Journal Of The Life And Culture Of San Antonio

La Baume of Bexar

By Michael Weil

In the spring of 1834, 41-year-old Stephen F. Austin entered the bedroom of the San Antonio home of a dying man. He was joined by other prominent citizens, including the political figure Erasmo Seguin and future mayor of San Antonio John W. Smith. The feeble man, aware that he lay on his deathbed, produced from beneath his pillow a will, and expressed his wish that those congregated might witness it. The old man died later that year at the age of 103.

That man, Count Joseph de la Baume, was the eldest son of Jose Felipe, previous Count de la Baume, and Maria Isabella Dalton; he was born in Montpellier, France, in 1731. He crossed the Atlantic to join the American Revolution under Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. After less than six months of service, La Baume reached Louisiana and the American Revolutionary War ended. One short marriage and various exploits later, La Baume moved to Nacogdoches in 1802 and three years later married his second wife, Luisa Cuturie. From Nacogdoches, La Baume attained permission from the Spanish General Memesio Salcedo to move to Bexar with his wife Luisa, their three children, Luisa’s illegitimate son, and eight black slaves.

In 1806, Joseph de la Baume reached San Antonio where he soon became entangled in yet another struggle for independence. His assets allowed him a two story stone house in an area south of the Alamo called “Las Alamedas” or “Cotton Wood Grove,” the home purchased from Maria Rosa Marques and Philip Enrique Neri, the “Baron de Bastrop.” The property sat south of Alameda street between the Acequia Madre and the Valero ditch. He soon became interested, along with several Anglo settlers in purchasing more land, specifically, a 26,568 acre tract among the Capote Hills. Acting governor Manuel Antonio Cordero y Bustamante granted the right to the land purchase. In 1810, however, tensions between Mexico and Spain culminated in the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence, a struggle that lasted eleven years, and complicated La Baume’s land purchase. Then in 1813, problems arose closer to home, with more severe consequences for the Count.

The Gutierrez-Magee Expedition, an Anglo filibustering campaign, attempted to sever Texas from Spanish control, but this short-lived revolution ended with a decisive royalist victory at the Battle of the Medina in August, 1813. San Antonio citizens suffered brutal retaliation at the hands of the royalists as General Joaquin Arredondo imprisoned local women and ordered the execution of 327 alleged rebels. Whether or not the Count took any part in the failed revolution, the provincial authorities believed him a “traitor,” most obviously because of La Baume’s foreign status —official documents call him El Frances, “the Frenchman.” Further, officials may have suspected La Baume because he had fought for the American Revolution thirty years earlier. Not only had he assisted the overthrow of another European monarch, the political dynamic resulting from the Louisiana Purchase transformed the United States into a growing threat to the Spanish hold on Texas. Authorities no doubt questioned La Baume’s allegiance to the Spain’s crown, and confiscated all of his money, deeds, other written records, and four slaves worth 340 pesos. They imprisoned the 82-year-old Count for seven months, chaining him in the granary on the north side of Main Plaza and leaving his wife and at least four children to fend for themselves.

Though several points had led to official suspicion of the Count, he received a pardon in 1814. The pardon, however, did not return his money or the deed to the Capote ranch. No mention is made of the four confiscated slaves, and apparently, the Count made no effort to retrieve any of his property until 1825, four years after Mexico won independence. Then, in that year, he petitioned the government for his confiscated property and he employed as his attorney 32-year-old Stephen F. Austin. Such noted Texas figures as Green DeWitt, Sam Houston, John W. Smith, Erasmo Seguin, and Jose Antonio Navarro signed petitions on behalf of the Count and his application for the restoration of his ownership rights Ultimately, the Mexican government returned his property, and the Count’s will includes the ranch, along with his house in town, land on the opposite side of the acequia, land in Austin’s colony, and land in Nacogdoches. Thus, with his property recovered, the Count died in 1834 with uncontested ownership, and although the Texas Revolution and the establishment of the new Republic of Texas delayed judicial action twelve years, courts executed the will in 1844.

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