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GOD and TEXAS: Texas Prisoners

What are you willing to do to live in freedom? In pioneer Texas, settlers faced this very question. Otherwise peaceful colonizers had to choose between bondage to the tyrannical Mexican government or fighting to secure liberty. Hundreds went to prison because they valued freedom more than anything less.

Empresario Stephen F. Austin brought settlers into Texas in the early 1820s. Known as the Old 300, these immigrants loved Texas but missed the freedoms they had enjoyed in the United States. They wrote a constitution for a new republic, and in 1834, sent Austin to notify Mexico City. Unfortunately, he was promptly incarcerated. But his captivity served as a catalyst for the Texas Revolution.

On Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, 342 defenseless Texan prisoners were massacred near Goliad. Under orders from Mexican dictator Santa Anna, General Jose Portilla committed this hideous atrocity that sent shockwaves throughout Texas and the United States. Because these brave soldiers risked imprisonment and death, they were remembered in the battle cry at San Jacinto: “Remember Goliad!”

After the victorious Battle of San Jacinto, Texas lived in uneasy peace. Once Santa Anna regained full control of Mexico, he began threatening Texas by sending militias to raid various communities. In September 1842, one of the strangest Mexican raids occurred in San Antonio. A district court was in session when 1,600 soldiers under Mexican General Adrian Woll suddenly surrounded the courthouse. They captured the judge, attorneys, witnesses, jurors, and even some citizens, and forced them to march over 800 miles to Perote Prison near Vera Cruz. But the Texan fight for freedom continued.

Part of the Texan response to the courtroom raid started with the appointment of Alexander Somervell to lead troops to invade Mexico. After capturing Laredo, Somervell realized that he was outnumbered by reinforcing Mexican troops. He ordered a retreat, but many Texan soldiers marched deeper into Mexico instead. They were soundly defeated, and survivors were taken to Perote Prison to join the San Antonio captives.

One interesting story from Perote Prison involved captive Henry Journeay. He had been assigned to work in the prison woodshop. He smuggled scraps of wood, and using a piece of glass and a razor, Henry crafted a violin to play in his cell. And as he played the violin, the prisoners shook their chains in rhythm to the song. This noise served as a cover for other prisoners who were digging holes to get out!

Known as the Journeay Violin, it is now on display in the Zavala State Archives building in Austin. That musical instrument serves as a symbol of the commitment those prisoners exerted to secure freedom from bondage.

Today, the fight is not against Santa Anna. Instead, many Texans are prisoners to chemical dependency, debilitating habits, and substance abuse. The Good News is that in Christ, those who are in bondage to these harsh cravings can be set free. “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1 ESV). “And you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

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