He was the son of José María Morelos, a Roman Catholic priest who led the insurgents in the Mexican War of Independence from 1811 to 1815, and Brígida Almonte. His mother, Brígida Almonte, was said to be of pure Amerindian ancestry.
In 1815 Morelos sent Almonte to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he was educated and learned fluent English.
Between 1822 and 1824, Almonte was on the staff of insurgent rebel leader José Félix Trespalacios in Texas and then was sent as a part of the Mexican delegation to London. Almonte assisted Ambassador José Mariano Michelena in negotiating a commercial and amity treaty with England. This was Mexico's first treaty as a new nation.
In 1834 Vice President Valentín Gómez Farías appointed Almonte and Col. José María Díaz Noriega to make an inspection tour of Texas and write a status report on what they witnessed. In late January 1836 Almonte was appointed aide-de-camp to Antonio López de Santa Anna and accompanied him to Texas in an attempt to quell the rebellion there.
In his March 6 journal entry after the battle, Mexican Almonte listed the Texian casualty toll as 250, with the survivors being five women, one Mexican soldier and one slave. Almonte did not record the names of either the defenders or the survivors, and his count was based solely on who was there during the final assault.
On April 21, 1836, Almonte, at the head of part of the Guerrero battalion, surrendered to Texian Thomas J. Rusk at the Battle of San Jacinto. Almonte led the last organized resistance of the panicked army. On the following day Santa Anna also was taken prisoner. Almonte stayed with Santa Anna during his imprisonment acting as interpreter and negotiator.
He published a book on geography in late 1837.
Almonte rose to the rank of major general.
From July 1839 to October 1841, he was secretary of war and marine under President Bustamante. Almonte was later appointed minister plenipotentiary to Washington in 1841-1845 under President José Joaquín de Herrera.
Almonte served as Secretary of War when the Mexican-American War began. He was replaced with Valentín Canalizo.
Almonte served as senator from Oaxaca for four years, then served as Mexico's representative to the U.S. under President Santa Anna (his last time as president).
The town of Almonte, Ontario is named after Almonte, to commemorate the general's futile resistance against the United States. It is the only town in Ontario named after a Mexican general. The town of Almont, Michigan is also named after him.
Virginia Guedea, "José María Morelos" in Encyclopedia of Mexico, Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997, p. 948.
Todish et al. (1998), pp. 40–41, 113.
Christon I. Archer, "Death's Patriots--Celebration, Denunciation, and Memories of Mexico's Independence Heroes" in Death, Dismemberment, and Memory: Body Politics in Latin America, Lyman L. Johnson, ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press 2004, p. 78.
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