Monday, January 16, 2017

French Settlers in Texas

Possibly more problematic than American illegal traders for the Spanish, was the presence of numerous Frenchmen among the immigrants, since Spain was engaged at this time in a war with Napoleonic France. Following the cession of Louisiana, many French and Spanish families expressed a wish to remain Spanish subjects. Among these were future members of the expedition, including Bernardo D’Ortolan, who was granted land in 1798, and Bernardo Despallier, who arrived several years later.[1]
Despallier, whose attachment to Texas would become long and enduring (two of his sons fought in the 1835-36 revolution), submitted a petition to immigrate to Texas on January 18, 1804. In it, he stated his longstanding service to Spain and hostility to France and America. He was allowed to immigrate and, along with an Irishman named Brady, promptly proposed a plan to Spanish authorities to colonize more refugees from among the allegedly pro-Spanish citizens of Louisiana. Despallier and Brady wrote: “In view of the fact that the said province has been retroceded to the French Republic and they have sold it to the United States of America, numerous noble, influential, and rich families, as well as some poor ones, desire to move to the province under your command in order that they may live under the Spanish flag and enjoy the same kind treatment that they, as well as their predecessors, have previously enjoyed.”[2] Despallier’s petition, and one the next year by the Dutchman the Baron de Bastrop (who would play a large role later in history), did not warm the hearts of Spanish leaders. They desperately wanted Catholic, non-Anglo settlers to people their fragile frontier, but were fearful of possible Napoleonic agents, and foreigners of any origin were inherently distrusted. Spanish authorities rejected such plans, and shortly thereafter began to crack down on outsiders in the province. From 1806 on, they began rejecting new applicants wholesale and expelling many others suspected of illegal trade. Many of these rejected settlers relocated just outside the borders of Texas with a festering resentment, and possibly more: Hatcher notes the case of Juan Sy, a 40-year-old American, who was ordered arrested and fled the province. “It is quite possible that Sy as well as others…carried information to the enemy, for Baton Rouge and New Orleans – the goal of many lawbreakers – were even at this early date (1809) hotbeds of the revolutionists,” Hatcher wrote.[3]

[1] Document No. 2, “Number of Foreigners on the Texas Frontier, 1801, Census of Nacogdoches”. Hatcher, Appendix.
[2] Document No. 8, “Petition of Brady and Despallier, 1804,” in Hatcher, Appendix.
[3] Hatcher, 166.

1 comment:

  1. By the time of the Louisiana retro-cession from Spain to France Louisiana citizens were being supplemented by Americans from foreign countries, not sons of the patriots, to both the Mississippi Territory and the Isle of Orleans. Probably of greater concern to the officials of Texas was the threat of the influx of refugees from Santo Domingo . Some of the former Spanish Royalists wanted the protection of Spain, but another factor entered into the fray: the Spanish had new land granting restrictions on foreigners including the refusal to confirm both new and existing land claims to the foreigner wanting to settle west of the Mississippi. With the Louisiana Purchase being completed, the old land claims could again be litigated for ownership and possession (including the Baron de Bastrops lands which ultimately became the destination of those Americans "affiliated" with the so-called Burr Conspiracy. The west was opened wide and the land hungry Americans began, in earnest, their relentless drive to acquire new lands. To me, it seems the Americans of the time were land hungry and the French, in general on the Louisiana Texas frontier were there more for for the trade. My 2 cents!