we turn pages of Texas history, the name of Chambers County pioneer
Nicholas Labadie keeps showing up.
He seemed to be everywhere – practicing medicine in Anahuac,
running a pharmacy, farming at Lake Charlotte, fighting
at San Jacinto, operating sailing vessels, helping to build
the first Catholic church in Galveston
– and yet he’s not one of those highly recognized, publicized, idolized
figures in Texas history. Nicholas Labadie never is mentioned on
the History Channel, and, to my knowledge, historians never write
books about him.
Maybe they should.
Let’s look at who he was and what he did, and then decide whether
this French Canadian-turned-Texian needs an upgrade in recognition,
a boost up the ladder of fame.
native of Windsor, Ontario, Labadie came to Texas in 1831 with credentials
of a physician and pharmacist, plus the ability to speak two extra
languages, French and Spanish.
Perhaps that far-and-away part of Mexico, drawing colonists from
the U.S., could use a man like Dr. Labadie.
As soon as the good doctor arrived in Anahuac,
Col. Juan Bradburn hired him as the post surgeon for the Mexican
Likely, Labadie didn’t know what he was getting into. Rebellion
was brewing against Mexican rule, with the citizens aiming their
wrath squarely on the military shoulders of Bradburn.
An Anglo himself (John Bradburn, born in Virginia, fought in the
War of 1812), Juan Bradburn said he was just following orders in
enforcing customs laws, imposing tariffs, checking land titles,
Once allowed to do their own thing, the Anahuac
Anglos complained that the colonel was a despot; they longed for
the good old days before “Big Bad Bradburn” took over.
Chief ring leaders against Juan/John were William B. Travis and
Patrick Jack, who practiced law in Anahuac.
Long story short, they landed in the slammer at Fort Anahuac and
were rescued by a legion of supporters. Bradburn was run out of
What was Labadie
to make of all this. A peaceful man who once studied for the priesthood,
Labadie nevertheless decided to take sides in the conflict. Bradburn
had angered him, too, when he fired him as post surgeon only a few
months after hiring him.
Labadie could always make a living, though. Besides practicing medicine,
he was a merchant in business with Charles Willcox. And he soon
would be adding farming and ranching to his resume, relocating from
to a plantation on the shore of Lake Charlotte north of Wallisville.
By the time the Texian rebellion ballooned into a full revolt, Labadie
joined a militia in Liberty.
Labadie fought under Gen. Sidney Sherman throughout the battle
at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, but as soon as it was over,
he took care of the wounded from both armies, Texan and Mexican.
A make-shift hospital was set up in the home of Texas Vice President
Lorenzo de Zavala directly across Buffalo Bayou from San Jacinto.
After Santa Anna was captured, Labadie was the first interpreter
in the Mexican general’s meeting with Sam
Houston. Lorenzo de Zavala Jr. then took over as the official
interpreter so the doctor could get back to his patients.
the war, the soldier/surgeon returned home to Lake Charlotte to
find that his young son had died and looters had ransacked his home
and destroyed his cattle.
Two years later Labadie would be reinventing his life in Galveston.
Besides continuing his work the medical field, he invested in real
estate, ran a boarding house and helped to build the first Catholic
Church (St. Mary’s) in Galveston.
Trading his plantation on Lake Charlotte to Michel Menard for Galveston
wharf rights, he built Labadie’s Wharf near the foot of 26th Street
and ran a line of sailing vessels.
During the Civil War he served as an examining physician for draftees.
A leader in the Howard Association, a disaster relief organization
for yellow fever victims, he was a renowned authority on the treatment
of yellow fever.
He died on
March 13, 1867, and was buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Galveston.
Now that we know more about the man, what’s the verdict? Texas hero?
Dr. Nicholas Labadie gets my vote.
© Wanda Orton
Baytown Sun Columnist, July 5, 2014 column
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