Remembering Hendrick Arnold during Black History Month
As citizens of Texas, we all recognize the names of Houston, Austin, Travis, and Crockett. These men are credited with fighting for Texas Independence and in doing so, they made their names recognized by many people. Even our own county bears the name of fallen Texas Hero Ben Milam. This list of Texan patriots does not consist of only four or five names, but instead consists of many names. Some familiar and some not as well known. For example, present-day Texans should familiarize themselves with the name of Hendrick Arnold.
Hendrick Arnold was one of the first African American citizens of Texas. He was a free man at a time when all Black Texans were not free. Arnold chose not only to live in Texas, but also to fight for Texas Independence.
A native of Mississippi, Hendrick Arnold was born around 1804. He came to Texas with his parents, a mixed-race couple, and his brother Holly in 1826. The Arnold family settled in Stephen F. Austin’s Colony on the Brazos River. A few years later, Hendrick would leave his family’s farm and move to San Antonio. While in San Antonio, Hendrick married Martina, the step daughter of another Texas patriot Erastus “Deaf” Smith.
The 1820’s and 1830’s was an unusual time for African Americans living in the Mexican territory of Texas. The Mexican Constitution of 1824 outlawed slavery in Mexico and this would have included Texas. But, eager to settle its vast areas of northern territory, Mexico allowed some African Americans to be held as slaves in Texas. But others, like Hendrick Arnold came to Texas as a free man and remained so during his lifetime. Ironically, Arnold and other African Americans fought for freedom in the Texas Revolution, not knowing if they would remain free themselves in a new republic.
When the Texas Revolution began in 1835, Hendrick Arnold eagerly joined the Texas Army. No doubt influenced by his father-in-law Smith, he became a guide and spy for the Texas Forces outside of San Antonio. He first served in Stephen F. Austin’s camp and fought at the Battle of Conception. Later in December 1835, Arnold fought alongside Ben Milam at the Siege of Bexar, also called the Battle of San Antonio.
He served as a guide for Milam and his troops. Arnold was recognized for his heroism and important service by Col. F. W. Johnson in the official reports from the battle. This was especially significant during a time when African Americans were not always given acknowledgements for their contributions.
A famous painting in the art collection of the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures shows Hendrick Arnold fighting alongside Ben Milam and other revolutionaries at the Siege of Bexar. This watercolor painting is by artist M. A. Emanuel, c.1980. The painting depicts various races, African, Anglo, and Mexican Americans, all fighting against oppression in 1830’s Texas.
Like others who fought in the Texas war for independence, Arnold received compensation in the form of land for his service. He was given land near Bandera, but would later return to San Antonio where he operated a gristmill. Hendrick Arnold lived to see Texas gain statehood, but died only a few years later in the cholera epidemic of 1849.
The brave Texan, Hendrick Arnold, defied many obstacles as a black man in early Texas. So his name should always appear among the legendary heroes of Texas and be remembered each February during Black History Month.
To learn more about the early Texas settlers and revolutionary heroes, visit the Milam County Historical Museum 10 a.m. To 3 p.m., Thursday through Saturday at 112 W. 1st Street in Cameron. There you will find displays and books highlighting the lives of early Texans. Also, the Old Milam County Jail Museum is open to visitors on Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.