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Austin I (Sloop of War)

(SlpW: t. 600; l. 125'; b. 31'; dph. 12'6"; cpl. 174; a. 16 24-pdrs., 4 18 pdrs.)


Stephen Fuller Austin was born on 3 November 1793 on the southwestern frontier of Virginia in what is now Wythe County. In 1798, his family moved to what is now Missouri. At the completion of studies at Transylvania University in April 1810, he returned to that area to begin what would be a widely varied career. He worked as a storekeeper, managed some of the local lead mines, and served as the director of the Bank of St. Louis. Concurrently, Austin was also a militia officer and a member of the Missouri territorial legislature. However, by 1820, the Austin family had fallen on hard times, and Stephen moved on to Arkansas in June of that year. Appointed a judge by the governor, he appears never to have served on the bench. Instead, he moved south to New Orleans to study law. While there, he also assisted in the editorial department of the Louisiana Advertiser.

While in New Orleans, Austin succumbed to his father's enthusiastic interest in settling Americans in the Mexican province of Texas. Visiting the area in 1821, he secured the governor's consent to settle the 300 families in Texas for which his father's grant called. In addition, he selected a fertile, well-watered site on the Gulf of Mexico for the colony and, in January 1822, supervised the establishment of the colony there. In the meantime, Mexico had successfully concluded her 11-year struggle for independence from Spain. That event, coupled with the Spanish origin of Moses Austin's original land grant, caused some doubt about the continued validity of the enterprise.

Stephen Austin, therefore, travelled to Mexico City to gain the approval of the new government. Political instability in the capital kept him there for about a year, but he returned not only with an official sanction but also with valuable experience and knowledge in negotiating with Latin officialdom, not to mention some powerful friends.

Upon his return, he brought with him a broad range of power. In a sense, he may be viewed as absolute dictator of Texas until 1828, combining in his person the roles of executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government as well as military head. He possessed the final authority to admit people to or exclude them from his grant.

Though much of this authority lapsed after the 1828 organization of a constitutional government for Texas, his influence continued to dominate the scene for several years thereafter. He served as a member of the legislature of Coahuila,Texas in 1831 and 1832 and was elected to the term beginning in 1835. However, events which led to the independence of Texas prevented him from serving that term.

A convention assembled in April 1833 requested of the Mexican government that Texas be separated from Coahuila and be granted the status of a state within the Mexican federation. Austin, using his knowledge of the Mexican psyche, opposed the method and timing, though he favored the objective. Nevertheless, he carried out the wishes of the convention by delivering its petition to Mexico City. Once the course was determined, he pressed the Texan case vigorously, perhaps too vigorously. For his pains, he was arrested on the spurious charge that he was really pushing for a Texan revolution with the object of appending Texas to the United States. As a result, he spent a year in prison and another six months of detention under bond.

A general amnesty law in July 1835 finally allowed him to return to Texas. Upon his arrival there, he found the people onthe threshold of revolt. A convention of Texans was scheduled for November 1835 to formulate a policy toward Santa Ana's changes to the federal constitution of 1824, but war erupted before the convention met. Thus the focus of their discussions quickly changed to defining the goals for which the Texans were fighting. Austin supported the successful moderate resolution which called for Texas autonomy, but still within the context of the federal constitution of 1824. Initially, therefore, the Texans fought only the centralist concept.

Yet, since they were fighting the central government, regardless of objective, the people of Texas needed assistance. Accordingly, a three-man commission, composed of William H. Wharton, Branch T. Archer, and Austin, was appointed to travel to the United States to seek loans and other assistance. The commissioners arrived in New Orleans in January 1836 and secured loans totalling about a quarter of a million dollars. Their trip up the Mississippi River generated a great deal of sympathy for their cause and no doubt contributed to the subsequent, large influx of Americans into Texas.

Nevertheless, in the United States, support for the Texans remained private rather than public. Despite the excellent connections of the three commissioners, the Jackson Administration avoided any hint of official support. While the three men were still in Washington, Texas declared its independence on 2 March 1836. Those two facts dictated their return to Texas to help establish the government of the new republic. Austin arrived back in Texas in June of 1836 and, supported by his two former colleagues in the United States, ran for the presidency of the republic. He lost to Sam Houston in the September election but, the following month, accepted the post of secretary of state in Houston's cabinet and served in that post until his death on 27 December 1836.

Austin is also the name of the city that serves as the capital of Texas and the seat of government for Travis County. Named in honor of Stephen Fuller Austin, the founder of Texas, it is located in central Texas on the Colorado River about 75 miles northeast of San Antonio.

