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by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Texans remember the Alamo, the Goliad massacre and Sam Houston’s decisive victory at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, but some aspects of Texas’ struggle for independence from Mexico have fallen through the figurative cracks in the floor of history’s log cabin.

The Flash is a good example. A vessel with a name expressive of speed and impact, she played a significant role in the Texas Revolution. But unlike the human heroes of that now-distant bloody spring, she has all but been forgotten.

Republic of Texas era government correspondence described the Flash, which was owned by planter James Morgan, as a flat-bottomed sailing vessel fitted with a large deck cabin. With her shallow draft, she could operate on rivers and bays as well as along the coast.

When and where her keel went down remains a mystery, as do her dimensions. It is known that before the smoldering tensions in the Mexican province of Coahuila and Texas burst into full flame, the Flash operated from New Washington, a town site laid out by Morgan at Buffalo Bayou and San Jacinto Bay that later came to be called Morgan’s Point. The vessel carried cotton and passengers to Galveston and New Orleans.

Seeing trouble with Mexico on the horizon, in 1835 Morgan purchased “an eighteen pounder [pivot gun], Muskets, Cutlasses and everything necessary” so that the Flash could defend herself. In January 1836, the Flash brought volunteers and arms to Texas from New Orleans.

On March 12, 1836 – six days after the fall of the Alamo – Secretary of the Navy Robert Potter commissioned Luke A. Falvel, the Flash’s master, as a captain in the nascent Texas fleet. Falvel would operate the Flash as a privateer in the service of Texas’ revolutionary government.

In compliance with his first orders, Falvel made for the mouth of the Brazos to take on board a group of women and children fleeing the forces of Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Loading these refugees from what came to be called the Runaway Scrap, Falvel took them to Morgan’s Point.

Falvel had removed dozens of non-combatants from harm’s way, but the Flash had carried more than people. When she tied up at Morgan’s Point, in addition to her passengers she unloaded two critical pieces of cargo: A pair of cannons donated to the Texas cause by the citizens of Cincinnati. From Morgan’s Point, the sloop Opie took the Ohio-made guns up Buffalo Bayou to Harrisburg.

Those two field pieces, better known today as the Twin Sisters, are credited by historians as having a major part in the Texas victory at San Jacinto.

Two days before Houston’s sanguinary rout of Santa Anna, the Flash loaded the remaining residents of Morgan’s Point as well as provisional President David G. Burnet’s cabinet and their families and set sail for Galveston. The president stayed behind, but the next day -- Mexican soldiers hot behind him -- he changed his mind and made it to the Flash in a row boat.

Falvel carried about 150 people to Galveston. After unloading them, he stood off Fort Point in the event Mexico tried to attack the island city from the sea. On April 26, the captain got orders to transport Texas’ officials and their families to New Orleans.

The captain said he could not cross the sand bar off Galveston until the wind changed. While he waited, a messenger arrived with the news of Houston’s victory at San Jacinto.

Though Texas had won its independence, the Mexican government considered that only a temporary reversal. A year after San Jacinto, Mexico blockaded the Texas coast.

On April 15, 1837, new Secretary of the Navy Samuel Rhoads Fisher reported, “It is said the Enemy have taken five American schooners bound for Texas, and I am sorry to say that on night before last the schr. Flash went on shore on the west end of the Island. Crew and passengers say she was boarded by one of the Mexican Brigs and released in consequence of having so many women and children on board, thus you see our coast is completely blockaded.”

“Went on shore” could have meant only that the vessel had run around. It might have been refloated at high tide.

A four-page letter written by Morgan on July 26, 1841 discusses his financial woes, which he said included the “loss” of the Flash. Did he mean she had broken up, or that he merely had lost ownership, perhaps over debt? And if the schooner had been wrecked in 1837, why would he be writing about it four years later?

Indeed, the Flash may have survived her beaching and continued in service along the Texas coast – at least until another, broader war came along.

U.S. Navy records show that on Nov. 25, 1864, the U.S.S. Princess Royal “ran down” a blockade runner off Brazos Santiago. The master of the Princess Royal recorded the name of the prize as the Flash, then under British registry.

The Flash would have been escorted to New Orleans, the nearest federally-controlled port, and sold in a prize court. Since she had been operating under the British flag, it is not likely she stayed out of service long. Her cargo would have been seized, fines paid, and then she and her crew set free.

After her federal detention, the Flash and her crew may have made for the Caribbean.

While it is not clear whether the Flash which figured in the Civil War was the same vessel that carried the Twin Sisters to San Jacinto, it is a matter of record that during the Civil War the 10th Texas legislature appropriated money for Captain Falvel for his service during the revolution against Mexico.

Lawmakers approved $5,022.21 payment to Falvel “for services as sailing master in the navy of the late Republic of Texas.” Unfortunately for the captain, the state paid him in Confederate treasury notes.

On Aug. 10, 1865, a schooner named Flash “perished in sight of Birch’s Lookout” off one of the islands comprising the Grand Turks. She had been bound for Puerto Rico when she foundered close enough to land for her cargo to be saved.

See Flash II -
More news about the Flash, the vessel that carried the Twin Sisters most of the way to the Texian army just in time for Sam Houston’s decisive defeat of Santa Anna at San Jacinto... more

© Mike Cox "Texas Tales"
April 15, 2009 column
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