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first President of the Republic of Texas
David Gouverneur Burnet was born in Newark, New Jersey, on April 14, 1788. Orphaned at an early age, he spent much of his childhood with older half-brothers in Cincinnati, Ohio. As a youngster he wanted to join the Navy, but one of his brothers placed him as a clerk in a New York commission house instead, a job he disliked intensely.
In 1806, Burnet became the first American volunteer to join Francisco de Miranda in an expedition to free Venezuela from Spain. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Infantry, Burnet commanded the boat which fired the very first shots in behalf of Venezuelan liberty. Although Burnet and his comrades fought valiantly, the expedition ultimately failed and Burnet returned home.
About 1817, Burnet moved to Natchitoches, Louisiana, where he spent two years trading with the Comanches. The venture failed financially, and Burnet returned to Ohio to study law.
In December 1826, Burnet received a grant to settle 300 families around Nacogdoches, Texas -- he was to receive 23,000 acres for every 100 families settled. After spending more than three years trying to develop his grant, he sold his rights to the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company. He used the money to buy a steam sawmill and 292 acres of land on Galveston Bay. The mill lost money, however, and he sold it in 1835.
Burnet's political career began with his election to the Texas Convention of 1833. In 1834, Burnet was appointed Judge of the District of Brazos, a position he held until the court was superseded by the revolutionary provisional government in November 1835. On March 18, 1836, Burnet was chosen as the first President of the newly-formed Republic of Texas; he held this position until October 22, when the first elections under the constitution were held. Although Burnet's conservatism limited his effectiveness in leading the new Republic, he was able to maintain order until the permanent government was elected.
Burnet retired to private life upon establishment of a permanent government, but was recalled to public duty in 1838, when he was elected Vice-President, under President Mirabeau Lamar. He served three years in this position, and succeeded to the presidency after Lamar resigned at the end of his term.
After Texas was admitted to the Union in 1846, Burnet was named as the state's first Secretary of State, serving in this position through 1847.
In 1866, Burnet was elected to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate, but due to Reconstruction he was not allowed to serve.
By this time Burnet was alone -- his wife and all three of his children having died. His family back in New Jersey offered him a home there, and in 1868 Burnet decided to return to the place of his birth. Finding his childhood home to be greatly different from what he remembered, he turned around almost immediately and returned to Texas. He died in Galveston on December 7, 1870, and is buried at Lakeview Cemetery in Galveston.
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This page was last updated on June 23, 2017.