Perote Castle (originally the Castle of San Carlos), located in the Mexican state of Vera Cruz, was built over a seven-year period in the 1770s by the Spanish authorities in Mexico to guard one of their main trade routes and to serve as a depository for treasure awaiting shipment to Spain. The stone fortress, covering an estimated twenty-six acres and surrounded by a moat, was used by the Mexican government as a prison.
In the dungeons of Perote most of the Texas prisoners captured by Mexico in the days of the Republic of Texas were incarcerated. Texans imprisoned there were chiefly from three groups: the Texan Santa Fe expedition prisoners, the Nicholas Dawson prisoners, and the prisoners captured on the Mier expedition. Some of the 300-odd members of the Texan Santa Fe expedition were confined at Perote during the winter of 1841–42. Most of them were released at the general emancipation of the Santa Fe prisoners in June 1842. In December 1842 about fifty men captured in San Antonio by Adrián Woll were placed in Perote, and a few months later various detachments of the Mier prisoners, about 200 in all, were also incarcerated there.
Despite the fact that they had surrendered as prisoners of war, the men were forced to perform common labor. They were, however, allowed to communicate with friends, to receive money and gifts, and to purchase supplies outside Perote Castle. Their plight aroused sympathy in Texas and in the United States, and in April 1843 President John Tyler instructed Waddy Thompson, United States minister in Mexico, to negotiate for release of the Texas prisoners and demand the release of any imprisoned citizens of the United States. The Texas Congress made appropriations for the relief of the men at Perote, but the money never reached the prisoners, many of whom came to feel that their country was forsaking them and that President Sam Houston was not making any effort to secure their release.
Groups of the Perote prisoners were released from time to time through the influence of Thompson and the British minister, Lord Packenham. On July 2, 1843, sixteen Texans escaped through a hole bored in the walls; eight were recaptured. On March 25, 1844, sixteen other men effected an escape through a tunnel; of these, seven were recaptured. On March 23, 1844, two days before, the Bexar prisoners had been released. On September 16, 1844, the remaining Texas prisoners, about 105, were released. Accurate records on the number who escaped, who were released through influence of friends, who died from disease, starvation, or exposure, and who were killed by Mexican guards are not available.