Texas’s Hidden History Revisited—Part 3: The 1827-1836 Years Under Mexican Rule (section 1)

The hidden history of Texas

Part 3: The 1827-1836 Years Under Mexican Rule

By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / August 16, 2011

[This is the third installment of Bob Feldman’s new Rag Blog series on the hidden history of Texas .]

By 1830 legalized slavery was prohibited in most states of Mexico and in some northern states in the United States. Yet legalized slavery in Texas was not permanently abolished until the middle of the 1860s.

Between 1827 and 1829, for example, both state and federal government authorities in Mexico continued their efforts to end the enslavement of African-Americans in Mexico many years before the enslavement of African-Americans was finally ended in either the United States or Texas, following the U.S. Civil War of the early 1860s.

Article 15 of the Coahuila y Texas State Constitution of 1827 stated that “No one shall be born a slave, and after six months the introduction of slaves under any pretext” in Texas “shall not be permitted.” And on Sept. 15, 1829, Mexican President Vicente Guerrero issued a decree that emancipated all slaves within the Republic of Mexico.

On Dec. 2, 1829, however, the Anglo settlers who lived in the Mexican state of Coahuila y Texas and owned more than 1,000 African-American slaves, were then legally allowed to ignore Mexican President Guerrero’s Sept. 15, 1829 emancipation decree and to continue to redefine their imported slaves as “indentured servants,” in order to evade the 1824 Mexican law that prohibited the further importation of slaves into Mexico.

But on Apr. 6, 1830 Mexico’s Congress passed another law which more strictly prohibited importation of more slaves into Texas under any disguise by the Anglo settlers.

In 1830 the number of Spanish-speaking Mexicans who lived in Texas (and mostly earned their living as ranchers and small farmers) numbered 4,000, while the number of English-speaking Anglo settlers who lived in Texas (usually as either slave-owning cotton plantation owners or non-slave-owning white farmes) numbered 10,000.

So the Mexican government decided it would no longer allow more Anglo settler-colonists — who were mostly into establishing an economic system in Texas based on slave labor and exporting cotton — to immigrate to Mexico. As a result, the Mexican Congress’s Law of April 6, 1830 also prohibited any further immigration into Mexico’s Coahuila y Texas state by settlers from U.S. territory. In addition, this law also imposed new customs duties on imports and exports from Mexico that financially hurt the Anglo settlers who were involved in exporting cotton from Texas and importing other goods to Texas.

Since the border between the United States and the Mexican state of Coahuila y Texas was too long for the Mexican Army to guard completely and secure effectively, Anglo settlers continued to enter Mexico in the early 1830s, as “illegal aliens,” and by 1834, the number of white Anglo settlers in Texas had jumped to 20,700, while the number of Spanish-speaking “Tejano” residents within the Texas region of Coahuila y Texas was still only 4,000.

After some of the Anglo settlers in Coahuila y Texas held a convention in 1833 — which asked for both repeal of the Mexican Congress’s Law of April 6, 1830 (that prohibited further immigration of settlers from the United States) and for Texas to become a separate Mexican state that was no longer just a region of the predominantly Spanish-speaking state of Coahuila y Texas — the 1830 law was repealed by the Mexican government in late 1834.

In addition, the Mexican government then “offered considerable self-government at the local level” to the Anglo settlers in Coahuila y Texas, and “during the early 1830s Anglos in Texas received important concessions such as trial by jury and use of the English language” from the Mexican federal government, according to Randolph Campbell’s Gone To Texas.

Yet when the demand for a separate, predominantly white Anglo state of Texas within the federal republic of Mexico was rejected by the Mexican government after Stephen Austin presented it in Mexico City, Austin apparently then wrote an inflammatory letter in which he advised the Anglo settlers in Texas to form a separate state “even though the general government” of Mexico “refuses to consent.” This inflammatory letter, however, was intercepted by Mexican government authorities; and Austin was then imprisoned by the Mexican authorities for a year.

According to Gone To Texas, among the reasons the predominantly white Anglo settlers in Coahuila y Texas wanted a separate state for themselves within Mexico was that “most Anglos definitely thought themselves inherently superior to Mexicans” and “most Anglos at least accepted slavery, whereas Mexican officials threatened to destroy the institution.” In his 1996 book Black Texans: A History of African Americans in Texas, Texas Tech University Professor of History Alwyn Barr also observed:

Mexicans generally accepted black people, especially mulattos, more readily than did the… Anglo population… Because of the favorable legal and social conditions, Benjamin Lundy, a white abolitionist, and Nicholas Drouett, a mulatto who had retired as an officer in the Mexican army, sought permission to establish a colony of free blacks from the United States during the 1830s. The Mexican government reacted favorably, but most whites in the United States and Texas opposed the project as an impediment to their westward movement…

White Texas, overwhelmingly southern in background, brought with them favorable views of slavery and unfavorable views of black people… Mexican opposition to the importation of slaves did slow Anglo immigration and act as a major source of discontent prior to the Texas Revolution in 1836…

So in 1835 the predominantly white Anglo settlers armed themselves and apparently began organizing for an armed rebellion against Mexican government rule in Texas. A number of Spanish-speaking Mexican settlers in Texas (like a land speculator with the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company named Lorenzo de Zavala) also apparently supported the armed rebel Anglos.

And, according to the Texas State Historical Association’s Texas Almanac website, an East Texas merchant of Jewish background (and a friend of former Tennessee Governor Sam Houston) named Adolphus Sterne “became a principal source of financial backing for the Texas Revolution” of 1835-1836.

