New York's Defenders Of The Alamo
The Alamo. Its name alone paints broads brush strokes of liberty and sacrifice across the canvas of the imagination. If one was asked to make a list of important engagements in military history where New Yorkers played a significant role, the Alamo would probably rank at the bottom, if mentioned at all. A number of New Yorkers, however, did step across William Travis' legendary line in the dust, thus entering their names into the annals of one of the most important events in American history.
The Alamo is a powerful place that emits a feeling of veneration even before entering the narrow doors that lead inside the Shrine. A sign reads "No photography allowed. Gentlemen will remove hats before entering!". A shrine is where one worships fallen heroes. The Alamo chapel is such a place.
As you first enter the chapel, a small room on the left contains a semi-circle of State flags standing in silent sentinel. Representing the home state of each Alamo defender, a red battle honor style ribbon with the number of patriots from each state further adorns each standard. The number "six" is affixed to the New York State flag.
Who were these men and what brought them to Texas? What was it that they were fighting for that persuaded them to stay when given the opportunity to escape or surrender?
Many Americans came to the Mexican state of Texas after they had lost everything in the Panic of 1819. The land was cheap and all the Mexican government required was that the settlers, called Texans, support and defend the independence and liberty of the Mexican Nation. Empresarios, or Land Agents like Stephen F. Austin, brought many of the settlers to the western most reaches of Texas at San Antonio de Bexar. Outside the city of Bexar stood the old Spanish mission of San Antonio de Valero, now simply called the Alamo, after the Mexican cavalry company from San Carlos de Alamo de Parras that had once occupied it.
In the beginning, the American settlers seemed content with their new Mexican citizenship. They had a state constitution that gave them representation in the Mexican Government and had elected their own American governor, Henry Smith. The Mexican government soon became uncomfortable with the large influx of American immigrants. To keep them in check, Mexico ratified a new constitution that stripped Texas of her independent status of statehood, took away her right of representation, and combined Texas with the neighboring State of Coahuila. In 1830 the Mexican banned any further U.S. immigration to Texas. This didn't stop the flow of eager settlers, and only transformed the existing settlers into illegals.
The political gap widened when Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna became dictator of Mexico in 1833. Military conflicts between the soldiers of Santa Anna and the Texans and Tejanos, now considered rebels by the Mexico, escalated in size and number. By the time of the first shot in the siege of the Alamo on February 23, 1836, it was clearly evident that if Texas was to continue to exist, a stand must be made to halt Santa Anna's advance through their territory.
The defenders of the Alamo were an assemblage of Americans, native Texans called Tejanos, and European immigrants. The diversity of this group brings to light a lesser know but just as important non military fact. The Battle of the Alamo was not only an important historically as a military engagement, but also that it bridged the cultural and political gaps that existed between Old World Mexico and the new Texas. Six Alamo defenders are listed officially as being from New York. Five others had resided in the State before making their way to the Texas frontier. This brings the total number of New York Alamo defenders to eleven.
William Blazeby, 41 years old, was born in England and had moved to New York to make his fortune. At the Alamo, he held the rank of captain and commanded an infantry company. Blazeby was a veteran of the battle of Bexar where he served as lieutenant in the New Orleans Greys, a Texan Volunteer regiment from Louisiana.
Another Englishman, William D. Hersee, was 31 years old and served as an NCO in Captain Carey's artillery company. He also had resided in New York before making the journey to Texas and was wounded at the battle of Bexar.
According to the records of the Alamo Daughters of the American Revolution Chapter, George C .Kimball (Kimble) was born in New York 1803. He married Prudence Nash in 1832, had two children, and owned a hat factory in Gonzales. Lieutenant Kimball was 33 when he and the other thirty-one members of the Gonzales Ranging Company arrived at the Alamo on March 1, 1836. They were the only troops to answer William Travis' pleas for relief. Kimble County, Texas, is named in honor of George C. Kimball.
Forty-five year old Dr. William D. Howell, originally from Massachusetts, had practiced medicine in New York before moving to New Orleans and then on to Texas. Another veteran of Bexar, he served as a rifleman in Captain William Blazeby's infantry company and probably served as one of the surgeons during the siege.
Robert Cunningham, a 27 year old flatboatman born in Ontario County, New York had lived in Indiana, Kentucky, and Arkansas before finally settling in Texas . He received a land grant from Stephen F. Austin in 1833 and fought in the battle of Bexar. Cunningham served as an artilleryman in Captain Carey's company at the Alamo.
