Juan Nepomuceno Seguin was born on October 27, 1806 in San Antonio, Texas. His ancestors were founding members of San Antonio and had prominent roles in the beginnings of Texas’ settlement. Seguin’s great-great grandfather, Pedro Ocon y Trillo, served as alderman in the town council during the 1760s. Santiago Seguin, Juan’s grandfather began the ranching tradition in the Seguin family and became one of San Antonio’s principle cattle exporters at the end of the 1770s. Erasmo Seguin, Juan Seguin’s father, was a part of the counterrevolt during the Mexican War for Independence in 1810. From the beginning, the Seguin family was invested in the well-being of the San Antonio community and the Texas settlement. Juan Seguin, himself, became an influential Tejano figure during the Texas Revolution; however, despite a long history of dedication to the well-being of the Texas settlement, he was faced with false accusations despite his endless display of patriotism and efforts that supported the Texian cause for independence. He was a military captain, in charge of his own command primarily made up of other Tejano soldiers.1 He was a politician receiving the titles such as alderman in 1828, alcade in 1833, then becoming the first Tejano to serve in the Republic of Texas Senate in 1837.2 Most importantly, he was a Tejano achieving these great feats in an Anglo-dominated Texas during the nineteenth century. These accomplishments put him under intense scrutiny. Because of the scrutiny Seguin faced, it is important to remember his legacy as a Tejano hero who made many sacrifices for the health of the Texas settlement. One should read sources from either his Mexican or Anglo contemporaries with caution due to their negative biases towards Tejanos. There were many racial tensions between the Tejanos (Mexicans residing in Texas), Mexicans, and Texians (Anglo settlers in Texas) during the time of the Texas revolution. Juan Seguin, with his numerous accomplishments as a Tejano during the nineteenth century, faced these racial tensions from both the Mexicans and Texians primarily due to his position of power, often with the intent to slander his name and image.
To understand why these racial tensions were so prominent, it is important to understand that Tejano was not a word that existed in the nineteenth century. To the Mexicans and Texians, Juan Seguin was still a Mexican. To the Mexicans, Seguin was a traitor to his country, and to the Texians, despite his continuous display of patriotism, he was still a Mexican and should be looked at suspiciously. Seguin knew of these views he was faced with on both sides, as he stated, “The rumor, that I was a traitor, was seized with avidity; by my enemies in San Antonio. Some envied my position, as held by a Mexican; others found in me an obstacle to the accomplishment of their villainous plans.”3 Having a Mexican in such a high-ranking position made people on both sides uneasy—for the Mexicans, they did not want a traitor in power and for the Texians, they did not want someone with ancestral ties to the enemy nation in such power.
From the Mexican side of hostilities, Seguin knew of rumors coming from Mexican sources. In Seguin’s memoir, he tells of a time in which Chevallie, a Texian revolutionary escaped from imprisonment by the Mexicans, told Seguin about some of the rumors he heard while in captivity.
In combination with the Mexican’s attempt to tarnish Seguin’s reputation, the Texians were trying to mar his image as they did not want a Mexican to hold such a great amount of power. Among the rumors of his disloyalty to Texas, Seguin felt threatened and decided to leave Texas and seek refuge in Mexico, where he thought he could retire among his family in Saltillo. Seguin states, “Chevallie told me that Vasquez [of the Mexican army] and his officers stated that I was on the side of the Mexicans.”4 Another Mexican soldier only known as Sanchez, showed Chevallie a letter claiming that Seguin wrote it, while stating, “Seguin is with us.”4 The goal of this was to convince the Texians that while Seguin seemed to be patriotic to the revolutionary cause, he was secretly working with the Mexicans to go against the Texians’ cause at the same time.
Matters being in this state, I saw that it was necessary to take some step which would place me in security and save my family from constant wretchedness. I had to leave Texas, abandon all for which I had fought and spent my fortune, to become a wanderer. The ingratitude of those who had assumed onto themselves the right of convicting me, their credulity in declaring me a traitor on the basis of mere rumors, the necessity to defend myself for the loyal patriotism with which I had always served Texas, wounded me deeply.6
However, once in Mexico, interesting events took place with what seemed to be another attempt from Mexico to slander Seguin’s name. While Seguin wanted to live in Saltillo where he could be close to his relatives, Santa Anna instead wanted him to go to Mexico City.7 However, there was an alternate, more devious plan that Santa Anna devised. Santa Anna decided to allow Seguin to live in Saltillo under the condition that Seguin join the Mexican military and attack Texas citizens.8 This would have shown the Texians that Seguin might have been on the Mexican’s side all along just as the rumors had claimed, or this could have demonstrated, in general, that Tejanos were vulnerable to switching sides. After this event, Texas Ranger Ben McCulloch called Seguin a traitor and compared him to Benedict Arnold.9 From the beginning, the Mexicans wanted to ruin Seguin’s reputation among the Anglos, and with the requirement to make him serve in the Mexican army, it solidified their plan.
Seguin’s reputation was so tarnished, that he published his memoir in 1858 to explain his side of the story in hopes that people would listen and show empathy towards him. Seguin returned to San Antonio after the Mexican-American War ended in 1848 and lived in Texas until 1867, until racial tensions caused him to move to Mexico for the final time, where he lived out the rest of his life until August 27, 1890. When remembering Juan Seguin and other Tejanos in powerful positions, it is important to be aware that many sources are biased due to the racial tensions present during the time. Despite the label he received by his Mexican and Anglo counterparts as a traitor, today Juan Seguin can be labeled as a Texas hero due to his unyielding loyalty to the Texas settlement.