Hendrick Arnold -- Texas Revolution Scout and Spy
Hendrick Arnold, whose father was white and mother was black, was a “free negro” who played an important role
as a scout and spy for the Texian army during the Texas Revolution.
Arnold came to Texas 10 years before the revolution, when he was about 22, emigrating from Mississippi with his
father Daniel, Daniel’s wife Rachel (who was probably not Hendrick’s mother), his brother Holly, his
grandmother Catherine, and five slaves. The family settled in San Antonio.
In October 1835, Arnold and his father-in-law Erastus (“Deaf”) Smith, a white man, were returning to San
Antonio from a hunting trip. However, the Mexican army, led by General Martín Perfecto de Cos, had occupied
the city and prevented them from entering. That prompted Arnold and Smith to join the Texian army, comprised
of both regular and volunteer soldiers, who were led by Stephen F. Austin and poised to take back the town.
Arnold and Smith participated in the Battle of Concepción and the subsequent siege of San Antonio de Bexar, the
first major campaign of the Texas Revolution.
After six weeks, the Texans decided to invade San Antonio secretly before daylight on December 4 with Smith
and Arnold employed as guides, however, the Texians abandoned those plans supposedly in part because Arnold
was away from camp. His return later that day emboldened the Texians to invade the next morning, further
prompted by the impassioned plea of another soldier, Ben Milam: “Who will follow Old Ben Milam into San
Antonio?” Arnold and Smith led the men into town before sunrise on December 5. Smith was wounded the first
day of the battle. After four days of fighting, General Cos surrendered San Antonio to the Texians. General F.W.
Johnson cited both Arnold and Smith for their performance.
After Arnold nursed Smith back to health, they joined Henry Wax Karnes’ cavalry unit in whose service they
remained until the rebellion succeeded. As scouts, Smith and Arnold gained a reputation for spying that grew to
legendary proportions. Reportedly, they infiltrated enemy camps on more than one occasion, Smith disguising
himself as a Mexican and Arnold posing as a runaway slave. Arnold earned the characterization as “one of the
most efficient members of Deaf Smith’s Spy Company.”
Two years after the Arnold family had arrived in Texas, Dolly, one of the family slaves, gave birth to Arnold’s
first daughter, Harriet, whom he also owned as a slave. Later, Arnold would marry Smith’s Mexican stepdaughter,
but by the end of his life Arnold had a different wife of which little is known. Arnold had three other daughters, all
of whom were free. Late in life he operated a grist mill in San Antonio, a portion of which still stands today.
Soon after Texas joined the United States, Arnold sold his 22-year-old slave-daughter Harriet to James Newcomb
on the condition that he free her after five years. Arnold may have felt that Newcomb had a better chance than he
did of petitioning the state legislature to allow Harriet to live as a free woman in Texas. But in 1849, before the
five-year period ended, both Arnold and Newcomb died. George Martin, the administrator of Newcomb’s estate,
sought permission for Harriet to be free in Texas, but the legislature ordered Martin to transport her to some other
state or country. Martin apparently invoked an 1840 law, which stated that people living in Texas prior to the
declaration of independence were free to remain in the Republic, asserting Harriet’s right to remain in Texas.
What ultimately happened to Harriet is unclear.
Hendrick Arnold is buried in the Hendrick Arnold-Bertha Tyron cemetery in Bandera, Texas.
-- Contributed by By L.W. Ledgerwood III, Sam Houston State University
|Arnold, depicted in foreground of Joseph Musso mural,
with Ben Milam at the Battle of Bexar.
(click to enlarge)
|Texas Black History Preservation Project
Documenting the Complete African American Experience in Texas -- "Know your history, know yourself"