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Lost Texas!

Texas 1820-1836

William Benitz
First Years in Texas
1834-1836 — ages: 19-21

Per William's own handwritten summary of his vital facts, he states “...came to America 1832 to California 1842...”.  Not much to go by.  We now know that the account of his arrival in his son Alfred’s biography is incorrect on several counts.  Per a ship's manifest, William first arrived in the port of New York on December 2, 1833, aged 18.  Family lore, repeated in Alfred's biography, provides an account of his arrival in Texas that occured six months to two years after his arrival in New York.

 Per the family lore, he was aboard a ship that was wrecked by a storm upon the coast of Mexico; and, he next lived with the local inhabitants, native Indians or Mexicans, for several months.  We do not know: (i) the name of the ship; (ii) where it sailed from; (iii) where on the coast of Mexico-Texas the wreck occured; (iv) how long he remained with the locals; (v) nor where he went when he left the locals.

Per a study published in 1856 of the hurricanes that occured between 1498 and 1855, the worst months for hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico were August, September, and October.  William’s shipwreck likely occured no earlier than July, 1834 (aged 19), and no later than November, 1835 (aged 20) – it is unlikely his shipwreck occured in 1836 for he enlisted in the army of Texas on October 1, 1836.

Our research and conclusions

What do we know about William during this period, with reasonable certainty?

On arrival, in ca.1835?

And in 1836?

Historically, at the time:

Wrecks upon the coast of Texas, 1830-1835:

It may not really matter exactly where William came ashore.  He was a foreigner who didn’t speak Spanish nor English and hearing of the Germans in Texas he could very well have made made his way to join them.  However, if he was already en route to join the German settlers when his ship was wrecked, then it seems more likely he was ship-wrecked on the present day coast of Texas.

No old map.

Texas Coast

Amy Anne Borgens provides a list of the known shipwrecks that occurred upon the Texas coast during the early nineteenth century; see appendix IV of her MS thesis "Analysis of the Pass Cavallo Shipwreck Assemblage, Matagorda Bay, Texas", Texas A&M Univ., May 2004.

Per that list, the following ship-wrecks occurred during 1834 and 1835:

Known Shipwrecks
Ship Name Type Built Wrecked
Brazoria Schooner   1835, Brazos River
Cardena Schooner   1834, Aransas River
Hannah Elizabeth (US) Schooner 1829 1835, Pass Cavallo
 (chased ashore by Mex.Navy)
Mexico     1835, Brazos Bar
Sabine (US) Schooner 1830 1834, Galveston
San Felipe (Texas) Schooner   1835, Pass Cavallo
Unknown     1834, Aransas
Unknown     1834, Aransas
Wild Cat (US) Schooner 1829 1834, Aransas Pass

The following quotes provide context and background information.  They are excerpts from chapter III (Gulf Maritime Activity of the Early Nineteenth Century) of Borgens' thesis:

[page 37] “Immigration into Texas increased heavily in the early 19th century, especially in south-central and southern Texas.  The founding of Victoria in 1824, the first major city in the region, influenced immigration and the quantity of maritime traffic into Texas. The influx of immigrants would continue to increase steadily into the late 1820s and early 1830s.  In January and February of 1835 alone, 2,000 immigrants arrived at the mouth of the Brazos River.”

[page 38] “Vessels involved in trade with Mexico and Texas in the early 1800s were most likely registered in New Orleans before continuing onward.  Vessels wishing to deliver supplies to the Texas coast, while it was a Mexican possession, often passed through Matamoras, the major Mexican port of the region.  Galveston and Matagorda were the primary Texas ports of entry, though most of the navigable river entries along the coast were utilized as needed.”

[page 40] “The Matagorda-Copano area and its passes, account for the majority of all the wrecks that occurred between 1815 and 1845.”

© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)