Joe, the Slave Who Became an Alamo Legend, by Ron J. Jackson Jr. and Lee Spencer White, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2015, $29.95
While many American historians refer to Susanna Dickinson, “Messenger of the Alamo,” as the only adult Texian survivor of the 1836 battle, they often forget the existence of another eyewitness—namely, Joe, the young black slave of William Barret Travis, co-commander of the garrison. After Travis fell, Joe watched the battle’s last moments from a hiding place. Mexican troops detained Joe and sent him to Bexar, where military authorities questioned him about the Texian army. Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna, whom Joe later said resembled a Methodist preacher, spared his life because he was a slave. The nascent Texas Cabinet later called Joe to testify about the battle.
To research this book, co-authors Ron L. Jackson and History channel consultant Lee Spencer White sifted through plantation ledgers, journals, letters and court documents to uncover such details as Joe having been the younger brother of escaped slave and abolitionist William Wells Brown and, reportedly, a grandson of famed frontiersman Daniel Boone. As Brown wrote about his mother, “Her father, it was said, was the noted Daniel Boone, and her mother a negress.” The reason Joe’s life passed into obscurity in the decades following Texas independence was, of course, that he was a slave at a time when the “land of the free” for black Americans was not the United States but British-occupied Canada.
The co-authors have rediscovered and reconstructed the life of a key eyewitness to the drama at the Alamo, thus closing a gap in Texas history. Singer-songwriter Phil Collins, who not only remembers the Alamo but also collects related artifacts, provides a short introduction.