Becoming a City and Becoming American, San Antonio, Texas, 1848-1861
By Lawrence Phillip Knight, Ph.d.
Texas A&M University-Kingsville
The title of this study is " The purpose of this chapter is to establish and define those things that show that San Antonio was becoming an American city: that it was growing into a city, and that it was becoming American. Why becoming American? Because unlike most other Texas cities, San Antonio was an established Mexican city, so, in one sense, it was already a city and was becoming American. However in 1842, due to two invasions of the city by Mexican armies, San Antonio ceased being a city and became a largely abandoned village. Yet the flavor of its Hispanic past lingered in its population, buildings, institutions, language, and culture.. In the years following the invasions, San Antonio regained its stature of city--and passed well beyond all of its old population and geographic limits--it also became American. Its Americanization, though, was less a result of population than of simply being within the borders of the United States, because throughout the period of this study American born never accounted for even one-fourth of San Antonio's population. Immigrants from other states came to San Antonio, but the population surge was composed largely of European immigrants led by those from Germany. Thus in determining the Americanization of San Antonio, the first factor considered is population.
There is no city without population, and no expansion from town to city without population growth. Determining the population of San Antonio prior to 1850, though, was not easy, because the censuses of the city prior to its inclusion in the United States Census of 1850 omitted more information than they provided.
The Republic of Texas ordered a census to be taken in each County in 1840, the primary purpose of which was to identify taxpayers. Each adult male twenty-one years of age or older was required to pay a poll tax of one dollar, and the census was ordered to be conducted by the county assessors. The census showed that there were 220 men in Bexar County in the above category. While the census gave little indication of the population of either the county or of San Antonio, it revealed the ethnic composition of the county. Of the 220 men listed, 149 were Hispanic, 63 were Anglo, 2 were French, 1 was Irish, and 5 were of unknown nativity. In percentages, the Hispanics were 67, and the Anglos 29, while no other population reached even 1 percent. Along with the free inhabitants of the county were also scattered a few slaves. Six slaveowners were identified in the census; of those, four were Anglo, one was Hispanic, and one was of unknown ethnicity. A rough estimate can also be made of the ethnic percentages within the city. One item noted in the census was the ownership of town lots. Assuming town lot ownership equaled living in the city, 171 inhabitants of San Antonio were identified. Of those, 147 or 86 percent were Hispanic, and 19 or 11 percent were Anglo; no other group contained more than 2 people.
In 1847 the state of Texas ordered a census. The census revealed that the population of Bexar County was 4,790, of which the white population was 4,566, the slave population was 202, and the free colored population was 22. No breakdown other than slave or free revealed ethnicity, nor was any differentiation made between city and county.
The first census of San Antonio to separate the city from the county was the United States Census of 1850, a census that also extracted information on ethnicity and slave ownership. The 1850 census counted 716 families and 3,168 people living in San Antonio. Of those, 23 percent were natives of the United States; 17 percent were natives of slave states (with an equal division between upper and lower South) and 6 percent were from free states. Natives of Europe accounted for 23 percent (the exact percentage as U.S. natives); 13 percent were from Germany alone. Hispanics accounted for 53 percent of the population; 24 percent were Tejanos and 29 percent were natives of Mexico. Slaveholding had increased dramatically in the city by 1850, though it must be noted that the number of slaveholders (fifty-nine were identified, compared to the 716 heads of households), was quite small; 8 percent of the heads of household in San Antonio owned slaves. The number of slaves in San Antonio was also quite small; there were 220 slaves in the city or 6 percent of the population.
The city of San Antonio ordered its own census taken in 1856. The census itself is not extant, but the city council minutes recorded that the city's population was 7,142. Also the census was broken down into the three voting precincts of the city. Precinct one had 1,984 inhabitants, precinct two, 2,020, and precinct three, 2,489. The census taker assumed a 10 percent undercount, and if his figures were correct, the city saw a 225 percent increase in population over the six year period from 1850, making the city's annual population increase 38 percent.
