South of Slavery

As thousands of women, men and children fled North to Canada, thousands also fled South of US Slavery, to Mexican territory. As early as 1693, Spain’s King Charles II declared Spanish territory a safe haven, to any enslaved person held in bondage north of Spanish dominions. In return for military service, conversion to Catholicism, and loyalty the Spanish Crown former slaves seeking refuge were to be granted freedom and land on which to settle.

Additionally, in 1789, the King of Spain at the time, issued another royal decree that offered refuge and channels of liberation to any person enslaved who reached Spanish North America and asked for asylum. This decree, unlike the 1693 one, did not have any religious precedents or requirements. It mainly stated that any enslaved person fleeing foreign masters, who reach Spanish dominions and who asked for refuge, were to not be returned to their foreign enslavers.

1803 Reminder of Publication of Royal Cédula of 1789, Briscoe
Letter received at San Antonio de Bexar, September 12, 1807 regarding two enslaved men who fled Louisiana hoping to seek freedom in Texas territory. The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History

By the late 18th and early 19th centuries, thousands of people had ran to find freedom across Mexican spaces. In 1807 for instance, two enslaved men fled together from Louisiana hoping to petition the Spanish authorities for refuge at the frontier post at Nacogdoches, Texas. The men were relentlessly followed by two slave hunters who violently pursued them for days. Both men were captured, tortured and tied to a tree. They were able to untie themselves and leave their captors in the middle of the night. Unfortunately only one of the men made to Nacogdoches, and lamenting reaching that frontier without his companion, recounted the ordeal they endeavored to find freedom. The other man was likely unable to continue his own journey to freedom. The injuries he surely suffered at the hands of the two slave hunters, perhaps were too great and didn’t allow him to keep up. Perhaps his captors caught him unbeknownst to his companion. The reason he didn’t make it to Texas, might remain hidden in the archive for posterity. The reasons, however, for his escape, and his exodus out of the United States, allow his story to live, and be retold by storytellers who hope stories like his are never forgotten.

Throughout the nineteenth century, thousands of enslaved people fled the United States and made it to Mexico. One of the most famous individuals who fled South, was Joe, a Black man who had been enslaved by William Barrett Travis, a Texas Hero of today, who died fighting Mexican troops at the Battle of the Alamo. Joe fled to Mexico after the Texas embattlement for independence against Mexico, in 1837, taking with him two horses and accompanying a Mexican man. There are many stories regarding what happened to Joe. Some tell that Joe stayed in Mexico and lived a long life there. Others tell that he returned to Texas, and willingly asked to be re-enslaved. Other stories also tell of his return, after emancipation.

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