Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850

Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850

Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850

Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850

Synopsis

By the late 1810s, a global revolution in cotton had remade the U.S.-Mexico border, bringing wealth and waves of Americans to the Gulf Coast while also devastating the lives and villages of Mexicans in Texas. In response, Mexico threw open its northern territories to American farmers in hopes that cotton could bring prosperity to the region. Thousands of Anglo-Americans poured into Texas, but their insistence that slavery accompany them sparked pitched battles across Mexico. An extraordinary alliance of Anglos and Mexicans in Texas came together to defend slavery against abolitionists in the Mexican government, beginning a series of fights that culminated in the Texas Revolution. In the aftermath, Anglo-Americans rebuilt the Texas borderlands into the most unlikely creation: the first fully committed slaveholders' republic in North America. Seeds of Empire tells the remarkable story of how the cotton revolution of the early nineteenth century transformed northeastern Mexico into the western edge of the United States, and how the rise and spectacular collapse of the Republic of Texas as a nation built on cotton and slavery proved to be a blueprint for the Confederacy of the 1860s.

Excerpt

Riding two stolen horses and a mule, three runaway slaves—Marian, Richard, and Tivi—waded across the Sabine River during the depths of winter in late 1819. Reasoning that the laws that made them slaves in the United States could not follow them into New Spain, the fugitives had escaped their master in western Louisiana, a cotton planter named James Kirkham, in hopes of making their way into the Spanish province of Texas. Carrying what little food they could, the runaways moved quickly to avoid pursuit, following a scattered trail that ran through western Louisiana on its way into northern New Spain. Once across the river that marked the international border, the band pushed through dense forests of pines, oaks, and cedars as they continued west in search of freedom and new lives.

Not far beyond the Sabine, the runaways came upon a detachment of Spanish soldiers camped along the roadside. Probably in hopes of asylum, and perhaps because none of them knew the geography of the region, Marian, Richard, and Tivi marched into the camp and surrendered themselves. The troops took them into custody and escorted them 350 miles southwest to San Antonio, the Spanish capital of Texas, where they were presented to Governor Antonio Martínez. Lacking the resources to hold or feed them, Martínez soon decided to send the fugitives another 300 miles south to Monterrey, Nuevo León, where they could be housed and interrogated.

The runaways soon had a chance to tell their story. Speaking through an interpreter, with a clerk nearby to transcribe the exchanges, Spanish officers asked Marian, Richard, and Tivi why they had run from the United States. One by one, the runaways recounted their escape from James Kirkham’s plantation, defending their actions by describing the cruelty of their master. Richard testified that Kirkham’s brutality pushed him to cross into Spanish territory “because he wished for freedom.” Marian said much the same, recounting the “very bad treatment” that . . .

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