The 1860 census counted 7,683 free inhabitants of San Antonio and 352 slaves for a total population of 8,035. The city council minutes did not specify if slave and free inhabitants were counted in the 1856 census, and it is safest to assume that they were not. That being the case the population increase shown between the 1856 census and the U.S. Census of 1860 showed only a 7.5 percent increase in the city's population in four years, or a less than 2 percent growth per year. Since none of the records of the day indicated that growth in San Antonio had so slowed, the discrepancy in the growth from 1850-1856 and that from 1856-1860 was probably due to an undercounting of the 1860 census and perhaps an overcounting of the 1856 census. The 1856 census taker was hired by the city, and local control likely made him more conscientious than the census taker in 1860 who was working for the far away national government. Also since growth was a desired item for American cities, the 1856 census taker may have erred on the side of growth in his counting and in his estimations.
Comparing the 1860 census figure of 7,683 free inhabitants to the 3,168 1850 figure showed that the city grew 242 percent over the decade for an annual growth of 24 percent. While that was not as spectacular as the 1856 figure, it showed a substantial growth for the decade.
The 1860 census also showed a remarkable shift in the ethnic makeup of the city. The percentage of Hispanics fell dramatically to 29 percent. Natives of Texas comprised 13 percent, natives of Mexico 14 percent, natives of New Mexico 1 percent, and natives of Cuba .6 percent. United States natives, as a percentage, dropped to 22 percent. Natives of slave states comprised 13 percent (the upper South accounted for 9 percent and the lower South 4 percent). Natives of free states contributed 9 percent of the population. The greatest population change in San Antonio, though, was the numbers of immigrants from Europe. In 1860 47 percent of the city's population, scarcely less than a majority, were natives of Europe. Of this group the Germans alone comprised 30 percent of the total population, with those of French nativity accounting for 6 percent and those of Irish nativity 5 percent (both more than natives of the lower South). Other European countries that contributed to San Antonio's ethnic mix were England, Poland, Switzerland, Holland, Italy, and Spain. Finally, those whose ethnicity was undetermined comprised 2 percent.
The 1860 census was counted by wards, and each ward had its own ethnic composition. Ward one was comprised of 47 Hispanics, 16 percent natives of slave states, 12 percent natives of free states, and 23 percent natives of Europe; the German natives accounted for 14 percent of the ward's population. Ward two was comprised of 36 percent Hispanics, 7 percent natives of slave states, 11 percent natives of free states, and 44 percent natives of Europe; the German natives accounted for 20 percent of the ward's population. Ward three contained only 3 percent Hispanics, 15 percent natives of the slave states, 0 percent from the free states and 80 percent natives of Europe; the German natives accounted for 64 percent of the ward's population. Ward four was comprised of 29 percent Hispanics, 16 percent natives of the slave states, 11 percent natives of free states, and 45 percent natives of Europe; the German natives accounted for 26 percent of the ward's population.
The number of slaveholders in San Antonio grew slowly in the 1850s; only seventy-nine were identified in the 1860 census from a total of 1,648 heads of household. Thus the percentage of slaveholders who were heads of households dropped to 5.
From 1840-1860 the city of San Antonio had shown a remarkable growth, especially when one considers that the city was twice invaded by Mexican armies in 1842--an event that caused population to dwindle rapidly. No exact figures were recorded for those events that threw the city into anarchy, but Adolphus Sterne noted that only 200 men remained in San Antonio in 1842. As remarkable as the city's growth over the ensuing eighteen year period, was the influx of immigrants from Europe. The 1840 census revealed no natives of Europe in the entire county. By 1860 European immigrants were the largest group in the city and almost comprised a majority; in ward three they accounted for four of every five inhabitants. Among the European immigrants, the largest group by far was the Germans. By 1860 they had surpassed the Hispanics as the largest ethnic group in the city and they were well ahead in numbers of the natives of the United States.
