Apr 05 2016
Longworth’s brief career (December 1865 to July 1866) as subassistant commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau is directly and inextricably connected to the Civil War, Reconstruction and the emancipation of the African slaves. His seven-year (September 1865 to 1873) tenure as a Wilson County official (Judge/Chief Justice/Justice of the Peace/County Clerk/District Clerk and County Surveyor) relates to a conflict that predates the Civil War. It is a conflict in which Longworth found an ally that shared his views and goals, descendants of Spanish and Mexican families that had lived in the San Antonio River Valley for over one hundred years.
The Wilson County Voter Registration Rolls from 1867 record 418 voters. Of those voters, 161 have Hispanic surnames and indicate long time residency in the area; of those, 87 simply list Texas as their place of birth, while 74 list Mexico as their place of birth and the Treaty annexing Texas in 1845 as their date of citizenship. Additionally, 98 former slaves were registered voters giving Longworth a solid majority on which to build support.52
William Longworth and the Spanish-speaking residents of the San Antonio River Valley came from traditions that viewed slavery as an evil. The Catholic residents of Mexico, who had become Texans when their lands were annexed, brought with them an anti-slavery tradition. William Longworth’s anti-slavery attitude came from Quaker traditions that supported abolition and assisted in the creation of the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape to freedom. In the San Antonio River Valley, the Spanish-speaking residents and William B. Longworth shared a common goal; they sought to move power away from the ex-slave masters of the Cibolo.
The San Antonio River Valley and the Cibolo River Valley are the two major watersheds that drain Wilson County. The San Antonio River Valley drains the western portion of the county and was populated by settlers from Spain and Mexico during the 18th century. The Cibolo Valley, which drains the eastern portions of the county, was settled by slave masters in the mid-19th Century and would come to represent the far western reaches of plantation slavery in South Texas.
The 1860 federal census reflects the population differences between the San Antonio River Valley and the Cibolo River Valley. The Cibolo Valley communities of Lavernia and Sutherland Springs show a combined total of 409 individuals with Anglo surnames and 3 with Mexican surnames. The community of Lodi in the San Antonio River Valley shows 834 individuals with Mexican surnames and 29 with Anglo surnames.
In the early 1850s, when citizens living in the area that would become Wilson County circulated petitions requesting that the Texas Legislature create a new county, a division in the political landscape emerged. The recently arrived slave masters in the Cibolo Valley, enthusiastically sought separation from Bexar County and San Antonio. Their attitudes were articulated by John Sutherland, who exchanged letters to the editor of the San Antonio Ledger with opponents to the separation from Bexar County.
Spanish speaking Texans, living along the San Antonio River, were cautious of separation from Bexar County. Living in haciendas, ranches, and villages along the Spanish road to La Bahia (now Goliad), their connection to San Antonio, the seat of government for Bexar County, was established through over one hundred years of residency and documented in the Mexican and Spanish Archives of San Antonio de Bexar. Many owned residences in San Antonio. John Sutherland wrote that Bexar County was unfairly taxing the wealthy Cibolo communities to pay for administrating parts of a county five hundred miles away. He wrote, “… I have lived in this county nearly seven years and that there has never been, to my recollection, but one resident of that portion of Bexar County proposed to be embraced within the limits of the new county, in the jail at San Antonio.”53 The relationship between the slave masters and the Mexicans was strained and turned into a violent confrontation.54
The Spanish speaking families along the La Bahia Road found employment in operating ox carts to and from the port of Indianola on the Texas coast. These slow moving ox carts populated the La Bahia road carrying countless European immigrants and tons of freight inland. Suspicious that Mexican ox cart operators were assisting runaway slaves seeking freedom in Mexico, those sympathetic to the slave masters raided ox cart trains and killed drivers in what is referred to as the Ox Cart War. For this same reason, the city of Seguin in adjacent Guadalupe County banned Mexican ox cart operators and re-established the community whipping post.55