Chapter 1: Ardent Adventurers and Borderland Beauties: Tender Ties beyond the Pale
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Name /T1405/T1405_CH01 12/06/00 06:06AM Plate # 0-Composite pg 1 # 1 A multiracial frontier provided novel mating choices for men who rebuilt their personal lives in the northernmost province of the new Republic of Mexico. In 1826, after four years of marriage, William Smith of Missouri abandoned his wife, Harriet Stone, and their three children and headed for Texas to start over. Converting nominally to Catholicism in order to become a Mexican citizen, the enterprising civil engineer first settled in Gonzales. After four years of rediscovered ‘‘bachelorhood’’ in this rough-andtumble town, during which time he changed his name to John W. Smith, he moved to San Antonio. There he began a relationship with Marı́a Jesusa Delgado, a woman from a prominent San Antonio family. Claiming to have immigrated from North Carolina and concealing from Marı́a his existing marriage to Harriet and his Missouri children , John married Marı́a in a festive ceremony before the town’s only Name /T1405/T1405_CH01 12/06/00 06:06AM Plate # 0-Composite pg 2 # 2 Catholic priest on 22 February 1830. Thereafter, the Mexican government granted to John an hacienda amounting to more than 5,750 acres, including the extra one-fourth available to immigrant men who married Mexican women.1 After playing a critical role in the siege of San Antonio in 1835 and fortuitously eluding death at the Alamo, the veteran of the Texas War of Independence returned to Marı́a and their children and built an important political career. Thanks to Delgado family influence, John repeatedly won elections to the mayorship of San Antonio between 1837 and 1842. His courageous efforts in resisting and helping to expel Mexican troops who invaded the town in March 1842 further solidified his reputation and leadership stature. In 1844 and 1845 John served as senator from Bexar County in the Texas Congress.2 As the years passed, Marı́a may well have learned of John’s prior marriage . Harriet divorced him in 1833 and moved to Texas six years later with their children and a new husband. Even if Marı́a did learn of Harriet , however, she appears to have enjoyed a satisfying life with John until his death on 12 January 1845. According to his obituary in the Texas National Register, John W. Smith ‘‘was of most benevolent disposition , a devoted patriot, and an affectionate husband and father. . . . A wife and five children survive to grieve for this afflicting dispensation of Providence.’’3 It does not seem Harriet and her children agreed entirely with this glowing encomium. Soon after John’s death, his children by Harriet filed suit in Bexar County Court to claim their father’s expansive estate and exclude Marı́a and her children. The basic allegation was that Marı́a could not have legally married John in 1830 because of his undissolved marriage to Harriet. The unsavory implication of the suit was that Marı́a had been an illicit consort and the children she had with John were all bastards. Protracted litigation worked its way up to the Texas Supreme Court twice in the ten years following John’s death. In the 1846 decision of Smith v. Smith and the 1856 ruling in Lee v. Smith, the high court expansively interpreted Spanish doctrine to uphold Marı́a’s bigamous marriage to John, her right to a one-half community share in the estate, as well as the inheritance claims of her and John’s Anglo-Hispanic children.4 The rulings of the Texas Supreme Court certainly provided Marı́a and her children a just result. Less obvious is how a multiracial pattern of sexual intimacy rooted in frontier demography and cross-cultural homesteads ungovernable   2 Name /T1405/T1405_CH01 12/06/00 06:06AM Plate # 0-Composite pg 3 # 3 interaction prompted the relationship of John W. Smith and Marı́a Delgado. Most contemporary jurists perusing the decisions of Smith v. Smith and Lee v. Smith, at least, would be hard pressed to glean simply from the language of the opinions the ethnocentric, pragmatic, and political considerations undergirding the union of John and Marı́a. As much as any other development , a distinctive pattern of population growth facilitated the intimate relations of Anglo-Texan men with indigenous women and Tejanas5 in antebellum Texas. John W. Smith’s resettlement there in 1826 was part of a massive Anglo-American migration beginning after Mexican independence. Immigrants from the United States, along with smaller numbers from...


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Subject Headings

  • Domestic relations -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Texas -- Race relations.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Sex role -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Texas -- Social life and customs.
  • Families -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
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