Present-day Location of Fort Anahuac
John Davis Bradburn (1787 – April 20, 1842), was born and raised in the United States and pursued a career as a merchant and slave trader before entering Mexico in 1812 as part of the Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition. He survive the campaign and fled to Louisiana, serving in the Louisiana militia during the Battle of New Orleans. His mercenary tendencies returned him to Mexico where he helped win its independence, eventually as a member of Vicente Guerrero’s forces. Bradburn’s courage and service earned him a commission as a colonel in the Army of the Three Guarantees as later as a staff officer for Mexican emperor Agustín de Iturbide. He was now Juan Davis Bradburn.
When Iturbide became emperor of Mexico, he sent Bradburn as an envoy to the United States. Bradburn returned with news that the United States was prepared to recognize the Mexico as an independent country. Later that year, Iturbide arranged Bradburn’s marriage to a well-connected Mexican woman, Maria Josefa Hurtado de Mendoza y Caballero de los Olivos. Her brother, Agustin Hurtado, was the 9th Count of the Valley of Orizaba. Bradburn and his wife had one son, who entered the priesthood as a young man.
Bradburn weathered the various winds of the political storms in Mexico but remained a staunch centralist. When the federalists rose to power, the American kept a discreet distance from politics over the next few years. In 1830 he returned to action when the centralist regime of Anastasio Bustamante ordered the bilingual Bradburn to establish a new military and customs post at Anahuac, Texas, in accordance with General Manuel de Mier y Téran’s recommendations.
Bradburn and his men arrived at Galveston Bay on October 26 and established a post atop ta 30-foot bluff, naming the fort Anahuac after the Anahuac Valley, the ancient capital of the Aztecs. The soldiers erected two large kilns to produce bricks to build a more permanent fort. When the kilns were operational, however, Bradburn sold the bricks to settlers who wished to live near the fort. The town grew quickly and by June 1 the population had reached 300 civilians–mostly Anglo-Americans, and 170 Mexican military personnel.
The relationship between the local Anglo-American settlers and the American-Mexican officer quickly soured. They resented Bradburn’s efforts, including his refusal to issue land titles to illegal squatters and his enforcement of Mexican customs laws. Bradburn also quarreled with Mexican state officials who arrived to organize land claims and who eventually laid out a new town, Villa de la Santissima Trinidad de la Libertad, which the Texians simply called Liberty. The hard feelings escalated when Bradburn, intent on enforcing Mexican law, refused to return runaway slaves to their owners in the United States.
The Texians responded by forming an illegal milita. Bradburn did what he could to disrupt this group, but failed and, hearing rumors that armed men were marching on Anahuac to retrieve these slaves, he arrested local agitators including William Barret Travis. A large force of Texians marched on Anahuac to secure Travis’s release. A standoff ensued, with Mexican soldiers falling into Texian hands, and skirmishing killing at least one insurgent and five soldados. The Texians called for more support from the Anglo-American colonies and sent for a cannon at Brazoria to help reduce the Mexican fortification. They also declared in favor of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the federalists caudillo opposing the centralists regime.
Meanwhile, Bradburn called for Mexican troops from Nacodgoches and Béxar to reinforce his position. A column of 100 men under the command of José de las Piedras arrived from East Texas on July 1, 1832 and he defused the explosive situation. Both Mexican and Texian forces released their prisoners. When Piedras left, most of the troops in Anahuac–at least those that had not deserted long before–declared themselves federalists–and allies of the Texians. Bradburn prudently fled on July 13, arriving at the Mexican consulate in New Orleans a month later.
Humiliated, Bradburn returned to Mexico in time to join Bustamante’s army operating against Santa Anna. When the centralist regime fell, the forty-six-year-old Bradburn retired from the service, moving to Matamoros. When the Texians rebelled again in 1835, Bradburn joined the centralist army and served in the Goliad campaign before commanding a Mexican detachment at the port of Copano. He retreated with the army in 1836. Bradburn died at his ranch across the Rio Grande in 1842.