- A Question of Identity:Dr. James Grant and the British Mission to Mexico, 1825–1826
Dr. James Grant (1793–1836), one of the leaders of the ill-fated Matamoros expedition in 1836, has always been an enigmatic figure in the history of the Texas Revolution: denounced on the one hand by Sam Houston and his followers as an unscrupulous land speculator and lauded on the other by Frank W. Johnson as a “gentleman, scholar, patriot, and gallant soldier.”1 Disentangling these contrasting views is further complicated by the fact that there were at least three individuals named James Grant active in Mexico and Texas at the time. At last, however, a remarkable collection of letters held by a collateral descendant living in France not only reveals why and when Dr. Grant first came to Mexico, but also enables us to distinguish between him and his two contemporaries with the same name: James Grant of Nacogdoches, who rather illiterately urged Sam Houston to join in the Siege of Bexar in 1835, and James Grant of Matamoros, who was in correspondence with Stephen F. Austin on various dates in 1824 and 1825.2
Dr. James Grant was born in the parish of Killearnan, Ross-shire, Scotland, in 1793, the second son in a large family with close links to the mighty East India Company; the first and arguably the greatest [End Page 287] multinational trading company the world had yet seen.3 He himself made three voyages to India and China as a ship’s doctor on the company’s ships between 1812 and 1819, practiced medicine for a time in the West Indies, and by 1825 was working rather discontentedly at a children’s hospital in London when quite a remarkable turnabout in his fortunes occurred.
The letters describing this change in Grant’s life form part of a private collection of correspondence addressed to or collected by his sister Sarah “Sally” Grant Urquhart and which is still in the possession of her descendant, Alice Layton Falchetto. While of considerable genealogical interest, the majority of the letters between various members of the far-flung Grant family are of no direct relevance to James Grant’s career in Mexico and Texas. However, the first of the three letters, reproduced here with permission, was written by James to his aunt Ann Bannatyne Grant on the very eve of his embarkation for Mexico in 1825.
Falmouth, 28th March 1825
My Dear Aunt,
You will be surprised to have a letter from me from this quarter & still more when I say that I am so far on my way to Mexico. To myself this came nearly as suddenly as the information is given to you - for I had but a few hours to make up my mind on one of the most important Steps of my life. I am going out as Senior Physician and Medical Superintendent of the large concerns of the Real del Monte Mining Company – and in medical charge of the Embassy –with the certainty of being appointed Physician to the Embassy so soon as the necessary diplomatic arrangements for the South American States are made by Ministry.
My pay and allowances are very handsome independent of the opportunity of Private Practice - and what makes my appointment particularly gratifying is that I was, in consequence of my supposed knowledge of diseases of warm climates, solicited to accept of what three London Physicians were applying for. - I have been obliged to take out a degree in medicine (M.D.) for wch I have been preparing since my return from the West – and am offered as a complement to be admitted a Licentiate of the College of Edinburgh on paying the Customary fees - which shall be done in due time. – When I say that Saturday 19th March was the first day on which I had intimation of this matter & that I left London on the following Thursday equipped for a long voyage – you will readily perceive that I had no means of giving earlier intimation of my intentions to my friends. – Mrs. Grant remains behind for the present with the children - and is provided for by the Company...