James Campbell
Home ] Up ] Lafitte ] Treasure ] Pavell's Island ] Jean Baptiste ] [ James Campbell ] Charlie Cronea ] Ben Dollivar ] John Fletcher ] Hotspur ] Jean Lafitte ] Calcasieu Parish ] John McGaffey ] Yocum's Inn ] Seth Carey ]



By W. T. Block

Copyrighted byTexas Gulf Historical and Biographical Record, XXVII, No. 1 (1991)

horizontal rule

Very little credible history has ever been written about the buccaneering epoch of Galveston Island, Texas, because so very few primary or authentic sources are known to exist. The men who lived and survived that era rarely talked about their experiences for fear of self-incrimination that might provoke a charge of piracy against them. As one early Galveston Island historian acknowledged: "(I)t is impossible to get any of those daring privateers to divulge anything throwing any light upon the life and career of their commander (Jean Lafitte) or relate any incidences of their own lives..."1

Up until 1856, at least four former buccaneers, James Campbell, Stephen Churchill, John Lambert, and Benjamin Dollivar, lived at Galveston, and a fifth, Charles Cronea, resided on Bolivar Peninsula. And nothing infuriated those men more than to be referred to as former "pirates." Each of them insisted that he was an ex-privateer, while a member of a ship's crew carrying legitimate letters of marque from one of the infant Latin-American republics of Mexico, New Cartegena (Colombia), Venezuela, or La Plata (Argentina). Likewise, they compared their activities against the Spanish with those of many American privateer captains who harassed British merchant shipping during the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

The subjects of this monograph, Captain James and Mary Sabinal Campbell, were extremely unusual in that they comprised a Galveston Island buccaneering family in Spanish East Texas, Mary as a devoted wife who lived in Jean Lafitte's corsair commune of Campeachy for almost four years, and her husband, Captain James Campbell, who battled every Spanish galleon he could find afloat while cruising the Gulf of Mexico in his privateer, the Hotspur. Actually, Campbell served Lafitte aboard four different privateers, two of which bore the name of Hotspur, another was the Concord, and the fourth name is unknown. In addition, both Campbell's and his wife's memoirs survive, the latter in a copy of Galveston Daily News for 1879, and the former related his experiences to Mirabeau B. Lamar in 1855.2 Another major source of information about the Campbells, thirteen legal-size pages, which also include copies of their baptism and marriage certificates, is the War of 1812 Pension File of James Campbell, No. WC-30-345, in the National Archives.

James Campbell was born in Kerry County, Ireland, in 1786, but resettled with his parents in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1790.3 At age fourteen, he became a bound apprentice of ten years duration to a sail maker named Kesterd at Donnell's Wharf in Baltimore.4 Early in 1812, Campbell enlisted in the United States Navy and was assigned as a sail maker aboard the U. S. S. Constitution, commanded by Commodore Isaac hull. On August 19, 1812, Campbell served as a gunner during thirty minutes of violent cannonading, which dismasted the British frigate Guerriere and won for the Constitution the nickname of Old Ironsides. Encyclopedia Britannica wrote that since the affray was "considered the most important single victory in U. S. Naval annals, the defeat of the Guerriere united the nation behind the war effort and destroyed the legend of British naval invincibility."5

Early in 1813, James Campbell was reassigned as sail maker to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who was building a Lake Erie naval squadron at Erie, Pennsylvania. On September, 10, 1813, Campbell served as a gunner when Perry's squadron engaged the British fleet during the Battle of Lake Erie, offshore from Sandusky, Ohio. Campbell stayed aboard the flagship Lawrence until that vessel began sinking, after which he helped row the commodore to the Niagara, shortly before the English fleet surrendered. The Baltimore sailore was then reassigned to the U. S. S. Constitution, but served aboard the U. S. S. Constellation as well, prior to his discharge at the end of his naval enlistment early in 1814.6

Campbell then sailed aboard a merchant vessel to New Orleans, where he soon met Jean Lafitte and two Spanish filibusterers, Xavier Mina and Don Luis de Aury. The later operated a fleet of privateers, which were based at Galveston Island and preyed upon Spanish galleons, and Mina raised a filibustering army that invaded Mexico, where Mina was captured and executed for treason.7

Mary Campbell was probably born in 1799, at Crow's Ferry, Sabine River, Texas (north of Sabinetown, Sabine County), along a well-travelled road between Spanish Nacogdoches and Natchitoches, Louisiana. Her father, named Chabineaux, had operated the ferry prior to Isaac Crow, who soon became her step-father, the former having been killed in 1801 when a horse, crossing the ferry, kicked him. Mary's maiden name has appeared in three different spellings--Sabinal,8 Savanno,9 and Chireno,10 and the writer knows only that each was a corruption of her Acadian name of Chabineaux (recorded on a Spanish census). Mary Sabinal was illiterate, there having been no schools available on the frontier that she could attend, which probably contributed to the variety of spellings. And it appeared that she generally carried her step-father's surname, since in the Atascosita Census of 1826, she styled herself as "Mary Crow, wife of James Campbell."11

Mary Sabinal first met James Campbell late in 1814, when she was visiting in Natchitoches, La., and Campbell was smuggling trade goods up the Red River. She invited him to visit her at Crow's Ferry whenever he could.12 Campbell then returned to New Orleans and signed aboard the Hotspur, a Colombian flag vessel. Its master, a former United States naval officer named Rapp, held a privateer's commission from the revolutionary republic of Colombia, and he sailed in the service of Don Luis de Aury of Galveston Island.

