In 1842 the Texas Revolution was history. The Texians and Tejanos had won their independence from Mexico. And, although Mexico didn’t recognize their separation from the Mexican union, the new “Republic of Texas” was now a reality.
But, also in 1842, one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence was rotting in a Mexican prison. In prison the Texas patriot would encounter malnutrition, torture and humiliation. This man was considered a traitor in Mexico.
History remembers this man by his birth name - José Antonio Navarro.
Don Antonio had been captured in New Mexico, jailed there briefly, and then transferred to “San Juan de Ulloa Prison” in Vera Cruz. This prison was known to be “dreary and damp” and had the worst reputation of all the prisons in Mexico. There he spent many days in solitary and had been sentenced to be executed.
José Antonio was now thin, weak, hungry, depressed, a thousand miles from home, lost and forgotten.
About three months into his incarceration, his jailer informed him that the president of Mexico, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, was on his way to see him.
It was Santa Anna who had José Antonio transferred to the worst Mexican dungeon and he did it with extreme prejudice. Santa Anna did not like Antonio at all for several reasons.
First, at one point before the Texas Revolution José Antonio served in the Mexican Government. Second, once when Santa Anna was young and was visiting San Antonio he met Jose Antonio’s sister and asked the family for her hand in marriage – family declined him. And third – there’s that whole Texas Rebellion thing.
But, now Santa Anna could extract his revenge on his political nemesis.
When the dictator finally arrived that afternoon he ordered the door unlocked, walked in with two guards and looked intently at his prisoner and said,
“I need you to “recant” and pledge allegiance in writing to the Mexican State and “denounce” the Republic of Texas. If you do that I will release you and give you a post in my government – for life. I will not ask twice. If you refuse you will be executed as a traitor.”
Without hesitation José Antonio Navarro replied with his now famous, “I Will Never Forsake Texas and Her Cause – I am her Son!”
José Antonio Navarro was born February 27, 1795 in San Antonio de Bexar, New Spain, to a prominent Spanish family. His mother was of aristocratic descent; his father, Angel Navarro, was a self-made man who had made the journey all the way from Corsica in the Mediterranean to the Americas.
First, Angel Navarro was a runaway and servant and then later Angel would eventually become a successful merchant and alcalde (mayor) of San Antonio de Bexar.
After marrying Maria Josepha Ruiz y Pena, Angel Navarro moved to San Antonio de Bexar where he opened a store and started a family that would eventually include twelve children.
José Antonio Navarro was the eighth of these children.
At the age of ten he was sent to Saltillo to attend school, but when his father died three years later and Antonio had to return to San Antonio. He never received any more formal education.
As a young adult, José Antonio was described as being intelligent, confident, a little over six feet tall, muscular, a great marksman and a superb horseman - even though, he walked with a limp from a childhood horseback-riding accident.
José Antonio was also a quiet, modest, serious young man who took his fashion seriously and usually wore white clothing, which is why his brothers gave him the nickname "La Paloma Blanca."
In his free time, he studied law books and developed an extensive knowledge of Spanish and, later, Mexican law. Antonio was largely self-trained in law and specialized in Spanish and Mexican law.
In 1813, the teenaged Navarro witnessed the brutal execution of some Spanish soldiers that the rebels had taken prisoner, an event that horrified him despite his admiration for the freedom fighters.
Soon Spain sent a larger army to defeat the rebels, and Navarro was forced to flee, with his brothers and his uncle Francisco Ruiz, to the United States. After spending three years in Louisiana, Navarro returned to San Antonio de Bexar to establish himself as a merchant.
As a native Texan, he had a vision of the future of Texas like that of Stephen F. Austin. History Remembers that José Antonio and Austin were the best of friends, had a common vision of Texas and throughout their lives developed a steady, long lasting friendship.
History remembers that José Antonio Navarro and his close friend Stephen F. Austin worked together to found the new state of Texas.
Working with the empresarios of the period, Navarro helped Stephen F. Austin obtain his contracts to bring settlers into the area. José Antonio was very instrumental in helping Austin secure the introduction of American settlers in Texas. He became a land commissioner for Dewitt's Colony and, soon after, for the Béxar District.
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 1825, José Antonio married the beautiful Señorita, Margarita de la Garza, and they raised seven children. The “de la Garza” family also played a major role in the fight for Texas.
During the early 1830s Navarro represented Texas both in the legislature of the State of Coahuila and Texas and in the federal Congress in Mexico City. Always a champion of democratic ideas, Navarro, collaborating with Austin, worked to pass legislation that would best benefit the people of Texas.
José Antonio later served as a leader in the Texas Revolution. He placed his life in extreme danger serving Texas as Santa Anna's main revolutionary adversary. He served the Texas cause with his name, his resources, finances and his hard work.
He was at the "Convention for Texas Independence", when he received the somber news from Captain Juan Seguin, of the Alamo's fall.
With the death of James Bowie (his nephew by marriage), José Antonio had to secure the safe release of the two Navarro girls that survived the battle. These young ladies were Señorita Juanita and Señorita Gertrudis with baby Alejo and were being held by the Mexicans at the Músquiz house after the battle. They were removed to the Navarro family home for safety.
José Antonio Navarro was one of the first signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence, in early March 1836, in Washington-on-the-Brazos. He later signed the Constitution of the Republic of Texas.
In 1841, Navarro reluctantly participated in the ill-conceived Texan Santa Fe Expedition sent by President Mirabeau B. Lamar, when he tried to persuade the residents of New Mexico to secede from Mexico and join with Texas.
He was captured, put on trial, sentenced to death, and imprisoned for years. He would eventually escaped with the help of sympathetic Mexican Army officials, sailing back to Texas.
José Antonio Navarro was the most influential Tejano of his generation and would become the leading Mexican participant on the side of Texas in the Texas Revolution, as well as in the subsequent development of the Republic and then the State of Texas.
His uncle was José Francisco Ruiz and his brother-in-law was Juan Martín de Veramendi. His son José Ángel Navarro III served three terms in the Texas Legislature.
History remembers that José Antonio Navarro was among the truest of all Texans.
José Antonio Navarro was a "True Patriot" of our Texas Revolution.
This post is dedicated to all José Antonio Navarro’s descendants living today in Texas and around the world who continue to "carry the torch” handed down to them by José Antonio Navarro, Texas patriot of our past,..to the benefit of this great state, Texas.
And, Thank You Don José Antonio Navarro for your service, deeds of bravery and heroic devotion to our country — Texas!
If you love Texas and Texas history then join us in our efforts to promote both the history and the heroes of our Texas revolution. Support our efforts, stop by our virtual store and check out all the cool merchandise. Thank you for all your support. -Gonzo