Shoot him? Hang him? No, they promised his wife. One things leads to another and the gang almost gets in a fight with one another. Capt. Thompson is no dummy. He steps into the arguments and demands to know their grievances with him. “All quailed before his scrutinizing interrogations, and ultimately agreed that if Thompson would promise them impunity from the guard, they would conduct him back to his house. Thus ended this disgraceful transaction. No blood was spilled, and no other injury done, than the loss of some of the arms which the miscreants carried off with them.”
And that’s it. No blood, no swinging from the yardarm, no 30 lashes, either. The 13 just melt into history. But Pearse is not through with Capt. Thompson. The last third of the report ends with: “He is coarse, it is true, and so must every man be, who plays his part, on the theater assigned to Thompson.” And: “Mexico lost an officer she could not appreciate, and Texas, has gained a prise….” Like I said, Pearse had trouble spelling. But who is Pearse? We don’t know. Why did he write President Houston such a detailed and glowing report? He ends with: “I have been here, with my family since the first of this month, and shall fix my reside here, if I find sufficient encouragement, if there are any to be disposed of.” It’s not mutineers you have to watch out for, it’s the job-seekers.
Ashby job-hunts at firstname.lastname@example.org