Early in 1815, the Hotspur fought two Spanish cruisers off the Cuban coast, an uneven battle that saw the grappling hooks of both cruisers attached to the Hotspur, and blood and bodies strewn over three decks. The Hotspur finally broke loose from them, sailed for Belize, British Honduras, to discharge wounded crewmen still aboard, one of whom was James Campbell. He spent several months of the year 1815 recovering from his wounds, after which Campbell decided to try his luck once more at coastal smuggling.13

One day early in 1816, Campbell arrived at Crow's Ferry on the Sabine River in a single-masted sailing sloop loaded with smuggled wares that he had bought on credit from Aury. According to Mary Campbell, he "soon rendered himself quite the favorite...by virtue of his good humor and the narration...of his haps and mishaps on land and sea." Following a whirlwind courtship, Mary and James were married in a bond ceremony, and Campbell settled down to a life as a farmer and stockman.14

Earlier, Mary had inherited some livestock from her father, and the increase had grown to 300 cattle and a large herd od swine by 1816. James Campbell, however, could not adjust to the life of a farmer-stockman, the call of the sea forever beckoning, and when one of Lafitte's recruiters stopped off at Crow's Ferry in the spring of 1817, James soon convinced his young wife that Galveston Island was where they belonged. One day in June, 1817, the Campbells arrived at Bolivar Peninsula with a wagon load of household goods, 300 cattle, and a large herd od swine that they had driven overland, and Campbell built a bonfire to signal Lafitte for ferriage across the bay.15

Mary soon discovered that Jean Lafitte's town of Campeachy had been built on the burned-out ruins of de Aury's old camp, on the bay side overlooking Pelican Island (or "Little Campeachy," where later Lafitte hanged the pirate George Brown to a scaffold). She found the town contained about one hundred crudely-built huts, sometimes with glass windows, usually with only sail cloth covering the windows. Although the population numbered only about 100 persons in June, 1817, it soon increased to 800 people or more by year's end. The town had a mixed population of whites and mulattoes, was of many nationalities and languages, and had only two wives living there, but an assortment of mistresses. She always referred to Lafitte as "the old man," although Lafitte was only nine years older than her husband. She described Lafitte as being six feet tall, of dark complexion, handsome, black hair with sideburns and hazel eyes. The only time she ever saw him wear a gun was when Lafitte expected an attack from a rebellious officer, John Marotte.16 Mary also noted that, despite the odd mixture of races, nationalities, and tongues, "they were, as a general thing, friendly toward each other, bickerings and hard feelings among the families being of rare occurrence...; and society at Galveston Island, whatever may be said of its morals, began to have the elements of permanency..."17

The year 1818 brought two particularly distasteful episodes at Campeachy, a devasting hurricane in September that left many dead, and many houses and ships destroyed. During the storm, Lafitte left the "Maison Rouge" (or "Red House"), his well-provisioned and fortified headquarters, to the women and children and took up residence aboard the Tonnere, a privateer at anchor, most probably aground, in the bay. Earlier Campeachy had been attacked by 200 blood-thirsty Karankawa Indians, who sought revenge after one of their squaws had been stolen by a buccaneer. The pirates soon drove them off with artillery.

About the same time, a General L'Allemande, who formerly had been one of Napoleion's commanders, had resettled a number of Frenchmen on the Trinity River, a colony that soon had to be removed to Galveston. President James Monroe had taken a dim view of the French encroachment, and he sent George Graham, his Secretary of War, to Galveston to investigate the French situation as well as the buccaneering commune, about which he had received so many complaints from the Spanish ambassador. When Lafitte returned from New Orleans, where he had gone to seek a loan to repair storm damage, he found Graham preparing the presidential report that would soon signal the end of the pirate sanctuary.18

Throughtout the year 1817, Lafitte kept James Campbell ashore performing administrative duties, considering him as too young to command men under fire. Campbell served at first as assistant to Ramon Espagnol, Lafitte's treasurer and secretary of state. Later Lafitte established a "new tribunal for law breakers and criminals," sometimes referred to as his admiralty court, and Campbell was one of five men assigned as "staff officers," or judges, of that court. At one time, Campbell was placled in charge of the "Bolivar Port Depot." Lafitte's esteem for James Campbell waxed stronger, while his lack of trust in the conspirators who surrounded him grew as well, as is voiced in the following quote:

. . . Mr. James Campbell became one of my best secret officers, beginning in the year 1817. I liked and trusted him very much, as I had known him for a long time. He was from Baltimore, and had been a good sailor on American warships in the wars against England. Captain Campbell, like most good Americans, detested land-holding thieves. He had no respect for D. C. Patterson and others who had stolen my goods.....19

