In June 2015, Humanities Texas held a professional development institute for Texas teachers at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
The institute covered U.S. history from the periods of exploration to revolution, highlighting topics central to the state's eighth-grade social studies curriculum. Lectures and workshops addressed the European exploration and colonization of North America, the economic life of the British Colonies, the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the situation of American Indians during the colonial and revolutionary periods, women in the Spanish borderlands, and the history of Texas during the Mexican national and revolutionary periods.
These institutes were made possible with major funding from the State of Texas and ongoing support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Below are excerpts from faculty presentations delivered at "From Colonists to Revolutionaries."
Talking about native peoples as non-state actors or as not having a pre-state organization does not do justice to the complexity of their cultures. Native peoples' development of systematically-raised, domesticated plants is one of the great technological advances in all of human history. They did not have domesticated livestock that could provide dietary protein, pull a plow, or supply manure to fertilize fields. As a result, their agriculture significantly differs from European agriculture.
They developed plants that were more productive per unit of land than anything Europeans ever developed. These highly productive ears of corn were developed through experimentation and hybridization. The combination of corn—more technically, maize—beans, and squash is the most efficient agricultural complex in the world, and native peoples developed this. This agricultural system spread quite widely; it originated in Meso-America—essentially Central America—and initially spreads from there into two zones. One is in America in what we now call the Southwest; the other extends from the Mississippi Valley into the Ohio Valley. If we jump forward five hundred years, essentially, the eastern third of North America is one agricultural zone with another a robust zone in what we now call the Southwest.
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Europeans developed their own technologies that lent themselves more to the construction and maintenance of long-distance empire. These included the sailing ship. Nothing like the sailing ship was developed in the Americas. The Native Americans developed some very advanced watercraft—the birch bark canoe, for example. Europeans never developed anything as efficient for moving along rivers or being carried between watersheds as the birch bark canoe. The notion that native peoples didn’t have technology is not right. They had a highly developed technology for the purposes that they needed, and it is heavily based in wood rather than metals.
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The Catawba Deerskin Map was not made by people who are culturally insecure. It was not made by people who thought that their way of life was doomed. It was made by people who thought their way of life was superior and would last. They wanted this European governor to understand that relationships matter and that he had to work in the right way with the right people. His compliance would have proven that the Europeans were educable—they could be brought into the system. They would always be a little weird, but they could be a peaceful part of the system. Now, this runs against how we often tell the story of early America, which is a story of native peoples being doomed from the beginning and the native peoples' grim recognition of their situation. Remember that 1721 is more than two centuries into the process of colonization and that you’ve got people living not very far from the Atlantic coast who still think of themselves as in control. In our histories of colonial America, we would do well to linger longer on native peoples and on the fact that they still controlled the vast majority of the North American continent in this period.
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Everywhere in colonial America, you had encounters with native peoples, and those encounters were quite formative in terms of colonial enterprise. It is not the case that Europeans just came in and dictated their way of doing things. They tried their best, and after great loss of life, they often succeeded as they did in Virginia and in New England. But these successes are not happening uniformly or quickly, and they have considerable variation depending on the European partner and the native peoples in a given area.
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Native peoples weren’t just stuck in the old ways, fighting into the last ditch to keep what they had. They were figuring out what these newcomers had and how they could make it theirs and adapt it to their purposes. The horse is a prime example of this. Initially, the Spanish had the advantage of the technologies of steel, weaponry, and horses, and they used them to powerful advantage in the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries. Horses are a source of power, and native peoples wanted them, and they got them. They got them through theft, and then the horse herds reproduced. With trade, the horses spread with remarkable rapidity through the Great Plains, through much of the rest of the west, and over into the Great Basin. This process began in approximately the 1670s and 1680s in the southwest. Within a century, horses are commonplace throughout the Great Plains, and thousands of horses are appropriated by native peoples and used for their own purposes. It transforms a way of life.
