In 1835, James F. Perry, the brother-in-law of Stephen F. Austin and one of the more successful planters in Austin’s Colony, signed a promissory note to James W. Fannin in the amount of $1,973.34.
This information is contained in an article titled, “The African Slave Trade in Texas,” by Eugene C. Barker, a noted author of historical information about early Texas.
In this article, Barker lists statements by W.F. Zuber and B.F. Highsmith confirming that Fannin had imported “a hundred” Africans to Texas in 1835.
A notation on the instrument signed by Perry states that it was given for “value received” from Fannin, who was one of several well-known early Texas colonists involved in slave trading.
On two different occasions in 1836, official notice of the slave smuggling problem was addressed by Texas officials, including David G. Burnett, President Ad Interim of the newly formed Republic of Texas.
In December of that year, Austin instructed William H. Wharton, Minister to the United States, to seek cooperation from the U.S. government in stopping such importations.
In this letter, Austin explained that Texas would not tolerate such traffic, but U.S. officials needed to be “apprised of such attempts to carry on a piratical commerce by her own citizens through her territory and in American vessels.”
Barker’s article notes that although there was no documentary evidence of such slave smuggling after Texas’s annexation, “many old Texans remember that Africans were frequently sold in the State,” even into the late part of the 1850s.
Allen A. Platter, whose doctoral dissertation provides the history of a number of Brazoria County plantations, mentioned stories told by long-time residents Stephen S. Perry and Harold Graves that had “given credence” to the stories about a spot known as African Landing.
Those two men told him of having heard the story of “a blackbirder, or slave smuggler,” who had landed a cargo of slaves there.
Planters who had gathered to make purchases made an enjoyable outing of the sale, which was followed by time spent visiting and playing cards.
According to one of these stories, Platter wrote, “When leaving for home, one of the plantation owners was unable to locate his large Newfoundland dog.
“The following day, after searching more carefully, he found a pile of clean dog bones beside a campfire where the slaves had been,” Platter added.
While other slave smugglers may or may not have used the African Landing site to unload cargoes of slaves, but it was known to as a spot favored by Fannin.
By late summer in 1835, as Texas colonists became increasingly unhappy with the demands of their Mexican citizenship, Fannin began to work toward military leadership, as well as material wealth, Gary Brown wrote in his biography of the Texas hero.
Brown cites Fannin’s correspondence as an indication of this, noting that although he had no apparent formal authorization, he sought professional military help from the United States Army.
These letters, including one written on Sept. 18, 1835, emphasize his expectations of armed conflict between the colonists and Mexican troops.
This letter, written to David G. Mills, the co-owner with his brother, Robert, of several plantations and a thriving Texas business, states that residents of the Caney Creek area planned to secure arms and ammunition and to organize and collect volunteers to attack troops led by Mexican General Cos.
The plan was scrapped, however, following disputes in other areas. As a result, the small group of residents known as the Brazos Guards had joined a larger contingent of the Texans gathered at Gonzales in preparation for a march to Bexar.
They were reacting to a Mexican demand for the return of a small cannon they had loaned to residents in Gonzales for protection against Indians.
The militant Texans, now more concerned with protection against their Mexican overlords, were far from willing to surrender the weapon.
After the Texans attacked on Oct. 2, 1835, killing a couple of the Mexicans and injuring several others, the Mexican troops withdrew to Bexar, still without the cannon.
Fannin urged that other Texans join in the fight, urging them to come “armed and equipped for war, even to the knife,” in order to free themselves from “worse than Egyptian bondage, which now cramps … resources and retards … prosperity.”
Just a week later, in a letter to Texas General Stephen F. Austin, James Bowie resigned from duties assigned by Austin in order to join Fannin’s company.
He wrote that his action placed him “where my duty to my country and the principles of human rights shall be discharged … to the extent of my abilities as a private.”
Later that month, Austin appointed Bowie as a colonel to command jointly with Fannin, a captain, in leading a division of Texas troops.
These two officers led their men southward, taking possession of Mission Espada, and noting their intention to move to Mission Concepcion the following day.
When Fannin discovered this would involve a shortage of both foodstuffs and water, as well as quarters for his men, however, he requested the addition of another 50 men.
The Mexican troops in Bexar were experiencing a similar shortage of supplies and had sent men to find more, but their force had also received reinforcements, to total an estimated 750.
A force of about 50 reportedly attacked the Texans near the end of August, and in another letter to Austin, Fannin reiterated his previous requests for supplies and cash, as well as reinforcements.
Next week: Fannin becomes part-owner of area plantation.