By 1860 San Antonio was dominated by three ethnic groups, natives of the United States, Germans, and Hispanics. This composition was noted by Ángel Navarro in a speech he made as a state representative for Bexar County. Navarro remarked that San Antonio was dominated by three major ethnic groups; he termed them the Americans, the Mexicans and the Germans, "the greater part being Germans and Mexicans." These three groups are the focus of this study on San Antonio becoming American, because each of the groups helped determined how American was defined in San Antonio. The groups, though, were not as easily defined as Navarro's comment suggested. When Navarro used the term American, he meant those who were natives of the United States. Using that term in this study, however, would lead to great confusion because the purpose of the study is to show how the citizens of San Antonio defined American and how that definition changed over time. Also many of the European immigrants of San Antonio could be deemed Anglos--those of English, Scottish, or even Irish nativity. Certainly the English language, even as spoken on the western frontier, presented little problem to their assimilation into Anglo society. Nevertheless, for this study natives of the United States (slaves excluded) were termed Anglos. The term "German" was much simpler. A German was one who was a native of any of the Germanic states, and German will be so used in this study. The most difficult of the terms was Mexican. Mexican in Navarro's usage meant those of Mexican heritage; however no difference was allowed for natives of Texas and natives of Mexico, and in fact all Hispanics were lumped into the group. For this study Tejano will be used to denote Hispanics of Texas nativity, Mexican will be used to denote Mexicans of Mexican nativity, and Hispanic will be used to denote any mixed grouping. A further problem existed, however, with defining the term "Mexican," and that was the class differences that existed among the Hispanics, differences that were every bit as defining as were American, German, and Mexican, and which were far more limiting.
Classes, though ill defined, existed for the Anglos and Germans as well as for Hispanics, but in a frontier setting, Germans and Anglos generally excelled or failed according to individual merit and luck. For the Mexicans, however, San Antonio was not so much a new American city as it was an old Mexican one. San Antonio was founded in 1718, and over the decades leading families arose that had usually garnered large amounts of land. Families like the Navarros, Leals, Menchacas, Vermendis, Ruizes, Urrutias and Rodriguezes, to name a few, became the leaders and ruling class in San Antonio. Though many left before Texas was annexed by the United States, those who stayed remained the leaders of the Hispanic community. That there was a difference between the classes of Hispanics was both verified and expanded upon by Benjamin Lundy when he visited Mexican San Antonio in 1833. "The Mexicans in this region, make as good appearance as any people; but there are very few among them that we should call White." Color, real or imagined, was a sign of class. The allusion to color and class was confirmed by J.M. Rodriguez, a descendent of one of the ruling families who was a leader of the Hispanic community in the 1850s. Rodriguez' memoirs of old San Antonio separated the "people of pure Spanish descent" who lived in San Antonio, and of whom he was one, from other Hispanics. He noted three classes of Hispanics in San Antonio. Those of Spanish descent, those who transported goods to and from San Antonio and who "formed the little village called Chihuahua," and those Mexican soldiers stationed at the Alamo who intermarried with the local Indians. The latter group lived on the east side of the river at la Villita. Anyone from the "Spanish" community who married someone from Villita "lost his caste" with his own people.
Another trend in the Americanization of San Antonio was the attempt by the Anglos to control the city. The coming of the Anglos to San Antonio was a part of Manifest Destiny, a destiny that seemed confirmed when Texas received its independence and became an Anglo nation, and which was further verified when Texas became part of the United States. Anglos believed that they should rule the continent, and San Antonio was surely part of that continent. In the late 1840's the Anglos, though less than 25 percent of the city's population, began to assert their control.
The first area of control gained by the Anglos was city government. In 1842 when the two Mexican invasions occurred, Juan Seguin was mayor of San Antonio. During the invasions he was accused of being a traitor and moved to Mexico. Following Seguin's experience no Hispanic sought the office of mayor throughout the period of this study, and no Hispanic again became mayor of San Antonio until the late 20th century. The absence of Tejano applicants left a vacuum into which the Anglos walked. From 1848-1861 only one mayor of San Antonio, a man of Irish nativity, was not an Anglo. The diminishing number of Tejano city councilmen also increased Anglo dominance of city government. From 1844, when the city council was reinstituted following the two invasions of 1842, until 1849 the number of Tejano councilmen averaged five and was never lower than three out of a total of eight. However from 1850-1861 no more than two Tejanos served on the council at one time, and in 1855 and 1860 no Tejanos were on the city council.