John Arnold Austin, born in Warrior, Ala., on 30 August 1905, enlisted in the Navy on 20 November 1920. Between that time and 26 July 1935, he served four successive enlistments. On the latter day, Austin accepted an acting appointment as carpenter (warrant officer grade). That same day, he reported on board Canopus (AS-9) then serving as a unit of the Asiatic Fleet. On 8 August, he detached from temporary duty in the submarine tender and reported for duty in Augusta (CA-31). On 4 December 1935, Austin received a permanent warrant as a carpenter. He left the heavy cruiser on 13 July 1937 and reported on board Tennessee (BB-43) on 10 September 1937. He served in that battleship until detached on 14 June 1939 to proceed to further assignment to Rigel (AD-13) reporting on 18 July 1939. After 14 months in that destroyer tender, Carpenter Austin departed on 21 September 1940 bound for duty in Oklahoma (BB-37) and reported on board the battleship on 5 October 1940. In October 1941, Austin received a commission as chief carpenter (commissioned warrant officer).

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on the morning of 7 December 1941, Chief Carpenter Austin was in Oklahoma. When the battleship capsized as a result of Japanese bombs and torpedoes, he was trapped below water with many of his shipmates. Austin searched for a means of escape and found a porthole which, though beneath the surface, offered just such an avenue. As a result of his efforts, 15 sailors escaped a watery grave. Chief Carpenter Austin, however, did not. As his citation reads, "He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country." Chief Carpenter Austin was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously.

The first Austin, originally a ship of the Texas Navy, was named in honor of Stephen Fuller Austin. The second Austin (DE-15) honored Chief Carpenter John Arnold Austin. The third Austin (LPD-4) was named for the capital of Texas.


The first Austin, a sloop of war constructed in 1839 at Baltimore, Md., by Schott & Whitney for the Texas Navy under the name Texas, was delivered and commissioned on 5 January 1840 at Galveston, Republic of Texas, Capt. Edwin W. Moore, TN, in command though not present.

Austin remained at Galveston through the first five months of 1840 recruiting officers and men and training them in the ways of the sea before embarking upon her first cruise late in June. She and the rest of the squadron stopped at New Orleans, La., for about a month to gather stores and provisions. Late in July, she set sail in company with San Bernard bound for the Yucatan peninsula where another revolt had broken out against the central government in Mexico City. She arrived at Sisal on the northern coast of Yucatan on 31 July but soon moved southwest down the coast to Campeche where Commodore Moore conferred with two leaders of the Yucatan federalist movement, General Anaya and governor-elect Santiago Mendez, regarding joint Texas-Yucatan action against the central government. The two men offered Moore the use of Yucatan ports for operations against Mexico. The Texas squadron, however, was under orders not to begin hostilities unless and until the negotiations between Texas commissioner James Treat and the Mexican government failed completely. Thus Austin spent her time cruising around the gulf coast of Mexico and Yucatan gathering intelligence and investigating ports and suitable anchorages.

Those inconclusive meanderings ended on 1 October when a severe gale blew up while Austin was off Lobos Island. During the third stormy day, her lookouts sighted a ship in distress; and she immediately dispatched boats to aid the stricken vessel which proved to be the Mexican Segunda Faina. The Texans succeeded in saving all 26 people on board as well as her cargo. On 14 October, Austin departed Lobos Island and set a course for Tampico to land the survivors. She arrived there on the 16th and completed her appointed mission the incongruous result of which was to have her enemies ashore laud her and her crew as heroes. She remained in the area several days in the hope that her newly found hero status might allow her to fill her beleaguered water casks. The honeymoon lasted only four days. On 20 October, a boat from Austin attempting to gather fresh water from the river current about one and one-half miles offshore was fired upon by a Mexican shore battery. Though the men of the boat crew suffered only a drenching from the shell splashes and made good their escape back to Austin, Commodore Moore concluded that hostilities had recommenced. He fired one token shot from an impossible range and sailed Austin away to gather his squadron to promulgate a blockade of the eastern coast of Mexico.

The sloop of war returned to the anchorage at the Areas Islands to find San Jacinto hard aground and severely damaged by a storm. After surveying the stricken ship, Moore sailed in Austin to find San Bernard and Zavala, the other two active ships of his squadron. He visited Campeche on 8 November and Sisal on the 10th. From the latter port, he headed for Frontera where he finally found Zavala and San Bernard on the 14th. At this point, the Texas squadron desperately needed cash to repair San Jacinto, to supply fuel for the steamer Zavala, and to provide stores and provisions for the rest of the squadron. Accordingly, discussions were held regarding the Texas squadron's potential utility in helping Yucatan federalist forces in their siege of centralist-held San Juan Bautista located several miles up the Tabasco River. Yucatan General Anaya agreed to pay the Texas Navy $25,000 of the ransom charged the town if the joint attack succeeded. On 19 November, Austin started up the Tabasco in company with San Bernard and a Yucatan brig, all being towed by Zavala. The warships arrived off San Juan Bautista the following day, and the town's 600-man centralist garrison surrendered without a shot's being fired by either side. Austin and the rest of the squadron remained at the town for several days to assure collection of the Texas Navy's entire share of the ransom and then the fever-wracked squadron departed, manned by 30 men among the three ships. The sloop of war stopped at the Areas Islands on 13 January 1841 to pick up the sick who had been left there to recover and then headed back to Galveston where she arrived on 1 February.