Every other Lafitte ship captain brought a load of African slaves to Galveston, captured from some Spanish "guineaman" (slave ship), and Lafitte had to build barracoons or slave pens on Galveston island capable of holding 1,000 slaves. Campbell noted that of 308 Africans that he once brought there on one of his earlier voyages, 200 were bought by a single planter, Guy Champlain of Mississippi.20 In 1853, John Bowie admitted that he and his brothers, James and Rezin Bowie, had realized a $65,000 profit from the sale of 1,500 illegal Africans purchased from Lafitte at Galveston between 1818 and 1820, and resold principally in Louisiana.21 (For years, Texans thought that 90 Africans adopted into the Comanche tribe were escaped American slaves, but instead, they were African slaves captured from the Bowie brothers while the latter were en route overland from Galveston Island to the Sabine River.) In fact, it was James Campbell who convinced Lafitte that he should build slave barracks on the lower Sabine River, north of present-day Orange, Texas, in order to market directly to the Louisiana sugar planters. And in 1836, W. F. Gray, while fleeing in the Runaway Scrape in the vicinity of present-day Deweyville, Texas, observed that: "...This is one of Lafitte's old stations...Here stands an old shed, part of the shelter constructed for the African slaves that he (Lafitte) used to bring here..."22

Finally, in 1818, Lafitte placed Campbell in command of the schooner Concord, a 120-ton privateer, carrying five guns and seventy-five men, and sent the vessel to sea. On a six-weeks cruise, Campbell captured five Spanish prizes, along with $100,000 in gold doubloons, silver and cargo, hardware and dry goods of equal value, all of whih he sent or carried back to Galveston. On the second voyage, he captured a Spanish 'guineaman' and its cargo of 308 slaves. His memoirs do not reveal any subsequent voyages or the fate of the Concord, but the schooner probably was one of Lafitte's fourteen privateers that sank at Galveston during the hurricane of September, 1818.23

From the time of his first cruise on, James Campbell soon led Lafitte's ship captains in the quantity of booty and volume of prizes returned to Campeachy, all of which increased his stature in the eyes of Campeachy's pirate chieftain and added to the envy and enmity of the other captains. True to his Scotch-Irish blood, Campbell loved a fair fight, but he always pressed his Spanish adversary to the fullest advantage and with every cannonball at his command. According to Mary Campbell, her husband always treated his Spanish captives mercifully and put them ashore at the first opportunity.24 And Charles Cronea, who sailed as cabin boy on Campbell's last cruise in 1820, once said that he had "never seed {sic} a single man murdered" while he was aboard Campbell's brigantine.25

During her long stay on Galveston Island, Mary Campbell gave birth to her first child, a still-born daughter, long before Ann Long gave birth on Bolivar Peninsula. Life was particularly lonesome for Mary, since her husband remained at sea for long periods of time. Lafitte's ships kept Campeachy well-provisioned with supplies from New Orleans, in addition to those captured at sea, much of which were luxuries such as were rarely ever seen on the East Texas or Western Louisiana frontiers.26

Mary also witnessed the gibbeting of the pirate malfactor, Captain George Brown. The corsair camp attracted human garbage like wharf rats to cheese, and Mrs. Campbell considered it inevitable that some of the privateering captains would disgrace Lafitte's operation by commiting piracy on American shipping. For a long time, Lafite had refused to commission Brown, whom Lafitte distrusted, or Brown's schooner, which Lafitte considered as too small to be seaworthy. After much harangue on Brown's part, Lafitte finally relented and sent him to sea with guns and men, but Lafitte warned Brown that he would hang him if he engaged in piracy on anything other than Spanish shipping.

Brown's first criminal act was the theft of several slaves from a plantation on the Bayou Queue de Tortue near Lake Charles, Louisiana, which alerted the United States revenue cutter Lynx. Soon afterward, Brown attacked an unarmed American merchant ship near Sabine Pass, Texas. In turn, Brown's schooner was quickly engaged by the cutter Lynx, which had witnessed the affair and succeeded in driving the pirate ship on the beach. Eventually Brown and four of his crew made it back to Galveston, where Brown was condemned by Lafitte's court and hanged, and Lafitte surrendered the other four crewmen to the captain of the Lynx.27

As time advanced, Lafitte's trust in his young lieutenant, James Campbell, blossomed even more, whereas his mistrust of the conspiring cutthroats that surrounded him continued to mount in correlation. At intervals, Campbell was sent on secret missions to New Orleans to negotiate with bankers, merchants, lawyers, and others. Every notation that Lafitte wrote in his journal about Campbell contained words of praise, such as "Captain Campbell was a loyal Irishman," or "Captain Campbell was a fine, brave man."28

After the loss of the Concord, Lafitte sent Campbell back to sea as second officer aboard a privateer owned and captained by John Marotte. Lafitte especially mistrusted Marotte and expected Campbell to keep tab on the captain's activities. The privateers soon captured three prizes while patrolling off Mantanzas, Cuba, a slave ship loaded with Africans, and two galleons loaded with dry goods, silver plate, coins, and merchandise equal to $200,000 in value. Upon reaching Galveston, Marotte unloaded the slaves and some merchandise, but he claimed the cargo of silver, coins, and other valuables had been lost overboard, whereas Campbell informed Lafitte that those items were hidden in secret compartments on Marotte's schooner. When Lafitte accused Marotte of falsely reporting to him, the latter challenged Lafitte to a duel. As each prepared to pull the trigger, however, Marotte relented and confessed to his trickery. It is noteworthy that Campbell's memoirs, as dictated to Mirabeau B. Lamar in 1855, ended the Marotte affair at that point., According to Lafitte's journal, however, Lafitte and Campbell were aboard the privateer Saragosa ten days later when Marotte and others attempted to assassinate them. Instead, so Lafitte noted, Campbell fired the shot that killed Marotte, whereas others of Lafitte's bodyguards quickly disposed of the remaining conspirators.29

