The tombstone above Gail Borden, Jr.’s grave reads, “I tried and failed, I tried again and again and succeeded.” Borden indeed had a knack for failure.
Born in New York State in 1801, his family moved to Kentucky in 1814 and on to Indiana a few years later. At the age of 21, his brother Tom joined the hordes of adventurers who had “Gone to Texas” to seek their fortunes. The untamed Texas frontier didn’t appeal to Gail, and he stayed behind and took a teaching job in Mississippi.
A few years into his teaching career, Gail met a sixteen-year-old pupil named Penelope Mercer who stole his heart. They married in 1828. Like his adventurous brother Tom, the Mercer family was enamored with the prospects of a new life in Texas. Borden’s new bride had more influence on him than his brother Tom. She soon convinced her young groom to pull up stakes and join her family in a move to the new frontier. Since she was pregnant, Gail and Penelope traveled to Texas by boat, while the rest of the Mercer family took the land route. The Bordens landed on Galveston Island on Christmas Eve 1829. (At that time there was no City of Galveston, only a harbor and a few buildings.) They traveled the bumpy dirt road to San Felipe by horse-drawn wagon, and set up house near Gail’s father (who also now lived in Texas). Penelope’s family arrived a few weeks later by wagon train.
The immigrant Americans arriving in Texas, like the Bordens and Mercers had been promised that the territorial government would operate under democratic laws of Mexico. However, when Santa Anna assumed the presidency of Mexico, everything changed. The Mexican promises of democratic rule were abandoned. To keep the Texans (and the rest of world) aware of what was happening, Borden helped launch a newspaper called the Telegraph and Texas Register. As the Americans feared, without the legal protection of the old Mexican constitution, the immigrants found themselves subjected to arbitrary, harsh and unfair rules created and enforced by the officials of Santa Anna’s government.
True to the American spirit, a group of Texans met together in 1833 to insist that Mexico restore their legal protections. Gail Borden represented his town as one of the fifty-five delegates to the convention. In fact, Borden printed the original Texas Declaration of Independence (for which he was never paid). During the Texas revolution, Borden kept printing daily updates about the fighting until the Mexican Army overran his business, took his printing press, and threw it into a river.
After the end of the war, in 1837, President Houston appointed Gail Borden as Customs Collector on Galveston Island. … continues …
A photograph of Gail Borden, Jr. (1801-1874)
Texas Tidbit: Gail Borden drew the first-ever topical map of Texas in 1835.
The story continues in the book Texas Ingenuity... For complete information on this and other Texas stories…