At Galveston, Austin was placed in reduced commission, serving only on harbor patrol. She remained there through most of what was left of 1841 before returning to full commission early in December 1841.

During the middle of the first week in December, Austin was towed across the Galveston bar to receive stores and provisions in preparation for her second cruise in cooperation with the Yucatan federalists against centralist Mexican forces. On 13 December with Commodore Moore embarked, she set sail for Yucatan. By 5 January 1842, Austin had rendezvoused with San Bernard and San Antonio, both of which had departed Galveston ahead of her. The three Texas Navy warships entered the port of Sisal on the 6th and remained there until the 24th while Commodore Moore conducted diplomatic discussions with the federalists of Yucatan. On the latter day, she got underway for a humanitarian mission-the rescue of the crew and the salvage of the cargo of the American merchant ship Sylph which had been driven hard aground on Alacranes Island during a severe storm. She succeeded in her mission and landed passengers, crew, and cargo back at Sisal, Sylph's destination, on the 27th.

Austin departed Sisal on 1 February 1842 in company with San Bernard. After a stop at Campeche, they continued on to Veracruz where they took up station as close to shore as conditions permitted. On 6 February, Austin and Sore Bernard sighted, pursued, and captured the 180-ton Mexican brig Progreso and sent her to Galveston with two officers and a small prize crew on board. Bad weather plagued the two Texas ships throughout the month of February, and they made no further captures. On 17 February, Austin hoisted the United States flag and sailed into Veracruz harbor itself to get a first hand look at Mexican naval preparations. After viewing with alarm an old commercial steamer undergoing naval conversion and a new schooner readying as well, she released her captives in Progreso's boats, exited the harbor, and set sail for Campeche. The warship stopped overnight at Campeche on 22 and 23 February before continuing on to Sisal. From there, she made for the Areas Islands anchorage to rendezvous with San Antonio.

San Antonio failed to make the rendezvous before water and ration shortages forced Austin to depart the Areas Islands on 5 March. The next day, she stopped at Campeche for mail; and some trouble ensued there over a rumor that the Texans had or were about to receive orders to begin operations against Yucatan in consequence of the latter's about-to-be consummated reconciliation with the government in Mexico City. Moore, however, succeeded in disabusing the Yucatan officials of such notions and left Campeche on the 9th in company with San Bernard. The two ships arrived in Carmen the next day and met San Antonio.

The Texas squadron remained at Carmen for 18 days taking on water and making repairs. On the 28th, the three warships set sail for Veracruz where they arrived on the last day of March. After taunting the two Mexican warships in the harbor to no avail, Austin and her cohorts began prosecuting the blockade. On 1 April, Austin and San Bernard captured the small Mexican schooner Doloritas somewhat northwest of Veracruz. Two officers were put on board the schooner which headed for Galveston. On the 3d, they took the schooner Dos Amigos near Tuxpan. The three ships then headed for Lobos Island to put a prize crew on board. Upon entering the anchorage on 4 April, Austin grounded on a pinnacle reef, but she kedged herself off within two hours. After sending Dos Amigos to Galveston in company with San Bernard, Austin headed for Sisal where she arrived on 18 April. The following day, San Bernard arrived off Sisal with orders for Commodore Moore to return to Texas to confer with President Houston. The Texas squadron departed the Yucatan coast on 26 April and shaped a course for Galveston.

Austin and her consorts arrived in Galveston at the beginning of May. On the 7th, they shoved off for various American gulf ports to refit. Austin went to New Orleans and remained there for almost a year due to a series of political and financial machinations carried out, for the most part, by the new republic's anti-navy president, Sam Houston. Finally, on the night of 15 April 1843, Commodore Moore put to sea in Austin in company with Wharton. The two warships shaped course for the coast of Yucatan where hostilities had broken out once again between the largely federalist locals and the central government in Mexico City. Later that month, Austin and Wharton arrived off the coast of Yucatan and began searching for the much stronger Mexican squadron, now augmented by the iron-hulled steamer Montezuma and the wooden-hulled steamer Guadaloupe both of which were armed with guns that far outranged those of the Texas ships.