During the summer of 1819, Lafitte sent James Campbell to Baltimore to superintendend the rigging and completion of a fleet, new vessel, a type of warship that became popular among the American privateers of the War of 1812. Campbell made no mention of that ship in his memoirs, but both Charles Cronea and Mary Campbell referred to it as an "hermaphrodite brig" in their memoirs. (With cargo space sacrificed for speed, such a combination schooner-brigintine or topsail schooner was square-rigged on the foremast, schooner-rigged as well on both the fore and main masts, and carried its full complement of jib sails and topsails; in other nautical terms, it had "all wings and no feet".) The schooner was equipped with six guns, which Cronea described as a "long Tom aft, two carronades on each side, and a bow-chaser on the forecastle. The flag that we flew was the Carthegenian colors {Republic of Cartegena or Colombia}..."30

Charles Cronea was only fourteen years of age when he became the cabin boy on the second of Campbell's vessels to bear the name Hotspur. Earlier, Cronea and fourteen other Frenchmen, including an officer named Gustave Duval, had deserted a warship of the Franch Navy in New York harbor. They then signed aboard a ship that was actually recruiting crews for Lafitte's privateers, and each of the Frenchmen volunteered for privateering duties. In April, 1820, the fifteen Frenchmen rendezvoused with the Hotspur at Padre Island, Texas, at a time when Campbell had only forty crelwmen aboard, only half enough men to man his guns properly. Within a short time, Campbell would make Duval the Hotspur's first mate, a decision that James Campbell would regret for the remainder of his life.

Cronea would remain at sea aboard the Hotspur for the next eight months, although the privateer had already been at sea for two months when the Frenchmen came aboard. At first, James Campbell introduced himself to the Franchmen as "Mr. Carroll," but as time advanced, his true identity became known to everyone. One of Cronea's accounts is the best record of Campbell as a disciplinarian, and Cronea noted that for one of his minor infractions, spilling a bucket of water on Campbell's feet, the latter "grabbed me by the ears, bounced me up and down on the deck a few times, then he stood me upon the breech of a pivot gun and made me stand there about a half-hour without falling off..."31

Cronea added that Campbell captured a number of Spanish craft, and usually a shot fired across the bow of a Spanish galleon was sufficient to force it to surrender. The captors would then remove all valuables, including all rum, tobacco, food, and fresh water, before scuttling or burning the captured ship. The former cabin boy also added that:

. . . Sometimes a Spaniard would show fight, and our gunners would put a round shot into her. Then you should hear the Spanish yell and holler at us. They always surrendered quickly after that. A good many people think we used to cut throats and make those we captured walk the plank, but that is all a lie. I never saw a man murdered while I was with Campbell.....32

During the late fall of 1820, Gustave Duval entered into a conspiracy with Tomas Cox and James Clark, the latter two being deck officers, along with all the Frenchmen except Cronea who had boarded the Hotspur at Padre Island, with intent to seize control of the ship, kill the remainder of the crew, and divide all the spoils of battle that were aboard. The mutiny was planned to take place while the conspirators were on watch and Captain Campbell and the remainder of the crew were below deck. The conspirators, however, began drinking rum before the mutiny began, and when Campbell came up on deck, the only one who was sober enough to do so attacked him with a knife. Campbell quickly returned below deck and armed his loyal crewmen with guns. Eventually all of the conspirators were killed, but not before two of the loyal crewmen were killed and others wounded. The Hotspur soon ran aground in Southwest Louisiana near the mouth of the Mermentau River. At that time, Cronea deserted the wreck at Grand Chenier, La., where he lived and married before moving back to Texas. Campbell devoted only three lines to the Duval mutiny in his memoirs, it being seemly painful for him to admit during his old age to the people he may have killed or that conspirators could wish to assassinate him. Neither Cronea in 1892 or Mary Campbell in 1879 mentioned the incident in their memoirs, but Cronea did relate a detailed account to Ben C. Stuart, an early Galveston News reporter, who later published the story.33

Campbell managed to save only a few of the valuables aboard the Hotspur, but upon his return to Galveston Island, Lafitte gave him command of another privateer. However, the days of the corsair commune were numbered, and Campbell never put to sea again as a pirate. One day in January, 1821, an American flag vessel appeared off Galveston Island, and Lafitte sent Campbell offshore to investiage. The incoming vessel was the United States frigate Enterprise, under Lieutenant Kearney, who had orders to evict the pirates from Galveston Island. Kearney went ashore, wined and dined with Jean Lafitte, and after Kearney presented President Monroe's proclamation to Lafitte, the latter agreed to the burn the town and abandon it at the end of three months.34 By April, 1821, no trace was left of Lafitte's town of Campeachy except for a few charred ruins.

