History

The Archives War of 1842: A Forgotten Tale of Texas History

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Moving the capital to Austin was not a simple job, and the move ultimately triggered the Archives War of 1842. It required relocating everything to keep the then-Republic of Texas running, including the national archives. The location of these papers prompted what became known as the Archives War of 1842, and it created many heroes from ordinary citizens though many today have forgotten the skirmish.

The Capital Moves to Austin

Austin's Capitol Building

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

For almost three years, Texas’ government operated out of Houston. Then President Houston liked the location and that the founders named the city for him, but when the people elected a new president, Mirabeau B. Lamar, the capital moved. President Lamar favored moving the capital closer to the larger Texas cities of the Texas Hill Country. And having the capital in Austin also encouraged westward expansion, a concept Lamar heavily promoted.

Problems on the Frontier

1800s Ranch House in Texas

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Though Austin had been the capital for three years, by 1842 trouble came on the horizon. In March, the Mexican Army marched into San Antonio, demanding that the town surrender. This prompted reelected President Sam Houston to see Austin as a precarious place for a capital. He declared that Austin could no longer be the Texas capital and the government would move back to Houston. With Mexico once again in charge of Victoria, San Antonio, and Goliad, it seemed a prudent move.

Moving the Archives

Sam Houston moving the capital prompted the Archives War of 1842

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In December 1842, President Houston declared Austin would no longer serve as the capital. Congress moved to Washington on the Brazos. And with this move, the nation’s archives should follow. But a group of Austinites who called themselves “The Committee of Safety” fought to keep the archives in Austin. This would trigger the Archives War of 1842.

The Archives War of 1842

Angelina Eberly defending the archives in the Archives War of 1842

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When Captain Eli Chandler and General Thomas I. Smith arrived in Austin, they’d been ordered privately by the president to move the archives to Washington on the Brazos. Early on December 30, 1842, these men loaded the archives onto wagons to take the papers from the city. The Committee of Safety did not anticipate such a covert movement of the archives. But one Angelina Eberly did not let the military men get away with the archives without a fight. She turned a six-pound cannon toward the men at the General Land Office and fired it.

End of the Archives War of 1842

archives war of 1842

Photo: Wikimedia

Though the Archives War started in 1842, it ended on January 1, 1843 (some sources have said December 31, 1842). Captain Mark B. Lewis, one of those opposed to the archives’ movement, led a troop with a cannon to overtake the fleeing Chandler and Smith. They proved successful at Kenney’s Fort along Bushy Creek. The archives returned to Austin, though accounts dispute whether Smith or Lewis brought them back.

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