Texas History: Early Texas Heroes


San Jacinto Battlefield and Auntie Em’s Claim to Fame

I love my Aunt Emma. She lives in Pasadena, Texas near the San Jacinto Monument and Battlefield just outside Houston. She has always claimed to be a direct descendant of Emily West and Lorenzo de Zavala. Zavala was the very first vice president of the Republic of Texas. He was the interim veep under President David G. Burnett before things were finally settled around the time Mexican Dictator/General Santa Anna was marching through Texas in 1835-1836. Zavala was awarded this important position because of his heritage and his close association with Santa Anna. Zavala’s appointment was also awarded to recognize the Mexican Texans who had joined the American Texans in their fight for independence from Mexico.

I had always had a suspicion that Auntie Em was exaggerating the family connection. I’m not sure why I suspected…I just did. However, after talking to my Dad, I was proven wrong. Her grandparents (Emma and Sidney De Zavala) are buried just a few feet away from Lorenzo and Emily’s gravesite on the San Jacinto Battlefield. I thought I’d head out to the San Jacinto Monument to see if I could get some questions answered about this former enigmatic family legend.

Early Life of Lorenzo De Zavala

Manuel Lorenzo Justiniano de Zavala was born on October 3rd, 1789 In Yucatan, Mexico. In 1807 he married Teresa Correa y Correa and ultimately they had three children. When he was twenty-five he was imprisoned for his ardent activism in support of Democratic reforms in Mexico. Upon his release he again ventured into politics and was elected to the Mexican Congress and later to the Senate. I guess he figured it best to work from the inside. Still later he became Governor of the state of Mexico located west of Mexico City.

In 1831 Zavala published a book titled “Journey to the United States of North America”. This unrenowned yet scholarly publication preceded Toqueville’s famed book, “Democracy in America” by five years. These two books discuss similar viewpoints about America and Americans. In Zavala’s book the author sagaciously states that Mexico will not achieve American prosperity and accomplishment because of the country’s cultural defects. Wow…Texas’ first Vice President was quite a scholarly prophet!

Zavala Marries Emily West

Lorenzo received grants in 1829 from Spain, my Dad believes, to help settle 500 families in Southeast Texas. Around this time he (Zavala, not my Dad) became friends with Stephen F. Austin. In 1830 he transferred his interest in the grants to the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company.

Santa Anna, as Mexico’s president, in 1833 appointed Zavala to be the first minister plenipotentiary for Mexico in Paris, France. While there Zavala learned Santa Anna had assumed dictatorial powers back home and as a result denounced Santa Anna and resigned his post. In the following months he moved back to America. It’s unclear to me where his first wife Teresa died…possibly in France. He then traveled to New York City where he met and married Emily West. It was from this union that my Aunt Emma is directly descended.

Zavala and The Texas Revolution

After marrying Emily West, Zavala moved to Texas. For a while he was housemates with Stephen F. Austin, the Father of Texas, after which he settled near Buffalo Bayou at the site of the present day San Jacinto Battlefield. Zavala was naturally drawn into Texas politics. At first he supported Mexican Federalism but quickly changed and supported the Texans’ independence movement. Boy did this anger Santa Anna!

Tragic Early Death

After the Mexicans slaughtered the Texans at the Alamo, the Texans under Sam Houston were situated very near the home of Lorenzo on Buffalo Bayou while awaiting the onward march of Santa Anna. Lorenzo took his family to Galveston Island for safe keeping. During his stay on Galveston Island he was in failing health. Soon after Houston defeated Santa Anna and Texas gained her Independence, De Zavala was boating on Buffalo Bayou where he contracted pneumonia and quickly died. He was only forty-seven.

This famous quote is attributed to him, “If I knew my death would assure the liberation of Texas, I would not live another hour”.

Auntie Em’s connection to Texas history is an exciting and completely true fact. Her grandparents and Emily West De Zavala and Lorenzo De Zavala are buried in the shadow of the world’s tallest monument at the San Jacinto Battlefield.