Bondage & Deliverance

Introduction

The term “brain drain” describes the large-scale migration of educated or highly skilled people from one country, economic sector, or field to another, usually for better opportunities or living conditions.  It may have begun during the Age of Exploration when, because of the social structure of the time — notably, the order of their birth — the offspring of privileged families discovered that they had limited opportunities for success in their home countries.  Traveling to the “new world” was a chance to achieve wealth and prominence.[1] 

One such individual was Hernan Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, known to his friends as Hernando.  Hernando was born in Medellin, Castile, Spain, in 1485 to a family of low nobility.  Since he was not the oldest son and had no inheritance, Hernan realized that his future must lie outside Spain.  His sense of adventure or quest for opportunity may have come from his second cousin, the famed Francisco Pizarro.

Cortés’ biographer tells us that Hernan was a sickly child.  At the beginning of his fourteenth year, his family sent him to study Latin in Salamanca — an attempt to groom him for a legal profession.  He did become a notary but had little interest in full legal training.  This lack of interest set him at odds with his parents.  One account of his youth suggests that the teenaged Hernan was insufferably arrogant, ruthless, and possessed a mean streak that left him without friends.

When news of new world discoveries reached Medellin, Cortés began to focus almost exclusively on becoming an explorer.  He departed from Spain in 1504, arriving in Hispaniola a few months later, and settled near Santo Domingo where he received an appointment as the notary of Azua de Compostela.

As a Peninsular, Cortés was granted an encomienda, a land grant with accompanying authority to employ local natives to work the land.   Beginning in 1506, Cortés participated in several campaigns to conquer the islands of Hispaniola and Cuba.  The success of the Cuban campaign brought Cortés more land, increased wealth, and a growing influence with Spanish authorities.

In Cuba, Cortés answered to Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, whose good reports and patronage helped Cortés to secure influential political appointments.  He served both as Secretary to the Captain-General (governor) of Cuba, and as municipal magistrate of Santiago.  After serving fifteen years as the mayor of Santiago, Velázquez appointed Cortés Captain-General of an expedition to Mexico.  Some historians claim that the reason for this appointment was that Cortés had become romantically involved with Diego’s sister-in-law, the wife of his brother.

On 21 April 1519, Cortés’ eleven Spanish galleons (with 600 soldiers) dropped anchor off the wind-swept beach on the island known today as San Juan de Ulúa.  Captain-General Cortés may not have known what lie in store for him, but to ensure that his men were properly motivated, he ordered the ships burned as soon as they were unloaded.  There would be no “going back” to Cuba.

The Explorers

Beyond the burning of his ships, Cortés shared much in common with the other early new world explorers.  It was an exciting time for young men whose personal attributes included intelligence, confidence, ability, persistence, courage, and a certain panache.  And, perhaps, greed — for who would risk death for nothing?  Cortés’ soldiers no doubt shared their leader’s traits and desire for riches.

Spanish conquistadores viewed the natives of these new lands as mere instruments to achieve success.  Once ashore, their conqueror offered natives two choices: they could either assist the conquistadors (and perish), or they could resist the conquistadors (and perish).  In fairness, none of the new world explorers realized that they were bringing diseases that would eventually kill millions of natives, but it would not have changed the course of history even if they did have such knowledge.  When the natives did begin dying, the Spaniards were quick to realize that they had a labor problem — and they knew that unless they solved this problem, all their efforts would come to nothing.

Solving for Labor

New world explorers did not invent human bondage.  Slavery existed for thousands of years and continued even after most of the world’s religions banned it.  It wasn’t so much that slavers stopped believing in their various religious doctrines — only that business in the “here and now” became more important to them than “life after death.”  There were substantial profits in the slave trade and even more from employing slaves to work thousands of acres of new world land.  Without slave labor, there could be no profits.

