Jane Cazneau — To “Count the Beats of the Popular Heart”

Underwritten by the Texas Historical Foundation

This post was underwritten by a generous contribution from the Texas Historical Foundation.

Women’s History Month is celebrated annually in March to recognize and commemorate the achievements and contributions of women to history, culture, science, and all aspects of our society. This week, we highlight the accomplishments of Jane Cazneau, the “mistress of manifest destiny,” journalist, world traveler, and founder of Eagle Pass, Texas.

In the early nineteenth century, Texas represented an opportunity in which adventurous settlers could carve out a new life on the western frontier. The first images one conjures of these individuals are often of rough outdoorsmen, pioneer families, and wealthy cattlemen. While it is fair to say that men drove the business and politics of Mexican Texas, they were certainly not alone in exercising their ambitions there.

Engraving depicting Jane Maria Eliza McManus Storms Cazneau (1807–1878), US adventurer, journalist and publicist, circa 1850. (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images), http://www.gettyimages.com/license/114947575
Portrait of Jane Cazneau and her son. Image courtesy TSHA Handbook Online.

Jane Maria Eliza McManus Storm Cazneau (1807–1878) was a woman who possessed many talents and aspirations for her life and for her country. Born on April 6, 1807, in Brunswick, New York to Congressman William McManus and Catharine Coons McManus, she was best known for her extensive writing career, passionate support of American expansion, known as Manifest Destiny, as well as equal rights and representative government for all.[1]

This document from the Mexican Consulate of the City of New York refers to a deed for eleven sitios, or leagues, of land given to Jane McManus by Samuel Sawyer, 21 September 1833, Box 23, Folder 23, p. 209A, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Jane McManus’s Texas experience began in 1832 when she and her brother Robert arrived with intentions to acquire land. General Land Office records, including a letter from the Mexican Consulate in New York, show that she attempted to acquire an eleven-league grant (approximately 48,712 acres) in Stephen F. Austin’s Upper Colony, near modern day Waco. Another document, signed by Gail Borden, Jr., the surveyor for Austin’s Colony, indicates that she also sought land near Matagorda.[2] Neither grant was successful, however, for multiple reasons including legal ambiguity surrounding some of the claims, nonpayment of surveying fees, and a social scandal that followed her from New York to Texas.[3]

Gail Borden, Jr. signed this document attesting to the fact that in 1835, during his time as Clerk in the Land Office of Austin’s Colony, Jane McManus made “sundry locations [of land in] the Coast Contract.” 9 October 1838, Box 23, Folder 23, p. 212, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

McManus’s failure to secure land in Texas served as a catalyst to her future adventures and laid the groundwork for her eventual return. The connections she established with political elites such as Sam Houston and Mirabeau Lamar would endure, despite her 1839 return to New York.[4] Once there, McManus began working for the New Yorker, a position that took her to Europe and the Middle East, where she honed her writing skills. Later, while writing for the New York Sun, she established herself as a respected voice in political journalism and wrote strongly in favor of Manifest Destiny, specifically the United States’ annexation of Texas. Her first book, Texas and Her Presidents, With a Glance at Her Climate and Agricultural Capabilities, was published in 1845 under the pen name Corinne Montgomery.

Texas returned to the forefront of McManus’s attention in November of 1846 when, during the Mexican-American War, she was assigned to accompany New York Sun editor Moses Yale Beach to Mexico City on a secret peacekeeping mission. Her reporting during the mission was both unprecedented and incredibly significant. McManus was the first woman to report from a war zone, and the first American ever to report from within enemy territory. Her nuanced first-hand narrative took into account both the Mexican and U.S. perspectives on the conflict, and due to her extensive readership, likely helped shape public opinion of the war in the United States.[5]

Miss Jane McManus appears on line 411 of this June 1838 Clerk Return from Matagorda County. It lists her date of emigration as “Eighteen Hundred & thirty three” and mentions that an eleven-league certificate was issued to her. Matagorda County Clerk Return #8, June 1838, Clerk Returns Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

