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Trinidad de Salcedo

The History of Trinidad de Salcedo

The Spanish colonial government founded Trinidad de Salcedo (1806-1813) during a period of geo-political tumult in Texas. The Spanish established a military post in Trinidad as a strategic point between Nacogdoches and San Antonio de Béxar in hopes of rooting out smuggled goods from Louisiana. During its brief existence, the settlement drew farmers, ranchers, soldiers, runaway slaves, famous explorers, and clergymen, many of whom hoped to keep the dream of Spanish Texas alive. Trinidad wrestled with several issues, including disease, unchecked immigration from the Louisiana Purchase, and the fires of Mexican Revolution which doomed the fledgling town to destruction after 7 years. The site of Trinidad has since been lost, but archeologists hope to one day uncover the ruins of the settlement.

Life at Trinidad

Settlers at Trinidad typically either served as soldiers at the garrison or farmed the Spanish-American frontier. Spanish officials charged the garrison with protecting Texas’s eastern frontier from outside threats. [1] According to contemporary accounts, the settlement went by many names including: Santísima Trinidad de Salcedo, Salcedo, Spanish Bluffs, Trinity, and Trinidad. [2]

The town’s Catholic priest, Father Fransisco Maynes, compiled a census of the area under order of the Spanish government to assess the town’s situation. The priest’s description reveals diverse groups living there. [3] His optimistic view describes the Spanish inhabitants of Trinidad as loyal, devout, Apostolic Roman Catholic subjects, many of whom tended livestock or grew crops. Other inhabitants came from Louisiana Territory, Europe, or the United States. Maynes described those who came from outside of Spanish Texas as more disposed to living in the country and dependent on hunting, preferring a frontier-based existence over a domesticated life. [4] He saw the foreign inhabitants as respectful towards Spanish citizens and the Catholic religion. Father Sosa of Nacogdoches the closest Spanish town to the East, believed Maynes's account as young and naïve, judging Trinidad’s inhabitants for having little sense of order, morality, or Christianity. [5]

The town’s location near the Trinity River provided a chance for inhabitants to make a living on the East Texas frontier. A diverse set of early settlers came from locations as near as Nacogdoches, but also from further away foreign locations like America, Ireland, Italy, and Germany. [6] Between 1807-1809 more individuals came from within Spanish Texas (from Béxar and Refugio), while some from the Mexican interior also arrived. [7] The majority of these later travelers herded for a living and continued their trade in Trinidad by keeping large stocks of cattle. Some occupants lived further away from the town as wanderers and low-end farmers called las rancherias (“the lesser farms”) Indians interacted with Trinidad but had less interest in farming or settling, choosing to move in and out of the area based on when the area flooded. [8] In addition to the farmers and ranchers, town surveys stated that 80% of male inhabitants had a professional background, while women and children provided the labor to grow vegetables including wheat, maize, beans, watermelon, and pumpkins. [9]

Problems at Trinidad

Trinidad faced many problems during its short existence. With the shifting of international borders due to America’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803, difficulties of frontier life, and the weakening grip of Spanish rule in the area, the settlement would not last a decade.

Sickness

One well-known visitor to the settlement, Zebulon Pike, came to Trinidad in 1807 after being apprehended by the Spanish officials when his second expedition of the Louisiana Purchase accidentally trespassed onto Spanish territory. After interrogations and apologies by Pike, Spanish leadership instructed him and his party to return to the United States by way of Trinidad. Pike’s diary recounts his short stay in the settlement, recounting that one hundred of its inhabitants had fallen sick. Bouts of sickness had first come to the settlement months after its founding in 1806 when flooding of the Trinity increased malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the region, and such outbreaks troubled the town several times during its existence. [10] Pike also recorded in his journal entry on Trinidad the presence of several runaway slaves. [11]

Gulf Coast Economics and Runaway Slaves

As Southern Americans populated the Gulf Coast Region in the early nineteenth century, Spanish Texas felt the consequences of the Southern agricultural slave-based economic system. One significant event in 1807 demonstrates the slave trade’s direct impact on Trinidad. Enslaved individuals previously owned by Louis Derbonne and his Louisiana planter neighbors fled into Spanish Texas by way of Nacogdoches and took refuge in the town.

Indignant with their economic loss, the Louisiana slavers wrote letters to Spanish Governor Salcedo, heralding threats of patrol mobs going into Spanish Texas and capturing their former charges. [12] They claimed the incident showed the Spanish officials too lax in their border security. While Spanish officials feared American incursion into Texas, they balked at the plantation owners’ threats, seeing the freedom seekers’ presence in Trinidad as a hinderance to Louisiana’s plantation labor system. [13]

Shifting Borders and Immigration Issues

International affairs also impacted the settlement. As foreigners moved into Spanish Texas after the Louisiana Purchase, many refugees- including smugglers- came to the region. Spanish officials insisted on enforcing the crown-mandated mercantilist economic policy of banning the sale of non-Spanish manufactured goods. This meant repercussions for any inhabitant caught buying such goods from a foreign trader-despite a severe shortage of domestically produced goods. This decision strained relations between the Spanish and other groups, as Comanches increased their demand for such items through gift exchange, while Louisiana and American merchants sought opportunities to trade with Indians and settlers willing to ignore Spanish law. [14] In 1808, the town’s garrison captured several smugglers who revealed their cooperation with a local commanding officer and several inhabitants of Salcedo to conduct clandestine business. Later, another solider stationed at Trinidad received a court-martial for “illegal trade activities", in 1812, this individual joining the revolutionary Gutierrez-Magee Expedition that forced the Spanish military in Nacogdoches and Trinidad to retreat westward. [15]