Spanish authorities did impose certain restrictions on human bondage, however.  Under Alonso X of Castile (1252-1284), the Siete Partidas (Seven-part Code) (the law of Spain), limited enslavement to prisoners of war, the children of an enslaved woman, and those who indentured themselves.  The law also specified how slaveowners must treat their slaves.  Since the natives of the new world were subjects of conquest, or prisoners of the king, Spanish (and Portuguese) conquistadores could compel them into bondage — and did, until the Catholic Church later outlawed enslaving natives.  Unfortunately, by that time, native Americans had perished in the hundreds of thousands — which made the demand for labor of even greater importance.

The Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) was an agreement between the monarchs of Spain and Portugal to divide the world between them into two spheres of influence.  An imaginary line was drawn down the center of the Atlantic Ocean, leaving most of the Americas to Spain and West Africa and Brazil to Portugal.  It was thus that the solution to the labor problem originated with the Portuguese.

With their exclusive access to West Africa, the Portuguese were able to purchase prisoners from African slavers (taken during tribal conflicts) and sell them to the Spanish.  When these African slavers realized the economic benefit from selling prisoners, they increased the number of raids into the African interior to collect more “prisoners” and expanded their profits.  Since these people were technically prisoners of war, their enslavement was, according to the law at that time, completely legal.

What made African slaves particularly desirable to the Spanish was that the Africans appeared immune to European diseases.  Accordingly, African labor became the basis of Spanish colonial sugar production on the island of Hispaniola.  Black slaves were also in high demand as domestic servants in Spain, where they were well-treated.  On the other hand, blacks taken to Spanish-American colonies did not fare as well.

Initially, the Spaniards simply transferred African slaves from Spain to work in the colonies.  These people either served as slaves in Spain for many years or were the children of Spanish slaves.  They spoke Spanish and were likely converts to the Christian faith.  The Spanish referred to them as bozales  (muzzled people).

Not all African slaves were happy with their situations.  Some escaped and joined with native tribes and mixed with them — known as maroons.  The Spanish were not particularly kind to the maroons once recaptured — they were, in the minds of their masters, expendable and easily replaced.

The first African slaves taken to North America accompanied Lucas Vázquez de Ayllión to Spanish Florida, which included the present-day Georgia coast.  Those slaves were quick to rebel and join local Indian tribes.  Within two months, a force of rebel slaves and Indians destroyed the colony of San Miguel de Guadalupe.  Additional slaves arrived with Hernando de Soto at the settlement of St. Augustine.  In 1693, King Carlos II granted freedom to all African and native American slaves in St. Augustine once they converted to Catholicism.[2]

Meanwhile, Europeans began arriving in the Americas by the boatload.  They risked the adventure, as dangerous as it was, to change their luck, their circumstances (which weren’t very pleasant), or to increase their opportunities.[3]  Yet, all of these Europeans remained the subjects of their king.  The notion of living as “free men” didn’t occur until much later.  In all likelihood, the Europeans, much like the enslaved people, arrived with the understanding that their voyage would be a one-way trip.  As with Hernan Cortés, they would either succeed in America or perish there.  With that in mind, the Europeans employed all the tools available to them — including slave labor.

Slavery in Spanish Texas

Texas is part of this story, too — beginning when Tejas was part of the Spanish Empire.  The first non-native slave in Tejas was named Estevanico, who accompanied Captain Andrés Dorantes de Carranza on the expedition of Panfilo de Narváez.[4]  Narváez intended to establish a colony in the area of present-day Tampa, Florida.  During further explorations of the Gulf Coast, the expedition’s barges went aground off the coast of (Galveston) Texas in 1528.  Estevanico was a North African Moor who had been captured by Dorantes while still a child and remained with him for the balance of his life.

The Narváez expedition was a disaster; of the 410 men and women who set out with him from Cuba, only four men survived.  Three of these men (Estevanico, Dorantes, and Alonso Castillo Maldonado) made their way to the mainland in 1529 but it wasn’t long afterward that native Americans captured, enslaved, and put them to work in the fields as common laborers.  Castillo’s knowledge of medicine improved the group’s relationship with their captives.  It was after this when the fourth survivor (Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca), joined the group.

