previous column about
lawyer David G. Burnet’s ascension to the Republic of Texas presidency
reviewed his efforts to seek pardons in a murder case.
To plead with the powers-to-be in a new republic, Burnet hurried
to the convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos
in March 1836. He wasn’t a delegate, wasn’t a signer of the Texas
Declaration of Independence, but he was elected president.
Calling the murder case a “back story” in this story of the new
republic, I gave only a brief description of the circumstances that
led Burnet to the convention in the first place.
Today, with a few more details, it’s our “front story.”
mentioned previously, William Carroll and his father, John M. Smith,
were accused in the killing of John’s son-in-law, Moses Carroll,
I’ve since read that Carroll’s first name was Alfred. Maybe Moses
was a first or middle; I don’t know.
Anyway, Carroll’s beating of a slave had angered William Smith.
The slave was a young black woman, and she was pregnant. By any
name – Moses or Alfred – Carroll must not have been a nice man.
But John M. Smith, convicted as an accomplice, apparently was no
angel either. In 1832 he was suspected of hiring a hit man to kill
a Texas freedom fighter in the uprising at Anahuac.
Hardin presided over the Smiths’ trial during which William claimed
self-defense, saying the victim had fired the first shot. He said
Carroll told him that “if it is land you want I will damned soon
give you all the land you want in Texas.” (Land ownership also was
a big issue with the brothers-in-law.)
After shooting Carroll, William admitted he hit him over the head
with a heavy pipe.
was a witness for the defense, testifying that Carroll previously
threatened to kill Smith.
When the jury found William Smith guilty and John Smith as the accomplice,
Hardin on Feb. 26, 1836, sentenced them to death by hanging on March
Defense attorney Burnet was greatly disturbed, especially when he
learned from juror J.F. Winfree that the jury didn’t understand
the guilty verdict meant the elder Smith also would be executed.
On Feb. 28, 1836, Burnet and John M. Smith’s wife mounted horses
and set out for Washington-on-the Brazos, armed with a petition
begging for clemency for the father and son.
The petition includes number of names familiar in the Baytown area
and western Chambers County – among them, Charles Tilton, Amos Barber,
Robert Wiseman, John Barber, A.B.J. Winfree, Ben Winfree, William
Bloodgood and Christian Smith.
Convention delegates at Washington-on-the-Brazos
agreed to grant a month’s execution stay. After the convention adjourned,
the Smiths were jailed in Harrisburg, temporary capital of the new
By then the Runaway
Scrape was going full blast and the Mexican Army, victorious
after the Alamo
was marching onward.
Given the option – hanging or fighting – Smith the Younger volunteered
in the Texas Army, serving bravely at San
Before the battle and in the confusion of the times, Smith the Elder
got lost in the crowd that headed for safety in Louisiana.
became president, Smith’s Louisiana friends sought a pardon for
him. In addition, they pleaded his case in a letter to juror J.R.
Winfree, who had never approved of the death sentence for the elder
Sam had the
final say: “No.”
I still have some questions about this Smith Point murder case.
Did Burnet stay in contact with William Smith after San
Jacinto, and did he ever get paid for his legal services?
Did Judge Hardin ever have any second thoughts about the case?
Subject: More about murder in 1830
Followup with more details on Smith
Point murder case and Burnet becoming Texas president.
This column ran today (May 17, 2015) in The Baytown Sun.
© Wanda Orton
Baytown Sun Columnist, May 18, 2015 column
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