One of the biggest factors of early Spanish exploration has to do with the way that Spaniards conceived of and imposed labor upon others in the New World. They were not interested in accessing land when they first arrived. That wasn't really their prime concern. They were interested in accessing labor so that Indians could work [Spanish] gold mines and so they could gain access to resources. Land comes later. It comes in the late seventeenth century and eighteenth century, but early on they want to access labor. This happens in the Caribbean very dramatically.
Indians are sorted out in what are called encomiendas, which is basically a grant of Indian labor. The more prominent you are on the hierarchical Spanish chain, the more Indians are allotted to your encomienda. But, there's a problem: disease. Indians are not immune to the diseases that Spaniards bring, and the Spaniards bring quite a host of sicknesses. Indians begin gradually to succumb from these, and then they die. The Taino population was estimated to be between a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. By the 1520s, they're down to several thousand. That is a dramatic, dramatic loss, and one of the things that I've really tried to somehow get my students to think about is that as a result of this contact, entire civilizations die out. We need to reconsider that fact when we think about the legacy of Columbus and when we think about the legacy of early Spanish exploration.
The other issue that we need to think about is slavery because, when Indians die, who's going to work? The Spaniards aren't going to work. They're too few, and they're averse to working. They want to elevate their position, and elevating their position does not include getting their hands dirty (at least not generally). So they decide, "We've had good success in the Canary Islands with African slaves—why don't we just bring Africans into the Americas?" "Ah, that sounds like a good idea." So it's in this very early stage of Spanish exploration that the vestiges of the Middle Passage and of slavery become very well ensconced in the Americas.
There were three primary institutions of Spanish colonization in North America. There was the mission, the presidio, and the villa. The mission was the primary method of Christianization of Native Americans. It began as a re-conquest when Spaniards expelled the Moors from Iberia. Missions were much more than just churches. We have a tendency today to think of them in such terms because the one surviving architectural element of missions in most places is the church building. But, missions were really similar to residential college or high school campuses. Native Americans lived there. They were indoctrinated. They studied there. They were taught useful skills. They were taught the Spanish language. Being catechized, baptized, and confirmed was only a part of the whole mission experience.
Then there were presidios, the Spanish fortresses. Of course, there were presidios all throughout the area of Spanish colonization, and these presidios were different than British forts because most of the presidio soldiers brought their families with them. If we could go back in time and look at a presidio, like the one in this sketch of the Presidio of San Francisco in California, we would see that they did look like forts, but they also had many of the social, cultural, and demographic attributes of a town or a community. Many of the Spanish soldiers lived there with their families, wives, and children. Unlike the English colonial model, the majority of Spanish soldiers were not transferred from place to place. They had a tendency to have what in our parlance today would be called a "permanent assignment," so it wasn't unusual to find presidio soldiers who were very "long in the tooth."
The final component of Spanish colonization is the villa, modeled on, of course, the famous Reconquista villas of Spain. This is a picture of San Juan de Aznalfarache in Andalucía. The image very clearly points out the fact that these villas were self-contained communities in which everybody lived. Nobody lived out in the countryside. In fact, in Spain people living out in the countryside were very unusual. They were called ante andante, or "walking people," and there was actually no reason for them to be there. Farmers, herdsmen, and everybody who had countryside occupations lived in the cities, and they had definite edges of settlement. Beyond that edge of settlement for miles to the next villa, you found nothing but open unsettled ground.
Small groups of colonists could have an enormous impact upon North American regions through trade; the unwitting and unplanned spread of disease; the formation of alliances with certain native peoples; and the spread of guns, gun powder, and lead as weaponry. Even small groups of Europeans could have a great impact on the continent of North America and its native peoples.
If you look at the map of North America, the French have very extensive and widespread influence beyond their numbers. The number of French colonists in North America doesn't compare in any way to the number of British who came, for example, or to the number of Germans who came to the British colonies in the eighteenth century, or to the Scots. Those French had an enormous influence, nonetheless. This influence can be seen in the fur trade, in transformations in Native life, and in the continental influence of the French beyond the Saint Lawrence River, which was the core region of what the French called Canada, after an Indian word of unknown origin. The French also called Canada "New France."
