Translation:The White Terror in Texas/a1

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The White Terror in Texas and my escape  (1862)  by Jean-Charles Houzeau, translated from French by Wikisource



Matamoros (Mexico), 27 April.

My dear P.,

You've probably guessed how the blockade has confined me in Texas, as in a besieged city, depriving me of all communication with Europe. The government of the planters has trumped this isolation by suspending transport of newspapers by mail and even eliminating most trunks. This resulted in a state of isolation favorable to obscurantism and to tyranny.

What I saw around me, what I heard from victims or witnesses, form a dreadful picture. I sent a few pages to the Revue trimestrielle on the 5 of the current month, upon my arrival in Mexico. I could have inflated the catalog of atrocities unleashed by the slave master, who piles them up, to his eternal shame. I only wanted to talk of the facts of which I may be able to locate the witnesses. I am adding a few others that I have every reason to believe true.

A pregnant woman being indisposed, the master scourged her for sending her to work. She dragged herself to the fields with great difficulty and laid on the ground, in labour pain. A new sharp correction: the whip removed strips of flesh who made an opening between the ribs, to such point that one could see the lung. During this torture, the hapless gave birth to a stillborn child and, soon after, gave up the ghost herself.

A fugitive who had been picked up was brought back by his master, chained to his carriage (the latest trend), who threw him in the bread oven and when they brought him out, he was dead.

Another fugitive was hanged by the hands and died of hunger in that position; the master had been so cruel as to place near him a dish of steaming meat which was renewed at the time of each meal. One fellow of this martyr told me of his last moments in a simple language, but expressive. His last words, spoken in a low and dying voice, were these: to eat, eat…

I saw ban free negroes and put back in slavery masterless slaves, most of them free people, whose deed of release was either not well preserved or in good standing. And, when I say Negroes, it is to avoid the "people of color" circumlocution, because it is no longer easy to find a pure black. The colored population, especially those who are free, are mixed in the first, second, third and fourth degree. It includes men who are paler than you or I, it is a question of genealogy.

I saw a German who was a temporary slave in one of the western territories, where timed slavery is substituted for what we call in Europe civil imprisonment. Finally, we are coming to the outright servitude of the white, of the poor white. An odious attempt was made to restore slavery in Northern Mexico. The civil war was caused for this purpose and supported by subsidies, weapons, and gunpowder of the planters. Matamoros, where I am, is in ruins after three months of a proportionately deadlier fight that the wars of the Empire, three months of street warfare like that of Zaragoza. Despite the American guns, despite the betrayal of the Catholic clergy, the heroic people of this city, who have Indian blood in their veins, pushed back the brigands who were sent at them from Texas.

What could I do in the midst of these troubles? My humble belongings had fallen into the hands of savages, I saw several of my neighbors perish in their fields, some of them scalped. Others fell under the enraged rangers' ax, because they were "Unionists." I saw Bob Augustine killed by stabbing on the steps of Justice of the Peace of San Antonio. I saw another citizen, pursued at revolver shots on the streets of this small town, stain the pavement of his bloody track, and die at the corner of the marketplace. What could I do? Or rather what was I to do? The duty was all mapped out… I was soon forced to vacate my dwelling, on a winter night, in order to be leaving to the terrible vigilance committee four bare walls and the ashes of my documents. To speak the language of Plutarch [sic[1]]:

Dell’ empia Babilonia, ond’ è fuggita
Ogni vergogne, ond’ ogni bene è fori,
Albergo di dolor, madre d’errori,
Son fuggit’ io per allungar la vita.

I fled for my life.

But at least I charged myself with a brief from the unionists of San Antonio to the Washington Cabinet, a document which alone would have had me hanged ten times as a unionist, a spy, or corresponding with the enemy. I had rolled it up and hidden in one of the barrels of my shotgun. The U.S. consul in Matamoros — an energetic citizen of New England — to whom I delivered it upon my arrival here, has sent it and Lincoln is about to holding it.

I cannot express the satisfaction that I felt in recovering the freedom of my pen, on this side of the Rio Grande. What isn't given me for once to speak with authority and make my voice sound throughout Europe? The southern United States is witnessing a heinous criminal attempt, which in the means of implementation, rivals the most bloody scenes and the most abhorred of the Inquisition. To that bloody tyranny joins a terrible outburst of passions engendered by the ownership of man (and of woman) by man. There are no limits, there is no more restraint, there is no more modesty. Near Seguin (Texas) a master was hit by a slave for having, in the presence of the latter, put the negro's woman naked, etc.. The slave, it goes without saying, was hanged. In the main street of San Antonio, a young white woman, slave of one of the powerful men in the area, died of early motherhood. The master had used force and the victim bound to a tree in the garden, which is separated from the public road by a slatted wattle…

No, there is in this so-called political movement in the South, there is a return to barbarism, that the manners of our time, the spirit of this century, our ideas of philanthropy, humanity, religion, cannot afford. This impious and heathen attempt, which openly takes as motto: "The extension and perpetuation of slavery," that criminal attempt cannot succeed. The question of the liberation of the slaves takes each day a more practical form. Irrespective of the emancipation by degrees which I speak of in the Revue, they must be given some land and all will be better. I'll come back to that. I hope that my communication with you will be able to recover a regularity. I am staying here for a few months.

Have you received my letter of July 3, 1861? When I know which of my connections have evaded the blockade, I will fill the gaps in a separate reprint — if you still think the work worthwhile. Meanwhile, if my last dispatch to the Revue (which left Matamoros April 5, 1862), consisting of three letters — if, I say, this last dispatch seemed worth being formed in a brochure, please have it printed separately.


  1. Translator's note: That poem is actually by Petrarch, one can find two translations in Campbell, Thomas (1875). The Sonnets, Triumphs, and Other Poems of Petrarch. London: Bell. p. 105.  :

    Yes, out of impious Babylon I'm flown,
    Whence flown of shame, whence bannish'd is all good,
    That nurse of error, and of guilt th'abode,
    To lengthen out a life which else were gone.
    — The Rev. Dr. Nott.

    From impious Babylon, where all shame is dead,
    And every good is bannish'd to far climes,
    Nurse of rank errors, centre of worst crimes,
    Haply to lengthen life, I too am fled.
    — Major Macgregor.