High Island Tex. Cemetery, Mar. 1, 1997
by W. T. Block
Officers and members of Galveston County Historical Commission, descendents of Charles Cronea, members of The Laffite Society, Ladies and Gentlemen:
One hundred and four years ago this week, 94 descendents and scores of friends and acquaintances gathered on this spot to pay their last respects to Charles Cronea. A distinguished veteran of the Texas Revolution, of the Mexican War, and often referred to by myself as "The Last of Laffite's Pirates," truly the life of Charles Cronea, who has many descendents in attendance here today, embraced the most romantic aspects of East Texas frontier history. For thirty years, all of the children of Bolivar Peninsula loved and adored "Uncle Charlie," because in that age long before radio and television, no one else could tell a story of such intense romance and intrigue as could Charles Cronea.
For most of the last century, the world has forgotten about this man who personally lived each of the stories he had to tell. And that is why we dedicate this historical marker here today - so that the East Texans of tomorrow will never again forget the contributions that Charles Cronea made to East Texas frontier history, even long after most of us are gone.
Charles Cronea was born at or near Marseilles, France on January 14, 1805, during the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, and at age fourteen, he was apprenticed as a cabin boy on a French warship. After having endured a torturous whipping with a 'cat-'f-nine-tails' while aboard that warship, Cronea deserted in New York in 1819 and signed aboard an American vessel bound for Charleston. After volunteering for a privateering cruise in the Gulf of Mexico in 1819, Cronea unwittingly had become a cabin boy aboard Jean Laffite's privateering schooner, the Hotspur, commanded by Capt. James Campbell. The last 10-months voyage of the Hotspur off the Mexican coast in 1820 is certainly the best documented story about any Laffite pirate ship that survives today, and that long account of Captain Campbell, as well as of Charles Cronea, was published by me in the Texas Gulf Historical Record in November, 1991.
Only a minimal description of Charles Cronea's physique survives today, indicating that perhaps he was of modest stature, probably about five feet 7 or 8 inches tall, and perhaps 140 pounds in weight. In July 1892, a Galveston News reporter noted that Cronea was "undersized, bright-eyed, and well-preserved" for a man 87 years old. "His hair was thin and silvered, and his chin whiskers were as white as hair ever becomes. His eyes were bright and clear...." Certainly, he lived a very active life, apparently raising water melons, until he died of pneumonia about March 4, 1893, at age 88.
In July, 1892, during Cronea's last visit to Galveston aboard a water melon sloop, Cronea told the same Galveston News reporter about his life aboard the Hotspur, a topsail schooner that carried a crew of 80 men and six cannons. Whenever a fight with a Spanish galleon was imminent, it was the cabin boy's job to bring buckets of salt water topside for use in case of fire and to serve as gunpowder carrier for the cannons. His description of such a fight follows:
After sailing aboard the Hotspur from about February until November, 1820, that ship sailed up the Mermentau River to Grand Chenier in Southwest Louisiana (which is the town where my mother was born and raised) to take aboard fresh water. Cronea, the cabin boy, decided he had had enough of the pirate life, and he left the ship at that point. Incidently, the Hotspur, having still aboard the plunder from about six sea battles, ran aground on a Mermentau River mud flat. Soon afterward its wreckage was washed out to sea, and so far as I know, still lies somewhere off the coast of Louisiana. One year later, Cronea remarked that he visited the old pirate community at Galveston, but all the buildings had been burned or otherwise disappeared.
Cronea may already have been married when he visited Galveston Island. At any rate, he returned to the Mermentau River, and for many years resided at Abbeville or Plaquemine Brule, Louisiana. Cronea's first marriage was by bond to Amanda Johnson, by whom he had two daughters. He and his first wife moved to Mexican Texas, probably at present-day Bridge City, sometime after 1830. After the death of Amanda, Cronea settled at Sabine Pass, where in 1845 he married Mary Louisa Elender and sired eight more children.
