Texas History -Getting Hitched

Getting Hitched

Groucho Marx, who got his comedic start in Nacogdoches, once quipped, “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?”

If you were to ask that question in Mexican Texas, the answer would have been, “Pretty much everybody.” In addition to the benefits marriage brought in every other part of the globe, in Texas you got land.

The colonization law of 1825 provided that a man, if head of a family, would receive one league and one labor of land (4,605.5 acres.)

A single fella was only entitled to a quarter of that amount, but could have the full portion as soon as he got hitched. That’s what economists call an incentive.

There was a problem, though. Mexican law would only recognize marriages performed by Catholic priests, who were almost as rare rocketships in the Anglo-Texan colonies.

Stephen F. Austin came up with a solution.

The Father of Texas allowed that couples wanting to get married could sign a contract, called a marriage bond, stipulating their intent to be man and wife and declaring they would have their union solemnized by a priest just as soon as one showed up.

Austin had his own incentive. His colonization contract granted him 67,000 acres for every 200 families he settled in his colony.

That incentive was so strong that Austin redefined “family.”

As Noah Smithwick, who resided in San Felipe de Austin, explains it:

“(Austin’s rules) providing that two single men might constitute a family for colonization purposes, many of the so-called three hundred families consisted of a couple of old bachelors, a number of whom made their homes in town.”

Things were working out pretty well as far as the Texas colonists were concerned. They could live together, get a fat land grant, and if the charms of matrimony were not as the couple imagined, the marriage bond would disappear up the chimney and they would go their separate ways.

And then the priest showed up.

Father Michael Muldoon understood that the colonists, though they professed Catholicism to receive their land grants, were not Catholics in their hearts.

Well, their hearts were their own affair, but Father Muldoon would see to it that Catholic form was followed, at least in regard to coupling. No more marriage bonds. It was time to pay the padre.

$25 to be exact, which is what Muldoon received for performing a marriage ceremony. But he offered group discounts. That led to some mass nuptials which brought in everyone from miles around to enjoy the spectacle and the barbecue that followed.

Henry Smith, who would later be provisional governor during the revolution, described one such marriage event:

"The scene, take it all in all, was truly ludicrous in the extreme.

Most of them had children, some five and six. To see brides on the floor, and while marriage rites are performing, with the bosoms open and little children sucking… and others in a situation really too delicate to mention, appeared to me more like a burlesque of marriage than marriage in fact.

It was a fine scene for a painter and afforded much for amusement, and much more for serious and sober reflection."

Imagine what Governor Smith might think of our twenty-first century spectacles.

Texas Trivia

Richard King was a riverboat captain before he founded the King Ranch. To what profession was he apprenticed as a boy?

Answer at the bottom of the page.

Dawn at the Alamo

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Henry Arthur McArdle’s painting Dawn at the Alamo is the most popular of our recent Texas art reproductions. I think part of the reason is the story behind it. Click the link below to find out how it came to be. (The early-bird discount ends next week.)

Click HERE to Read the Story Behind It

Trivia Answer

He was apprenticed to a jeweler in Manhattan.

At age eleven he ran away from his master and stowed away on a ship bound for Mobile. He was discovered and made a cabin boy

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