the argument about who first served as president of the Republic
of Texas involves David G. Burnet, who was appointed interim
president by the Consultation that declared Texas independent on
March 2, 1836, and Sam
Houston, first elected president in September. Maybe Richard
Ellis has a claim, too.
Ellis, a distant relative of Martha Custis Washington and Dolly
Madison, was born in the "tidewater" area of Virginia in 1771. He
"read for the law" with the firm of Wit and Wickham and opened his
own practice in 1806. By 1817 Ellis had established a successful
plantation in Alabama and became a prominent figure in the area's
public affairs. He served in the Alabama Constitutional Convention,
as a circuit court judge, and helped establish Franklin College,
evidence of considerable investment in the future of the area.
Then Ellis moved to Texas. He first visited Texas, as did Thomas
Jefferson Rusk, in pursuit of debtors; both caught the "Texas Fever"
on contact. In Texas at the time of the Fredonia Rebellion in 1826,
Ellis was among those who tried unsuccessfully to convince its leader,
Haden Edwards, to give up his effort for the good of other empresarios
and settlers before the arrival of Mexican troops.
Ellis obtained a grant of a league of land located in the Pecan
Point area in what became Bowie County-but at the time its ownership
was disputed by the United States-not to mention Texas and Arkansas.
As a result, in 1836, Ellis was elected to the Arkansas Constitutional
Convention AND to the Texas Consultation meeting in Washington-on-the-Brazos
in March 1836. He did not join the Arkansas meeting, but he did
attend the Texas convention and was elected its president.
Ellis presided, then, while the Consultation adopted George
Childress' draft of a declaration of independence of Texas from
Mexico on March 2, 1836, and continued to preside during the drafting
of a constitution for the new republic, approved on March 17. Does
this mean that Ellis served as president of the Republic of Texas
for fifteen days from March 2 until March 17?
It does if you want it to do so.
P. McDonald, PhD
Things Historical June
4, 2007 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical
Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and
author of more than 20 books on Texas