Lafitte entreated James and Mary Campbell to leave with him, but they declined, choosing instead to sail to New Orleans with their ship, with what valuables and personal possessions they could salvage. The ex-privateer sold his schooner to a slave smuggler, bought a stock of merchandise, and for about a year he lived the life of a respectable merchant. Again, however, the call of the sea beckoned, and once more, Campbell bought a small schooner named the Creole, upon which he and Mary sailed back to Texas. They settled for awhile on the lower Sabine River at Pine Bluff (now Orange, Texas), where they farmed and raised livestock. A year later, they moved to the Trinity River, the exact location not identified by Mary Campbell's affadavit, but she did mention that their neighbors and closest friends were the R. O. W McManus family.35 Miriam Partlow, a Liberty historian, identified McManus as one of the pioneers of Moss Bluff, south of Liberty, but others believe the Campbells lived at Lake Charlotte, close to Wallisville. While living in Liberty County in 1826, both Campbell and his wife (listed as "Mary Crow, wife of James Campbell") were enumerated in the Atascosita Census of that year.36 They were still living there a year later, November, 1827, when James Campbell was one of 72 "squatters" in the Atascosita District, or Municipality of Liberty, who petitioned Don Anastacio Bustamente, commanding general of Mexico's Internal Eastern Provinces, for land titles to the land they were farming.37

The Atascosita Census was another example of the problem historians can have with people's ages. Mrs. Campbell gave her husbands's age in 1826 as 35, indicating that his birth year was probably 1791. In her memoirs, she admitted that her busband was 27 when the Battle of Lake Erie was fought, which indicated that his birth year was 1786. In the Atascosita Census, Mary gave her own age as 31, which indicated her birth year was probably 1795. Her obituary of January 7, 1994, gave her age as 84, revealing that she was probably born in 1799. In the 1860 census of Galveston County, she stated her age as fifty-six.38

About 1828 or 1829, the Campbell family moved to Double Bayou in present day Chambers County, to a point about five miles south of Anahuac, and Campbell was still there when the Mexican commandant, Colonel John Davis Bradburn jailed William Barret Travis and other Texas patriots. On November 9, 1831, James and Mary Campbell were baptized by Anahuac's Catholic priest, Father Michael Muldoon, who styled himself on the baptismal certificate as "Pastor of Austin's Colony and Vicar General of the Foreign Colonies of Texas." The infamous commandant, Colonel Bradburn, stood as godfather for the ceremony.39

On the same date, the Campbells were one of 25 couples who were married in Roman Catholic rites byFather Muldoon at Anahuac, perhaps a part of an effort for all of them to qualify for land grants.40 It is likewise of interest to note that their marriage date, November 9, 1831, was certainly a festive occasion at Anahuac, with a speech by David G. Burnett, a state dinner and ball, as well as other "royal entertainment" to honor Mexican General Manuel Mier y Teran, a commander of Mexico's Eastern Provinces, on the occasion of his last official visit to Anahuac.41

By 1834 or 1835, James and Mary Campbell had moved to a place then known as Deer Island, then one of the western-most islands in Galveston Bay near present-day Texas City. While living there in 1836, Campbell was visited by an old ex-buccaneer friend with whom he had sailed nearly 20 years earlier. He was Captain William Cochrane, who commanded a Mexican warship in Galveston Bay, whose mission was to supply the army of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana's army. Cochrane was master of a Mexican privateer in 1821, before Mexico's peace with Spain was established, and he continued in the Mexican naval service during the intervening years. Cochrane was probably trying to induce Campbell to accept a command in the Mexican Navy, but if so, he failed. Mary Campbell made the following deposition in 1880 about their stay on Deer Island, as follows:

. . . From Chambers County we moved on the Deer Island, now in Galveston County, Texas..., that in June, 1837, James Campbell, after visiting New Orleans, returned from there on the schooner Creole with a cargo of groceries and general merchandise, having put all his capital in said stock, that in the fall of the year 1837, all of our goods with everything else we possessed was swept away by a severe storm, and after that, we left said Deer Island and moved on Galveston Bay...on Swan Lake near Virginia Point (now Texas City)...42

One Galveston historian noted that: "...Six of Lafitte's men stayed here (in Galveston) when the pirate fleet left on March 3, 1821. James Campbell was one; Stephen Churchill was another..."43 Stephen Churchill, John Lambert, and Benjamin "Crazy Ben" Dollivar had lived in Galveston for 20 or more years each between 1827 and 1855. Campbell lived at Virginia Point, opposite the West Pass Ferry, where his house was the only habitation visible for miles, and Charlie Cronea settled at Rollover, on Bolivar Peninsula, in 1875. The sixth person referred to by the historian was Captain Roach (or De la Roche), but the writer has no other information about him. All of them were most uncommunicative about their careers with Lafitte, but in each other's presence, they freely reminisced about the old buccaneering days. Dollivar, whose "intellect was impaired," was the only one who had profited from his buccaneering past, and daily over a span of two or more decades, he visited a local saloon, where he always paid for his drinks with a single gold doubloon. However hard they may have tried, Galvestonians were never able to dislodge from old Ben the source of his Spanish gold.44

The first ex-buccaneer to return to Galveston Island in 1827, whose family lived there alone for eight years, was Stephen Churchill, who built his cabin on the island's east end. Churchill had been Lafitte's bar pilot for the East Pass channel, and he continued as East Pass bar pilot for years for the Mexican government. In 1836, M. B. Menard and the Galveston City Company proprietors deeded to Churchill without cost the lot upon which his house was located (lot 14, block 70). in 1839, Churchill relocated to the island's west end, where he and his son operated the West Pass ferry until Churchill's death in 1855. Since Campbell resided at Virginia Point, opposite the ferry, he could visit with Churchill weekly, or however often Campbell carried his wagon loads of cotton and farm produce to the Galveston markets.45

