Texans had a hand in American independence

Published 9:36 am Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Texans have reasons aplenty this day to take pride in and to celebrate July 4, not the least of which is because some of our ancestors had some impact on the American Revolution’s outcome. For the Declaration of Independence to fully matter, the colonists had to win the war.

(This being Texas, and very large, we have both a Lexington and a Concord.)

Some later-in-life Texans marched with the Continental armies in the north or along the Atlantic. They eventually made their way to Texas after the war. They included the likes of Virginian James Adams, said to be buried somewhere in Orange County, and Jean Baptiste Chaison, who likely fought the British from 1775 until war’s end in 1783.

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Other Texans, under Spanish rule, participated in early, great cattle drives from what is now this state, moving immense herds behind the army of Bernado de Galvez — Galveston is named for Galvez, an honorary U.S. citizen — who at the direction of the Spanish government drove the British from their bases of operation in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Natchez, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; and Pensacola, Florida after Spain entered the war on the side of the Colonists in 1779.

If armies march on their stomachs — Napolean said they do — then the early cowboys from Texas permitted the Spanish to do just that. At Galvez’s direction, vaqueros kept close to his army as he pressed eastward, defeating the British again and again in their outposts, providing Spanish soldiers the portable sustenance that moved on hooves.

Galvez’s army kept the Mississippi River open to supporters of the American colonists and enabled them to supply the Continental Army with munitions, medicine and clothing from that backdoor in the West, while British fleets kept Atlantic Coast ports in the East closed to shipping. Galvez’s exploits forced the British to fight on another front during the war.

Chaison’s story itself is most remarkable. Born in Nova Scotia, he and his parents were driven from their Acadian home by the British invaders and imprisoned during the Seven Years War before they moved to France as part of the Grand Derangement. In France, Chaison was orphaned; he returned to the North American continent in 1775 for the opportunity to fight the British on the side of the rebelling American colonists.

According to official archives, Chaison fought in a Canadian regiment consisting mostly of former Acadians, and saw fierce action as early as 1775 under Col. Benedict Arnold, at one point an American hero, at Quebec. He later fought at Germantown and Brandywine and in 1781 fought at the battles of Guilford Courthouse and Eutaw Springs, where he was wounded.

He recovered in time to join Lafayette at the siege of Yorktown, fought in skirmishes and, the archives reflect, was there for Lord Cornwallis’ surrender. How precious that moment must have been for Chaison.

After the war, Chaison settled in Louisiana, then Spanish owned. But with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Chaison, as an American Revolution war veteran, was granted 600 acres in St. Landry Parish, in the heart of what is now Acadiana. A farmer and cattleman on the Cajun Prairie, husband and father, he got to Texas as soon as he could — perhaps at age 87 in 1832 to join his youngest son in Beaumont.

It was no short stay. Chaison lived as a Texan until age 108, according to records and writings, strong and healthy, a forerunner to the Cajun movement into Southeast Texas and the Texas Coast that would accelerate a century later.

Chaison was buried at Jirou Cemetery, now abandoned, but his military service and fruitful life is documented in the Beaumont area, where his descendants thrived.

Chaison and Galvez and the vaqueros are not what most Americans will celebrate this day. They’ll think of the Declaration of Independence, rightfully so, and the war elsewhere, but the Declaration’s words were made reality with the participation of Texans.

That’s worth a firecracker or two.

Ken Stickney is editor of The Port Arthur News.