A Ridiculous Republic (The Republic of Fredonia)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The odd and unsuccessful scheme to claim a large part of Mexican Texas as the “Republic of Fredonia”

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Submitted: August 02, 2020

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Submitted: August 02, 2020

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A Ridiculous Republic

The odd and unsuccessful scheme to claim a large part of Mexican Texas as the “Republic of Fredonia”

 

The little red and white flag fluttering in front of the Old Stone Fort in Nacogdoches, proclaimed to everyone around that Mexico no longer owned all of Texas.  No, as of mid-December, 1826, a sizable chunk of the Mexican possession was now under the control of Haden Edward, his brother, Ben, and twenty-some rag-tag rebels.  To emphasize their command of the old fort, as well as a massive portion of the surrounding land, several of them had signed their names on the flag.  As the handmade banner waved across the blue sky, the little band of revolutionaries proudly reviewed the bold lettering printed above their signatures, reading “Independence, Freedom and Justice.” 

This flag, they concluded, should clearly inform the locals that they were now under the rule of a new government, which Benjamin Edwards had named the Republic of Fredonia.  With their small number, they wouldn’t be able to launch their new kingdom by themselves, but they figured that shouldn’t present a problem.  After all, it wouldn’t be long before hundreds of Cherokee Indians would join their cause.  In fact, that’s why their flag bore a horizontal red bar beneath a white one - to symbolize the inclusion of the red man in their new homeland.  In addition to the expected Indian assistance, the surrounding colonies, they figured, were most likely busy selecting large contingencies to come to Fredonia’s aid.  In fact, the brothers expected one of the nearest colonies, run by Stephen Austin, to supply hundreds of men for the task.

Yes, as long as everything went according to their grand strategy, the small band of rebels should soon transform into a massive army, able to declare and defend the independence of their new republic.  As it turned out, though, theirs was not necessarily the best-designed scheme in frontier history.  It might easily, however, have been the worst.  The defective parts of their strategy were readily summarized - everything! 

One of the residents of the Nacogdoches area deftly identified the plan’s shortcomings.  “There never was,” he proclaimed, “a more silly, wild, quixotic scheme.“  Stephen Austin seemed to fully concur with that assessment.  His response to Hayden Edwards’ invitation to join forces, was unequivocal.  “You are deluding yourself,” Austin scolded him in a return letter “and this delusion will ruin you.”

That quixotic plot had grown from the same sustenance that has nourished hair-brained schemes for centuries - the fertile and ever-present soil of greed.  Hayden and his brother had inherited their father’s love of money as well as his passion for land speculation.  John Edwards had acquired more than 23,000 acres in Bourbon County, Kentucky which then, in the 1780’s, was part of Virginia.  Not only was he adept at land dealings, but being a smooth-talking political animal, he ran for and won a position as a U. S. Senator.  John’s fatherly pride likely beamed when his sons, Hayden and Benjamin, showed their own flair for wheeling and dealing, and pooled their resources to acquire a Mississippi plantation. 

Their investment proved successful and the thriving brothers soon turned their attention southward.  Word had reached them of the exciting prospect of colonizing the area known as Mexican Texas.In an attempt to control the sparsely populated land, Mexico had passed the General Colonization Law in 1824, which encouraged legal immigration from the United States.  Interested speculators were given large plots of land, as long as they pledged their allegiance to Mexico and developed a militia to defend the settlers they recruited.  The Edwards brothers employed their best persuasive skills and obtained a grant in 1825, to organize a colony in northeastern Texas for up to 800 families.  That seemingly innocuous agreement would soon trigger the bizarre formation of the Republic of Fredonia.

The brothers had already recruited fifty settlers for their real-estate venture by the fall of that year and were anxious to complete their 800-family quota.  The spirit of the Mexican agreement was to provide the land free-of-charge to the settlers.  This arrangement, however, was not exactly what the greedy brothers had in mind, so naturally they decided to charge a hefty finders fee of several hundred dollars for each parcel.  When they arrived at their potential real-estate goldmine, the brothers were dismayed to find that many people had already homesteaded there.Some were squatters from the United States, but many were locals with valid family land grants dating back to early Spanish rule.

