By Alfred Rodriguez, Archivist, Bexar County Spanish Archives
In the villa of San Fernando de Bexar between 1811 and 1817, Bejarenos and Tejanos quarreled about the love of their mother country and the Spanish throne on one hand, and the desire to make a better, independent, life for their families on the other. Caught in turmoil and confusion, with differences among family members, business associates, and life-long friends, people felt pressure to take sides in Mexico’s revolt for freedom from Spanish colonial rule. While the Mexican War of Independence began far to the south in 1810, by April 1813, it came directly to Bexar via the Gutierrez-Magee Filibuster Expedition and its Green Flag of Independence. In August 1813, the Battle of the Medina and Arredondo’s gruesome retribution on the people of the villa, made the far north province of Texas central to the struggle. Bexar rebels died or fled to the east.
As Acting Provincial Governor, Lt. Colonel Cristobal Dominguez issued a proclamation on October 13, 1813 ordering confiscation of all rebel properties and valuable goods. The order identified property of men in the oldest family lines in the community including Francisco Arocha, Vicente Traviseo, Antonio Baca, Manuel Delgado, Francisco Rodriguez, Erasmo Seguin, Lorenzo Ramos, Jose Antonio Curbelo, and Jose Leal. Rebel properties consisted of stone houses, lumber houses, jacales ( temporary huts), pastures, cropland, water allotments, livestock, and grain in storehouses. While most of the men branded as rebels had little property, there were others with substantial holdings, such as Antonio Baca owner of a number of residential and agricultural properties. To determine the market value of the property, Dominguez’s order established an appraisal commission with members Pablo Bisgarra, a carpenter; Juan Francisco Zapata, a master mason; Juan Leal Goraz, a blacksmith; Manuel Barrera, Jose Antonio De la Garza, and Vicente Gortari. The commissioners—a group, like the rebels themselves, descended from the town’s first civilian settlers of eighty years before—swore to be faithful and to perform their duties legally, while the appraisers and auctioneer swore to conduct the auctions as required by law. Officials posted notice of the upcoming sales for the required nine days, and for the benefit of the town’s illiterates, a town crier proclaimed the sale for three days. The auctioneer was responsible for conducting the auction in compliance with instructions from the Intendant of San Luis Potosi. Several Spanish Archives records reflect the detail in the appraisals:
Officials intended the confiscated properties to bring essential revenue to the Spanish treasury through the proposed property auctions. Most of the property without living quarters was leased, primarily to the presidio soldiers, many of whom, it turned out, often could afford to pay the rent. The clerk recorded his notes in the town ledger, “The house of the Arochas is rented for 4 pesos from December 30 to the last of this month. The house of Beramendi was returned to its owner. The house of the Alferez Granados was exchanged for the house of the traitor Baca, which had been confiscated by the governor. The house belonging to Manuel Delgado is occupied with the tenant making repairs; therefore it is rent free.” (Rebel Property Report No. 7, Bexar County Spanish Archives.)
The clerk also included in Report No. 7 that some of the rent income paid for lights for the plazas to help the guards. Another use for the newly found funds was to pay the soldiers who often went unpaid for months. Reports to the higher authorities were frequent and they were kept well-informed of the properties and valuables being auctioned. The Spanish authorities received the assessment figures for each property, names of auction bidders, the sale prices, and the names of buyers, such as Yturri, Bustillos, Perez, Martinez, Garcia and Arceneiga. Of course, all cash proceeds went to the Royal Treasury.
In a few cases, an owner regained title to his property after testimony to his good standing as a citizen, his conduct and activities. Witnesses were called to testify that the individual did not aid the revolutionaries and about their loyalty to the King. In other cases the lands were sold to individuals who did not own land or as in one case, Colonel Juan Manuel Sambrano, who happened to have a great dislike for Jose Antonio de la Garza, tried to buy his land. In his petition, Sambrano accused de la Garza of being a traitor. In his defense, de la Garza received testimony from witnesses as to his religion, military background, and honor. The resulting decision gave de la Garza his land and Colonel Sambrano an additional eight leagues of land. Restitution of a confiscated house was also made to Jose Erasmo Seguin in 1819.
The entire episode of the rebel properties, its confiscations, and its public auctions, came to an abrupt end when thunderstorms unleashed a torrent down the San Antonio River on July 5, 1819. Rushing waters killed many residents and devastated dwellings, commercial structures, crops, bridges, acequias, and “left the city in such a condition that one might say the city did not exist.” Many survivors faced hunger and destitution after the flood, a “greater flood than any other that has occurred since the settlement of the city.” More official communication went back and forth, beginning with Governor Colonel Antonio Martinez report to the vice regal authorities on July 9 that the flood had inundated the ciudad. Martinez advised the authorities that the flood destroyed all the confiscated properties belonging to the royal treasury and he included a complete report on the destruction. Remaining property, little that there was, fell into decay and even the tillable lands were so badly damaged that nothing could be planted for some time. The royal officials, anticipating additional treasury revenues from the properties, faced the unhappy reality that the Bexar properties no longer offered any hope of income.
Ultimately, the affair created much paper work, some bureaucracy, and a few financial winners and losers. The winners were the few who received good properties through the auctions and suffered less than total destruction in the flood. The losers were the soldiers, the ciudad and the royal treasury. More than likely, the rebel properties turned out to be more work, bigger problems and greater headaches for the governor—with little reward in the form of commendation or credit from Mexico City officialdom.
Records of the Rebel Properties, Bexar County Spanish Archives
Medcalf and Eddy, Consulting Engineers, Report to the City of San Antonio upon Flood Prevention, (Boston, December 6, 1920) p. 19
[Note: the unit of measure vara amounted to 33.33 inches so that 100 yards equals 92.6 varas. The term appears in Bexar County real estate deeds as late as the 1880s.]