After Mexican President and General Santa Anna ordered his brother-in-law — Mexican General Martin Perfecto de Cos — to move more than 700 government troops into Texas in September 1835, the predominantly Anglo rebels opened fire on some of these Mexican Army troops in October 1835 in Gonzales, Texas. And “by early November 1835, the rebellion had defeated Mexican forces everywhere except in San Antonio,” according to Randolph Campbell’s Gone To Texas. The following month, on Dec. 5, 1835, the armed Texas rebels also defeated Mexican General Cos’s troops in San Antonio and thus also gained control of that city.

Santa Anna, however, then gathered an army of 6,000 Mexican troops in early 1836 and ordered 3,000 of these troops to march toward San Antonio in late February 1836. In response, the Anglo rebel leaders ordered San Antonio evacuated—except for the 150 armed Anglo men under William Travis’s command (later joined by 32 or 33 additional Anglo volunteers) who stayed behind in an abandoned Franciscan mission, the Alamo, that had been converted into a fort.

For 10 days, Santa Anna’s troops besieged the Alamo and demanded that the armed Anglo rebels inside surrender unconditionally. But when Travis and his armed group refused to surrender, Mexican President Santa Anna ordered his troops to attack the Alamo on Mar. 6, 1836. As a result, 600 Mexican troops were killed by the armed Anglo men who were inside the Alamo; and all of the 182 or 183 of the armed Anglo men who were inside the Alamo were killed by the Mexican troops who stormed the Alamo. And elsewhere in Texas—where a convention of predominantly white Anglo rebels at Washington-on-the-Brazos had declared Texas to now be an independent “Republic of Texas” (whose first president was a land speculator with the Galveston Bay & Texas Land Company named David G. Burnet) on Mar. 2, 1836—armed Anglo rebel groups apparently began to utilize the battle cry “Remember the Alamo!” in their subsequent armed clashes with Mexican federal government troops.

Coincidentally, both the commander of the white Anglo rebel troops in the Alamo, William Travis, and one of the most famous defenders of the Alamo, Jim Bowie, were apparently either involved in the slave trade or owned slaves (as did former Tennessee Governor Sam Houston, one of the leaders of the Anglo settler revolt of 1835-1836 that led to the creation of the independent Republic of Texas). As Alwyn Barr wrote in an essay, titled “Black Texans During the Civil War,” that appeared in a 2003 book Invisible Texans: Women and Minorities in Texas which Donald Willett and Stephen Curley edited:

“…Anglo-American immigration from the United States brought with them Black slaves, whose numbers had risen to about 5,000 when Texans revolted against Mexico in 1836…James Bowie and James Fannin had smuggled slaves into Texas, while Sam Houston and William B. Travis both owned bondsmen. Slaves represented at least 15 percent of the population in the new Republic of Texas.”

So, not surprisingly, the March 1836 Constitution of the new independent Republic of Texas was a pro-slavery document which legalized slavery in Texas and reversed the legal ban on the importation of slaves into Texas which the Mexican Congress had enacted in 1830. As Gone To Texas observed:

“Section 9 of the General Provisions…guaranteed that people held as slaves in Texas would remain in servitude and that future emigrants to the republic could bring slaves with them. Furthermore, no free black could live in Texas without the approval of [the Republic of Texas’s] congress, and any slave freed without the approval of congress had to leave the republic. Most of the leaders of the Texas Revolution were southerners and the new republic would protect their `Peculiar Institution’…”

After the fall of the Alamo, the armed conflict between the separatist Texas rebels and the Mexican government’s troops only lasted another six weeks. In late March 1836, a unit of 365 Texas rebels (under James Fannin’s command) was surrounded by a much larger number of Mexican Army cavalry troops (under Mexican General Jose de Urrea’s command) near Goliad, Texas. Then, in accordance with Mexico’s recently-passed “piracy” law, Santa Anna ordered all 365 Texas rebels executed on Mar. 27, 1836, following the surrender of Fannin and his unit to General Urrea’s cavalry.

But on Apr. 21, 1836, 800 armed Texas rebels, under former Tennessee Governor Sam Houston’s command, attacked 1,400 troops of Santa Anna’s Mexican Army near the San Jacinto River, killed 630 of Santa Anna’s troops and captured another 733 of his troops. And the following day–Apr. 22, 1836–Houston’s Texas separatist troops captured Mexican President Santa Anna, himself; and while he was held as a prisoner by Texas rebel troops, Santa Anna was forced to sign the Treaty of Velasco on May 14, 1836, in which he agreed to withdraw all Mexican troops to the other side of the Rio Grande. In addition, the Rio Grande was made the independent Republic of Texas’s new southern boundary—although when it was part of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Texas, the southern boundary of Texas was actually considered further north on the Nueces River.

Not surprisingly, the Treaty of Velasco that Santa Anna was forced to sign while imprisoned was subsequently repudiated by the Mexican government and by Santa Anna (after he was finally released and eventually sent back to Veracruz, Mexico on a U.S. warship, nine months later, by U.S. President Andrew Jackson); and the Mexican government refused to recognize the independence of Texas and the separatist Republic of Texas or agree that Texas’s land was no longer a part of Mexico’s territory until 1848.

Following the signing of the Treaty of Velasco in May 1836 and the withdrawal of Mexican troops, the Anglo settler-colonist leaders of the 1835-36 separatist “Texas Revolution” almost immediately tried to persuade the U.S. government to annex their newly independent “Republic of Texas.” So, not surprisingly, Northern opponents of slavery, like Benjamin Lundy and U.S. Congressional Representative John Quincy Adams, insisted that the Texas “revolution had resulted from a conspiracy to add more slave territory to the Union,” according to Gone To Texas.

[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]

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