In 1534, the four men escaped into the interior, relying on one another as equals to survive the inhospitable environment.  Three years later, after walking 2,000 miles through the Texas desert, all four men reached the settlement at Sinaloa.  They later proceeded to Mexico City, another 1,000 miles further south.

We only know about this adventure because Cabeza published his journal in 1542.[5]  He described Estevanico as an Arabic-speaking black man.  In 1538, the Viceroy of New Spain appointed Estevanico to serve as a guide for the expedition of Fra. Marco de Niza into the Southwestern region of Mexico in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola.  Texas’ first African slave died during a fight with hostile Indians in 1539.

In the late 1690s, civil and religious officials in Spanish Texas encouraged settlers to free their slaves.  Most did not, because labor remained a critical factor in the success of Spanish colonies.  In New Spain, domestic servants were usually native Americans (Apache and Comanche), while using blacks almost exclusively in the fields — some of whom became field bosses.  But black slaves were never employed in large numbers in Spanish Texas.  According to Spanish records in 1777, the total population of San Antonio de Béxar was 2,060 citizens; 151 of these were of African origin, and only 15 were listed as slaves (4 males, 11 females).  In 1783, the number of black slaves increased to 38 (likely the result of childbirth).  Ten years later, the slave population included 34 blacks and 414 mulattos.

When Spanish officials learned that the Americans had purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, they decreed that any slave entering Texas would become a free man or woman.  The edict explains why escaped slaves migrated from the southern United States to Texas before 1830.  Free blacks also migrated to Texas, where Spanish and Mexican law guaranteed their freedom.  However, in 1809, the Spanish Governor of Coahuila y Tejas closed the border to all immigrants no matter what color they were.  Later, Mexican Governor Manuel Maria de Salcedo interpreted that ruling to mean that U.S. slaveholders could enter Texas to reclaim their black runaways.

Meanwhile, in 1808, the United States outlawed the importation of slaves.  The law did nothing, however, to curtail the domestic slave trade — particularly in New Orleans, which because of the slave trade, soon became the United States’ fourth-largest city, and by 1840, one of the wealthiest American cities.  Between 1816-1821, slave smuggling became a pathway to obscene wealth — with Galveston Island becoming the center of this illegal trade.

Slavery in Mexican Texas

The Mexican War of Independence raged for 11 years (1810-1821).[6]  It was not a single, focused event.  The war became a series of local and regional armed struggles which some historians claim was more like a revolutionary civil war — and, as already noted, until 1836, Mexican independence was never an inevitable result.  Moreover, events in Spain precipitated and nurtured violence in Mexico because there was never any shortage of Spaniards seeking to benefit from meaningful events.[7]

In 1821, with so many issues yet unresolved, Mexican officials decided to proceed with the Viceroyalty’s approval of Anglo settlements in Texas.  Most of Moses and Stephen Austin’s recruited settlers came from the southern (slave-owning) portion of the United States.  To encourage Anglo settlement, Austin allowed each slave-owning immigrant to purchase an additional fifty acres of land for each enslaved person they brought into Texas.  Someone bringing 20 slaves to Texas would be able to claim 5,777 acres of land at the going rate of 4¢ per acre.[8]

In 1823, Mexico’s legislature prohibited the sale or purchase of human beings and required the emancipation of the children of enslaved persons when they reached the age of 14 years.  In 1827, the legislature of Coahuila y Tejas made illegal the introduction of enslaved persons and granted freedom at birth to any child born to a slave.  Mexico abolished slavery in 1829 but granted a waiver to Texians until 1830.  The result of Mexican law was that immigration to Texas dwindled to near zero.

Mexico’s anti-slave laws irritated Texas slaveowners because, had they known such laws were under consideration, they might have made different decisions about immigrating to Texas.  It was at this point that Texians began doing what Texans are famous for: they obeyed the laws they found agreeable and ignored laws they found detestable.  Even today, many Texans lay claim to the expression, “No, we won’t.”

