European ethnic groups played a large role in Texas’ founding

Rachel Thompson

Students and professors gathered Friday to learn how Scots, English, Welsh and particularly Irish played a role in shaping the history of Texas.

Marian J. Barber, associate director of the National History Center, delivered the lecture. She said Irish and other European ethnicities influenced politics, increased settlements and fought in the war with Mexico for Texas’ independence.

“I’ve always had a general interest in race, class, ethnicity and how they relate,” Barber said. “In some ways, it’s more complex in Texas.”

Hugo O’Conor, an Irishman who became the Spanish governor of Texas and founded Tucson, Arizona in the late 1700s, was one of the first Europeans to settle in the southwestern frontier, Barber said. She also discussed two Irish settlers, John McMullen and James McGloin, who founded the McMullen-McGloin colony in Texas in 1828 and went to New York to persuade Irish-American families to migrate to Texas and become landowners.

Barber said Irish immigrants who came to settle in Texas participated in major events like the Battle of the Alamo. She said one-third of the people who signed the Goliad Declaration of Independence in 1835 were of Irish descent. The declaration was the first of several that called for Texas independence, and one Irishman Nicholas Fagan, raised an Irish flag at the signing — a symbol of the significance of Irish heritage in the making of an independent Texas, Barber said.

During the war with Mexico, 342 Texans were shot at close range in the Goliad Massacre ­— a major turning point in the Texas revolution, Barber said. Fagan was one of the few whose life was spared, she said.

“I thought [the lecture] was very informative,” said journalism junior Miranda Edson. “I’ve always been interested in the Texas revolution and the reasons behind it. It was cool to hear about the different sides the Irish took.”

Daryl Carr, Middle Eastern studies graduate student, said he comes from the Northeast and thought the lecture provided an informative background on the history of Texas.

Barber received a Ph.D. in history at UT in 2010, and is currently in the process of editing a dissertation on race and identity in the Texas-Mexico borderlands. She said knowing how the history of Texas was shaped by immigrants from other countries, including those discussed in the lecture, is imminent.

“There are so many different strands of ethnic history here,” Barber said. “These ethnic and racial strands are really what makes Texas unique.”

Printed on September 6, 2011 as: Diverse ethnic history uncovered in story of Texas' independence