SANTISIMA TRINIDAD DE SALCEDO
SANTÍSIMA TRINIDAD DE SALCEDO. Santísima Trinidad de Salcedo—also known as Salcedo, Spanish Bluffs, or Trinidad for short—was a small Spanish villa on the east bank of the Trinity River located near present-day Madisonville, Texas. Spain founded Trinidad in 1806 as a joint military-civilian settlement. From the villa's establishment to its eventual destruction in 1813, the military served as the government of Trinidad and provided civilians with protection from Indian attacks. Civilians, for their part, supplied soldiers with food and skilled workmanship. Spanish officials in Texas hoped that this arrangement would lead to a permanent settlement that would serve as a waypoint between Nacogdoches and San Antonio and a buffer against United States expansion. It is unclear whether this experiment would have worked in the long term, as Trinidad was destroyed in 1813 in the revolutionary violence of the Mexican War of Independence. At its height, Trinidad had a barracks, a chapel, a schoolhouse, and around twenty civilian homes.
The civilians who settled Trinidad were an eclectic mix. Initially, twenty-three settlers from Louisiana and five families from San Antonio joined a contingent of Spanish soldiers in founding Trinidad in January 1806. Over time, the town grew and its demographics changed. As indicated by an 1809 census, most of the town's civilians, 60 percent, lived in Louisiana prior to the United States's purchase in 1803. Less than 20 percent were Spanish Texans by birth. Likewise, around 20 percent of the population was United States born. The remaining civilians hailed from Italy, France, Cuba, Germany, and Ireland. Although only one Indian woman resided in Trinidad, a number of neighboring tribes like the Coushattas frequently came to the villa to trade. The 1809 census listed only three mulatto slaves in Trinidad. Persons of African descent, however, were not an uncommon sight in the villa, as escaped slaves from the United States often made their way to Trinidad.
The majority of the civilians of Trinidad were agriculturists, but others engaged in skilled trades. Around 80 percent of Trinidad's heads-of-household listed farming as their primary profession. Women joined the men in growing wheat, corn, pumpkins, beans, watermelons, and various other kinds of vegetables. Ranching also appears to have been important to the villa's economy, as nineteen persons registered a cattle brand with the Spanish government. Some civilians were blacksmiths, surveyors, surgeons, and carpenters. In addition to these professions, a number of Trinidad's residents engaged in illegal trade with the United States.
The primary duties of soldiers stationed in the villa were to halt this contraband trade and to protect Texas in case of an invasion from the United States. Performing these duties proved to be difficult for a number of reasons. Hot weather and flooding of the Trinity created an excellent breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes. In at least three instances, epidemics hit Trinidad, leaving soldiers unable to perform their duties. Supplying the post was also a complicated task, as the Trinity often flooded, making it impossible to get supply shipments. As a consequence, military commanders of Trinidad frequently complained of lack of paper and ammunition. Sickness, frequent changes in command, and poor provisions harmed the morale and discipline of Trinidad's troops, which led many men to desert the post.
The soldiers and civilians who settled Trinidad witnessed a number of important historical events during their time in the villa. In the first year of its existence, Trinidad stood on the front lines of a potential war with the United States over a disagreement regarding the boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase. During this time, Spain augmented the number of troops in Trinidad to approximately 400 men to defend against a United States invasion. After Spain signed the Neutral Ground agreement with the United States, thereby averting war, it decreased the troop contingent of Trinidad to around 100 soldiers. In 1807 explorer Zebulon Montgomery Pike stayed in Trinidad for one day on his return to the United States after being captured by Spanish forces in New Mexico. Pike would later include Trinidad on his map of the Western Territories. During the Casas Revolt in 1811, the civilians of Trinidad joined the rebellion, while the town's military offered no resistance to the takeover. Following royal suppression of the revolt and the general disorder created by the Mexican War of Independence, local Indians began stealing Trinidad's livestock and attacking its mail shipments. A group of Choctaws even kidnapped one young girl.
In the end, Trinidad would not survive the warfare of the Mexican War of Independence. In 1812 the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition invaded Texas from the United States with the intent of bringing a republican form of government to Mexico. To meet this threat, Spanish officials supplemented Trinidad's military presence with soldiers from the nearby Orcoquisac presidio, who then helped the troops at Trindad build defensive fortifications to help fend off the invasion. These improvements meant little, however, as all but thirty-seven of the villa's soldiers fled prior to the arrival of a Gutiérrez-Magee contingent. Those who remained surrendered without a fight. The Gutiérrez-Magee expedition remained in Trinidad for one month, a time in which a number of the villa's civilians joined the revolutionary cause. Some soldiers also fell in with the insurgents, who after leaving Trinidad went on to capture San Antonio and assume control of Spanish Texas. During the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition's time in Trinidad, Magee became ill—an illness that eventually resulted in the man's death. Following the departure of Gutiérrez, information on Trinidad is sparse.
In 1813 royalist forces under Joaquín de Arredondo defeated the revolutionary army at the battle of Medina. Following his victory, Arredondo dispatched Ignacio Elizondo eastward with orders to execute anyone who harbored revolutionary sympathies. Elizondo's march toward Trinidad, however, was halted by something that had frequently made life difficult for the people of the small villa, the Trinity River. Unable to cross into Trinidad because the river was too swollen to allow passage, Elizondo waited several days before crossing, a delay that enabled many of Trinidad's citizens to escape to the United States. When the royalist army finally entered the villa, it found only a few loyalist families remaining. Elizondo then burned the town to the ground.
It is difficult to determine the fate of Trinidad's population. A few families safely returned to the United States, with those who had lived in Louisiana before settling in Trinidad returning to their former homes. Some Trinidad residents may have joined the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition, although the most comprehensive catalog of participants in the battle of Medina lists only one former Trinidad resident. Elizondo may also have executed some of Trinidad's residents. One account holds that while Elizondo was on the west bank of the Trinity waiting for the river to subside, he offered a pardon to anyone who would cross to his side. Some revolutionary sympathizers accepted this offer, but were executed instead of pardoned. At least one former resident of Trinidad, Italian Vicente Michele, escaped to the United States only to return to Texas after receiving a pardon from Arredondo. Some Spanish officials at Trinidad went on the prominent careers after the villa's destruction. Felipe de Garza became commandant general of the Internal Provinces after Mexican independence and Spanish priest Francisco Maynes, became so prominent in Natchitoches that Stephen F. Austin would later request him as priest in his colony.
Archeologists have been unable to find the precise location of Trinidad, as the villa contained few stone structures and is likely located on private property. A historical marker in Madisonville, Texas, sits on a site believed to have been near Trinidad.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Bradley Folsom, "SANTISIMA TRINIDAD DE SALCEDO," accessed January 29, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hvs43.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on November 24, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.