Back in the mid-1830s, several thousand residents of Northeast Texas weren’t sure whether they lived in Mexico or the United States. Richard Ellis, a hero of the Texas Revolution, was among those more than a little confused about their places of residence.
Ellis served as president of the March 1836 constitutional convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos that declared Texas to be independent from Mexico.
Ellis lived at a Red River County trading post called Pecan Point. The Virginia native and his family had settled there in 1834, opening a law practice and eventually building a large plantation.
But was Ellis residing and practicing law in Texas, or was it Arkansas?
The Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 had established the international boundary between the Mexican state of Texas and the Arkansas Territory of the United States.
However, nobody had bothered to survey much of the border. That meant a large portion of present-day Northeast Texas was claimed by both Mexico and the U.S.
The Arkansas Territorial Legislature created Miller County in 1820. That area took in several of today’s Northeast Texas counties, including Bowie, Cass, Franklin, Lamar, Morris, Red River and Titus.
Arkansas claimed the area, but so did Mexico.
In late 1835, Richard Ellis was chosen to represent Miller County as a delegate to the Arkansas constitutional convention. (Back in 1818, Ellis had been a delegate to the Alabama constitutional convention while living there. He also was an Alabama Supreme Court justice for a while.)
Ellis readily accepted the Arkansas delegate’s post and prepared to head to Little Rock for the January 1836 constitutional convention. But he fell ill and was unable to travel. He reluctantly resigned his Arkansas convention seat.
However, the 1835-1836 Texas War for Independence provided Ellis another opportunity to show his leadership abilities. He was selected as a Pecan Point delegate to the Texas constitutional convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos.
A now-healthy Ellis arrived March 1 and was quickly elected president of the convention. On March 2 the delegates approved the Texas Declaration of Independence. Three days later, Ellis wrote a letter to Sam Houston:
“I have the honor to enclose you the resolution adopted by the (Texas) convention … appointing you commander in chief of the armies of the Republic of Texas.” (Houston was a good choice. On April 21, 1836, he led Texas troops to a decisive victory at San Jacinto.)
Over the next two weeks, Ellis presided as delegates created a constitution for what would become the new Republic of Texas.
With his work completed at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Ellis returned to Red River County, where he was elected a senator in the Texas Congress. He was reelected three times.
That same year, a new Northeast Texas county was created. Ellis’ plantation, located near New Boston, was now situated in Bowie County.
On April 25, 1838, The Republic of Texas and the United States signed the Convention of Limits adding a huge slice (6,900 square miles) of Northeast Texas land to Texas. The acreage was taken from Miller County, Arkansas, which had claimed the land since 1820.
Ellis died in a fire at his home in December 1846. In 1929 his remains were relocated to the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. Three years after his death, the Texas Legislature created an Ellis County in his honor. During the 1936 Texas Centennial, a statue of Ellis was dedicated at the Ellis County Courthouse in Waxahachie.