Samuel Bangs, dead now more than a century and a half, certainly would have died 37 or so years earlier on were it not for the power of the press.
Bangs was born around 1798 — accounts vary — near Boston — that is certain — where he learned the printing trade under a relative’s watch.
The apprentice proved adept, and by the time he was 18 — a restless young man in a restless young nation — Bangs had made his way to Baltimore, where serendipity introduced him to a checkered Spanish colonel named Francisco Xavier Mina.
Mina had recently fallen under the influence of a Mexican priest and an American army general, who convinced him to join Mexico’s fight to seek its freedom from Spain.
Mina despised King Ferdinand VII’s fealty to the French, and after participating in a failed coup against the ruler, he fled to London, where in 1816 he met Father José Servando Teresa de Mier and Gen. Winfield Scott, the two men who convinced him he could gain vengeance on Ferdinand by helping to liberate Mexico.
Mier was an ardent Mexican nationalist, and Scott reputedly promised him the United States, still irked by the Spanish sinking of the USS Maine, would support his filibuster.
Mina, convinced, set sail, stopping first at Baltimore, where he recruited Bangs to run the hand press Mier had brought to run off broadsides to rally the Mexican revolutionaries, and then at Galveston.
On Galveston Island on Feb. 22, 1817, Bangs produced on Mier’s press the first known document ever printed in Texas: “The Proclamation of General Mina.”
By the time Mina left Galveston some months later, his armada boasted eight ships carrying 235 men under arms.
Virtually all were doomed.
An imprisoned printer
Within months of the group’s arrival in Mexico, most of Mina’s men had been captured or killed.
Mina suffered both fates, captured in northern Mexico and some months later — in either October or November 1817 — executed by firing squad. Bangs, too, had been captured, but the Spanish valued his ability to operate Mier’s press, on which he was made to print Royalist tracts until Mexico in August 1821 won its independence, and the printer was freed.
Yet, Bangs stayed on for a time, printing proclamations for the new government, before eventually returning to the United States, where he wooed and won the former Suzanne Payne but failed to find suitable employment. He returned to Mexico, with his wife, where he worked as a government printer in the northern state of Tamaulipas until she died there in 1837 of yellow fever.
Bangs made his way to Mobile, Ala., where he married for a second time, to the former Caroline French, and, in 1838, headed back to Galveston with his bride and two of her brothers, fellow printers.
Bangs took over the struggling Daily Galvestonian newspaper and named one of the brothers-in-law, George H. French, editor. When the paper soon foundered, Bangs, undaunted, produced a new paper, The Daily News, which first appeared on April 11, 1842, again with French as editor.
Bangs’ second foray into newspapering didn’t initially go much better than had his first. The Daily News vanished for a year, during which time he sold it to two New Englanders who had arrived in Galveston after fighting in the Texas Revolution.
The new owners, Michael Cronican and Wilbur Cherry, rented a press from Bangs — believed to be R. Hoe & Co.’s Washington Press No. 2369 on which The Daily News putatively had been printed — and, too, the building on Tremont Street in which it sat. And, too, they kept French on as editor of the paper, which they renamed The News.
Yet, the ever restless Bangs stayed on the island only until 1845, when, with the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, he and his wife followed Army Gen. Zachary Taylor south to Corpus Christi, where with a financial partner he launched that city’s Gazette. When Taylor’s troops soon moved south to the Rio Grande, Bangs again followed him, and in Matamoros began publishing what would be his final paper, the Reveille, which included a Spanish-language supplement published by a Mexican who, not surprisingly, took Mexico’s side in the ongoing war.
Taylor in a rage ordered the Reveille shut down and Bangs jailed, although the pressman was allowed to argue his innocence — that he had merely rented equipment to the offender — and was freed, once again, although he never resumed printing the paper.
An ignominious end
So ended Bang’s desultory career as a publisher. He and Caroline instead opened a hotel in Point Isabel but not until after Bangs had returned briefly to Galveston. There he loaded all of his possessions onto a ship bound for Port Isabel. It sank, taking all he owned, save for his pride and the clothes on his back.
One day in 1849, Bangs set out from Port Isabel for Brownsville by stagecoach, only to be waylaid. The marauders ordered him and his fellow passengers to strip naked, after which Bangs either was freed or managed to flee.
With the confiscation of the clothes off his back, Bangs now stood stripped to the same naked state in which he had entered the world half a century before.
Thoroughly disillusioned — and broke — he abandoned Texas forever, moving to Georgetown, Ky., where he briefly worked in the pressroom of that city’s daily Herald.
It was there, on May 31, 1854, that Samuel Bangs died. The erstwhile filibuster, printer, publisher and would-be hotelier was believed to be 56 years old.