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Texas | Columns | "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"


by C. F. Eckhardt
When Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna y Perez de LeBron was captured following the battle at San Jacinto, people in the United States government wanted to talk to him. Santa Anna didn't call himself 'The Napoleon of the West' just to hear his head rattle. It had been his avowed intention to recapture and add to Mexico all former Spanish-claimed territory in North America, on the rim of the Gulf of Mexico in Central America and South America, and in the Caribbean. That would have included the American states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina (which DeSoto claimed for Spain). In order to do this he assembled the largest army in the Americas. Mexico's regular army was 500,000 strong, kept at full strength by conscription. Of that, nearly 300,000 were cavalry, the primary attack arm of the era. There was also a 750,000-man nationally-organized and fully armed reserve. Santa Anna could have fielded an army of three-quarters of a million and still left half a million reservists at home to deal with any rebellions or uprisings.

The United States, by contrast, had a standing army of 6,400, all volunteers, which was usually 900 to 1,000 men understrength. The army had no cavalry arm at all. The three regiments of horse soldiers were the 1st and 2nd Dragoons and the Regiment of Mounted Rifles. There was no organized reserve. Each state maintained a militia, which was more or less competent depending on how close to the frontier the state was. There was reason US officials wanted to talk to Santa Anna.

Santa Anna was taken to Lexington, Kentucky, where, according to the history books, a mob formed with the intention of lynching him. He had to be spirited out of the state under cover of darkness.

If you go to Lexington, they'll tell you a different story. They say there was no mob. Instead, the high sheriff of Fayette County, Kentucky and his deputies were coming to arrest Santa Anna on an old warrant. He had been recognized as Ste. Anne's Antoine, a runaway slave.

The story they tell is this one. After the slave revolt in the French colony of St. Domingue, now Haiti, a refugee family named Ste. Anne arrived in Fayette County. The family consisted of Pierre Ste. Anne, his supposed wife Rosalie, and an infant son named Antoine.

Antoine grew up into a really rotten kid. He had an insatiable appetite for two things- cruelty and girls. He was also a thief. Papa Ste. Anne was forever having to bail Antoine out of trouble. Finally, Papa decided to send Antoine to military school to see if that would straighten him out. At the time the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, took 'private' students. That is, a boy could be sent to the Point if his parents paid tuition, bought his uniforms and books, paid for his room and board, etc. The boy, if he graduated, wouldn't be assured of a commission in the army unless there was a shortage of graduates to fill the available slots.

Antoine was sent to West Point. While there, he apparently did very well in tactics. He was also, apparently, a natural linguist, and he added Spanish-fluent Castilian Spanish-to the French and English he already spoke fluently.

Antoine was caught stealing at the Point and expelled. He returned to Lexington and took up his old ways. Shortly thereafter, Pierre Ste. Anne died-and people found out something about him. Not only was he deep in debt, but Madame Rosalie was not his wife. She was an octoroon- one-eighth African-and a slave. He had never freed her.

Under the Napoleonic Code, which was the law in St. Domingue (and, just incidentally, in Louisiana as well), any child who was born with less than one-eighth African ancestry, even if the mother was a slave, was automatically born free. In Louisiana there was a whole sub-class of 'free people of color' who were born to white masters and their octoroon slave consorts. However, the Napoleonic Code didn't apply in any other state. In all the rest of the slave states, the issue of a slave's body was a slave unless manumitted (legally freed). Therefore, Antoine-and his siblings-were, under Kentucky law, slaves, as was Rosalie. They were all to be sold, along with the rest of Pierre Ste. Anne's property, to satisfy his debts.

Antoine was having none of this. He stole a horse and pistols and fled. Fayette County issued a fugitive slave warrant for him.

According to Santa Anna himself, he was born to a middle-class family in the Mexican state of Jalapa in 1794. His father intended him for a mercantile career, but he managed to go to the Royal Military Academy at Chapultepec, where he graduated with honors. However, there is no baptismal record for an Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna y Perez de LeBron in any church in Jalapa. There is also no record he ever attended the academy at Chapultepec.