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Samuel de Champlain, who famously founded Quebec in 1608, was an amazing explorer because of his drive, his ambition, his patriotism, and his Catholicism. He may have been born a Protestant, but he adopted Catholicism at an early age because that was the dominant religion. Champlain made many voyages to North America, and the voyages across the Atlantic took six to ten weeks at a time. Can you imagine that in a small ship on the ocean? Champlain not only navigates Acadia but goes up the Saint Lawrence River all the way to the Great Lakes over a period of fifteen to twenty years. He documented his famous involvement as an ally of the Hurons and Algonquins against the Iroquois in his book, De Sauvages or Of the Indians.
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The French were very skilled in cartography, far more advanced at this time than the Spanish in terms of knowledge of the North American interior and the mapping of it. They were well ahead of the English because of their involvement in the Saint Lawrence Valley interior and then later the Mississippi. The English [borrowed] from French maps to learn about the interior of North America.
We usually think of British America as the Thirteen Colonies, but actually the Thirteen Colonies are half of British America, in terms of the number of colonies. When we talk about British America, we often leave out Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, and the West Indies, which were British colonies. Significantly, they are prized British colonies because their sugar plantations are so productive in generating economic benefits for the empire. We also often leave out Nova Scotia, and we forget that by 1763 Quebec is a British-controlled colony. We also neglect the Hudson Bay Company or Newfoundland. By this count, there were twenty-seven colonies in British America in 1763, but only half of them were rebellious. As a result, the American revolution is a civil war within the British Empire in which half of the colonies decide to stay loyal. Or—I should say—the leaders of half of the colonies decide to stay loyal.
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To qualify that, the great majority of colonists live in the thirteen colonies. The largest concentration of people were in those colonies that rebelled, the famous thirteen. Region, however, is a factor. Characteristically, historians will refer to New England as one of the regions. They’ll talk about the middle colonies—New York and Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware—as a second cluster. They’ll speak of the Chesapeake as a third cluster—meaning Maryland and Virginia. And, then, they’ll speak of the Deep South—meaning North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina—as a distinct region. There is not a tendency among colonial historians to talk about “the south” as being monolithic because there are important distinctions between the Chesapeake and the Deep South. Then there is another important region, which is the West Indies. In fact, British America doesn’t make sense as an economic or imperial construction without the West Indies because the West Indies were the most prized region in the empire.
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The majority of people going to New England move there during one decade: the 1630s. A large number of them are young couples with some young children, and they go on to have more young children once they arrive. In contrast, the people who are going to the West Indies and the Chesapeake in the seventeenth century are overwhelmingly the worst population for growth: single young men in desperate circumstances who are migrating as indentured servants. Now, this is not always the case, but I’m talking about the majority. Three quarters of those who go to the Chesapeake or the West Indies during this period are single young men going as indentured servants. Now there’s another 25 percent who have substantial money. These individuals are going freely and are bringing their families with them. This demographic is much smaller than the number of families settling New England. As a result, New England is a weird region during colonial America in that it’s not being settled in the same way as the rest of English America. The numbers of people going to New England are smaller, but their population grows faster. Eventually, they come to have a disproportionate impact on the future of the colonial enterprise because of their demographic success. The New England colonists also have cohesion. They have a tribalism to them, which irritates the hell out of other colonists. Other colonists don’t much like New Englanders.
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During the seventeenth century, the English government was keen to push out troublemakers. They’re happy to see the Puritans go. They’re happy to see a lot of desperately poor people go. This exodus solves a number of social and political problems in England in the seventeenth century. When we get to the eighteenth century, the empire has a different set of problems: global wars against the French and the Spanish. They need cheap soldiers and sailors. They need their manufacturing to grow. They want to keep cheap English labor at home. They start to discourage the movement of English people out of England, and they start encouraging the immigration of Protestants from other places in the world. Scotland is desperately poor, poorer than England. Ulster is also poor, even poorer than England. People can leave these places in the eighteenth century, and the English who are governing the empire are fine with it. And, if they can get German Protestants to go, they see that as a net gain for the British Empire. They don’t want Catholics coming to England. There are Catholics who do slip into England, but they prefer Protestants because they see their enemies as being the Catholic Spanish and the Catholic French.
