The General Convention, which would decide the fate of Texas, met at Washington in March 1836. People revere Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site as the site of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836. Thereafter, despite great personal risk, the delegates continued meeting until they had drafted a constitution and established the new nation’s first lasting government.
Washington remained a town of some prominence in early Texas until the eve of the Civil War. The park encompasses the site of the historic town. Washington was the first county seat of Washington County in 1836, the capital of Texas from 1842 to 1845, and the home of the last president of the Republic of Texas, Anson Jones. Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, the seat of Texas Independence, is the center each year for the Texas Independence Day Celebration, under the direction of the Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park Association.
Washington-on-the-Brazos in Washington County consists of 293.1 acres, and the land was acquired by deed from private owners in 1916. It was transferred to the State Parks Board from the State Board of Control by the legislature in 1949. Then in 1976 and 1996, more land was acquired by deed from private owners.
Today the park is maintained by Texas Parks and Wildlife. The Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park Association assists the park and the Star of the Republic Museum in this effort. The museum's administration falls under the jurisdiction of Blinn College in Brenham.
Barrington Living History Farm was the home of Anson Jones, last president of the Republic of Texas. Handcrafted reproduction log buildings and cropland demonstrate the working of a Brazos Valley farm, circa 1850. Interpreters in period costume work the farm as it was done long ago.
Following is a timeline of the historical events that occurred at Washington-on-the-Brazos starting in 1836.
A Nation Struggles to be Born...
"I am besieged... I have sustained a continual bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours... The enemy has demanded a surrender... I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender nor retreat..."
William Barret Travis
The Alamo - February 24, 1836
"Fellow-Citizens of Texas: The enemy are upon us. A strong force surrounds the walls of the Alamo, and threaten that garrison with the sword... Now is the day, and now is the hour, when Texas expects every man to do his duty. Let us show ourselves worthy to be free and we shall be free."
Washington - March 2, 1836
"Independence is declared; it must be maintained."
Washington - March 2, 1836
The Convention of 1836
In early March 1836, the unlikely town of Washington, a small, rough-hewn, ramshackle town, which had sprung up around a ferry landing next to the Brazos River, entered the history books as the birthplace of Texas.
It was here that on March 1, 1836, delegates elected from each municipality in Texas convened in an unfinished frame building. While the forces of General Santa Anna laid siege to the Alamo, the Convention of 1836 declared Texas' independence from Mexico, wrote a new constitution which established the Republic of Texas, and organized an ad interim government.
Quill pens and Bowie knives - March 1836
In the story of Texas' independence from Mexico, the courageous work of the men assembled in Washington is often overshadowed by the fall of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto. After all, at the same time these men put ink to paper, the blood of their fellow Texans was being shed at the Alamo, where men like Colonel William Barret Travis and Jim Bowie fought to their deaths and became folk heroes.
The history books often lose sight of the delegates' courage and clear-headed determination as they labored against a backdrop of fear and uncertainty. They knew the desperation of Travis and his men. They received word of his dire circumstance twice during the Convention. The Alamo was only a few days' march from where they convened, and rumors that Santa Anna was just down the road kept them on edge.
Some of the men wanted to recklessly rush to Travis' aid without a military or governmental structure in place, but calmer minds prevailed.
The Alamo falls - March 6
On March 15, news of the fall of the Alamo finally reached the convention and, according to one witness, "spread like fire in high grass," causing "complete panic." One delegate had lost a son at the Alamo, another a brother. Heartsick, fearful of invasion by enemy troops, yet focused on the task ahead, the men remained for another two days and completed the task of electing ad interim officials.
On March 17, the delegates, along with the citizens of Washington, fled Santa Anna's advancing troops.
Seventeen days and nights...
The convention members signing the Declaration were as good as signing their death warrants if the Revolution failed. They were also putting their families at risk and jeopardizing everything they owned. The Texas Revolution could have easily become a long series of Alamos and Goliads as the Mexican army advanced across Texas completely obliterating the rebellion. To the delegates assembled in Washington, that scenario was not just an apocalyptic nightmare, but a very real possibility. Yet these men stood their ground. They worked 17 straight days and nights to forge a constitution and a government, a government which served the Republic of Texas well during the decade from 1836 to 1846.
When the townspeople returned after the Texans' victory at San Jacinto, they found Washington a relatively undisturbed town. The only plundering had been the work of army stragglers or deserters and other fleeing Texans. But Washington languished while various town fathers lobbied for its designation as the permanent capital. A special committee of the Congress passed over Washington and other contenders in favor of Waterloo, a town which would be renamed Austin.
In 1842, President Sam Houston took advantage of renewed invasions by Mexico to move the capital from Austin to Washington.
While capital of the Republic, Washington began to grow. It continued to thrive as a commercial center for the Brazos River cotton trade, even after the seat of the government was moved back to Austin in 1845.
In the mid-1850s, Washington suffered a mortal blow when the railroad bypassed it. The Civil War sealed its fate.
Today Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site and Star of the Republic Museum reside where the town of Washington once flourished, honoring the men and women who risked their lives and gave us Texas.