First Impressions of Mexico, 1828,
by Reuben Potter
Edited by BILL KARRAS*
THOUGH NOT A FAMILIAR HISTORICAL FIGURE, REUBEN MARMADUKE
Potter contributed importantly to the growth and development of
Texas. The barest inquiry reveals that he helped save the lives of 18
Texan prisoners in Mexico and contributed to the relief of approximately
I 18 more. He was a friend and interpreter of Mexican culture to President
Mirabeau B. Lamar. He also wrote "The Hymn of the Alamo"-the
Texas equivalent to the "Star Spangled Banner"-and had the first monu-
ment to the Alamo made and dedicated to the memory of those who died
there. His written account of the Alamo's fall is considered to be one of
the most accurate.'
Potter was among those Americans living in Matamoros when Texas
began its struggle for independence. Naturally the services of these people,
most of whom shared the aspirations of the Anglo-Americans in Texas,
were soon to be enlisted in the Texans' cause. Their first-hand knowledge
of Mexican culture was at a premium, and Potter's contribution proved to
be of great value to the new republic. And perhaps more valuable from
the point of view of cultural relations, Potter developed into a sympathetic
and, at times, penetrating interpreter of Mexico to his countrymen.2
The extent of Potter's understanding of Mexico is revealed by the num-
ber of times he was called upon to deal with the Mexicans, and by the
kind of missions he was asked to carry out. Potter was born in Woodbridge,
New Jersey, in 1802. He went to Mexico in 1827 to make his fortune, and
did business in Matamoros from 1832 to 1837. It was in the latter year
that he helped save a group of 18 Texan prisoners in Matamoros from
starvation and execution. First he helped provision a number of them
out of his own pocket, and then he wrote the petition for their release and
personally presented it to the Mexican commander in Matamoros, General
*Mr. Karras is an assistant professor of Spanish at the University of Wyoming.
xJames Henry Leach, "The Life of Reuben Marmaduke Potter" (M.A. thesis, Uni-
versity of Texas, 1939), 5-27, 34-36, 39-48, 51-58, 76, 95-96. See also Frank W. John-
son, A History of Texas and Texans, edited by Eugene C. Barker and Ernest William
Winkler (5 vols.; Chicago, 1914), I, 4io; John Myers Myers, The Alamo (New York,
19g48), 15, 179.
2Leach, "Reuben Marmaduke Potter," 5.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 79, July 1975 - April, 1976. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101203/. Accessed September 19, 2014.