The Puritans came to America for their own religious freedom. They didn't come to give religious freedom to other people. That's not what Puritanism is all about. Puritanism is a theocracy, and there's no freedom to believe things that are wrong or to act in ways that that the community considers inappropriate. By law, every town had a church, and the church was supported by taxes, whether you were a member of the church or not. You have to apply for membership in the Church, and you just don't say, "Come on and join the church." You have to apply and you have to be examined before you're allowed to become a member of the church. But, if you were in Massachusetts, you were taxed for the support of the Church. There are also rules of behavior in New England. Modesty is a law in New England.
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The Puritans particularly hated the Quakers because Quakers would not take oaths. Quakers allowed women to speak in meetings. Quakers believed that God could speak to them. The Quakers believed that God could speak to them directly without the intercession of ministers. As a result, they're often punished for their beliefs. They're beaten or even executed for their beliefs. A very famous Quaker martyr was a woman named Mary Dyer in Massachusetts Bay. She refused to renounce Quakerism or to leave the colony. She was hanged in Boston Common in 1660. That monument there is outside the Massachusetts State House today.
Quakers are held in disrepute in Massachusetts as well as in England. The most prominent Quaker in England and then in America was William Penn, a member of a very wealthy English family. In 1681, King Charles II gave Penn forty-five thousand acres of land in America, which became Pennsylvania. It became the Pennsylvania Colony. The King actually owed the Penn family a lot of money, and this was a way to discharge that debt. As a result, Penn came to America and created a haven for Quakers. Penn referred to Pennsylvania as "a holy experiment." It truly was an experiment because Pennsylvania became a colony where members of any religion were free to practice their faith. There was no established church. There were no taxes for the support of the church. There were no religious requirements at all in Pennsylvania, and it was the only colony like that.
British colonists in North America shared certain perspectives that are unique to their heritage. They came from a European culture in which land is scarce and labor is abundant. They moved to a continent where land was abundant and labor was scarce. That's an important distinction between the colonists and the mother country and one that really has had an impact on the way the colonies developed.
Another important colonial belief is the popular acceptance of forced labor, either from indentured servants or from slaves. There was a labor shortage in the colonies. As a result, the use of forced labor is one way that a landowner can get the labor he needs in order to farm land that he has. Almost all of the white colonists came from a European culture that accepted social hierarchy and the idea of subordination, and involuntary servitude is easily incorporated into that worldview. About half of the English colonists came as indentured laborers.
Another large percentage of the colonists came, not from England, but from Africa, and they are also part of this involuntary labor force. Slavery was legal in every Atlantic coast colony, and that is something I really want you to emphasize to your students because they tend to think of slavery as occurring only in southern colonies. In many of the northern colonies, slavery was an important part of economic life, particularly in colonies like Rhode Island and New York.
Commerce raiding is marauding at sea. It's the dominant type of naval warfare until about 1650, at which point we start building fleets and getting into battles. But commerce raiding is there all the time. Navies did commerce raiding. You're always going to have navies who do commerce raiding, but you're also going to have these folks called privateers. Privateers are allowed to engage in marauding at sea. They are legal, but they are not naval personnel. They are private parties who are given a letter of marque, which is a license by the government to engage in this commercial raiding. On the one hand, these privateers are a legal part of the naval warfare landscape. On the other hand, you have the pirates who are marauding as well, except that it's illegal in their case. There's no legality about it. It's criminal. Often those who have been involved in privateering will slip in to piracy.
