Monday, May 18, 2009

Peoples in New Spain in the 1700 and 1800s

Mexico or New Spain
(with) inset map of Southern Mexico and Central America

In researching my family in Texas, I have come across those who, in the census of their home county, have been enumerated as Mexican; but the head of the household of the same family has identified himself as Spanish on his World War I Draft Registration Card.

Not being too familiar with the Spanish occupation of Mexico and the efforts at converting the Indians found in the northern frontier, or Texas, and the make-up of the different cultures in that area during the 1700 and 1800s, I decided to do a little more reading.

Campbell says in his book Gone to Texas that “Spanish Texas in the early 1760s remained a sparsely settled province regarded primarily by the mother country as a buffer zone against France and as a field for missionary work, not as a colony of value in its own right.”1

The first census taken of the Spanish settlements in 1777 listed a total population of 3,103. This number included the residents of the missions, both priests and Indian converts. About one half of the 3,103 were considered Spaniards (most of them born in America); Indians (Coahuiltecans) made up one fourth of the total; and people of mixed race such as mestizos (of Spanish and Indian parentage) and mulattoes (of Spanish and African parentage) made up one fourth of the total. There were only 20 slaves, mostly of African descent. And more than one half (55 percent) were males.1

No one can say with certainty how many Indians lived in Texas in the late 1770s. But approximately 20,000 Indians still lived in the province at the end of 1770s, which far outnumbered residents of the Spanish settlements. These were members of the groups known as Karankawas, Caddos, Wichitas, and Comanches.

“When we speak of society in Texas, at the beginning of the 1800's, allusion is made to the Spaniards, many of whom had come from the polite cities of the mother-country, or from the viceregal palace in Mexico. The priests generally were men of good classical reading, as were many of the officers in the regular service. These set a good example of taste and elegance, which, of course, produced its imitative effect on the creoles and civilized Indians. Thus was the fierce temper of a frontier life guided and moderated; and the people, having no care of politics, passed their leisure time in playing at games, in dancing, and in conversing, mostly upon one of the subjects of money, women, or horses.”3

“The population of Texas was, in 1806, about seven thousand, of which some two thousand lived in San Antonio. This population was made up of Spaniards, creoles, and a few French, Americans, civilized Indians, and half-breeds.”3

In the early part of 1800, citizens of New Spain began to exhibit mixed reactions to events in the mother country of Spain involved around Napolean and Ferdinand VII. French occupation of Spain and the very bloody war of resistance by the Spanish led many in New Spain to desire independence.

Peninsulares, natives of Spain in America who generally held the most powerful offices, insisted the colonial government remain the same out of loyalty to Ferdinand VII. But, the criollos, those of Spanish blood born in America wanted a junta, or small council of political leaders, to take over. Criollos outnumbered the peninsulares ten to one. Tensions and unrest continued for some time with the Republic resistance growing into an army of more than 2,000 men.

The bloodiest battle in the history of Texas, the Battle of the Medina, took place August 18, 1813, when the Royalist Army led by Joaquin de Arredondo defeated the rebellious Republican Army of the North, led by Jose Alvarez de Toledo.

Arredondo remained in the area and waged a cruel revenge on the resistance. His soldiers executed 327 soldiers from the Republican Army who had surrendered or were captured after the battle.

Two days after the battle of the Medina, General Arredondo marched in triumph into San Antonio with his wagons loaded with the wounded and dying. Seven hundred of the peaceable citizens of that city were seized and imprisoned. Three hundred of them were confined during the night of the 20th of August in one house, and during the night eighteen of them died of suffocation. From day to day the others were shot, without any form of trial!2

A detachment of the conquering army advanced toward Nacogdoches in East Texas, home of many of my ancestors, executing 71 more accused rebels along the way. “One of Arrendondo’s junior officers, a young man named Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, looked on and learned.”1


1. Campbell, Randolph B. Gone to Texas - a History of the Lone Star State. New York Oxford University Press, 2003. Accessed Haltom City Public Library.

2. Son of the South, "The Battle of Medina", (Onlne: Son of the South), accessed May 18, 2009.

3. Son of the South, “San Antonio Life in the History of Texas”, (Online: Son of the South), , accessed May 18, 2009.

4. David Rumsey Map Collection, "Mexico or New Spain of 1814", (Online: David Ramsey Map Collection),, accessed May 18, 2009.

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Homsley Reunion, Seymour, Texas

Homsley Reunion, Seymour, Texas
Copyright (c) 2015 by Judith Richards Shubert