The Colonial Press

On the developing frontier of Colonial Texas, the newspaper was an important part of life. It provided a way of communicating within the colony and, perhaps more importantly, it helped create a sense of permanence for towns and their residents. The Texas Gazette was the first paper to serve San Felipe de Austin, operating from 1829 to 1832. Godwin Brown Cotten (though he often referred to himself as “Great Big” Cotten) was the initial publisher at San Felipe, and printed 300 copies of Austin’s book of governance, which was a compilation of translated laws and official documents and was the first book published in Texas in 1829. As publisher, he made Robert M. Williamson editor. Williamson added the motto “Dios y Libertad” (God and Liberty) to the paper’s masthead. The print shop struggled to stay in business before ultimately being sold to a publisher in Brazoria.

While it was not the first printing press in Texas, the San Felipe print shop produced important publications and served the community at two critical periods in colonial history. The Texas Gazette was published at a time when colonial government was beginning and businesses and commerce were taking root in San Felipe. After the Texas Gazette moved to Brazoria, Gail Borden, best known today for the milk company that bears his name, led the effort to launch a new printing office in San Felipe. Borden, who had gained Austin’s confidence, partnered with his younger brother John and with Joseph Baker, a Spanish translator and school teacher, to re-establish the print shop. The trio referred to themselves as Baker and Bordens. None of the men had any printing experience, but they were committed to promoting colonial land sales and to sharing political views in support of Austin. They founded the Telegraph and Texas Register in San Felipe in 1835, which quickly became the printed voice of the Texas Revolution.

The first edition of the Telegraph and Texas Register was printed on October 10, 1835, and reported news on the Battle of Gonzales. The births of the Texas Revolution and its printed voice happened almost simultaneously. Through dedicated efforts of Borden and his partners, the San Felipe print shop remained in production up to the evacuation of San Felipe in late March 1836. Along with a near-weekly newspaper production schedule, the printers managed 32 separate broadsides and pamphlets between October and December 1835. The shop produced some of the most important and treasured of early Texas documents including the Declaration of the People of Texas (1835), Travis’ letter from the Alamo (February 1836) and the Unanimous Declaration of Independence (March 1836).

After evacuating San Felipe just days before the town was burned to prevent it falling into Mexican hands, Borden took the press to Harrisburg (modern-day Houston), where the Texas government intended to re-establish itself. While trying to print an April 14th issue, the Mexican army captured the press and threw it into Buffalo Bayou. But the seeds of revolution and independence had already been sown and just a week later the Texans defeated the Mexican Army at San Jacinto and the Republic of Texas was born.