So, the importation of slaves into Texas continued, even if in smaller numbers.  Meanwhile, enslaved people continued to escape whenever they could, and many of those joined Texas’ Indian bands — most notably, the Cherokee.  Few slaves ever tried to join the Comanche because, as a group, the Comanche had no use for anyone that would allow themselves to become enslaved.[9]

By 1836 there were around 5,000 slaves living in Texas.  Setting aside the moral question of human slavery, the areas of Texas employing slave labor were more economically viable than areas that did not rely on slave labor.  In 1834, the Mexican Department of Béxar reported zero exports; conversely, the area of the Brazos River (the site of the Austin and DeWitt colonies) produced MEX$600,000 of goods, including 5,000 bales of cotton.  East Texas settlements produced 2,000 bales of cotton and 5,000 head of cattle.

One contribution to the Texas revolution may have been the Anahuac Disturbances of 1831.  In August, John Davis Bradburn, military commander of the customs station on Upper Galveston Bay, granted asylum to two black male escapees from Louisiana.[10]  The “owner” of these two slaves hired William Barrett Travis, a local lawyer, to help retrieve his “property.”  Bradford subsequently placed Travis under arrest, charging him with suspicion of inciting insurrection, which caused a minor rebellion among residents.  The unrest subsided after a series of threats and political maneuvers, and after blaming Bradburn for the incident, everyone went back to sleep.

When the Texas Revolution began in 1835, some slaves (although not many) sided with Mexican authorities.  As a reward for their loyalty, the Mexican government granted them their freedom.  In the fall, after hearing rumors of approaching Mexican troops, around 100 slaves staged an uprising along the Brazos River.  It was only a rumor and as a consequence, the rebellious slaves suffered serious retributions.  Some escaped slaves joined the Mexican Army, but most others joined the rebellion alongside their Texian owners.  Of the three slaves within the Alamo on 6 March 1836, two survived to tell the story of what happened there.

The Constitution of the Republic of Texas, ratified in 1836, made slavery legal.  Section IX provided that persons enslaved under Mexican law would remain as slaves.  The Constitution also prohibited the legislature from restricting the immigration of slaves, prohibited emancipation, denied the right of slave-owners to free their slaves without first gaining the permission of Congress, and required that free blacks obtain the legislature’s permission to remain in Texas.

Slavery in Texas

The United States admitted Texas as the 28th U.S. State on 30 December 1845.  In 1850, the slave population of Texas exceeded 58,000 people.  Ten years later, nearly 30% of the total population of Texas were slaves, with 40% of those living along the Gulf Coast and in the East Texas river valleys where farms cultivated cotton, corn, and sugar.  Half of those slaves either worked alone or in small groups on small farms.  A few slaves worked on ranches in West Texas.

While most slaves lived in rural settings, around a thousand lived in Galveston and Houston.  The number of urban blacks increased through the 1850s.  Most urban blacks worked as domestic servants or on small farms at the edge of Texas towns.  Others served as cooks and waiters in hotels, as teamsters or boatmen, coachmen, blacksmiths, carpenters, and barbers.  In terms of the total slave population of the United States, ten percent lived in Texas.

Slavery in Texas was little affected by the Civil War because very few battles were fought inside Texas, but as Union troops began to occupy other slave states, slaveholders in those states moved their slaves to Texas to avoid having them set free by military governors.  After the commencement of hostilities, the Confederate government impressed nearly a quarter of all plantation slaves as laborers to construct forts along the Texas Gulf Coast, or as teamsters of military cargo wagons.  In total, 47 slaves escaped from Texas and joined the Union army.  At war’s end, around 250,000 slaves lived in Texas.

