Embassies and legations when Texas was its own country
By Matthew Driggers
Historic Houses and Group Tours Lead Interpreter
During my 16 years working at the George Ranch Historical Park, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. Many overseas guests want to know if Texas was really like John Wayne movies; other visitors are fascinated with the Republic of Texas and the years the Lone Star State was its own country. (Interestingly, in the times we live in today, that topic seems to be brought up more and more by native Texans!)
When asked to give general information about the Republic years (1836 to 1845), one bit of information most people are shocked by is the fact that we had three embassies and legations. It’s not a fact you typically read about in the Texas history books in school. (In case you need a refresher, a legation is defined as a diplomatic mission headed by an official that ranks lower than an ambassador.)
During the Republic years, we had an embassy in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, the building no longer exists. The Embassy was headed by eight different ministers during its nine years. They were William H. Wharton (1836-1837), Memucan Hunt (1837-1838), Peter Wagener Grayson (1838), Anson Jones (1838-1839), Richard G. Dunlap (1839-1840), Barnard Elliott Bee, Sr. (1840-1841), James Reily (1841-1842) and Isaac Van Zandt (1842-1845). Their job was to conduct diplomacy on subjects such as the annexation of Texas to the U.S., relations with Mexico, emigration plans, financial agreements for loans and bonds, land claims, U.S. recognition of Texas independence, boundary issues, Native Americans and the slave trade, among other things.
We also had an embassy in Paris, located not far from the Tuileries Palace. This building has been altered over the decades and is no longer recognizable from its Republic years; the site is now occupied by the Hôtel de Vendôme, which showcases a carving on the wall indicating its location as the Texas Embassy.
France was one of the few nations to give semi-official recognition of Texas on September 25, 1839. In 1841, the French opened a legation that still stands in Austin a few miles from the Texas Capitol building. The next year, we then opened our embassy in Paris.
(The French Envoy to Texas on one occasion made a complaint that he was nearly killed by an arrow during a Comanche Indian raid which flew by his head as he left his Texas home one afternoon.)
The last Embassy was in London and was located at No. 4 St. James Street, just down the street from St. James’s Palace. The man chosen to be the Minister of this embassy was Dr. Ashbel Smith (1842-1845), appointed by Sam Houston. He was a medical doctor who served as the Republic of Texas’ last Secretary of State. The embassy was located in the back of the building down an alley. The front of the building was the location of legendary wine and spirits merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd, which was established in 1698 and still occupies the same store more than 300 years later.
While we were in residence at this location, one of our across-the-courtyard neighbors was the future Napoleon III who was living in exile until 1848. The room that we occupied still looks the same as it did in 1842 when we started renting it, minus the majority of the furniture. There is even a chair in the room reputed to be from the time of our occupancy! The room is mostly filled with barrels of whiskey.
Today, you can still visit the shop and sometimes get a peek at our old residence. A plaque on the corner of the building documents its location of the Texas Legation.
(During the Texas sesquicentennial, 26 Texans dressed in buckskins visited the shop to settle the Republic’s outstanding debt of $160, and repaid it on the spot in Republic of Texas money, with representatives from the British government on hand.)
I have seen both the London and Paris sites and found the London site interesting, as it has not changed much after all these years.