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The buccaneers are a movement that emerged in the Caribbean. They are transnational. Their primary numbers are actually French. The word "buccaneer" comes from the French boucanier. Then you have the English. You have a pretty good Dutch representation. I think the most famous buccaneer would be Henry Morgan from Captain Morgan's Rum, based out of Jamaica. The buccaneers had two bases: Jamaica, which was English, and Tortuga, off the coast of what is now Haiti, which is where the French buccaneers were based. You also have a later movement called the deep-sea pirates. The most famous of these pirates is Blackbeard. That movement started around 1690 and really picks up steam in 1713 at the end of the War of Spanish Succession. The movement was fed by a lot of privateers who were suddenly out of work because the war has ended and they go into piracy. That movement is over by about 1730. The most prolific of these deep-sea pirates is Bartholomew Roberts. If you've ever seen The Princess Bride, you know the Dread Pirate Roberts. That is Bartholomew Roberts. Here is his Jolly Roger—the flying of this flag was one of the stereotypes that is true. It was the deep-sea pirates who flew these flags. These pirate movements are all part of the colonial experience.
What people rarely understand or realize is that [the French and Indian War] was a naval war. France lost five times more ships of war than Britain. France lost six times the number of privateers and three times as many commercial vessels. That is why Britain was ultimately going to win this war. The English had ships to transport their armies to theaters of operation, including to Fort Louisburg, taking that in 1758. 1758 saw the capture of Fort Duquesne. 1759 saw the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Crowpoint in the Lake Chaplain corridor and the capture of Quebec. All of these were made possible by the presence of the British navy. Ultimately, this war begins over the question of the Ohio River Valley, but it's the ability of England to control those waters that would give them advantages over France. By 1763, England had gained control of French Canada.
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Naval commanders tend to look more at strategic questions. Army commanders look more at tactical questions. As a naval commander and now as the Governor General of Canada, the Marquis de la Galissoniere is looking at how to protect all of France's possessions in North America. He writes a memoir published in December 1750 called The Importance and Necessity of Preserving Canada and Louisiana. He said, "Nothing must be spared to strengthen these colonies, since they may and are to be considered the bulwark of America. " He also said that if the English got their hands on them, then they would surely, most certainly, acquire the superiority in Europe. He understood that holding this territory in North America was what was so important. In 1749, he came to the realization that France had to strengthen its hold on North America. They had control over the St. Bart's River, much of the area around the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi River valley. The great gap in France's control in North America was an area of land between the southern shores of Lake Erie and the headwaters of the Ohio River. That was the weak link in France's New World empire. And it just happens to be the same area for which English settlers were crossing over the Appalachian Mountains and moving into this area.
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The British have always had this expression that you do not win the war unless you win the peace. With the peace negotiated in the 1763 Treaty of Paris, they are able to negotiate and secure control over French Canada. The British had captured Havana. They had captured the Philippines. They traded Havana and the Philippines for East and West Florida. They wanted the beautiful white sand beaches of the Gulf [of Mexico]. They also were able to solidify their control over the Indian subcontinent. As a result, the map of North America changes. France is removed from that map, as France had given its western territory to Spain for its entrance in the war. By the end of this conflict, the British Empire is an empire on which the sun will never set. This era is the pinnacle of what is referred to as the first British Empire, and what made that possible was the British navy's control of the waterways.
The Magna Carta was very much central to the Thirteen Colonies' inheritance of English liberty. In the 1760s and 1770s, you can still see the Magna Carta being invoked in many of the debates between Parliament in London and the Thirteen Colonies in North America. For example, when the Massachusetts Assembly declared the Stamp Act, that notorious act of 1765, to be null and void, they argued that it was "against the Magna Carta and the natural rights of Englishmen."
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The colonists are only taking up arms to secure their liberties as Englishmen that were being denied to them by the mother country. The denial of these liberties alienated them from their own political tradition. As a result, the great paradox is that an empire that was bonded together on the principles of liberty and a commitment to liberty was also rent asunder by these principles, rent asunder by disagreements in how to interpret exactly what that liberty was and what constituted that liberty.