Emancipation

On 19 June 1865, U. S. Army General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston with 2,000 troops to announce and enforce President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation of 1863.  As enslaved persons learned of the proclamation, many picked up their meager belongings and left the plantations.  Some slaveholders physically prevented their slaves from leaving.  Texas politicians tried to negotiate for a gradual release of slaves, while some slaveholders offered to pay their slaves wages if they would stay.  Some did, some didn’t.

Whatever the freedmen decided, their long-awaited liberty did not significantly change their lives.  Beginning immediately after the Civil War and extending another 100 years, poorly educated and unskilled black Americans suffered the effects of poverty.  Without land of their own, economic circumstances forced them into becoming tenant farmers, which precluded them from being able to earn a decent living, kept them from attending school, and limited their opportunities in later life.  Under the Democratic Party, blacks experienced openly discriminatory treatment, were denied access to certain businesses, were deprived of the right to vote, and were forced to live in black communities, which never received any allocation from public (county) funding.  Black codes placed restrictions on labor and apprenticeship laws while unemployed blacks were subject to arrest for vagrancy violations.

But life for most whites was hardly an improvement.  Remember that most whites, while harboring racial prejudices against black people, never owned slaves.[11]  There are many reasons for racial prejudice, but among them in the post-Civil War period was that economically, Texas was destroyed.  Because Texas offered few job opportunities, it was convenient for whites to blame blacks for their hard luck.  It wasn’t true, of course, but there is a human tendency to blame others for one’s own woeful conditions.[12]  Union Reconstruction policies only made these conditions worse.  Nothing improved for Texas blacks after reconstruction, and only marginally for poor whites, but to regain their sense of superiority, whites engaged in violence and intimidation against blacks and exerted every effort to deny them suffrage.

Still, despite every effort to diminish black Texans, they participated as Americans as best they could.  They built neighborhoods, created businesses, supported their community churches, started newspapers, and supported the nation’s war efforts — and they did these things while living under the shadow of racist oppression.  But there were other problems, some of which continue today.  When employment opportunities failed to materialize in Texas (and other places in the South), black males migrated to the more industrialized northern states, leaving their wives and children behind.  It set into motion a complete breakdown of black familial solidarity.  Fatherless families placed tremendous strains on black mothers to raise their children while at the same time working two or three jobs to feed and clothe them.

Conclusion

The long-term effects of slavery in Texas remain observable in the state’s demographics.  The eastern portion of the state, where cotton was king, remains the western-most extension of the so-called Deep South and is heavily populated with black Americans.  Very few blacks live in West Texas.

In time, black Texans successfully challenged the institutionalized black codes of the Democratic Party.  The work of black activists improved educational opportunities, protested segregation policies, and entered mainstream politics.  Renewed efforts at the federal level resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  No matter where black Texans live today, they are better educated, more involved, and popularly acknowledged for their many contributions to Texas and the country overall. 

Today, popularly recognized black Texans include Beyoncé Knowles, Jaime Foxx, George Foreman, Jonathan Majors, Phylicia Rashad, Johnny Mathis, Barbara Lee, Tamron Hall, Bobby Seal, Bubba Smith, Doris Miller (Navy Cross recipient), Scott Joplin, Eric Dickerson, “Mean Joe” Greene, Aviatrix Bessie Coleman, Lester Young, Barbara Jordan, and Bill Pickett.

What John Steinbeck once reminded us about Texas remains a true and accurate statement: “Texas isn’t a state — it’s a state of mind.”

Sources:

  1. Barr, A.  Black Texans: A history of African-Americans in Texas, 1529-1995.  University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.
  2. Chipman, D. E.  Spanish Texas.  University of Texas Press, 1992.
  3. Marks, R. L.  Cortés: The Great Adventurer and the Fate of Aztec Mexico.  Knopf, 1933.
  4. “Lynching’s and What They Mean,” Atlanta, Georgia: Southern Commission on the Study of Lunching’s, 1931.
  5. Thompson, N. H.  Sherman Riot of 1930.  Handbook of Texas online, 2010.
  6. Williams, D. A.  Bricks without straw: A Comprehensive History of African Americans in Texas. Eakin Press, 1997.
  7. Zangrando, R. L.  The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching. Temple University Press, 1980

Endnotes:

[1] The phenomena continue to exist in many of the old world countries, such as Italy, Spain, and Portugal.  The opposite effect, known as “brain gain,” pertains to countries where these disaffected persons settle. 