John Lambert, another ex-buccaneer with whom Campbell often visited, was a tall and powerful man, who for many years was one of Galveston's leading butchers. Eventually, he returned to Mobile, Alabama, where he also died. However, Campbell and Lambert had not served together at sea or on Galveston Island. Lambert had only served on Lafitte's privateers operating out of Barataria Bay, Louisiana, prior to 1814. Lambert had also fought at the Battle of New Orleans, but Lambert quit the sea after Lafitte and his men won presidential pardons.46

There is one other record of James Campbell in Galveston Bay. In 1827, Nicholas Clopper (who later resided at Clopper's Point) and others left New Orleans en route to Texas aboard the small schooner Little Zoe. Upon entering Galveston Bay through the West Pass, they met "Jim Campbell and -- Roach, two of Lafitte's captains," (who presumably were aboard the Creole), who advised Clopper that the best channel by far for entering into Galveston Bay was the East Pass Channel.47

In 1838, James and Mary Campbell settled on the one-third league of land (1,476 acres) on Campbell's Bayou at Swan Lake, Virginia Point, where they were to maintain their home for the remainder of their lives. And after reaching age fifty-two in 1838, Jim Campbell was to settle down to the life of farmer and stockman that previously he had so disdained. By 1840, the couple had a daughter and son, but only about three of their children were to survive their childhood years to reach adulthood.48

All of James Campbell's memoirs, as might be expected, chronicle his life at sea and almost nothing ashore. Inversely, Mary Campbell's memoirs describe their lives, mostly her life, ashore and almost nothing of his life afloat. After decades of silence, the writer believes that Jim Campbell knew he was terminally ill in 1855, being the reason he finally chose to dictate his memoirs to Mirabeau Lamar. One article of 1878 noted that, from the time of his arrival at Virginia Point, Jim Campbell "led a quiet, peaceable life and was a good citizen." Ben C. Stuart, another early Galveston writer, also recounted that James Campbell "live a quiet life while a citizen of Galveston County and made a good citizen."49

Without a doubt, the person who probably came to know James Campbell best during the latter's declining years, some of which were lived as his neighbor, was James P. Sherwood. Sherwood first met Campbell in 1838, when the former was driving a small herd of cattle near Virginia Point as night was approaching. Campbell's cabin being the only house in sight on the prairie, Sherwood stopped and asked for permission to spend the night, "which was peremptorily refused." Sherwood then explained that he otherwise had no choice but to sleep on the prairie without any supper since he could not put the cattle on the ferry for Galveston until the next morning.

"Whose cattle are those?" Campbell inquired, as his eye balls scanned the herd's flanks for cattle brands.

"They belong to Messrs. Morse and Clark, the butchers in Galveston," Sherwood replied.

"Good!" Campbell responded. "I know them and they are gentlemen who would not deal in stolen cattle. You can spend the night here."

When Campbell found out that Sherwood was an unemployed shipwright, who had served his apprenticeship on Donnell's Wharf in Baltimore, and even knew the sail maker named Kesterd to whom Campbell had once been a bound apprentice, a close friendship developed between the two men that did not end until Campbell's death in 1856. They spent many hours together discussing early life in Baltimore, and Campbell even felt comfortable discussing his privateering past with Sherwood. In 1880, Sherwood wrote the long, four-page affadavit about his friendship with James Campbell, that accompanied Mary Campbell's pension application and is now a part of James Campbell's War of 1812 File No. WC-30-345 in the National Archives. Sherwood observed that Campbell "was a very reserved man, would not talk much unless he became well-acquainted with a person (and).... was a man of sterling integrity..."50

On May 27, 1856, the Galveston Weekly News carried the following obituary, under the caption of:

. . .Death Of An Old Pioneer---Died at his residence, near Virginia Point, on the 5th inst., in the seventieth year of his age, James Campbell. Campbell enlisted to join Commordore Perry on Lake Erie; reaching Philadelphia, he was transferred to the Constitution and participated in the brilliant engagement with the Guerriere. He afterward joined Lafitte and was his favorite lieutenant at this place over thirty years ago. Campbell always spoke of Lafitte as sailing under letters of marque; that he was a highly honorable man and a privateer, but unhesitatingly denied the general impression that he was a pirate. Many times Campbell had, in this vicinity, frequent skirmishes with the (Karankawa) Indians....He was the last of Lafitte's men left on this Bay.....51

Mary Campbell continued to live on her farm with her unmarried son, Warren Campbell, who was born in 1840. Her married daughter, Mrs. Solomon Parr, resided in Galveston. The writer believes too that there was a second Campbell son who reached adulthood and married, but he has no other information. In 1860, Mrs. Campbell valued her 1,476 acres of land at $5,000, or about $3 an acre, and her personal property amounted only to $500, probably the valued of farm impliments and livestock, but certainly not enough money to include the value of slaves. It seems rather ironic that a man who had no earlier compunctions about capturing, transporting, and trafficking in some one else's slaves might choose not to own slaves himself. However, the Atascosita Census of 1826 revealed that James Campbell owned no slaves, and a search of the Galveston County census, Schedule II, Slaves, for both 1850 and 1860, did not locate any slaves belonging to either James or Mary Campbell.52 In 1879, Mary dictated her memoirs which occupied two full columns in the Galveston Daily News. And in June, 1880, she dictated her memoirs once more, stating that she was indigent and hoped to obtain a Federal pension, and the latter memoirs are now in the National Archives.