It's important to emphasize that, in the eighteenth century, the British throughout the Atlantic world understood liberty not as some abstract universal right that applied or adhered to everyone but as something rather particular. Liberty was inherited as part of that legacy of the turbulent seventeenth century when Parliament and the Commons had won a degree of sovereignty back from the king. It's important to keep in mind the idea of liberty as an inherited right when considering why British definitions of liberty increasingly diverged from colonial ones. Thus, for Englishmen—whether they were in the British Isles, in North America, or in the Caribbean Islands—their empire was a necessary defense of their liberty. Empire was a sine qua non of enjoying their liberty because, if they did not have the strength of empire, they did not carry their liberties with them, and they could not defend themselves against the much larger absolutists powers of France and Spain.
As a result of the territory that was gained with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the British Empire now looked a lot different.... The map of North America reflects this expansion of empire. The British had won Quebec but also had added Florida, as well as territories stretching westward of the Appalachians all the way to the Mississippi River. This phenomenon was not just simply growth in territory; it was a significant change in the demographics of the British Empire. The British Empire was no longer just a bunch of hardy Protestant merchants and settlers interested in trade; now the Empire was multi-ethnic, polyglot. There were the teeming millions of Hindus and Muslims in India who now had to be ruled over. There were the French Catholics in the province of Quebec who had not been tutored or raised in the traditions of English liberty. Moreover, there were Native Americans in Florida and much of what is now the American Midwest. Imperial administrators now had to tighten the bonds of empire in some ways. They had to assert greater control over people who had not been part of that empire of liberty. As much as administrators and colonial secretaries had really wanted to rely on that decentralized network of the empire of liberty, they found that increasingly they would have to rely on force—on naval force but also on military force—to secure the frontier.
There were different perceptions of reality coming out of the Seven Years War. The colonists thought: We made substantial contributions to the war effort. That’s the American attitude. We gave. We supported. We fought. Too often we’re treated as second-class citizens. After the war, George Washington wanted to get a commission for his Virginia regiment and for himself in the regular British establishment. He was turned down because he was a colonist. They also thought: But what is the empire doing now? It’s beginning to crack down on us with all sorts of new policies. We don’t like that, and so we’re seeking more provincial political and economic control. Then the colonists developed policy solutions as well as arguments like no taxation without representation. This argument grows with the Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act 1765. Then a resistance movement begins to develop. We are going to exercise a right to petition. The British ignore our petitions.
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The colonists pursue economic boycotts. These major boycotts that emerge after the Stamp Act, the Townsend Duties, and the First Continental Congress affect British attitudes. The colonists also pursue "crowd actions," though some people prefer the terms "mob actions" or "riots." This is open defiance of the law as it is being written and presented by the British, but the ultimate solution for the American colonists is what? If you can't get your way and your perception is that you are being mistreated, what can you do? These solutions proceed to a state of rebellion. In the 1760s and the 1770s, the colonists perceive that the British government is trying to tamp down their fundamental liberties. It's like there is a conspiracy to destroy them, as the great historian Bernard Bailyn once wrote. The colonists also talk about political slavery. They know what slavery is like, and they don’t want to be in a state of slavery.
The question is, what the hell was Cornwallis doing in Yorktown, Virginia? He had a lot of success in the lower South. The British army had captured Savannah, then Charleston, and then had a great victory in Camden, South Carolina. There were a few defeats as well, but why had he come? It was hot in North and South Carolina in the summer of 1781, and Cornwallis wasn't used to that heat and neither were his men. The heat was not so much the problem, but something was the problem.
He reported that his army was very sickly, and he thought, "Maybe I can make my men better by moving them toward the North." And he's probably right, actually, because the Carolinas were a malarial region. He knew they were in a malarial region; he just didn't know that mosquitos—which also transmit yellow fever—cause malaria. We think that trying to improve the health of his army was one of the major reasons why he was headed north. The southern colonies were a place where the American soldiers had a real advantage over the British soldiers in that many of them had already recovered from malaria or yellow fever. The people who were going to be killed by those diseases had already died as children. As a result, the American army was much less vulnerable.
