Slavery, although not the root cause of revolt, was undeniably linked to the Texas Revolution.
The issue caused discord between the colonists and Mexican officials. Laws existed in Mexico that aimed at ending slavery by curtailing the buying of slaves and dictating that all slave children be emancipated at age 14. Many Mexicans viewed slavery incompatible with their nation’s announced policy of equality for all, regardless of race. Others, however, saw the need to allow slaves in if the goals of immigration—economic prosperity and regional stability—were to be achieved.
In 1829, President Vicente Guerrero issued a decree abolishing African slavery, by then which existed only in a measurable degree in Texas. The colonists and their allies in the Legislature of Coahuila y Texas complained, securing an exemption for Texas. The Law of April 6, 1830, again closed Texas to slavery. However, in 1828 state lawmakers in Saltillo already gave the colonists a loophole than enable them to continue skirting prohibition on slavery. Based on Mexico’s own labour system of debt peonage, the state agreed to recognize labour contracts made in other countries, which allowed colonists to bring their human property under the guise of indentured servants. Thus, the South’s “peculiar institution” was transplanted to Texas. Records indicate that the number of slaves in Texas numbered 2,000 on the eve of the Texas Revolution.
Without a doubt, the best known person of African descent in the Texas Revolution was Joe, William B. Travis’ slave. Travis brought Joe with him when he travelled to San Antonio. Joe shared the hardship of the siege and even took part in the defense of the Alamo on the morning of March 6, 1836; only leaving the walls after Travis was killed. Having survived the battle, Joe was sent to Gonzales to spread the word of what had happened. Starved for news of the battle, Joe was brought before officials of the Texas government to tell them what he had witnessed. In fact, Joe’s account of the Alamo became the basis of the traditional tale of the battle.
Not all men and women of African descent living in Texas were slaves. Texas had a small but significant population of free blacks. A notable member of this group included William Goins, who owned a plantation near Nacogdoches. During the Texas Revolution, Samuel McCulloch was wounded in the capture of Presidio La Bahía. Hendrick Arnold served during the revolution as a Texan scout and spy. One member of the Alamo’s garrison was a freedman known only by the name John.