In 1849, McManus married William Leslie Cazneau, an entrepreneur whom she had first met during her time in Matagorda. Together with her husband, who was engaged in land speculation in the Nueces River region, Jane Cazneau established the town of Eagle Pass, the first American settlement on the Rio Grande, on the border between Maverick County, Texas and the Mexican state of Coahuila. In 1852, she published a book, Eagle Pass; or, Life on the Border, about her experiences there.[6] In 1853, Cazneau finally received her settler’s headright of 4,605 acres, which she located in several counties.[7]

Jane Cazneau and her husband established Eagle Pass in Maverick County, across the border from the Mexican town Piedras Negras. A. Jessen, Map of Maverick County, Austin: Texas General Land Office, 1874, Map #3848, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Shortly after Cazneau received her headright, her husband was appointed a special agent for the United States to the Dominican Republic. While living in the Caribbean, she participated alongside her husband in diplomatic missions, and continued writing and lobbying for her expansionist ideology while calling for the United States to annex Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and other parts of the Caribbean.[8]

Cazneau located her land grant in several counties, including over 2,000 acres in Navarro County just northwest of Corsicana. Joseph Martin, Map of Navarro County, Austin: Texas General Land Office, 1858, Map #3912, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Jane Cazneau died on December 10, 1878, when the steamship taking her from New York to Jamaica sank off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.[9] Her life of adventure took her from New York to Texas, to the Middle East, Mexico, and all over the Caribbean. Cazneau was a woman of tenacity, intelligence, wit, and strength that was extraordinary for her era, and even for today. Her candid reporting and ability to “count the beats of the popular heart” lead to a massive readership and a journalistic record that has endured the passage of time.[10]


[1] Manifest Destiny was a belief that Americans were destined to expand and settle throughout the North American continent. The phrase was coined by newspaper editor John O’Sullivan, under whom Jane McManus worked at the Democratic Review; Hudson, Linda S. Mistress of Manifest Destiny: A Biography of Jane McManus Storm Cazneau, 1807–1878. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2001. p. 7

[2] 21 September, 1833, and 9 October, 1838, Box 23, Folder 23, pp. 209A and 212, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin. Matagorda County Clerk Return #8, June 1838, Clerk Returns Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

[3] McManus was hounded by rumors of an affair with former Vice President Aaron Burr. She was named as his mistress in his divorce suit; however, she fought the claim. After being denied entry to a social event in Matagorda due to the scandal surrounding the divorce rumors, a duel was proposed to avenge her honor. The duel never happened, and she eventually gave up on owning land in Matagorda, believing that a jury of her peers would not award her title. Hudson, pp. 39–40.

[4] This is evidenced by a short dedication from Lamar in his 1857 book of poetry, Verse Memorials:

“TO MRS. WILLIAM L. CAZNEAU — so favorably known to the public by her pen, as “CORA MONTGOMERY,” and now the wife of one of my best and long-cherished friends — I beg leave to dedicate this little volume. Her name, like that of her husband, is identified with the history of TEXAS. Both have given their highest efforts and the best years of their lives to the support of her interests. … Lamar, Mirabeau. Verse Memorials, New York, W.P. Fetridge & Co., 1857. p. 5

[5] Reilly, Tom, “Jane McManus Storms: Letters From the Mexican War, 1846–1848”, The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 — April, 1982, Texas State Historical Association. p. 27 (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101208/ : accessed February 10, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association, Denton, Texas.

[6] May, Robert E., “Cazneau, Jane Maria Eliza McManus,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcaad), accessed February 10, 2015. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association; Wagner, Frank, “Cazneau, William Leslie,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcaae), accessed February 10, 2015. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association

[7] Jane Cazneau Land Grant, 8 October, 1853, ROB 1–856, (see also, ROB 1–875, ROB 1–893, ROB 1–980, and ROB 1–1042), Original Land Grant Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

[8] May, Robert E., “Cazneau, Jane Maria Eliza McManus,” Handbook of Texas Online

[9] Elisabeth H. Piedmont-Martin, “Manifest Destiny,” The Texas Observer, August 3, 2011, accessed January 13, 2017, https://www.texasobserver.org/348-manifest-destiny/.

[10] Hudson, 1.

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