Spanish officials disagreed on how to deal with non-Spaniards coming into the region from American-owned Louisiana. Spanish Colonial Commandant, General Nemesio Salcedo, balked at allowing Louisiana refugees to settle Eastern Texas, but other high-ranking officials overruled General Salcedo because of the difficulty encouraging Spanish colonists to settle the frontier. They approved a plan allowing outsiders to stay in Trinidad if they signed a loyalty oath. [16] One day in September 1809, fourteen foreign migrants without passports or documentation showed up in Trinidad, and town leaders permitted the group to settle in Trinidad if they signed the required oath. Among the fourteen undocumented Europeans and American immigrants were men named John Magee, Henry Poston, Petter Patterson, John Lum, William Burgess, Joshua Reese, and Peter Brown. [17]


The Death Knell of Trinidad

After Father Miguel Hidalgo’s Cry of Dolores ignited the Mexican War of Independence, Spanish presence in Texas began to unravel. Activity surrounding the war led to the town’s destruction in 1813. An early American filibuster in Texas known as the Gutierrez-Magee Expedition, led by Bernardo Lara de Guitierrez and American Lt. Augustus Magee, plunged the region into turmoil, and when the expeditionary group temporarily occupied Trinidad, many locals moved away.

In late 1813, a Spanish army led by Colonel Ignacio Elizondo, a Spanish officer bent on counter-revolutionary revenge, fought their way East to Nacogdoches and executed many of the remaining Trinidad settlers and the army’s war prisoners before destroying the settlement. On the march back to San Antonio de Béxar, a soldier in Elizondo’s unit mortally wounded the colonel in anger over the massacre and destruction at Trinidad. [18] The American governor of Louisiana at the time, William Claiborne, estimated that the revolutionary violence uprooted 1,200 refugees. [19] Records of former Trinidad settlers show up later in places like the villages of Adaes near Natchitoches, Louisiana. [20]

After Elizondo laid waste to the town, time removed physical evidence of Trinidad from sight. The current location of the town remains a mystery, though modern readings of nineteenth century accounts believe the town’s archeological remains lie somewhere between the Highway 7 and 21 crossings of the Trinity River in Madison County, Texas. In 1936, the county erected a historical marker commemorating Trinidad near Antioch. The marker’s inscription states:

“Later known as Spanish Bluff • A fort and town as early as 1805 • Captured by the Magee-Gutierrez Expedition in October 1812 • Near here the survivors of the Battle of the Medina were executed in 1813 • Inhabitants of the town were butchered by order of the Spanish commander and the town desolated”


Editors’ Note: Due to the helpful work and publication of Texas Educator Jean L. Epperson, knowledge of the lost site of Trinidad remains available and allows for historians and archeologists to imagine the future discovery of this fascinating piece of Texas history. Her work was invaluable to this project and other works this project drew on to better explain Trinidad de Salcedo.

Images

Map of Trinidad de Salcedo
Map of Trinidad de Salcedo Artists conception of the description of Trinidad de Salcedo. Source: Jean L. Epperson, Lost Spanish Towns: Atascosito and Trinidad de Salcedo (Woodville, Tex: Dogwood Press, 1997), 61.
Signature of Nemesio Salcedo
Signature of Nemesio Salcedo Nemesio Salcedo - The Spanish official that sought to increase Spanish presence on the frontier, leading to the founding of Trinidad de Salcedo.
Miguel Hidalgo
Miguel Hidalgo Father Miguel Hidalgo’s Cry of Dolores in 1810 inspired Mexican Independence, but revolution encouraged the Magee Gutierrez Expedition that occupied Trinidad and provided justification for Col. Elizondo to extract revenge by destroying the town Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/Miguel_Hidalgo_retrato.png
Cattle Brands within Trinidad
Cattle Brands within Trinidad A number of Cattle Brand Symbols of the settlers of Trinidad de Salcedo. Source: Jean L. Epperson, Lost Spanish Towns: Atascosito and Trinidad de Salcedo (Woodville, Tex: Dogwood Press, 1997), 62.
Texas Historical Marker - Site of Trinidad
Texas Historical Marker - Site of Trinidad Located in Antioch, Texas, in Madison County and erected in 1936 by the State of Texas, it states: Later known as Spanish Bluff • A fort and town as early as 1805 • Captured by the Magee-Gutierrez Expedition in October, 1812 • Near here the survivors of the Battle of the Medina were executed in 1813 • Inhabitants of the town were butchered by order of the Spanish commander and the town desolated. Source: https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=220332 Creator: State of Texas

Metadata

James Goode and Christopher Peak, “Trinidad de Salcedo,” East Texas History, accessed May 26, 2024, https://easttexashistory.org/items/show/394.