Virginia-born James Long read the news of the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 at his plantation near Vicksburg, Mississippi, and did not like the looks of it. The United States, which had already annexed West Florida whether the Spanish liked it or not, purchased the rest of that province but surrendered its legitimate claims to Texas. Hadn’t the French landed in Texas? Didn’t that mean that Texas was included in the Louisiana Purchase? Why, he must have wondered, had his government caved in to the Spanish? Besides, he mused, New Spain could not last many more years.
Long had met several Mexican Republicans while he served with the US Army in New Orleans. One in particular, José Félix Trespalacios, seemed intent on invading Spanish Texas—much like Augustus Magee had done in 1813—and establishing an independent state in sympathy with the hoped-for Republic of Mexico. Trespalacios was a veteran of the war sparked by Miguel Hidalgo, and had a price on his head.
Together these men assembled and led nearly two hundred men, including Ben Milam and James Bowie, to Nacogdoches in 1819 and proclaimed the Republic of Texas. Another hundred men soon arrived to swell the ranks of this makeshift army. Logistics broke down, and the army shriveled from poor discipline and a lack of supplies. While Long was away searching for assistance, 500 Spanish Royalist troops marched toward the filibusterers and routed them without much effort.
Regrouping, he and Trespalacios sailed for the coast of Texas in April 1820 with 300 men, landing at the Bolivar Peninsula at the mouth of Galveston Bay and established a base. Long’s wife, Jane, gave birth to what she claimed was the first American child in Texas (later refuted), but the army began to fall apart—Ben Milam and Trespalacios leading many on an expedition to the Yucatan— until barely fifty remained on the shores of Galveston Bay by December. The tiny filibuster army moved to capture La Bahia in September 1821. Advancing under a flag of red stripes and a white star, the adventurers had little difficulty in overwhelming the indifferent Spanish garrison on October 2.
Spanish authorities hurried to respond and on October 9, 1821, Long and his remaining 30 men surrendered to Mexican forces. The adventurers, under escort, headed to Mexico City. When they arrived, they discovered that a new nation, the Mexican Empire, now ruled Texas. He joined Milam and Trespalacios, captured near Veracruz, in prison.
Six months later, in 1822, a guard shot and killed Long just before his scheduled release. Trespalacios may have arranged for the murder to squash any testimony he might give concerning his collusion with Americans. As a reward, Trespalacios received a commission in the Mexican Army, serving in his native Chihuahua, while Long earned an unmarked grave, far from home.