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Merchants War

General Entry

The so-called Merchants War of the early 1850s resulted from financial losses to merchants along the Rio Grande boundary caused by Mexico's strict tariff laws, her prohibition of imports from the United States, and her violation of trade rights granted to the United States in the 1848 treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. José María Jesús Carbajal led Texas merchants in four unsuccessful expeditions to recover confiscated goods from revenue officials. In September 1850, with a force of between 200 and 700 Anglo-Americans and Mexicans he took Camargo. An attack on Matamoros in October failed, and he was driven back across the Rio Grande in November after an unsuccessful attack on Cerralvo. In February 1852 Carbajal made another attempt, with 400 Anglo-Americans, near Camargo. A third attack, in the spring of 1853 was unsuccessful. There were rumors of another attempt in 1855. Mexican retaliation resulted in sham battles and in sacking, burning, and menacing in the Monterrey-Laredo area. The United States government, which captured and released Carbajal, tried to prevent American participation and worked for a peaceful settlement of debts claimed by American merchants.

Milo Kearney and Anthony Knopp, Boom and Bust: The Historical Cycles of Matamoros and Brownsville (Austin: Eakin Press, 1991). J. Fred Rippy, "Border Troubles along the Rio Grande, 1848–1860," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 23 (October 1919). Ernest C. Shearer, "The Carvajal Disturbances," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 55 (October 1951). Oreta Turner, Border Trouble along the Rio Grande from 1848–1878 (M.A. thesis, East Texas State Teachers College, 1940).

Time Periods:

  • Antebellum Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Anonymous, “Merchants War,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 20, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.