The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 83, July 1979 - April, 1980

Book Reviews

Fragile Empires: The Texas Correspondence of Samuel Swartwout and
James Morgan, z836-1856. Edited by Feris A. Bass, Jr., and B. R.
Brunson. (Austin: Shoal Creek Publishers, 1978. Pp. 384. Preface,
introduction, bibliography, index. $27.50.)
The editors of this volume have brought together into readable form
a long correspondence between two men closely connected with the af-
fairs of the Republic of Texas and in positions to exert some influence
on the direction those affairs took. Samuel Swartwout, the New Yorker
and friend of Aaron Burr and Andrew Jackson, hoped to make his for-
tune in Texas. James Morgan, who served as Swartwout's agent, was
somewhat similarly placed in Texas, being the friend, among many
others, of Sam Houston and Mirabeau B. Lamar. The link between
Swartwout and Morgan, in addition to their friendship, was a common
ability to see the pot of gold and a willingneSs to run large risks in its
pursuit. Thus, the letters range over a variety of speculative ventures in
which the two men were interested, but focus chiefly on their land ac-
quisitions on Galveston Bay organized as the New Washington Associa-
tion. Unfortunately for the principals, if they each possessed the gam-
bler's mentality, they also had an unlucky hand and, as the title suggests,
found neither joy nor financial reward in their many and intricate finan-
cial combinations.
Feris A. Bass and B. R. Brunson are to be commended for a work-
manlike piece of editing of this correspondence, most of which has lain
semineglected in the Rosenberg Library in Galveston for nearly forty
years. As good editors should, they identify the persons and events allud-
ed to by the writers. And they have consulted a wide range of primary
and secondary material in compiling the notes that enable the reader
to follow the train of events without having to resort constantly to books
of reference.
The editors have hoped to be able to rehabilitate the reputations of
the two men. The task is especially difficult in the case of Swartwout
who, as the protege of Andrew Jackson, was appointed collector of the
customs of the Port of New York City and was later charged with having
diverted port revenues to his own pocket. His defalcation was held to be
so egregious that the word "Swartwouting" was coined to mean any
similar act of embezzlement. In the view of the editors, however, Swart-
wout was completely innocent and was framed by "a few unprincipled
politicians" who defamed "an otherwise proud name in American his-
tory" (p. xxv). In their opinion, Swartwout's undeniable poverty in the

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 83, July 1979 - April, 1980. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101207/. Accessed February 1, 2015.