After a long period of ill health, Mary Campbell died at her home on Virginia Point on January 5, 1884, at age 84, survived only by her son Warren and daughter, Mrs. Parr, both of Galveston. Again the Galveston Daily News devoted an entire column to her obituary, but it was largely a repetition of the 1879 article. The obituary closed with her words about Lafitte that she had repeated on many occasions before, that left no doubt of her feelings and fondness for "the old man" (Lafitte), as follows:

. . . Of her husband's commander, she was never known to speak save in terms of kindness and with respect. That he (Jean Lafitte) was a smuggler and slaver might have been -- that he was a privateer, certainly; but that he was a pirate -- NEVER! Such was the old lady's firm and unshaken position toward the memory of Lafitte!53

Seldom in the annals of early Texas history have the lives of an ordinary frontier couple been so thoroughly documented, which is all the more amazing, considering that one marriage partner was illiterate and perhaps the other as well. And never before in the annals of American history have the lives of a buccaneering couple been so well documented as well. Actually, five sets of memoirs survive; those of James Campbell in the Lamar Papers; Mary Campbell in the Galveston Daily News; Mary Campbell in the National Archives; James P. Sherwood in the National Archives; and Charles Cronea, memoirs in the Galveston Daily News, editions of 1893 and 1909, in addition to long obituaries of both James and Mary.

James and Mary Campbell are the only Texas family who spent four long years in Lafitte's corsair commune and lived to tell about it, let alone see it in print. The experience certainly affected Jim Campbrll since, until shortly before he died, he was ever reluctant to establish close friendships or to discuss his privateering days for fear of self-incrimination that might provoke a charge of piracy against him. James and Mary Campbell certainly did not walk in the footsteps of the wealthy and mighty; in fact, on their sparsely-settled frontier, they might walk for weeks without seeing any footsteps at all except their own. As a most uncommon couple in a frontier land of otherwise very common people, they would have attracted no attention at all, except when the name of Lafitte was mentioned. Nevertheless, a biography of their lives deserves to survive and occupy some permanent niche in the annals of frontier Texas, where it might be perpetuated for the edification of generations of Texans still unborn.

horizontal rule


1 Charles W. Hayes, Galveston: History of the Island and The City (Cincinnati: 1879: reprinted Austin: Jenkins Garrett Press, 1974), I, p. 130.

2 Mary S. Campbell, "Buccaneers-The Memoirs of Mary Campbell," Galveston Daily News, May 25, 1879; "Information Derived From James Campbell, Now Residing On Galveston Bay," June 10, 1855, reprinted in C. A. Gulick et al (eds.), The Papers of Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar (New York: AMA Press, 1973), IV, Part 2, pp. 18-24, hereinafter cited as "J. Campbell Memoirs."

3 "J. Campbell Memoirs," Lamar Papers, IV, Part2, p. 18. Mary Campbell's obituary reported her birth year as probably 1799. It is interesting that in the Atascosita Census of 1826, she reported her age as 31 and her husband's as 35.

4 Affadavit of James P. Sherwood, March 27, 1880, p. 2, James Campbell War of 1812 Pension File No. WC-30-345, Records of the Veterans Administrations in the National Archives, also copy in the E. C. Barker Texas History Center in Austin.

5 "J. Campbell Memoirs," Lamar Papers, IV, Part 2, p. 18; Encylpaedia Britannica (Chicago: 1970), XI, 823; Campbell War of 1812 Pension File WC-30-345, p. 2.

6 "Buccaneers," Galveston Daily News, May 25, 1879; "J. Campbell Memoirs," Lamar Papers, IV, Part 2, p. 18; "Days of Lafitte," Obituary of Mary Campbell, Galveston Daily News, January 7, 1884.

7 D. G. Wooten, Comprehensive History of Texas (Dallas, 1898), I, pp. 88-89.

8 "Buccaneers," Galveston Daily News, May 25, 1879.

9 J. Campbell War of 1812 Pension File, No. WC-30-345, James and Mary Campbell Marriage Record, performed by Fr. M.Muldoon, Anahuac, Nov. 9, 1831, p. 13, in the National Archives.

10 Ibid., Affadavit of Mary Campbell, dated Galveston, June 12, 1880, p. 5, in the National Archives.

11 M. M. Osborn (ed.), "The Atascosita Census of 1826," Texana, Vol. IO, No. 4 (Fall, 1963), p. 306.

12 "Buccaneers," Galveston Daily News, May 25, 1879.

13 "J. Campbell Memoirs," Lamar Papers, IV, Part 2, pp. 18-19.

14 "Buccaneers," Galveston Daily News, May 25, 1879.

15 Ibid.

16 D. G.McComb, Galveston: A History (Austin: University of TexasPress, 1986), p. 36.

17 "Buccaneers," Galveston Daily News, May 25, 1879.

18 Lyle Saxon, Lafitte The Pirate (New Orleans: 1950), pp. 220-226.

19 The Journal of Jean Lafitte: The Privateer-Patriot's Own Story (New York: Vantage Press, 1958), pp. 102-108.

20 "J. Campbell Memoirs," Lamar Papers, IV, Part 2, p. 20.

