WHEELWRIGHT, GEORGE WASHINGTON

Thomas W. Cutrer
Map of the Invincible, Independence, Liberty, Bravo, Pocket, and Pelicano
Map of the Invincible, Independence, Liberty, Bravo, Pocket, and Pelicano. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

WHEELWRIGHT, GEORGE WASHINGTON (?–1848). George Washington Wheelwright, naval officer, held his first command in the Navy of the Republic of Texas as William S. Brown's successor in command of the schooner Liberty. Wheelwright sailed his new ship as an escort to the Flora, bearing the wounded Sam Houston to New Orleans for treatment in May 1836. There Wheelwright placed the Liberty in dry dock for refitting, but when repairs were done the Republic of Texas could not pay the bill, and after some months the ship was sold to satisfy the claims against her. Wheelwright, therefore, was left without a command until the death of Commodore Charles Edward Hawkins in New Orleans in February 1837, when he was promoted to the rank of commander and appointed captain of the schooner of war Independence. Newly refitted, the Independence sailed from New Orleans on April 10, bearing home William H. Wharton, the Texas minister to the United States. At 5:30 A.M., April 17, Wheelwright's ship encountered the Mexican ships Vencedor del Álamo and Libertador off the mouth of the Brazos River. The two brigs of war, having a decided wind advantage, quickly closed with the Independence. In a running battle with the Mexicans, the lightly armed Texas ship could bring to bear only three of her six-pound cannon and one nine-pound pivot gun-the piece of Mexican artillery captured by the Texans at the battle of San Jacinto-while the Mexican vessels had a total of six twelve-pound and seventeen eighteen-pound guns. At approximately 11:00 A.M. Wheelwright was wounded and carried below for medical attention, and his lieutenant, John W. Taylor, took command and continued the fight. When the Libertador came within a pistol shot across the Independence's stern, however, ready to deliver a murderous raking fire, the Texan vessel prudently struck its colors. Wheelwright had been the only Texas casualty. He and most of his officers were taken as prisoners to Matamoros but escaped sometime in September with the aid of Father Michael Muldoon. After the loss of the Independence, Wheelwright was tendered command of the brig Potomac. Although he bankrupted Galveston ship chandler H. Sanderson by purchasing equipment and naval stores on government credit that was never repaid, the Potomac was never fully converted from its former merchant configuration and never made a cruise, remaining instead in Galveston as a receiving ship. In June 1840 Wheelwright briefly commanded the Wharton while she was in ordinary at Galveston. He died intestate on September 9, 1848, in Matagorda, Texas, and his estate was administered by Hamilton L. Cook.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Alex Dienst, "The Navy of the Republic of Texas," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 12–13 (January-October 1909; rpt., Fort Collins, Colorado: Old Army Press, 1987). C. L. Douglas, Thunder on the Gulf: The Story of the Texas Navy (Dallas: Turner, 1936; rpt., Fort Collins, Colorado: Old Army Press, 1973). Ernest G. Fischer, Robert Potter: Founder of the Texas Navy (Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 2006). Jim Dan Hill, The Texas Navy in Forgotten Battles and Shirtsleeve Diplomacy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1937; rpt., Austin: State House, 1987). Jonathan W. Jordan, Lone Star Navy: Texas, the Fight for the Gulf of Mexico, and the Shaping of the American West (Lincoln: Potomac Books, 2006). Tom Henderson Wells, Commodore Moore and the Texas Navy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1960). Arthur Wyllie, Men and Battles of the Republic of Texas (n.p.: Lulu, 2016).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Thomas W. Cutrer, "WHEELWRIGHT, GEORGE WASHINGTON," accessed November 14, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwh14.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on September 4, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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