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October 26, 2007

Letter from the Future First President of the Republic of Texas Written while on the Miranda Expedition, July 4, 1807, in Trinidad

29. BURNET, David Gouverneur. Autograph letter signed, to his brother Staats G. Burnet, in care of Robinson & Hartshorne Merchants in New York, dated from Port Spain, Trinidad, July 4, 1807. 6 pp. plus integral address leaf, laid paper, 4to (30 x 23.5 cm). Creased where formerly folded, a few small voids affecting a few letters, moderate staining (mainly affecting last leaf and integral address). Preserved in chemise and black morocco and maroon cloth slipcase.

            Here is a fascinating, apparently unknown letter illuminating an obscure phase of the early life of David G. Burnet (1788-1870), speculator, lawyer, politician, and firebrand soldier of fortune. Burnet came to Texas in 1817, and was very active in its affairs, including obtaining an empresario grant and serving as first interim president of the Republic of Texas during the pivotal time from March 17 to October 22, 1836. See Handbook of Texas Online (David Gouverneur Burnet). The present letter is from his soldier-of-fortune phase, when he was with Sebastián Francisco de Miranda y Rodríguez’ 1806-1807 expedition to Caracas, Venezuela, in his ill-fated attempt to liberate the country. This letter was written after the first failed expedition returned to Trinidad. Burnet was with Miranda again in 1808 in another attempt to free Venezuela.

            Burnet’s family did not approve of his activities at this time, and his older half brothers wanted him to settle down to a safe, secure clerkship at the New York commission house Hartshorne Merchants, to which address this letter is directed. Burnet laments his family’s deafening silence and expresses his strong feelings of alienation and melancholia. He rails against political developments in England that might thwart Miranda and, in the most dramatic terms, expresses his hatred of the Spanish hold on its American possessions and his desire for the English nation to break the Spanish tyranny, e.g.: “I hope it for the honor & Glory of the English nation, for the interest of the world in general, for the enslaved & persecuted Inhabitants of Spanish America, for our hapless companions, the despairing martyrs of liberty, the victims of merciless tyrants, for these I hope it, for these I would spill(?) the last drop of my blood to dissolve the iron fetters that bind them to the filthy floor of a gloomy Dungeon. ‘Hope soars beyond an Eagle’s flight’-This beautiful remark often crosses my mind & bids me arrest my bold sanguine expectations for adventure.” These lofty goals, he explains, are more important than his family’s expectations. He gives interesting details on Miranda’s movements, actions, and plans. Burnet also discusses his efforts to release an African-American boy who shipped out on the Leander with Miranda as a servant and then subsequently sailed to Nova Scotia and back to Trinidad, where he was impressed by the British. Burnet ends by sending regards to family and friends and adds a postscript warning that “American vessels have gotten into a habit of opening the letters committed to their care.”

            This extraordinary letter documents yet another instance in Burnet’s life wherein his designs and hopes were frustrated, a theme that seemed to pervade his entire life. Burnet’s inflamed passion for liberating South America stands in odd contrast to his reluctance to seek the same type of independence for Texas. An important letter written by the eventual first President of the Republic of Texas. ($2,000-4,000)

Sold. Hammer: $2,000.00; Price Realized: $2,350.00

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