21 Dr. Kirkpatrick, "Early Life in The Southwest - The Bowies," DeBow's Review, XIII (October, 1852), p. 381.

22 W. F. Gray, From Virginia to Texas, 1835: The Diary of Colonel William F. Gray (reprint; Houston, 1965), p.170.

23 "J. Campbell Memoirs," Lamar Papers, IV, Part 2, p. 20; Saxon, Lafitte The Pirate, p. 221.

24 "Buccaneers," Galveston Daily News, May 25, 1879; Ben C. Stewart, "Story of Lafitte," Galveston Daily News, March 3, 1907.

25 "A Veteran Gone - Obituary of Charles Cronea," Galveston Daily News, March 8, 1893.

26 "Buccaneers," Galveston Daily News, May 25, 1879.

27 Ibid.; "J. Campbell Memoirs," Lamar Papers, IV, Part 2, p. 20; D. G. McComb, Galveston: A History (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), pp. 36-37.

28 The Journal of Jean Lafitte, pp. 129, 131.

29 "J. Campbell Memoirs," Lamar Papers, IV, Part 2, pp. 20-21; The Journal of Jean lafitte, pp.113-114.

30 Reprint of The Cronea memoirs, "Charles Cronea of Sabine Pass: Lafitte Buccaneer and Texas Veteran," Texas Gulf Historical and Biographical Record, XI (November, 1975), pp. 92-93; W. T. Block, "The Last of Lafitte's Pirates,"Frontier Times (July, 1977), pp. 17, 51-53; "Buccaneers," Galveston Daily News, may 25, 1879.

31 Obituary, "Charles Cronea, who Fought Under Jean Lafitte," Galveston Daily News, March 8, 1893.

32 Ibid.

33 Charles Cronea Memoirs, as told to Ben C. Stuart, "Sailed With The Sea Rover," Galveston Daily News, Februry 7, 1909, p. 17.

34 The Journal of Jean Lafitte, p. 117; "J. Campbell Memoirs," Lamar Papers, IV, Part 2, pp. 21-22; "Buccaneers," Galveston Daily News, May 25, 1879.

35 Affadavit of Mary Campbell, J. Campbell War of 1812 Pension File, No. WC-30-345, pp. 5-9, in the National Archives.

36 Miriam Partlow, Liberty, Liberty County, and The Atascosita District (Austin: Pemberton Press, 1974), pp. 61, 329; M. M. Osborn, "The Atascosita Census of 1826," Texana, Vol. I, No. 4 (Fall, 1963), pp. 305-306.

37 Partlow, Liberty, Liberty County, and The Atascosita District, pp. 74-75.

38 "Buccaneers," Galveston Daily News, may 25, 1879; Osborn, "Atascosita Census of 1826," pp. 305-306; Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, Galveston County, Texas, p. 176, No. 1,365.

39 J. Campbell War of 1812 Pension File, No. WC-30-345, p. 12; J. Campbell Baptismal Certificate, Nov. 9, 1831, Anahuac, by Fr. M.Muldoon, p. 13, J. Campbell War of 1812 Pension File No. WC-30-345, in the National Archives.

41 Partlow, Liberty, Liberty County and The Atascosita District, p. 83.

42 Affadavit of Mary Campbell, p. 6; J. Campbell War of 1812 Pension File No. WC-30-345, National Archives; also "J. Campbell Memoirs,' Lamar Papers, IV, Part 2, pp. 18-23.

43 Ray Miller, Ray Miller's Galveston (Austin: Capitol Printing, 1983), p. 52.

44 Ben C. Stuart, " Story of Lafitte," Galveston Daily News, March 3, 1907; "Lafitte and His Lieutenants," Galveston Daily News, April 21, 1878; "Career of Jean Lafitte," Galveston Daily News, April 5, 1886; 'One of Lafitte's Men," New Orleans Delta, July 11, 1847; W. T. Block, "Crazy Ben" Dollivar's Secret Gold Cache," True West (May, 1990), pp. 26-29.

45 "Lafitte and His Lieutenants," Galveston Daily News, April 21, 1878; Hayes, Galveston: History of The Island and The City I, 129-130; Galveston City Company Records, Book B, copy 15, p. 57, recorded in Galveston County, Tx., Book E, p. 255.

46 "Lafitte and His Lieutenants," Galveston Daily News, April 21, 1878; Ben C. Stuart, "Story of Lafitte," Galveston Daily News, March 3, 1907.

47 Hayes, Galveston: History of The Island and The City, I, p. 128.

48 Galveston County Deed Records.

49 "Lafitte and His Lieutenants," Galveston Daily News, April 21, 1878; Ben C. Stuart, "Story of Lafitte," Galveston Daily News, March 3, 1907.

50 Affadavit of James P. Sherwood, dated Galvleston March 27, 1880, pp. 1-4, J. Campbell War of 1812 Pension File No. WC-30-345, in the National Archives.

51 Obituary of James Campbell, Galveston Weekly News, May 27, 1856, and reprinted from Yellowed Pages, XX, No. 2 (Summer, 1990), p.105.

52 Osborn. "Atascosita Census of 1826," p. 305; Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, Galveston County, Texas, Sched. I, p. 176, No. 1,365; Ibid., Schedules II, Slaves, 1850 and 1860., Galveston County, Texas.

53 Obituary of Mary Campbell, "The Days of Lafitte," Galveston Daily News, January 7, 1884.

horizontal rule

Copyright 1998-2023 by W. T. Block. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, the material published on this site is copyrighted by William T. Block.
Like us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/WTBlock