Most people have probably heard the phrase, “In order to understand our future, we must first understand our past.” While I’m not one for bumper-stickeresque quotes, I do agree with this one.
But to take it one step further, in order to understand our past, we must understand the people of our past and what was their impetus for continuing a way of life that was so difficult and not having taken the simpler route.
As stated in the previous article, Presidio La Bahía was too often the site of bloodshed and tragedy. Despite this unfortunate fact, La Bahía was still a place that many people called home. For a significant period of time, the only colony larger than La Bahía was the capital city of Bexar (San Antonio). Many people might have a difficult time believing this given the present-day size gap. But as history plays out, many things inevitably change.
In 1810, one of the last censuses of Spanish Texas was released. From this census, there is a great deal to be learned about La Bahía. Through such a record, it is possible to create an image of the social, economical and political aspects of Labadeño society.
Despite being a frontier town where cattle outnumbered people 5 to 1, La Bahía still functioned with the same basic standards that towns rely upon today. It might surprise some to know that La Bahía had postal service and a large post office. On May 3, 1800, Don Bernardo Amado arrived from Galicia, Spain and was appointed Administrator of the Post Office. Amado, only 27, was rather affluent and resided in a large stone home on a nice farm.
La Bahía’s proximity to the port at El Copano made it a vital location from which to run and govern affairs. The position of Administrator of the Tobacco Department was filled by Don Manuel de la Concha, who came from Guadalajara to La Bahía in 1793. It is likely that his role was to assure proper fees and taxes were levied on tobacco arriving at the port. Cuba was a hub of Spanish trade and tobacco along with sugar cane products were certain to have arrived on the Texas coast.
The census also reveals that La Bahía was a bit of an international community. Numerous families had come from regions of France near Marseille and Bordeaux, and had become farmers, herders and carpenters among other things. In a few years following the 1810 census, families from Ireland would begin arriving and carving out their own niche, adding to the melting pot of cultures.
It is also important to recognize that the native populations were still here as they had been for centuries. Were it not for local tribes members, many of the early settlers would have certainly perished. The natives taught them what plants can be eaten, the best game to be taken, traditional medicines taken from natural herbs and plants and a whole host of life-improving skills.
When you stand back and look at the big picture, it becomes quite obvious that in many ways La Bahía was ahead of its time in 1810. Sometimes the best answer going forward is to stop and look back.