Early in October, 1835, he was probably still living at Old Jefferson in Orange County, when he enlisted in Capt. David Garner's company of 17 men, bound for the Texas Army at San Antonio. The original muster rolls for both of Charles Cronea's enlistments were destroyed when the Texas General Land Office burned in 1855, but fortunately all of Capt. Garner's company were enrolled in November, 1835 in Capt. Wm. T. Austin's letter book, which was published in the Texas Historical Association Quarterly of July, 1907. Capt. Garner's company took part in the "Grass Fight" on November 28th, and on Dec. 4, 1835, prior to the Battle of San Antonio under Col. Ben Milam, Garner's company was disbanded and re-enrolled in Capts. James Chessher's and Willis Landrum's companies. Cronea recalled of that campaign in his memoirs that "...some of us had guns with bayonets, while some of us just had old Kentucky flintlocks and knives..."
About March 4, 1836, Charles Cronea re-enlisted in Capt. William Milspaugh's (later Capt. Patterson's) company, but missed the Battle of San Jacinto by only one day, having been assigned to guard military prisoners as well as the baggage train. While no muster roll survives of that company, their service is verified on a pension application of 1871, signed by Jacob H. Garner, Payton Bland, and Charles Cronea. Cronea described vividly the capture of General Santa Anna and the battle carnage that surrounded him, which included 640 Mexicans that lay dead on the battlefield.
In 1846, soon after his second marriage, Charles Cronea enlisted in the United States Army and fought in Mexico under Gen. Zachary Taylor. And in 1995, your speaker learned from Congressman Henry Gonzalez' office in Washington that Charles Cronea has surviving today both a U. S. Army serial number on file as well as a United States pension file number. He drew a Mexican War pension until his death.
The first written record of Charles Cronea's residence in Texas was his enlistment in Capt. Garner's company in October, 1835. In April, 1837, Cronea was reported on the first venire of Jefferson County residents called for jury duty. I believe he was still residing in Old Jefferson as of that year. Cronea's marriage to Mary Louisa Ellender in 1845 is also recorded in Jefferson County, as well as his residences in the 1850, 1860 and 1870 censuses of Sabine Pass. However, Cronea's name always appeared near the end of the Sabine Pass census, which leads me to believe he lived much closer to High Island than to Sabine Pass.
In 1871, Cronea applied for a Texas veteran's land grant, and in 1885, he was awarded Bexar Donation Warrant #1153 for 1,280 acres. As his children grew to adulthood, several of them settled in High Island, Rollover, and elsewhere on Bolivar Peninsula, and Charles and Mary Cronea moved soon after 1870 to be nearer to their children.
Following the death of his second wife in 1879, Cronea chose to divide his land between his children, and later he lived a couple weeks of the year with each of them. His obituary said he drove around the peninsula in a 'gig,' which was a two-wheeled, horse-drawn cart. He was living with his daughter, Mrs. John Stough, of Rollover when he contracted pneumonia, and after a long and severe illness, he died in the presence of his son Jim. Cronea's obituary of March 6, 1893, expressed many laudatory comments, some of them being:
After his earthly remains have lain here for a century in total anonymity, the people of Texas will never forget after today the role that Charles Cronea lived on the romantic East Texas frontier - hero of the Texas Revolution, of the Mexican War, the last of Laffite's band to pass away, father and grandfather to two generations of Bolivar children, and the best "dawg-goned" story teller and tale spinner that ever captured and captivated the heart and soul of every child on Bolivar Peninsula during his residence there. Perhaps many story tellers had to make up their tales of frontier intrigue as they told them, but Charles Cronea had lived every day and every inch of the stories he had to tell. That is what made him such an uncommon man on a frontier otherwise made up of very common people. For whatever part I have played in recovering the history and biography of this dear man that we honor today, I am truly grateful, and to each of you who has chosen to attend and pay your respects a second time here today, I am truly thankful to you. May our dear Lord bless and watch over each one of you on your return journey to your home today. Thank you and God bless you!