Blacks in Colonial Spanish Texas

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Texas, United States on 2013-05-26 23:05Z by Steven

Blacks in Colonial Spanish Texas

Texas State Historical Association: A Digital Gateway to Texas History

Jesús F. de la Teja, Jerome H. and Catherine E. Supple Professor of Southwestern Studies and Regents’ Professor of History
Texas State University, San Marcos

From the initial encounters between the Old and New Worlds following Christopher Columbus’s voyages of exploration, African-descent people have been part of the story of the Americas. The African diaspora, although overwhelmingly a forced emigration carried out as part of the international slave trade, contributed to the creation of the complex multi-racial societies of Hispanic America. Hundreds of thousands of enslaved sub-Saharan Africans were sold into slavery in Spanish and Portuguese America between approximately 1550 and 1821. Hispanic legal and religious traditions allowed for considerable numbers of Africans to achieve manumission through gift or purchase, marry people of other ethnicities, produce free offspring, and in the Spanish world constitute one element of what came to be called the castas (racial/ethnic groupings). By the time of Spanish settlement in Texas in the early eighteenth century, the black Mexican population was composed overwhelming of free people of color, mostly identified as mulatto, combining European and American Indian elements…

…The complex characteristics of race and ethnicity in the broader Spanish empire were reflected in Texas’s Hispanic society. Miscegenation was widespread, and members of subordinate groups strove to “whiten” as they climbed the social ladder. In the socio-racial hierarchy of the Spanish colonial world, Spaniards stood at the top, followed by the various castas, with Indians and Africans at the bottom. Lighter skin brought with it the possibility of “passing” either for oneself or for one’s children. An analysis of extant sacramental records from San Antonio indicates that casta labels were often applied in an arbitrary and inconsistent manner. Additionally, military service tended to mask the actual phenotypical background of soldiers who were consistently listed as “Spaniard” during their active service, but whose casta might then devolve to that of a color quebrado (broken color) upon retirement. Consequently, census figures, which are available for the last decades of the colonial period, offer only an approximation of the size of the Afro-Mexican portion of the Texas population. In 1792 for instance, the civil (excluding military personnel) census summary for the province listed 415 mulattoes and 40 blacks in a reported casta population of 2,961. It also listed a total of 367 individuals in an “other” category, which reflects the ethnic ambiguity of many mixed-blood members of Hispanic Texas society. Similarly at Laredo, which was not a Texas jurisdiction until 1848, there were 155 mulattoes in a total town population of 718, making them the second largest casta group behind those categorized as Spaniards. The collapse of the mulatto population and substantial increase in the number of mestizos reported in census records from the late 1790s onward attests to greater possibilities for upward ethnic mobility on the Texas frontier….

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Yellow Rose of Texas

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Texas, United States on 2012-01-25 23:50Z by Steven

Yellow Rose of Texas

The Handbook of Texas Online
Texas State Historical Association

Jeffrey D. Dunn

James Lutzweiler

“The Yellow Rose of Texas,” one of the iconic songs of modern Texas and a popular traditional American tune, has experienced several transformations of its lyrics and periodic revivals in popularity since its appearance in the 1850s. The earliest published lyrics to surface to date are found in Christy’s Plantation Melodies. No. 2, a songbook published under the authority of Edwin P. Christy in Philadelphia in 1853. Christy was the founder of the blackface minstrel group known as the Christy’s Minstrels. Their shows were a popular form of American entertainment featuring white performers with burnt cork makeup portraying caricatures of blacks in comic acts, dances, and songs. The plaintive courtship-themed 1853 lyrics of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” fit the minstrel genre by depicting an African-American singer, who refers to himself as a “darkey,” longing to return to “a yellow girl,” a term used to describe a mulatto, or mixed-race female born of African-American and white progenitors. The songbook does not identify the author or include a musical score to accompany the lyrics:

There’s a yellow girl in Texas
That I’m going down to see;
No other darkies know her,
No darkey, only me;
She cried so when I left her
That it like to broke my heart,
And if I only find her,
We never more will part.

Chorus: She’s the sweetest girl of colour
That this darkey ever knew;
Her eyes are bright as diamonds,
And sparkle like the dew.
You may talk about your Dearest Mae,
And sing of Rosa Lee,
But the yellow Rose of Texas
Beats the belles of Tennessee.

Where the Rio Grande is flowing,
And the starry skies are bright,
Oh, she walks along the river
In the quiet summer night;
And she thinks if I remember
When we parted long ago,
I promised to come back again,
And not to leave her so.

Chorus: She’s the sweetest girl of colour, &c

Oh, I’m going now to find her,
For my heart is full of woe,
And we’ll sing the songs together
That we sang so long ago.
We’ll play the banjo gaily,
And we’ll sing our sorrows o’er,
And the yellow Rose of Texas
Shall be mine forever more.

Chorus: She’s the sweetest girl of colour, &c.

“Dearest Mae” and “Rosa Lee,” the only named females in the song, are the titles of two songs also appearing in Christy’s Minstrels songbooks. These songs were published earlier (1847–48) and are similar in style. Both are sung by a black man in a courtship setting with lyrics similar to those found in “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Dearest Mae, who was from “old Carolina state,” was described as follows: “Her eyes dey sparkle like de stars, Her lips are red as beet,” and “She cried when boff [both] we parted.” Rosa Lee lived in Tennessee and had “Eyes as dark as winter night, Lips as red as berry bright.”

…In 2011 Yale Divinity School Library archivist Joan Duffy uncovered material indicating that the song’s composer might have been John Kelly, a famous minstrel banjoist, comedian, and composer who took the stage name “J. K. Campbell” in 1851 at the request of a fellow minstrel performer. According to Edward Le Roy Rice (1911), in 1859 and 1860 Campbell was working with George Christy’s Minstrels at Niblo’s Saloon in New York City under name of J. K. Edwards before changing his stage name back to J. K. Campbell. A minstrel “comic song” composed circa 1861 by “J. K. Campbell,” entitled “Ham Fat,” is similar in style to “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” One of the lines reads: “You may talk about your comfort, But Massa is the man…”…

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