Captain Putnam for the Republic of Texas (A Bliven Putnam Naval Adventure)

Written by James Haley
Review by Mark Spencer

It is 1834, and a 47-year-old Captain Putnam—in the fourth instalment of the Bliven Putnam Naval Adventures—travels homeward from the Caribbean on board his battle-weary, sloop-of-war, Rappahannock. Suffering bouts of malarial fever, our hero longs to settle down on his Connecticut farm with his novel-writing wife, Clarity. Such is not to be, just yet.

Trouble at sea forces Putnam first to St. Augustine, on Florida’s coast, and then to Charlestown, Massachusetts. There, he witnesses an anti-Catholic, book-burning mob. Is Clarity’s friend the Reverend Lyman Beecher to blame? Far to the west, other troubles brew. Texas has rebelled against its Mexican government. Yet unbeknownst to Putnam, Andrew Jackson’s United States government has enlisted our Captain secretly to assist the Texans. Commanding his now-repaired ship—renamed Gonzales and flying a flag with a lone, yellow star on a blue field—Putnam enters the fray for the Navy of the fledgling Republic of Texas.

Readers expecting nautical action will not be disappointed. Alongside seafaring escapades, though, major themes of American history unfold. Putnam, for instance, “perceived that, everywhere he turned, he was confronted by matters of slavery and religion.” And, while Texan rebels present themselves as latter-day American Revolutionaries, was that merely rhetoric? Captain Putnam is unsure.

Sam Bandy, Putnam’s old friend, is back. So are others from his earlier adventures, now joined by some of nineteenth-century America’s most colorful figures. Author James Haley aptly draws on his non-fiction research. He has published several volumes on Texas history and an award-winning biography of Sam Houston (2002). In Captain Putnam for the Republic of Texas we meet the Fabius-quoting and buckskin-donned Houston; a knife-wielding James Bowie; “the Great Impresario,” General Stephen F. Austin; Mexico’s infamous General Santa Anna; and “Old Hickory” himself, President Andrew Jackson, whose character Putnam endeavors to measure.