By Bob Jamison

          “They shot up my boat!” was the issue before Judge Benjamin C. Franklin. The boat was actually shot up to the extent it was later considered unworthy to sail. But the reason for this conflagration might surprise you. It was used to run the Mexican fortress and was the recipient of the first gun shots of the prelude to the Texas Revolution.

          Mexico had a fort at the mouth of the Brazos in the town of Velasco (now Surfside….or what’s left of it today after Hurricane Ike). Among other nefarious purposes the fort was used to collect taxes for Mexico of boats coming into and leaving the rich farm lands of Texas on the Brazos River. This schooner played an important part in this event.Maritime suits in the days of the Austin Colony (Stephen F. Austin) now named Brazoria County, were the first in the judicial history of that county. But this one was special.

          Master of the American Schooner Brazoria, John Rowland and crew, pleaded that John Austin seized his ship in the name of the commander of the military forces with a promise that he was responsible for any damage. Regardless, Austin secured the schooner with guns and fortification with the intent to go by the Mexican fortress and head to Anahuac. William B. Travis, later the hero of the Alamo, was being held in jail for continually pestering the Mexican commander Bradburn at Fort Anahuac and Austin was going to do something about it.

          What did happen was the schooner became the initial recipient of first gun shots in what ensued to be the Battle of Velasco. Thus, much damage was done to the ship and the plaintiff wanted someone to pay for it. Whatever that cost was it was minimal compared to the effect in the victory in that epic battle of Texas history.

          Another significant issue before Judge Franklin was in the cause of the Texas Navy and her ship the Invincible that captured a merchant ship The Pocket just off the mouth of the Rio Grande River. Though it flew U.S. Colors, the Texas Navy intercepted her anyway. Upon searching its contents they discovered it was actually a Mexican supply ship headed to Santa Anna’s army with supplies including guns and ammunition. Good use was made of the cargo in the subsequent Battle of San Jacinto.

          Regardless of that famous victory, an issue before Judge Franklin regarding the prize of The Pocket should determine that the confiscation was legal or was it acts of piracy. Furthermore, Captain Brown of the Texas Navy had been arrested for his part of the capture. The good judge found in favor of the Texas Navy and released Captain Brown.

          In 1838 the Republic of Texas was again in court. The Texans manning ship The Liberty captured yet another Mexican ship The Pelicana. During this event, Pelicana crashed into the shallow and treacherous sand bar at Cavallo Pass that enters into Matagorda Bay. Salvage crews discovered cargo that amounted to over seven million dollars in value. Judge Franklin ruled that the ‘salvors’ were entitled to one half and the Republic of Texas the other half.

          President of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston reappointed Judge Franklin. Afterward during the first action of his court, the judge set up procedures for admitting lawyers to the bar of the Republic. First they must produce evidence of good moral character and be examined as to their qualifications. If accepted a fee of $5.00 would be paid.

          Much of this information is in summation from an excellent book called Tales from the Brazos by Marie Jones of Angleton, Texas. The book also contains numerous articles and stories, some of which are hilariously funny as true life adventures of old days can be. ……. .