The Unknown 300-Year Anniversary

January 10, 2018


There is a lot of history to be told in the more than 300 years of the history of San Antonio. No discussion of the 300-year celebration should begin without the recognition that Native Americans were in the area way before any Spaniards or Canary Islanders. After the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500s, Blacks from Vera Cruz, Mexico frequented the area. This is because the Spanish had established a trade route between the two areas and the fact that the City of Vera Cruz was filled with Angolan slaves and free blacks. In fact, Mexico had more black slaves and freemen at one time than any other South American country.


The story of Stephen the Black, who came with Cabeza de Vaca to explore the headwaters of the San Antonio River is but a small slice of the many Blacks that were in the San Antonio area in the 1500s through the 1800s. The Spaniards had with them many Black Moors that became servants to the Spanish Crown after they were defeated in 1492. Blacks served as conquistadores under Cortez when the Aztec empire was captured by the Spanish in the 1500s. These blacks would have been part of the army of Spain that was now filled with Moors that had been Christianized after their defeat at the Battle of Granada in Spain. One such conquistador was Juan Garrido who was born in Africa and served as a soldier in the Spanish army. His service was no blessing to the native people of Mexico who were conquered by a ruthless and racist Spanish regime.


Another African with more noble purposes was Gasper Yanga. This Angolan slave led a successful revolt against the Spanish and led his fighters into the mountains of Mexico establishing a town called Saint Lorenzo of the Blacks. We know from the historical record that it was easier for blacks to escape slavery and enjoy more freedom if they traveled away from the interior of Mexico, and lived in the northern territory which is now Texas. According to Father Juan Morfi (1778), the mission at San Saba, just 140 miles northwest of San Antonio, reported that 151 blacks were located within the mission walls during the 1700s. What is often ignored or erased were the cultural influences of the original Canary Island population by Berber, Black, Islamic, and Moorish customs and traditions. This is seen with the whistle language (Silbo) which was adopted by the Spanish colonial settlers, but is clearly Moorish or Berber in origin.


One or two blacks may have fought at the Alamo for the Anglo slave owners, but hundreds of them also clashed with the Alamo defenders.  When Santa Anna attacked the Alamo he did so with an entire black regiment, that existed since colonial times, called Los Morenos Libres de Vera Cruz (The Free Blacks of Vera Cruz). These Black Mexican lancers hailed from the Vera Cruz area of Mexico. This is how the East Side became the Black community which took place centuries before the Baptist Settlement was established in the 1800s.


In 1816, about 200 black Haitian troops landed at Galveston Island and were among the first to fight against Spanish slavery. These black soldiers were part of a force that fought against slavery on Texas soil. These Black soldiers were inspired by the Haitian revolution and the Haitian Black revolutionary leader Toussaint L'Ouverture, and the South American Liberator Simon Bolivar. In later years, Blacks were a population that was subjected to harsh plantation and farm life along the banks of the San Antonio River and the local creeks.  Pro-slavery southerners flooded into the Texas during the Mexican War period and sought to intermarry with Mexican women to create a new “race” that would be open to white supremacy.


Slave farms dotted the landscape in and around San Antonio.  Black slave cemeteries, and post slavery segregated cemeteries have been moved or allowed to become overrun by nature, and are located across San Antonio in every sector of the city. Blacks slaves had to be buried somewhere and it was hidden by guilt ridden owners. In 1855, Bexar County recorded on its tax rolls 979 Black slaves in the area, and by 1864 that number increased to 1,193. We know from the historical records (City Directory of 1855), that slaves were held and sold by at least three San Antonio Mayors, and many other city officials. Also, well-known historical figures in San Antonio were pro-slavery men; Jose Angel Navarro, Juan Seguin, Samuel Maverick, Mayor John M. Carolan, Mayor Charles F.  King and Francis Giraud. The locations of these sales included the Menger Hotel, along the Salado Creek, the San Antonio River, and other areas near the present day courthouse and city hall.




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