History Untold ties Mission San Jose to Underground Railroad Freedom Network

Freedom seekers found refuge, aid fleeing to Mexico

SAN ANTONIO – While jarring to read, a newspaper article and advertisement archived by Stephen F. Austin University are part of the reason why the U.S. National Park Service has recognized Mission San Jose and its role in the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Allison Young, NPS resource manager, who has done much of the research, said the discovery of an article published in 1854 and an 1859 advertisement prior to the Civil War, show that freedom seekers fleeing slavery in the South were aware of Mission San Jose.

In a town along Matagorda Bay, The Indianola Bulletin published an article recounting an incident at Mission San Jose in 1833 in which the Mexican Army opened fire on slave catchers who’d been tipped off that two freedom seekers were there by Col. James Bowie, who later fought at the Alamo.

Being that Texas was still a part of Mexico at the time when slavery was outlawed, Mexican soldiers were enforcing the law.

The article said the enslaver enlisted Capt. Henry Brown, who was bilingual and knew San Antonio well, to hire slave catchers “to capture the renegades.”

Yet when they showed up at one of the mission gates, one of the slave catchers was wounded, “pierced by six balls.” Still, the article states, the injured man ended up “a chained inmate in the old calaboose of San Antonio.”

Young said later on, that slave catcher “actually ended up seeking benefits from the Republic of Texas because he sustained injuries during the exchange.”

The 1859 advertisement offered up to $200 for the capture of two freedom seekers that mentioned Mission San Jose.

“They had some acquaintance with Mexicans at San Jose Mission,” the ad said. “They would make friends with them to help them off to Mexico.”

Given that Texas had become a republic by then, slave catchers also knew San Antonio was on the way for freedom seekers trying to reach the Rio Grande to cross into Mexico.

Cristal Mendez, historian at the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum, said the article and advertisement found by the National Park Service, confirm what SAAACAM had heard.

“This is an incredible discovery,” Mendez said. “I think it changes a lot about what we think about the missions.”

She said it’s the result of the partnership SAAACAM and NPS began last year.

“The mission is just one site of this initiative, uncovering the history of freedom seekers going to Mexico,” Mendez said.

Their journeys were documented in a 2020 film, “A Ferry Ride to Freedom,” produced by the University of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley.

Both Mendez and Young said their work is far from over since much of what occurred was kept secret to avoid detection and recapture.

“We’re just now scratching the surface,” Mendez said.

Young said, “There’s most likely a whole lot more to the story.”

About the Authors

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.

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