Heritage, Volume 9, Number 4, Fall 1991 Page: 18
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A History of Fortifications at Fort San Jacinto
Galveston Island, Texas
Editor's Note: The following article has been
compiled from a publication written by Martha
Doty Freeman and illustrated by Sandra L.
Hannum and Karen Gardner; Freeman was
assisted in the project by Elton R. Prewitt.
I n the 19th century, Galveston was a
significant harbor in Texas and one of the
most important trade locations on the
United States coast -- a city worth defending.
Though plagued by a history of devastating
storms, conflicting land claims,
and its placement on a topographically
unstable tract of land, Galveston saw several
major periods of fortification construction,
which resulted in approximately
20 forts or major batteries and gave country
and local citizenry the illusion, if not
the actuality, of safety from seacoast attack.
The fortifications were products of national
policies and harbor defense programs that
began in the 1790s and continued until
shortly after World War II.
The First Phase: 1816-1860
In the fall of 1816, a French privateer
named Luis de Aury arrived on Galveston
Island where his crew worked to erect crude
fortifications. Aury was followed in November
1816 by Spanish exile General
Francisco Xavier Mina who had raised a
force for the purpose of attacking Spanish
royalist outposts in northwestern Mexico.
In July 1818, Mina's fortification was taken
over by General Charles Francois
Lallemand who had retreated to the Island
from his short-lived settlement on the
Trinity River, Champ d'Asile. It is likely
that the fortification was damaged or perhaps
destroyed by a severe storm that hit
Galveston in September.
Despite the barrenness and remoteness
of the Island, San Antonio resident Juan
Seguin applied for and received a grant
that covered a portion of the east end of
Galveston Island from the Mexican government
inJanuary 1833. Subsequently, Michel
B. Menard received title to the headright as
Seguin's agent and vested ownership of the
property in himself and nine associates.
However, development of the property was
interrupted by the events of the Revolution.
In November 1835, a Consultation comprised
of representatives of Anglo-Texan
communities met at San Felipe de Austin
and voted to create a separate state government
for Texas while remaining within the
Mexican nation. The Consultation organized
a Permanent Council that called for a
convention to meet at Washington-on-the
Brazos on March 1, 1836. At that time,
delegates adopted a declaration of independence
and organized a government for the
Republic of Texas.
Perhaps alarmed by Santa Anna's aggressive
moves through Texas and recognizing
the strategic importance of Galveston
Island, officials urged the construction of a
fortification, work which began on the
eastern end of the Island in March and
continued for several months. Named Fort
Travis by President Burnet, the fortification
continued to grow, and by the summer
consisted of an octagon-shaped earth or
sandwork. A large ditch was dug, and the
excavated sand was piled outside, creating
an embankment within which huts for the
troops were constructed.
Artillery, too, arrived in April 1836.
Though historic accounts do not seem to
agree, it is believed that an 18-pounder
from the Mexican fort at Anahuac arrived,
as did two four-pound guns taken from the
In the meantime, Michel Menard
pushed forward with attempts to have his
Galveston Island grant ratified by the Texas
Congress late in 1836. He requested a
quitclaim to the league and labor on November
10 and offered to pay the Republic
$50,000 if it would cede the tract to him.
Accordingly, the Congress passed an act
relinquishing the land to Menard. Significantly,
however, the Republic reserved to
itself a tract of land on the east end of the
Clearly the Republic appreciated the
military significance of Galveston Island,
and construction and troop activity continued
at Fort Travis, renamed Post
Galveston, throughout 1837. However, in
October, a storm devastated the Island,
submerging all but the highest points; all
vessels in the harbor were driven ashore,
and most buildings were destroyed. In addition
to the substantial property damage,
the storm also resulted in significant erosion
and alteration of the eastern end of the
Island. Wishing to re-establish land
boundaries that had also been destroyed by
the storm, Michel Menard had the land
surveyed. That work was completed in 1838
and resulted in a map of Galveston City
and the east end of the Island that depicted
the relocation of the boundary between the
government reserve on the end of the Island
and Menard's grant to the west.
With rumors of a Mexican invasion
rampant, work began anew on the fortifications
at what was then called Post
Galveston. A battery on the sand hills on
the east end of the Island was built, officers'
quarters and barracks were constructed,
18 HERITAGE * FALL 1991
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 9, Number 4, Fall 1991, periodical, Autumn 1991; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45425/m1/18/: accessed June 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.