The statue of Jose Antonio Navarro at the south entrance of the Navarro County Courthouse depicts a man of great dignity. He was a prominent figure in the struggle for Texas independence from Mexico, as well as in the early development of Texas as a republic and a state. Born in San Antonio in 1795, Navarro’s formal education was limited, but he “read law” and was licensed to practice, a common procedure for attorneys of that time period. He became involved in Mexico’s early attempt to secure independence from Spain, but when an 1816 endeavor he supported to overthrow the royal government failed, Navarro fled Mexico and came to Texas. He developed a friendship with Stephen F. Austin after Austin began bringing Anglo settlers into Texas in the 1820’s. Texas was part of part of Mexico after that country secured its independence from Spain in 1819. Navarro was elected to serve in the Texas-Coahuila legislature that met in Saltillo, and he later was a member of the federal congress in Mexico City.

As the conflict intensified between the Anglo Texans and the Mexican government controlled by Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Navarro cast his lot with the Texans. As a delegate to the convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Navarro signed the Texas Declaration of Independence which was adopted March 2, 1836. He was one of three Mexicans to sign that document. When Texas secured her independence from Mexico following the victory at the battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, the hope was that statehood would follow. But when the United States was reluctant to add Texas to the Union, the result was the creation of the Republic of Texas. Sam Houston, hero of the war for independence, was elected first president of the new nation, and Jose Navarro won a seat in the Texas Congress. He and President Houston often disagreed over policy, but Navarro strongly supported the programs of Houston’s successor Mirabeau B. Lamar. That decision almost proved disastrous for Navarro when President Lamar named him as a commissioner for the Santa Fe Expedition in 1841. Hoping to expand Texas control all the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, Lamar dispatched 341 men to try to “persuade” the people of Santa Fe to align with Texas. But the group, including Navarro, was captured by a Mexican force and detained under brutal conditions. Navarro managed to escape after a 14 month confinement and returned to Texas.

A longtime supporter of Texas annexation into the Union, Navarro was a delegate to the 1845 convention that accepted the American proposal to become the 28th state. He also helped draft the state’s first constitution, and he served two terms in the Texas State Senate. To acknowledge his many contributions to Texas, the Legislature named the newly established Navarro County in his honor in 1846. When asked what the new settlement established to serve as the seat of government should be called, Navarro responded, “Call it Corsicana, for the island of Corsica, the birthplace of my father.” There is no evidence that Navarro ever visited his namesake county.

Navarro and his wife had seven children, four sons and three daughters. One son was a Harvard graduate and had a distinguished career as a Texas legislator in the late 19th century. The Navarro home on Laredo Street in downtown San Antonio is a State Historic Site and open to the public. Navarro died in 1871 at the age of 76.

Navarro’s illustrious career spanned fifty-five years. He played a prominent role in laying the foundation for the state, and he was noted for his character, his dignity, and his strong defense of the rights of the people. He is most deserving of the action taken by the first Texas Legislature in naming Navarro County in his honor.

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Dr. Tommy Stringer is vice-president of institutional advancement at Navarro College, and director of the Navarro College Foundation.

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