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The French are essential to the battle of Yorktown. We wouldn't have won if Rochambeau hadn't been there to convince Washington to go, and so south they headed. They bottled up the British at Yorktown. The British tried to escape to Gloucester, but a squall prevented that, and so I like to say the British surrendered on October 17. They officially surrendered on the October 19, but they went up with their white handkerchiefs on October 17, 1781. The soldiers who accepted the surrender of those 7,500 British soldiers consisted of about 9,000 American soldiers and 9,000 French soldiers. Some people say there were even more French soldiers, but certainly it's the case that they made up half of the army. When we say that the Americans forced Cornwallis to surrender, we're not stating the truth. The Americans and the French did. The Americans couldn't have done it without the French.
Why are the British trapped there? Why can't they have that famous British navy that rules the waves come rescue them? They're right there on the coast—couldn't the British navy come rescue them? Well, they didn't rule the waves of the Chesapeake because a French navy under Comte De Grasse defeated the British navy on September 5, 1781. Those are the three ways in which France is essential to Yorktown: convincing Washington to go, preventing an escape by sea, and by supplying half of the troops that produced that victory at Yorktown.
So much in American history, or at least our perception of it, has been shaped by old movies with cowboys and Indians. In these movies, you have two very different societies that only interact under adverse circumstances and don’t seem to have any understanding of each other. However true or untrue that is in terms of the late nineteenth century, in colonial America native and European interaction was actually ubiquitous. It was daily. Even though these peoples were very different culturally, they knew one another quite well on certain levels. For instance, if we were in Boston, New York City, or Charleston, then you would see Native Americans every single day in those cities. They might even be in your own households. They would be workers, domestic servants, indentured servants, and slaves. They would be coming in and bringing in goods to sell.
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Relationships between the indigenous peoples and the European Americans became familial in the colonial period. What happens to change this? Part of it is what we call racialization. Increasingly, especially in the eighteenth century and as we move forward, Europeans develop an ideology of racism that places all non-Europeans—which they call non-whites—below whites in a very different way than in the earlier centuries. Intermarriage becomes more frowned upon. This divide takes place especially, some people would argue, during the American Revolution and afterward. A good deal of this has to do with the increasing racialization between whites and blacks. How are Indians going to be classified? The Spanish and French societies create different forms of status for different peoples. People who are half-white and half-black have a higher status than those who are fully African. But, in English society—and, thus in the United States—there was not that same kind of nuance. Instead, there was a strict divide that attempted to put whites on one side and non-whites on another.
One thing that's different about Spanish settlement in Texas, as opposed to the British colonization, is that the settlers lived in towns. Spanish towns were laid out around the plaza, so you have the government building right here, and the plaza would be in the middle, and then all your houses would spread out from the plaza. The closer you were to the plaza, the richer you were. The plaza was where you gathered and what you had to cross to go get your groceries. You had to cross the plaza to go visit your neighbor. As a result, everybody was always seen in the plaza, and this was the center of life. This was where you had birthday celebrations. This is where you had fandangos. This is where business transactions took place and where everybody saw each other every day. There were no secrets. There was no going out and living sixty miles from town—which would have been dangerous because of Indians—primarily because Spanish heritage entailed living in towns. During the day, men would go out and work the fields and then come back to town at the end of the day. And women were in town always. They didn't go out to the fields. They had work to do in town. This was urban living, not rural, as most of the British colonies were. The church was also the center of town.
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What was life like for women in the Spanish borderlands? A lot like life in underdeveloped countries everywhere. Women were responsible for the family; they worked hard; they were producers. They produced most everything their families needed. And they also attained a very high status because of this.
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British and Spanish colonization happened at roughly the same time. They did the same things, but they did them differently. Religion was very much a central part of [Spanish colonial] existence, and women in Spanish areas had many more legal rights and much higher social standing than they did in the British colonies.
