I stumbled upon an interesting point as I researched U.S. State Capital Surnames. While Austin, Texas may have been the first and only capital of Texas once it became part of the United States, it was not the original or by any means the only capital of the Republic of Texas. This isn’t the first time I’ve been interesting in roving capitals. The distinction this time is that these towns were national capitals rather than state capitals. This independent nation, albeit short lived, had anywhere between four and eight capitals between 1836 and 1844, depending on how one defines "capital"
Washington-on-the-Brazos (March 1836)
View Larger Map
Washington-on-the-Brazos was not a permanent capital although it is a little more special than some of the other sites that followed, as noted by the Texas State Historical Association’s Texas Almanac. The town holds the distinction of being the "Birthplace of Texas." A convention of delegates met and adopted a Declaration of Independence at this location. March 2, 1836 was the Texas Republic equivalent of July 4, 1776 in the United States.
SOURCE: Runcer, on Flickr; via Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
The designation didn’t last long. Delegates toiled quickly, drafting their Declaration along with a Constitution, and then established an interim government that would serve until a proper democratic election could take place. They fled Washington-on-the-Brazos a couple of weeks later, March 17, as the Mexican army advanced upon them.
A replica of the Texas Republic’s Independence Hall can be found today at the Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site
Capital on the Move (March 1836 – October 1836)
View Larger Map
The tides of war forced the capital, then a concept more than a physical place, to keep one step ahead of General Santa Anna and the Mexican troops. First it moved to Harrisburg. Then it transferred to the steamboat Cayuga for several days. The President and his cabinet didn’t offloaded at Galveston until after the Battle of San Jacinto assured a Texan victory. Next the capital moved to Velasco (now part of Freeport). Santa Anna, then a prisoner, was forced to sign the Treaties of Velasco on May 14 to recognize Texas independence. The capital remained in Velasco through October.
Columbia (October – December 1836)
View Larger Map
Columbia (now West Columbia) is often considered the first "real" capital of the Republic of Texas even though its reign, like the other sites, ended quickly. Three months. However this was the first capital site with an elected government. That simple fact elevates its importance. Here the Congress of the Republic of Texas met for the first time, and here, Sam Houston was inaugurated its first President. It was also here that Stephen F. Austin, who had been appointed to serve as Secretary of State passed away from pneumonia unexpectedly that December.
It was a humble capital. A reproduction of the capitol building standing near the West Columbia City Hall gets that point across rather effectively. An historical marker explains:
About 1833 Leman Kelsy built a story-and-a-half clapboard structure near this location. When Columbia became capital of the Republic of Texas in 1836, the building was one of two which housed the newly formed government. The First Republic of Texas Congress convened in Columbia… The 1900 storm destroyed the original capitol. The replica at this site was built in 1976-77.
The operative phrase is "near this location." The actual location almost became a Walgreens Pharmacy parking lot
View Larger Map
Notice the skinny ribbon with the star in the middle of it along E. Brazos Ave. This is a recognition of recent vintage. Concerned citizens decided that it would be a travesty to pave over a location of such obvious historic importance, the actual site of the original capitol of the Republic of Texas. Their efforts led to the linear-shaped Capitol of Texas Park: "The park includes a walking path with 21 stations, each consisting of a black granite monument depicting the people and events of the early Republic, and a central plaza which is representative of the Seal of the Republic."
The rest of the story is anticlimactic. In December, president Houston moved the capital to Houston which sounds somewhat like a conflict of interest. However two years later a Capital Commission selected a new site at Waterloo, a town soon renamed Austin. It moved briefly back to Houston and finally back to Austin in 1844 where it’s remained ever since.