Following the war with Mexico, the city government, largely controlled by Anglos, attempted to replace the old Hispanic morality of San Antonio with an Anglo morality. Old customs and practices were outlawed while new ones were enshrined by law. However the attempt to Anglicize San Antonio was mitigated by Hispanic opposition and the failure to achieve domination in the city council, especially in the face of growing European immigration. Assimilation into Anglo society was also pushed by the Anglos. Again the Anglos had some successes and failures. The struggle to Anglicize San Antonio through morals and assimilation between 1848 and 1855 and the resultant defining of American is the subject of chapter II.
Politics in a free society is an important indicator of the direction of that society. In San Antonio adult males of every ethnicity except African voted. In 1853 the percentage of Hispanics voting in the city's three precincts was 45, 49, and 23 respectively. As the decade continued, the number of Germans in the community surpassed that of all other ethnicities, increasing the Germans' political influence; meanwhile the percentage of Anglos in San Antonio remained relatively stable. Each group voted, had a say in its governance, and, therefore, had a say in what an American meant in San Antonio. Until late 1854, however, there were no organized politics in the city. Each man who ran for city office ran as an individual without party affiliation; votes were cast for an individual, not for a member of a party. Although a Democratic party existed in San Antonio in the early 1850s it was simply an organization necessary for the election of state officials; since there was no opposition party in the city, if one wanted to run for state office, one did so as a Democrat. The political situation changed abruptly in San Antonio with the arrival of the Know-Nothings and their doctrine. The Know-Nothings, less known by their official name, American Party, arrived in San Antonio in 1855 and declared themselves the definer of American. Their "invasion" into what had been an exclusive, though poorly defined, Democratic enclave forced the Democrats also to define American, and both parties were forced to do so before the voters of San Antonio--an ethnically mixed population. From the Know-Nothing-Democratic political fight and debate, the people of San Antonio were given a choice of what an American was. The defining of American by politics is the subject of chapters III and IV.
After the Know-Nothing demise, the Cart War forced the citizens of the city, especially the Anglos, to act upon their newfound definition of American. Hispanic cartmen, both Tejanos and Mexicans--many of whom were from San Antonio--were attacked while carting goods to and from San Antonio and other cities in South Texas. The attacks were economically and racially based. The Hispanic cartmen, because they charged low freight rates, controlled a large percentage of the freighting business of South Texas. American teamsters reacted with violence, a violence rationalized by the fact that the victims were, after all, only Mexicans. The voters of San Antonio had determined that citizens of Hispanic descent were nevertheless Americans, but were those same Hispanic citizens worth protecting? Should money be spent to protect the Hispanics? More importantly were the lives of the Hispanic citizens worth the lives of other San Antonio citizens, especially Anglos. The Cart War is the subject of chapter V.
As San Antonio grew in population and size, it also grew economically. No aspect of that growth better combines the theme of becoming a city and becoming American than the attempt to connect San Antonio to the coast, and therefore to the rest of the United States and world, by rail. America was railroad crazy at mid-century, and no town could hope to become a city neither could a city hope to remain one without a railroad. The citizens of San Antonio from 1850-1861, though without success, poured a great deal of effort, time, organization, and money into a railroad that never reached San Antonio. The attempt to make San Antonio an American city by building a railroad is the subject of chapter VI.
Although education was not new in San Antonio it blossomed in the city in the 1850s, as evidenced by the large number of private schools in the city--both secular and religious, the beginning of true public school system in the city, and the formation the German-English School. The common denominator in each of the city's schools was English; all schools taught English. But to what degree was English taught, or put a better way, how was the English language viewed? Was it taught as one language all students must know, because San Antonio was a city in America, and part of being American was being fluent in English. Was it taught because the state mandated it: Was it taught along with other languages? Part of being an American in San Antonio was determined by language. Education and the use of the English language are the subjects of chapter VII.