There may be reason for this. Both Lopez and Perez are ethnically Hebrew names. It's barely possible that the family may have been crypto-Jews. That would explain the lack of a baptismal record. It's also possible that Santa Anna didn't graduate 'with honors,' and later, as dictator of Mexico, he had his records removed and destroyed so no one could dispute his claims of having been an honor graduate. Some Mexican historians have claimed he got his military training outside Mexico-either at the French cavalry school at St. Cyr, or, as one has insisted, he attended 'a military academy in the United States.' At the time Santa Anna would have been in such an academy, there was only one in the country-West Point.

Santa Anna was supposed to be taken to Washington, DC, to confer with US representatives there. Instead, he was taken across the Ohio River into Indiana-a free state. From there he was taken across Ohio to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-the home of the American abolitionist movement. From there he was taken to New York, and the US representatives met with him there.

Why was he not taken to Washington? In order to get there he would have had to remain in slave states. He would have had to cross Virginia, a slave state which would honor a fugitive slave warrant from Kentucky. The District of Columbia was a slave district. It, too, would have been obligated to honor a fugitive slave warrant. However, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York were free states. While they were obligated under law to honor fugitive slave warrants, they refused to do so. Once across the Ohio River or north of the northern state line of Maryland (also a slave state), a fugitive slave was usually safe.

Was Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna y Perez de LeBron actually a fugitive slave named Antoine from Lexington, Kentucky? No one knows for sure. The courthouse at Lexington was burned during the War Between the States and most of its early records were lost in the fire. Only a few commercial documents in Lexington mention the existence of an emigré named Ste. Anne.

Santa Anna was a tall man-taller than the average height in Mexico at the time. He had dark eyes and black hair, which has led to the speculation that he might have been part Amerindian rather than the criollo (of pure Spanish ancestry but born in Mexico) he claimed to be.

He was, in fact, a very able tactician, so he did have military training somewhere. He spoke fluent English, Spanish, and French. Antoine Ste. Anne would have grown up speaking both French and English, and-if the stories about him at West Point are true-he studied Spanish and became fluent in it there.

Santa Anna had an insatiable appetite for women-something over 450 known mistresses and an unknown number of one-night stands. So the story goes, Antoine Ste. Anne also had an insatiable appetite for women.

A cadet from a southern state was expelled from West Point for stealing. The name of the cadet and the state from which he came has been lost, but the time-period in which it occurred seems to have been too late for him to be Antoine Ste. Anne.

After being deposed for selling part of 'Mother Mexico' to the hated Gringos-the Gadsden Purchase, which secured the southern boundaries of Arizona and New Mexico-he returned to the US for a time. He went into partnership with a confectioner named Adams to import a central and south American delicacy known as chicle. However, he never went south of the Mason-Dixon line. He spent his entire sojourn in the United States in New York and Pennsylvania. While Santa Anna didn't get rich off the imported delicacy, Adams did. He added sugar to it and we know it today as chewing gum.

Santa Anna eventually returned to Mexico, living out his life in obscurity. He died in 1875, just short of his 81st birthday-if, in fact, he was born in 1794, a date not supported by any record. He is buried in what was, at the time, a very obscure cemetery on the outskirts of Mexico City. Today his memory in Mexico is not that of a great leader, but of an ambitious tyrant who managed to lose Mexico its entire northern territory.

He left behind a mystery. Who was he for certain? Was he, in fact, a Mexican criollo born in Jalapa, or was he Antoine Ste. Anne, son of a French-Caribbean emigré-refugee from St. Domingue and his octoroon consort? The question has no answer. Santa Anna himself, it seems, went to considerable lengths to insure that it would have no certain answer.

© C. F. Eckhardt
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas" October 11, 2006 column

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