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  • Of Documents and Archives:The First Modern Census of Texas
  • Samuel Abell and G. Douglas Inglis*

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The Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain. Photo by Anual, from Wikimedia Commons.

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The story of the origin, creation, transmission, reception, and archiving of the first modern census of Texas offers an opportunity to assess the bureaucratic reach and communication processes in the late eighteenth-century Spanish Atlantic world. In those processes an array of officials in Texas, Mexico, and Spain produced an extensive paper trail that left documents in one American, three Mexican, and two Spanish archives. Studying this paper trail allows modern scholars the opportunity to understand how crown officials at each stage of the bureaucracy used them, or failed to use them, in formulating policies for the empire. But it is not just important to find documents; scholars must also know how to accurately evaluate their truthfulness and importance in the overall process of the reform and renovation of the Spanish Atlantic world. It is a story that stretched across the empire, whose administrative apparatus produced a surprising amount of information, even from such a remote province as Texas.

Remote Texas might have been, but it was neither isolated nor forgotten. As Spain reformed its bureaucracy in the late eighteenth century, the government polished a reciprocal communication system that would allow the handling of larger and larger amounts of information in a timely and systemic manner. New administrators appeared who collected, arranged, and forwarded new types of documents that were more precise and numerical than ever before. The first modern census of Texas was an example of the transatlantic communication system and the officials who made it work.

The census, however, has attracted little attention from historians, and even when it has, it has not been correctly interpreted. In 1974, for example, Alicia V. Tjarks authored a seminal article on the demography [End Page 177] of colonial Texas.1 While she identified a number of proto-statistical population counts prior to 1777 and then thirteen padrones, or censuses, from 1777 through 1793, the core of her analysis centered on two extensive house-to-house enumerations. The schedules of Béxar in 1779 and of La Bahía, now Goliad, in 1780 compiled by Governor Domingo Cabello y Robles form the earlier point of reference in her work and herein shall be entitled the Cabello census. In 1793 Governor Manuel Muñoz oversaw another colonial survey and provided the final point of reference. Tjarks dismissed the effort of Governor Juan María Vicencio, Barón de Ripperdá, who in 1777 compiled the first modern enumeration of the colony because she only found the one-page summary that was forwarded to Spain.

With some archival digging and an understanding of late eighteenth-century Spanish bureaucratic process, however, the first Texas census can be reconstructed. We are fortunate that the documents that survive regarding the Ripperdá and Cabello censuses complement each other and show that the former was the model for both efforts. The household survey that was the core of all late eighteenth century Spanish colonial censuses is presently missing but certainly existed. The information in the house-to-house enumeration of Cabello's effort aligns perfectly with the categories of the aggregate tables of Ripperdá. The Ripperdá census clearly established the model for all later colonial censuses in Texas and was similar to many efforts across the Spanish empire.

On November 10, 1776, at the royal palace of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the secretary of the Indies, José de Gálvez, signed in the king's name a royal order: "The King wishes to know with punctuality and exactness the number of Vassals and inhabitants that exist in all his vast Domain of America, and the Philippines."2 Charles III thus set in motion the first systematic population count of his overseas possessions, a complement to the Conde de Aranda census of 1768 for peninsular Spain, which was the first modern census in Europe.3 The minuta of this royal order survives in [End Page 178] the Indiferente General section of the Archivo General de Indias, Seville, the main...


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