Though the Know-Nothings failed abysmally in San Antonio, one aspect of their political creed struck a cord with many voters in San Antonio--their devotion to the Union. After the demise of the Know-Nothing party, the Union aspect of the party revived to split the Democrats in San Antonio. One branch followed Sam Houston and Andrew Jackson Hamilton as pro union, while another branch followed the regular Democrats, whose philosophy took on an increasingly strident advocacy of slavery including a return of slave importation. Again the voters of San Antonio were given a choice of what American meant, Union or states rights, but the choice in each case was clouded. Because Sam Houston had flirted with the Know-Nothings, some who supported union were dissuaded from voting for a pro Union ticket that included Sam Houston. Conversely, some who defended slavery and states rights were not necessarily thrilled with the idea of reopening slave trading from outside the borders of the United States. This aspect of American is the subject of chapter VIII.
As the North and South veered further apart in the late 1850s, one topic dominated the unamiable discussions between the two sections, slavery. Though slavery was inconsequential economically and numerically in San Antonio, it was nevertheless a topic greatly discussed in the newspapers, especially whenever it was attacked by outsiders and most especially by abolitionists. Why was slavery so important psychologically in a city where its numbers were small, and how was slavery viewed by the citizens of San Antonio? Slavery in San Antonio is the subject of chapter IX.
The discord between the sections of the United States culminated in secession. Secession was, at least in one aspect, the redefining of American--to those who supported secession, one must be a secessionist to be an American, and since secession was a solely southern trait, only southerners were true Americans. Thus to a secessionist (and Texas seceded by an overwhelming majority) to be an American, one must support slavery--from which secession was never divorced--and support secession. Secession is the subject of chapter X.
Rena Maverick Green (ed.), Samuel Maverick, Texan: 1803-1870, A Collection of Letters Journals and Memoirs, (San Antonio: privately printed, 1952) 164-168; United States Seventh Census (1850), Bexar County, Texas, Population Schedules; United States Eighth Census (1860), Bexar County, Texas, Population Schedules.
United States Seventh Census (1850), Bexar County, Texas, Population Schedules; ethnicity was determined by a sampling of every fifth head of household; United States Seventh Census (1850), Bexar County, Texas, Slave Schedules; only those slaveholders who were found in both the Population and Slave censuses were counted.
Archie P. McDonald, (ed.), Hurrah for Texas! The Diary of Adolphus Sterne, 1838-1851 (Waco: Texian Press, 1969), 80; White (ed.), The 1840 Census, 116-118; United States Eighth Census (1860), Bexar County, Population Schedules.
State Gazette Appendix, Containing Official Reports of Debates and Proceedings of the Seventh Legislature of the State of Texas, 2 (Austin: John Marshall & Co., State Printers, 1858) 110-111 (quotation).
Thomas Earle (ed.), The Life, Travels and Opinions of Benjamin Lundy compiled under the direction and behalf of His children (n.p., 1847; reprint, New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1971) 48-49 (first quotation); J.M. Rodriguez, Memoirs of Early Texas, (San Antonio: privately printed, n.d.), 15 (second, third, and fourth quotation), 16, 19 (fifth quotation), 45-47.
McDonald, ed., Hurrah for Texas!, 98; San Antonio, Council Journal, Book A, May 30, 1844 100L, Feb. 18, 1845, 108L, Jan. 1, 106R, Dec. 29, 1846, 111R, Dec. 27, 1847, 130L-130R, Dec. 25, 1848, 140L (SACCO); San Antonio, Council Journal, Book B, Dec. 31, 1849, 67-68, Dec. 30, 1850, 119, Dec. 31, 1851, 148, Dec. 31, 1852, 196, Dec. 26, 1853, 243, Dec. 25, 1854, 304, Dec. 24, 1855, 347 (SACCO); San Antonio, Council Journal, Book C, Dec. 29, 1856, 31, Jan. 8, 101, Dec. 31, 1858, 146-148, Dec. 31, 1859, 211-213, Jan. 1, 1861, 282-283 (SACCO).