The Texans had hoped to encounter one of those monsters alone so that they might defeat the enemy in detail. That was not to be. They finally encountered the Mexicans, the entire five-ship squadron, between Lerma and Campeche at dawn on 30 April. Notwithstanding the heavy odds against them, the Texas warships pressed on every square inch of sail and charged to the attack. At 7:35 a.m. the Mexican warships opened fire with their long-range guns. Austin and Wharton passed between the Mexican steamers and their sailing ships. They exchanged fivebroadsides with the steamers to port before concentrating on the sailing ships to starboard. However, remaining outside the range of the Texan guns, the two steamers used their long-range Paixhans to harass Austin and Wharton while the Mexican sailing ships took flight. At about 8:40 a.m., the wind died and forced the two Texans to lie to. They eventually dropped anchors and sent their crews to breakfast. Anchored in such a manner as to be able to turn and present their broadsides in any direction without the wind, Austin and Wharton kept a weather eye on the steamers while looking for signs of a breeze.

At 11:15 a.m. Montezuma and Guadaloupe reopened the combat by trying to cross the sterns of the Texas and Yucatan ships. However, by virtue of their method of anchoring, Austin and Wharton were able to turn without the wind and present their starboard batteries. Soon thereafter, a northerly breeze sprang up enabling the two Texans to slip their anchors and make for the Mexicans at best speed. Texans and Mexicans traded broadsides. One 68-pound Paixhans shell from Guadaloupe screamed low over Austin's quarterdeck forcing Commodore Moore and Lt. Gray to duck as it cut the after mizzenmast shroud, crashed through Moore's cabin and out the stern into the water. Damage, however, remained minimal. The Mexicans soon pulled out of range upwind and moved off. At this point, Austin and Wharton moved into the anchorage. Austin grounded on the way in; but, with the coming of the tide an hour later, she floated free.

While his warships were in the anchorage, Commodore Moore made plans and changes which he hoped would enable him to renew the engagement on somewhat more equal terms. Austin received two long-range 18-pounders from the federalists ashore, and Wharton took on board a single, long-range 12-pounder. Each morning the two ships sought the opportunity of a good, strong shore breeze to dash through the danger zone created by the Mexicans long-range Paixhans and utilize their superiority in medium-range guns to best advantage. The Mexicans foiled these attempts by the simple expedient of backing out of range upwind.

Under pressure to achieve a victory, the Mexicans finally sought battle. On the morning of 16 May, a strong, offshore breeze allowed the Texans to come out and engage their Mexican enemies. The three Mexicans traded shots with the two Texans until the wind died around 10:00 that morning. At that point, the Mexican steamers began to close the becalmed Texans, pounding them with their long-range guns on the way in. Soon, however, they were inside the range of Austin's borrowed long-range 18's. Her second salvo carried away Guadaloupe's flagstaff and ensign. Twenty minutes later, Austin suffered three hits in rapid succession, but damage remained minimal. Finally, the Mexicans closed to within range of medium guns and the duel began in earnest. Both steamers concentrated their fire on Austin. The doughty little sail-powered sloop of war gave as well as she received. Then, suddenly about 20 minutes after noon, a breeze sprang up. While Wharton noticed the breeze too late to really take advantage, Austin acted in time to make the best of it. She sliced through the water between the two steamers with both port and starboard batteries fully engaged. Montezuma and Guadaloupe each took a terrific pounding and suffered numerous casualties. Austin's gunfire put one of Guadaloupe's paddles out of action, and the big steamer began to limp out of the action on the one remaining. Montezuma covered her retirement but also moved off. Austin, with Wharton at a distance behind her, gave chase. During the 14-mile stern chase, Austin took at least nine major-caliber hits. Though badly shot up, the little Texas flagship pursued the Mexicans for three hours before giving it up due to structural damage and dangerous leaks. That afternoon, the two Texans reentered their anchorage and began feverish repairs.

Though he had fought a battle which effectively raised the siege of Campeche, breathed new life into the Yucatan federalist cause, and thereby foiled Mexican plans for a seaborne invasion of Texas supported by a reconciled Yucatan, Commodore Moore was declared a pirate by Texas President Sam Houston. Upon learning of that turn of events, Moore conferred with Texas Navy Commissioner Morgan. The two concluded that they had to return to Texas to explain their actions. The Mexican fleet remained in the area until late June, precluding the Texans' departure. Finally on 27 June, the opportunity came. Austin and Wharton put to sea. They made stops at Sisal and at the Areas Islands before setting a course for Galveston. Austin and her consort arrived at their destination on 14 July 1843.

Five days after their arrival, Commodore Moore and Comdr. John T. K. Lothrop of Wharton were relieved of command andtendered dishonorable discharges from the Texas Navy. Their successors quickly executed further orders to pay off the bulk of the sailors. The Texas Navy, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist except on paper. Austin languished at Galveston until Texas was annexed by the United States in December of 1845. As a result of that action, Austin became a unit of the United States Navy. She was formally taken over at Galveston on 11 May 1846. Though in poor condition, she was moved to the Pensacola Navy Yard where she served as a receiving ship. Sometime in 1848, Austin was broken up at Pensacola.

Published: Fri Jun 19 12:20:10 EDT 2015