Samuel B. Evans was 24 when he served as a rifleman at the Alamo. His uncle, General Jacob Brown, had commanded the United States Army. His paternal grandfather, Samuel Evans, whom he was named after, had served as a general in the Continental Army during the American Revolution and his maternal grandfather, Samuel Brown, fought in the Revolution as a major. Fighting for liberty was in Samuel Evans' blood.
John Hubbard Forsyth of Avon, New York also had freedom and liberty flowing through his veins. His grandfather, Jonathan Forsyth, fought and died during the American Revolution. John had studied medicine, but never practiced in favor of farming. After the death of his wife, Deborah Smith, in 1828, he left his only son, Edmund Agustus Forsyth, with his parents and moved to Kentucky. He went to Texas with a volunteer cavalry company from Kentucky and eventually arrived to the Alamo along with William Travis' group. He had attained the rank of captain in the Texan cavalry and was 38 years old at the time of the battle. In the Alamo chain of command, Forsyth was number three, outranked only by Travis and Bowie. Due to the circumstances of Bowie's grave illness Travis being killed in the opening minutes, it is highly likely that the actual last stand at the Alamo was commanded by New Yorker John Hubbard Forsyth.
Lewis Dewall (Dewell or Duel) was a 24 year old mason and blacksmith who was born in New York City. Records show at in 1832 he resided at 51 Lewis Street in Manhattan. He moved to Texas and settled on Harmon's Creek in 1835. He was a veteran of the battle of Bexar and was a rifleman in Captain Robert White's infantry company.
Not much is known about another native New Yorker, John Jones. Despite the fact that five other "John Joneses" served in the army of Texas in 1836, it is known that the John Jones who died defending the Alamo was born in New York in 1810. He fought at the battle of Bexar and was a first lieutenant in William Blazeby's infantry company.
Another native New York defender that little is known about is James Tylee. He was born in New York in 1795 and had been a farmer there prior to moving to Texas around 1834. It was that year that he and his wife, Matilda, applied for a land grant. He served as a rifleman at the Alamo.
Two defenders with New York ties who necessitate special mention are Amos Pollard and Robert Evans. Amos Pollard was born in Ashburnham, Massachusetts in 1803. His great-grandfather, William Whitcomb, fought and died during the American Revolution. Amos attended and received his degree in medicine from the Vermont Academy in Castleton, Vermont in 1825. He practiced medicine in Greenbush, New York (present day East Greenbush and Rensselaer) and set up practices in Manhattan from 1828 to 1834. He became an army surgeon for the Texan Army in October of 1835 and tended to the wounded at the battle of Bexar. He continued on as the principal surgeon at the siege of the Alamo. The significant fact about Pollard is that, aside from the three major figures of Bowie, Travis, and Crockett, he is the only other Alamo defender who had a portrait painted from life. This was done sometime while he lived in New York and now hangs in the Alamo.
Irish born Robert Evans resided in New York before making the journey to Texas. At thirty-six years of age, he held the rank of major and was the Chief of Ordnance at the Alamo. Survivor Susannah Dickerson recalled that when the troops of Santa Anna broke through the front door of the chapel, Evans raced with a lighted torch to destroy the powder magazine, which was located in the rear of the building. No doubt, this inspired the scene in the John Wayne movie "The Alamo" where, in this instance, Davey Crockett fires the magazine taking an untold number of Mexican soldiers with him. Evans, however, was gunned down before reaching his objective and the munitions fell into the hands of the Mexican Army.
What began as an act of defiance against a tyrannical dictator turned into one of the pivotal events in not only Texas history but also the future of the entire United States. The thirteen day siege ended in less then ninety minutes of fury after the pre-dawn attack on March 6. All the defenders perished and their bodies burned by order of Santa Anna. Their ashes were not interred until almost a year later. Whether William Travis ever drew his "line in the dust" doesn't diminish the sacrifice these men made in a cause that they believed in.
In the Shine of the Alamo, where one comes to worship fallen heroes, stands a New York State flag , eighteen hundred miles away from home, as a silent tribute to those New Yorkers who traveled so far to fight for the cause of liberty
CPT Owen C. Johnson
10th Bde, New York Guard
Image of modern Alamo used with permission from Alamo de Parras Web Site. All rights reserved.