Prior to 1820, Americans could buy a small farm from the federal government and buy it on credit. They then had they had four years to pay back the loan. That had made land cheap and easily available for ordinary farmers and settlers. However, in 1820 the government changes its policy. You could still buy an eighty-acre farm in the U.S. public domain, but you had to pay for in cash upfront. One hundred dollars for an eighty-acre farm. One hundred dollars is about what a working man would expect to make in a year. Certainly, in the immediate aftermath of [the Panic of 1819], people didn't have money in their pockets at all. The change in land policy put the acquisition of a small farm out of the reach of ordinary Americans. As a result, ordinary Americans are now receptive to moving to a place where they can make a living at a cheaper price. In 1823, the newly independent Mexican government established what it called the empresario system whereby foreign colonization agents, of which Stephen F. Austin was the most famous, could apply to the Mexican government for a contract to settle an area. We often call these contracts "land grants," but that's a misleading term. Austin wasn't granted the land. It wasn't his land. He was the agent for the Mexican government as empresario. Eventually, there would be a number of empresario grants.
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What did you have to do to get an empresario grant? You had to agree to obey the laws of Mexico; you had to agree to become a Roman Catholic; you had to agree to be a peaceable, law-abiding citizen of Mexico; and you had to pay a few modest fees to the government for your title to have the land surveyed—all in all, about one hundred dollars.
In the early years of his colony, Austin granted generous credit. Not having the money to pay the fees never stopped anyone from coming to Austin's colony. Many people just showed up and said, "Here I am. I've got a certificate of good character from my local church congregation or my local Masonic lodge." Austin would say, "Okay, here's your 4,600 acres of land. Go out and settle it. Start paying me back when you can." In fact, when Austin died in 1836, he had hundreds and hundreds of accounts receivable from colonists who still had never paid their land fees but who had the titles to their land. Stop and think about this for a minute: If you are a hypothetical American citizen, it's 1821 and the hangover from that horrible recession continued for several years. American government policy has changed, and you don't have a hundred dollars to shell out for an eighty-acre farm. Furthermore, the public domain was pretty picked over by that point in the western United States. Your alternative is that you can come to Austin's colony, where you can get 4,600 acres of land instead of eighty. You can get it on credit with no money up front, and you will have your choice of some of the most fertile land anywhere for growing cotton. That's a very powerful factor pulling these American colonists into Mexican Texas.
The question then is, what are you going to do with that much land? There are two answers. The first one is a one-word answer: cotton. The United States was in the midst of the greatest cotton boom and one of the greatest economic booms in its history. If you could successfully raise even a few acres of cotton in the 1820s or 1830s, you had the potential in a very few years to become not just comfortable, but fabulously rich. But in order to do that, you needed the right kind of land: good river-bottom-type land with the right climate as the South had and as the eastern half of Texas had. Additionally, you needed someone to work the land and, of course, that meant slavery. Cotton is very labor-intensive. One family couldn't grow much cotton, but if you had a few slaves and could make a few bales of cotton and successfully get that cotton to market, you could make enough money to buy some more slaves the next year, plant more land, and in a very few years you could become wealthy.
There's an iconography of the Revolution that we can read back into the colonial period, in terms of folklore, or indeed around particular touchstones: democracy, republicanism, and so on. What we really have to do is stop for a moment. When I teach early American history now, I try to stop before the Revolution when I put that unit together. What I try to do, essentially, is say to my students, "Look, come with me into a different world. There is no Constitution. There is no flag. There is no pledge of allegiance. In a sense, there is no citizenship either. There's subjecthood and oaths in relationship to that. It's a very different kind of world." Many of the words that we use are different, and they have different kinds of meanings when we talk about democracy, for example. It's important for us to recognize that we shift radically in terms of focus. If you'd have asked Thomas Jefferson in 1771 if he'd be able to imagine the American republic of which he became president, it wouldn't have been within his imagination. What he would have realized very clearly is that there were these important centers of polity.
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Institutions matter. Political power matters. Amid the broadening nature of historical discourse and the desire—the right desire—to bring in as many people as possible, what we have to recognize is that there's an elite element to political history. There's no question about it. You look at early America, and there are these elites who over the course of two or three generations come to shape the kind of political discourse and political relationships that are so important in early America. These elites become important from the Revolutionary years onward. By its very nature, there's a narrowness to American politics, relative to the kind of expansiveness of cultural history, which has a broader kind of inclusiveness. I think it's important to have both in order to understand what happens down the road and to understand what the colonial context means to later American history.