Beginning in 1824 when the Mexican Republic adopted its constitution, each immigrant took an oath of loyalty to the new nation and professed to be a Christian. Because the Catholic Church was the established religion, the oath implied that all would become Catholic, although the national and state colonization laws were silent on the matter. Religion was not a critical issue, however, because the church waited until 1831 to send a resident priest, Michael Muldoon, into the Anglo-Texan communities. This was inconvenient for those wishing to marry because there was no provision for civil ceremonies, and only priests had authority to perform nuptial rites. Anglo-Texans unwilling or unable to seek a priest in Catholic communities received permission from the authorities to sign a marriage bond, a practice common in the non-Anglican foothills of Virginia and the Carolinas before 1776, promising to formalize their union when a priest arrived.
Two other reasons brought Anglo-American settlers to Texas. Through the 1820s, most believed that the United States would buy eastern Texas from Mexico. Many thought that that portion of Texas had been part of the Louisiana Purchase and that the United States had “given” it away to Spain in exchange for Florida in the 1819 Adams-Onís Treaty, which established the Sabine River boundary. The Texas pioneers expected annexation would stimulate immigration and provide buyers for their land. A second attraction was that Mexico and the United States had no reciprocal agreements enabling creditors to collect debts or to return fugitives. Therefore, Texas was a safe haven for the many Mississippi valley farmers who defaulted on their loans when agricultural prices declined at the end of the War of 1812 and bankers demanded immediate payment. Faced with seizure of their property and even debtors’ prison in many states, men loaded their families and belongings into wagons and headed for the Sabine River, where creditors could not follow and there was opportunity to start over.
Slavery was also an issue. Mexicans abhorred slavery as allowed in the United States, but pragmatic politicians shut their eyes to the system in their eagerness to have the Anglos produce cotton in Texas. National and state laws banned the African slave trade, but allowed Anglo-Americans to bring their family slaves with them to Texas and buy and sell them there until 1840. Grandchildren of those slaves would be freed gradually upon reaching certain ages. The state inferred in 1827 that it might emancipate slaves earlier, and the immigrants took the precaution of signing indenture contracts with their illiterate servants binding them for ninety-nine years to work off their purchase price, upkeep, and transportation to Texas. Mexican officials recognized the subterfuge as debt peonage, and black slaves continued to arrive in Texas. The most serious threat to Anglo slaveholders occurred when President Vicente Ramón Guerrero emancipated all slaves on September 15, 1829, in commemoration of independence. Stephen F. Austin’s Mexican friends quickly secured an exemption from the law for Texas.
The Anglo-American settlers imported their culture to Texas and resisted Mexicanizing even after 1830, when purchase by the United States was increasingly unlikely. Rich or poor, Anglo immigrants were independent-minded, self-sufficient republicans suspicious of the traditional deferential society of Hispanic culture, even though Mexican reformers were struggling to build a republic. The spirit of Jacksonian democracy pervaded even those not admiring President Andrew Jackson.
There are no accurate figures detailing the number of Anglo-Americans who settled in Texas between 1821 and 1835. Although Mexican law required an annual census of all residents, the Anglo-Texans resisted such bureaucratic demands. Existing tallies reveal that in 1826 Austin had 1,800 people, including 443 slaves; DeWitt counted 159 whites and 29 slaves; and the lower Trinity River, then outside of any empresario grant, was populated by 407 settlers with 76 slaves. Subsequent extant records show Austin’s colony with 2,201 people in 1828, 4,248 in 1830, and 5,565 in 1831, while DeWitt had only 82 persons, including 7 slaves, in 1828. In 1834 the English-speaking Col. Juan N. Almonte made an official inspection of Texas and estimated that 4,000 people lived in the Department of Bexar, 2,100 in the Department of the Brazos (Austin’s colony), and 1,600 in the Department of Nacogdoches. The 3,000 decrease in Austin’s colony suggests that Almonte’s figures were wrong. A few lists of residents in the Nacogdoches area in 1834–35 and scattered other records are extant, but such incomplete records only hint at the Texas population. Anglo-American colonization in Texas was obviously a success, although not what Mexican leaders envisioned. Neither side worked to understand, appreciate, nor resolve the cultural differences intrinsic to the union proposed by Mexico and accepted by Anglo-American immigrants.
Handbook of Texas Online, Margaret Swett Henson, “Anglo-American Colonization,” accessed June 14, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/uma01.Uploaded on June 9, 2010. Modified on June 2, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.