[2] St. Augustine later became a refuge for African slaves who escaped from the British colonies.

[3] It is very likely that environmental changes prompted by the mini-ice age (1303-1860) played a significant role in the migration of many of these Europeans.

[4] Estevanico’s birth name was Mustafa Azemmouri, born sometime around 1500 in Portuguese Morocco.  The term “Moor” refers to Berbers, but he was known as “the black,” which suggests that he was likely of sub-Saharan African ancestry.  Estevanico was Spanish for “Little Stephen,” now spelled Estebanico.  Narváez was the newly appointed Spanish governor of La Florida, whose expedition originated in Cuba. 

[5] The first written record to describe the people, wildlife, and flora of inland North America.

[6] This period is open to debate because Spain continued to maintain a foothold in Mexico until 1829 and did not officially acknowledge Mexican independence until 1836.

[7] Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain in 1808.  This event caused King Charles IV to abdicate.  Napoleon placed his brother Joseph on the throne and this, in turn, initiated a crisis of legitimacy of crown rule.  Spain was a tremendous empire, a collection of overseas possessions ruled by viceroyalties, none of which acknowledged Joseph as their king.  Instead, the viceroyalties established ruling juntas that ruled in the name of the Bourbon monarchy.  Seeking to create a new governing framework in the absence of a legitimate king, delegates from Spain and overseas territories met in Cadiz, which drafted the Spanish Constitution of 1812.  The issues involved the demands made by American-born Spaniards for more local control and equal social standing with the Peninsulars.  By then the conflict had raged for four years.

[8] At the same time, Mexico continued to offer full citizenship to free blacks, including land ownership and continued to encourage runaway blacks from the United States.  Favorable conditions for free blacks continued into the mid-1830s.

[9] Cherokee and Comanche tribes both engaged in slavery — for the Comanche, as it turned out, a profitable enterprise.

[10] Mexican authorities placed the military garrison at Anahuac (an important trade center between Texas and the United States) specifically to curtail the smuggling of slaves into Texas.  However, Antonio López Santa Anna, who at the time supported Mexico’s republican regime, sided with the Texians — which made him popular among slaveholders in Texas.  That would change, of course.

[11] Generally, no more than six percent of southern whites owned any slaves in 1860.  Most rural whites fed their families through subsistence farming and raising their own meat.

[12] Today, many blacks blame white society for their unhappy circumstances.


About Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.
This entry was posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Apache Indians, Cherokee Nation, Civil War, Comanche, History, Indenture & Slavery, Indian Territory, Justice, New Spain, Pioneers, Texas. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Bondage & Deliverance

  1. Andy says:

    Interesting and informative, as usual. Well done.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You wrote here Mustang, “In time, black Texans successfully challenged the institutionalized black codes of the Democratic Party. The work of black activists improved educational opportunities, protested segregation policies, and entered mainstream politics. Renewed efforts at the federal level resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. No matter where black Texans live today, they are better educated, more involved, and popularly acknowledged for their many contributions to Texas and the country overall.

    Your first sentence here in your conclusion sums up what the Democrats have stood for, always stood for. Yet black Americans today say the opposite, that it is Republican suppression, and that all statues of even Lincoln, who tried to liberate blacks and made them free should be removed. The woke crowd obliges because they do not know the history and want to change our history. But the truth is always the truth no matter how you sugar coat it or blatantly lie about it.

    Excellent piece. I was very intrigued. I learned things I did not know and remembered many things I had long forgotten. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. kidme37 says:

    Great read.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I never before grasped the full demographics of slavery in Texas.
    Wow.
    No wonder they celebrate Juneteenth.

    Liked by 1 person

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