It didn’t take long for Haden and Ben to decide what to do with them.  Any settler who couldn’t produce a legitimate deed for his property, the brothers reasoned, would simply be thrown off.  The squatters, of course, had no deeds.  Most of the long-term residents also possessed no documentation, since the agreements with the Spanish had been forged so long before.  Their excuses though, had no effect on the Edwards brothers.  If proper documents could not be produced, they stated flatly, their claims would be sold at auction to the highest bidders.  Needless to say, this attitude didn’t ingratiate the new landlords to the community.

Those whose land had been confiscated, complained to the local officials.  One of those authorities, Luis Procela, was the acting Alcalde of the area - a position similar to that of a mayor.In addition to receiving the mass of complaints, he discovered the brothers were charging the new colonists for the land.  Procela informed the political chief of his region, Juan Antonio Saucedo, who was stationed in San Antonio.  Saucedo, it turned out, had already received a flurry of concerns from angry residents in Haden and Ben Edwards’ new colony. 

In response, Saucedo asked his employees to begin validating and updating the residents’ old Spanish and Mexican land grants.  The infuriated Edwards brothers accused them of forging deeds, further stirring up the locals.  Adding to the turmoil, Haden organized his little colony’s militia, then found out they had elected their municipality clerk as their leader.  Incensed, he angrily tried to nullify the results and place himself in charge. 

On the heels of all this drama, Haden unsuccessfully attempted to put his son-in-law into the position of a new alcalde.  Week by week, the volatile situation raged away.  In the midst of the turmoil, Haden returned to the United States to recruit more settlers for his colony.  Many historians believe he was actually gathering an army to fight for his side.  As impulsive as Haden was, though, his brother, Ben, was even more explosive.  During Hayden’s trip, Benjamin took matters into his own hands and devised the ill-fated plot to take over the Old Stone Fort in Nacogdoches and to eventually carve out and defend a huge portion of Mexican Texas. 

In mid-December of 1826, Benjamin and his little armed band headed into Nacogdoches to make history.  Although they would do just that, historians would not record the incident with glorified prose describing them as the pioneers of their new republic.  Instead, history would echo the sentiments of the Edward brothers’ earlier critics, branding the incident as “ill-thought out,” “muddle-headed” and “hair-brained.” 

The days and weeks following the dramatic occupation of the Old Stone Fort, would deliver them nothing but bad news.  None of the surrounding colonies they had counted on for reinforcements, offered a single man.  The same held true for the Cherokees who had previously promised assistance.  Haden had offered them clear title to all the land north of Nacogdoches, in exchange for their armed support for his plan.  Despite their initial interest, the word of the risky nature of the scheme reached them through the surrounding colonists.  Fearing Mexican retribution, the Cherokee withdrew their backing.  In the meantime, Hayden had returned - bearing no new recruits for their little war.  As weeks drug by, the once rowdy risk-taking brothers sadly realized that the little band of faithfuls Benjamin had recruited to take over the fort, would be their only soldiers in a war against Mexico. 

Muddle-headed and hair-brained or not, they soon came to the stark realization that something was definitely amiss in their revolution’s strategy. That awareness quickly intensified as the Mexican authorities sent more than a hundred well-armed troops to quell their rebellion.  To make matters worse, Stephen Austin, whom Hayden and Benjamin had counted on for support, decided to assure the Mexican government of his continued loyalty.  He backed up their soldiers with 250 of his own militiamen.

Without formality, the Republic of Fredonia’s two founding fathers abandoned both the fort and their dreams of easy money.  As they and their little group unceremoniously hightailed it across the Sabine River to the safety of the United States, some were captured, but later released.  Most, however, including the Edwards brothers, made it to safety.  By the end of 1926, the Old Stone Fort was left with only a tobacco-juice stained floor, a tattered red and white flag and an odd history of a ridiculous republic.

 

I hope you enjoyed the story.  If you have time, please leave a comment.  Thank you!


© Copyright 2020 Dennis L. Goodwin. All rights reserved.

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