— Copyright Dorothy Sloan 2013 —
Very Rare Decree Documenting Business Life in Texas in 1833
With Manuscript Translation by a Hungarian-Serb Pioneer of Texas & California
145. FISHER, George. Printed decree with George Fisher’s holograph translation signed and with his paraph:
COAHUILA Y TEJAS (Mexican State). LAWS. [Decree of April 6, 1833, on business laws, with heading] Gobierno Supremo del Estado de Coahuila y Tejas. [Text commences] El vice gobernador del Estado de Coahuila y Tejas...á todos sus habitantes, sabed:.... Art. 1o. Se deroga el decreto nùmero 183, que prohivó el comercio del menudeo á los no nácidos en la republica. Dated in type, Monclova, April 6, 1833, and signed in type Juan Martin Veramendi and Santiago del Valle. [Monclova, 1833]. Broadside with conjugate blank, on laid paper watermarked with a crest and Gioro Magnani. 8vo (20.5 x 15 cm). Creased where formerly folded, minor stains on blank verso of conjugate leaf, otherwise fine. Docketed in contemporary ink “Decree of the 6th Apl—33.” With a signed holograph translation into English by George Fisher on pp. [2-3].
First edition of a rare decree. Not in Streeter. One of only two known copies and the only one with the conjugate blank. Kimball 217. Wilkie, Lilly Texana 73: “By this decree the state repeals its 9 April 1832 decree 183 and again allows non-native Mexicans to operate retail businesses. This law also refunds all fines paid by these persons and forgives them for any crimes for which they may have been convicted under the former law. Decree 183 forbad any non-native, except under very limited circumstances, from selling foreign goods at either the wholesale or retail level. It did exempt Texas residents from the requirement, however, by allowing them to sell anything produced by their own personal industry. This law allowed Anglo settlers to resume business as usual. Decree 183 ensnared Samuel Bangs, who, on his return from Texas, discovered that he had lost his position as state printer but could not engage in merchandising, either. He was promptly exempted, however, by the state’s 28 April 1832 decree 195 (Kimball 195). See Spell, Pioneer Printer, pp. 80-81.”
Stephen F. Austin himself did not seem very concerned about the effects of the 1832 law. On April 9, 1832, he wrote to Samuel May Williams, “Nothing has been done except the ley de comercio, which I presume you have seen. The Govr opposed it very violently and returned it, but the legislature approved it a second time, only three voted against it.... It will do the colonies no material harm, for not many of them have ever retailed goods out of the colony. In principle, it is unconstitutional, but nothing need be said on that ground at present.” A few weeks later, on April 28, Austin again wrote to Williams, commenting, “Upon the whole this legislature have [sic] done no harm except the retail law....” See Austin Papers, Vol. 2, pp. 762 & 767.
Translator George Fisher (1795-1873, né Djordje Ribar) was born in Hungary of Serbian parents. In 1814, after the upheaval of the Serbian Revolution, Fisher emigrated to America. Subsequent to various meanderings, including Philadelphia and Mississippi, and some flirting with the Long Expedition, Fisher landed in Mexico. There he was active in establishing the first York Rite Masonic lodge in that country, among other things. He did not succeed in obtaining a Texas empresario contract in 1827, but thereafter secured Mexican naturalization papers and went to Texas to settle five hundred families on the lands formerly held by Haden Edwards. Fisher was heavily involved in trade and customs, and was appointed to positions at Galveston and Anahuac.
At the time of this law he was a printer in Matamoros, where he published a liberal newspaper, Mercurio del Puerto de Matamoros, which caused his dismissal from Mexico. In 1835 Fisher and José Antonio Mexía organized a failed attempt to start a revolt in the eastern states of Mexico, known as the Tampico Expedition, in which Mexico declared Fisher and his companions as pirates to whom no quarter should be given. Streeter in his entry 384 for George Fisher’s 1840 Memorials states: “An episode in Texas History that just missed being one of its important events. If the Tampico Expedition...had gained its objective, the course of Texas history would have been changed and its leader, Mexía, and its secretary, Fisher, would have been Texas heroes.... A linguist, an adventurer with physical and mental courage, an intriguer, inordinately fond of seeing his name in print, almost a blackmailer, Fisher was one of the unusual characters who gravitated to Texas and enlivened its annals.” See also Eugene Barker’s article on the Tampico Expedition in the Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association, Vol.VI, No. 3, January, 1903. “This interesting character weaves his way back and forth through the remainder of this collection [The Austin Papers], playing a subordinate but rather important role in the events of the period.” (Eugene C. Barker, Texas Historian 1927).
This interesting, early Texas settler was involved in business and politics in Texas until 1850 when he went to Panama and a year later settled in San Francisco. In California he served in various civic posts, including the important commission established to administer Spanish and Mexican land titles after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. He served as secretary and translator to the California Land Commission. Fisher’s experience in Mexico and Texas and his knowledge of Mexican law no doubt made him a good public servant for California in a time of extreme transition. When Fisher died in San Francisco on June 11, 1873, flags at all consulates flew at half-mast as a mark of respect. See The Handbook of Texas Online: Fisher, George. Also, Bancroft’s Pioneer Register, Vol. I, p. 210 & Bancroft, California VI, p. 542.
A contemporary of Fisher lauded his linguistic skills thus: “Perhaps the best linguist living since he is a Greek and Latin scholar, and in addition to a knowledge of the Russian, Polish, Bohemian, Moravian, Slovack, Croatian, Dalmatian, and the language of Montenegrini, speaks with fluency the following tongues: his vernacular, the Slavano-Servian, the Hungarian or Magyar, the German, the English, the Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian” (John Livingston in Portraits of Eminent Americans Now Living, 1853). This unique and rare imprint documents the linguistic skills of a fascinating pioneer in both Texas and California.
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