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History of Texas: Colonization and Slavery

Introduction

Texas has a long and unique history with rich sociocultural practices. The Spanish rule played a central role in the economic and social development in Texas. René Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle’s expeditions contributed significantly to the colonization of the region. On the other hand, Stephen F. Austin influenced the spread of African slavery in the state after being recognized as the heir of his father’s contract in 1821. Therefore, these two individuals, René Robert Cavelier and Stephen Austin shaped the history and progress of Texas in their unique ways. As such, this paper discusses the importance of René Robert Cavelier’s expeditions and their long-term effects on the colonization of Texas and the role of Stephen Austin in establishing the institution of African slavery in the region.

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René Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle’s Expeditions

According to the available historical information, on August 1, 1684, René Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle sought to establish the point at the sea where the Mississippi River emptied its waters, and thus he started his journey by sailing from Rochefort, France (Wood 294). However, his journey was characterized by misfortunes, such as loss of sketches and the ultimate failure to find the Mississippi River. Therefore, La Salle decided to settle on the Texas coast in the summer of 1685 by mistakenly thinking that the Mississippi River entered the sea at the Gulf of Mexico (Weddle). Within a short period, La Salle’s settlement was spreading as he sought to explore the region. However, La Salle was killed in an ambush by one of his disenchanted followers, Pierre Duhaut, on March 19, 1687.

Nevertheless, La Salle’s intrusions in the quest to find the Mississippi, which led to his death, ultimately led to the colonization of Texas by the Spaniards. After learning of the French intrusion in Texas, the Spaniards retaliated by releasing five sea voyages and six land marches to the region. According to Weddle, “The La Salle expedition, as the first real European penetration of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf shore since Narváez and De Soto, had far-reaching results.” The Spaniards, who had hitherto focused on western Texas due to geographical ignorance, shifted their interests to the eastern side. Ultimately, the Spaniards occupied entire Texas in an attempt to prevent any form of French settlement in the region. Therefore, while La Salle’s expeditions were only meant to establish the point at which the Mississippi River met the sea, they had unintended consequences of having Texas being colonized in its entirety by the Spaniards.

Stephen F. Austin and African Slavery in Texas

Slavery in Texas has a rather interesting history, as the region was the last frontier of chattel thralldom in the US. According to Campbell, slavery in Texas did not exist while under Spanish occupation until Anglo-American settlers started arriving in the region. Initially, the agreement between land agents, which were commonly known as empresario, and the Spanish authorities did not mention the issue of slaves. However, when Stephen Austin “was recognized as heir to his father’s contract later that year, it was agreed that settlers could receive eighty acres of land for each enslaved person they brought to the colony” (Campbell) Therefore, from this point onwards, settlers were economically motivated to bring slaves to Texas because they would get large chunks of land in return. In addition, slaves would provide cheap labor for the growth of cotton (Barr 17) – the most valuable agricultural product in the Atlantic world at the time.

Therefore, Stephen Austin was a central figure in the promotion of African slavery in Texas and he did not shy away from asserting the same. In 1824 he unequivocally said, “The principal product that will elevate us from poverty is cotton…and we cannot do this without the help of slaves” (Campbell). As such, in Austin’s colony, slavery became common and widespread across the region despite the constant opposition by revolutionary Mexican leaders, who believed that the practice should be abolished. Additionally, Stephen Austin had come up with an elaborate land distribution plan that got Governor Martinez’s approval (Lundberg). Consequently, it suffices to argue that Austin was close to the authorities of the day and thus his plans to bring in African slaves in Texas for the sole provision of cheap labor could not have been scuttled by dissenting Mexican leaders. This assertion explains why and how Austin played a major role in the promotion of slavery in the region.

Conclusion

Texas has a rich history characterized by its unintended colonization by the Spaniards and the ultimate widespread African slavery. On the one hand, La Salle’s expeditions to find the mouth of the Mississippi River ultimately encouraged the Spaniards to occupy entire Texas. The Spaniards were concerned that the French would extend their territory into Texas, hence the expedited colonization of the region. On the other hand, when Stephen Austin arrived in Texas and became an empresario, he created an enabling environment for the unabated growth of African slavery for economic purposes.

Works Cited

Barr, Alwyn. Black Texans: A History of African Americans in Texas, 1528-1995. University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

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Campbell, Randolph. “Slavery.” TSHA, 2017, Web.

Lundberg, John. “To Govern is to Populate.” Tarrant County Community College. Lecture.

Weddle, Robert. “La Salle Expedition.” TSHA, 2015, Web.

Wood, Peter. “La Salle: Discovery of a Lost Explorer.” The American Historical Review, vol. 89, no. 2, 1984, pp. 294-323.

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