Texas Independence Day: In the (19th Century) News…Again!

Every year in anticipation of Texas Independence Day (March 2nd, for those who aren’t from around here) we dig into our collection of Texas Revolutionary-era newspapers to see what folks of the early 19th century had to say about the soon-to-be Lone Star State. It turns out, they said a lot!

1816_11_09_Aberdeen Chronicle - pg 3

Texas’ independence can trace its origins to a number of sources, one of the most significant of which was the Mexican Revolution (1810-1821) and the creation of the Republic of Mexico. That conflict was reported worldwide, including under somewhat misleading heading “South America” in this copy of the Aberdeen (Scotland) Chronicle from November 9, 1816. Only a small portion of the conflict took place in Texas, but the province does get mentioned in this early report. It was also on the mind of the United States, as the revolutionary forces frequently petitioned for legitimacy (and funds) from their northern neighbor.

1825_08_06_National Journal - p4

During these tumultuous revolutionary years, opportunistic men from the States kept their eye on the millions of acres of land that Mexico had to offer in the province of Tejas. The National Journal on August 6, 1825, reported an instance of attempts to purchase such territory. “Captain Leftwich” of Kentucky had recently moseyed into New Orleans claiming to have snatched up enough land for 800 families. Six to eight million acres of land, in fact! More importantly, speculation about adding Texas to the United States was also well underway in the paper.

1828_07_19_Niles' Weekly Register - p6-6

As an aside, have you ever wondered where some of the names of Texas’ counties and cities come from? Houston and Crockett are fairly obvious, named for heroes of San Jacinto and the Alamo, respectively. But Milam County is somewhat lesser-known. It’s named after Colonel Ben Milam, about which the Niles Weekly Register of Baltimore, Maryland, had a lot to share on July 19, 1828. He was a Kentuckian, but his status as a self-proclaimed “citizen of the world”–a world in which he bought up a whole lot of Mexican land (as had Stephen F. Austin, also mentioned in the article, and who is now the namesake of Texas’ capital.)

1835_10_31_The New Yorker p 2-2

By 1835, revolution was in the air! Texian rebels had risen, determined to free themselves from Mexican rule (and, not coincidentally, to ensure that Mexico was no longer going to tax all that land mentioned above…) The New Yorker on October 31, 1835, offered a glimpse of the excitement. Retaliation by Mexico’s President, “that Chief” Santa Anna “and his myrmidons (was) hourly expected.” Further flowered loquacions followed, including a letter written by General Sam Houston himself asking all patriotic Americans to volunteer to aid his people’s cause (and get a generous grant of land to boot.)

1835_11_09_Manufacturers and Farmers Journal p2

The first battle of the Texas Revolution occurred at Gonzales on October 2nd, 1835. News traveled slowly in the 19th century, and so it was November 9, nearly a month after the skirmish, that Rhode Island’s Manufacturers and Farmers Journal, and Providence and Pawtucket Advertiser reported it. The numbers of combatants and casualties was exaggerated, turning two hours of desultory exchanges into a much larger conflict…but story probably wouldn’t have sold many newspapers.

1836-08-17 National Intellegencer p1

The Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, effectively ended the Texas Revolution in favor of the Texians. And despite what the August 17th, 1836, issue of the National Intelligencer would have you believe in these excerpts, Mexican forces never reentered Texas after the capture of President and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna during that fight. In fact, thousands of settlers swarmed Texas, eager for a fight (which was not forthcoming) and for a chance to settle in the newly liberated area (which definitely forthcame.)

These newspapers in their entirety, along with many of their contemporaries, can be found among our numerous digitized archival collections. For interested researchers who make the journey to us in Lubbock, some can even be viewed in person, along with our many other collections related to Texas history. Just give our cheerful Reference Staff a call and they’ll see what they can set up for you.

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The Merchant of Eagle Pass, Texas

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A couple of weeks ago we shared several of our small collections (link to that blog) with you, but we withheld a couple of them because we felt they merited a more detailed story. One such was the Leonard de Bona Papers, a small box full of 100-year-old correspondence. At first glance it seems a little dry—a pile of receipts and letters spanning just under 20 years. A closer look reveals much more: a story of the tiny border town of Eagle Pass, Texas and its economic connection to a much larger mercantile world.

Leonard de Bona was a businessman in Eagle Pass, Texas, who ran his company, Eagle Pass Hardware and Supply Store of Texas, for nearly 20 years. During that time he sold dry goods and sundries throughout the Rio Grande Valley and nearby Mexico. Look at these receipts above: milk might be a common enough import, but bananas? Several pounds of those ran $13.91 according to this bill, and that was in 1888. Although comparing dollar values across 126 years is difficult at best, that amount would be at the very least several hundred dollars today. Mr. de Bona was a man who could acquire the finer things (if you consider bananas a finer thing, of course.)

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Next up is a leaf of correspondence between de Bona and his long-time supplier, A. B. Frank and Co. of San Antonio, Texas. The item in question this time was sugar. Always in demand, particularly in remote areas of the United States, sugar even more valuable than bananas! It would be nice to discover to whom de Bona was selling train-car loads of the stuff. Perhaps just over the border in Piedras Negras, Mexico? To outlying farmers and ranchers in the Rio Grande valley? It’s also possible that he sold it to the soldiers at Fort Duncan, which had been founded forty years earlier to protect one of the first U.S. settlements on the U.S.-Mexico border. Either way, this is more evidence that de Bona was the man to see for relatively rare commodities.

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When we mentioned “a much larger mercantile world” earlier, we didn’t just mean San Antonio and south Texas. Take a look at this letter from importer Emilio de Stefano in Chicago, Illinois. Written entirely in Italian, it concerns the relationship, both business and personal, between de Stefano and de Bona. De Bona may himself have been an Italian immigrant, although that fact is not clear in these records. De Stefano refers to him here somewhat familiarly as ‘Leonardo,’ but gravesite records list de Bona—and his father’s—name as ‘Leonard.’ Chicago and Italy—de Bona was bringing it in from all over!

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Lastly, we have this letter from one Mr. Wadsworth, an American abroad in Mexico. Unable to acquire necessities such as corn starch, black pepper, and “No. 8 Brogan Shoes,” he was forced to turn to Eagle Pass Hardware and Supply Store of Texas to meet his needs. Whether or not the order was met is impossible to say as documentation is not present in the Papers. Nevertheless, it’s clear that de Bona did in fact coordinate trade across the nearby border.

The Leonard de Bona Papers offer a rare peek into the affairs of a borderlands merchant. Who knows how many such towns sported similar businessmen? It wouldn’t hurt a researcher to answer that question via a further look through our archive. After all, our courteous Reference Staff can always arrange for a look at this collection or any other materials with similar stories to tell.