Texas Legation Records come home to the Texas State Archives after 161 years

July 11th, 2006 by Administrator
Filed under: Texas History, State Library News

After 161 years, a hurricane, a fire and the inhospitable climate of Southeast Texas, a unique and significant collection of Texas historical documents made its way home. After much anticipation and excitement, on Friday, June 9, 2006, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission officially received from the Texas State Historical Association a collection of some 250 documents referred to as the Legation Records. The documents are records created and received by the officials who maintained the official Texas Legation at Washington, D.C. from December 1836 until December 1845 when Texas was annexed into the United States. The records comprising the collection cover primarily the years 1836 to 1839 and consist mainly of the dispatches that passed between the Texan Government and its commissioners and chargés d’affaires at Washington, and of the notes exchanged by that Government and the United States chargés in Texas.

Peggy Rudd and Ed Seidenberg assist State Archivist Chris LaPlante to unpack the Legation Records.
State Librarian Peggy D. Rudd, Assistant State Librarian Ed Seidenberg, and State Archivist Chris LaPlante view the Legation Records for the first time on June 9, 2006.

Based on records in the State Archives, and according to State Archivist Chris LaPlante, following the close of the Legation Office in 1845, Acting Secretary of State Charles Mariner, in a letter to the newly elected U.S. Senator Sam Houston dated March 7, 1846, directed Houston, at the request of Governor James Pinckney Henderson, to “obtain control over the books, papers, etc. belonging to the Legation of the late Republic of Texas” that had been placed with the Office of the U. S. Adjutant General in Washington, D.C., following the close of the Legation. Houston did acquire custody of the records but, rather than depositing them with the Texas Secretary of State in Austin as requested, he instead took them to his home. From all indications, the records were passed down to Sam Houston’s son, A. J. Houston, and at an undetermined time came to be in the custody of other individuals. LaPlante said that A.J. and the other individuals lived in Southeast Texas.

For the last two years, the documents were stored in a bank vault, but prior to that they were kept in a private home and at one point for several months, in the trunk of a car. It is amazing that the documents exist at all, when you consider that they lived through the humidity and heat. But then, in 1961, during Hurricane Carla, the house where the documents were residing was destroyed and caught on fire.

“Most all of the documents show signs having been wet and in dirty water. They are quite dirty,” said LaPlante. “And virtually all of them are stained.” Additionally, about 30 percent of the pages were burned along the bottom and front edges.

In March of this year the Texas State Historical Association was offered the opportunity to auction the right of a donor to select a state approved institution to exhibit and provide researcher access to the collection for five years in accordance with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s rules for the loan and exhibition of state archives. As part of the commission’s agreement with the association, the collection will receive necessary preservation treatments prior to their placement at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Following the end of their loan to TCU, the Legation records will return to the commission for permanent retention in the State Archives.

According to LaPlante, while copies of many of the documents in question already exist in the official records of the Office of the Secretary of State that now reside in the State Archives, many of the original documents in the collection have never been seen by scholars or the general public. Of particular importance are the original copies of specific general and private orders that were signed and sent by then Secretary of State Stephen F. Austin to Texas Chargés d’Affaires William H. Wharton. The orders instructed Wharton concerning the attainment of official recognition of the independence of Texas and the annexation of the country to the United States. Another extremely significant document is a copy of the Treaty of Velasco signed three weeks following the defeat of the Mexican forces at the Battle of San Jacinto. Other documents deal with a variety of topics including boundary issues, Native Americans, relations with Mexico, the Texas Navy, and financial arrangements for loans, bonds, etc.

The conservation and preservation treatments for the collection are estimated to cost $73,000. As LaPlante notes, “It’s not cheap, but it’s vitally important.”

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