Quintero, José Agustín (1829–1885)

By: James W. Daddysman

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: August 4, 2020

José Agustín Quintero, attorney, journalist, and diplomat (incorrectly listed as "Juan" in The War of the Rebellion: The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies), was born in Havana, Cuba, on May 6, 1829, to Antonio and Anna (Woodville) Quintero. He also worked as an archivist, newspaper editor, diplomat, and confidential Confederate agent for President Jefferson Davis in Brownsville, Matamoros, and Monterrey, where he played a significant role in establishing the Matamoros trade. He was a precocious child and was sent to the United States to complete his education; he is said to have attended Harvard, although there is no official record of his enrollment there. During his stay at Cambridge Quintero allegedly became friends with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He returned to Cuba around 1848 to enter law practice, but he became involved in the movement for Cuban independence that centered around Narciso López and was court-martialed and sentenced to death. But he escaped from Castle Moro and fled to Texas. In 1856 he became editor of the San Antonio Spanish-language newspaper El Ranchero (see SPANISH-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPERS) and Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.

Quintero traveled widely throughout Texas and northern Mexico and gained a familiarity with the ways and customs of the people on both sides of the border. He became friends with Mirabeau B. Lamar and assisted in the study of Spanish manuscripts now included in the Lamar papers. In 1857 he served as assistant clerk of the Texas House of Representatives. He met Governor Santiago Vidaurri of the state of Nuevo León y Coahuila in 1859 during the governor's brief, self-imposed exile in Austin. Their friendship was maintained by sporadic correspondence until the outbreak of the Civil War brought them into a close and valuable working relationship for the Confederacy. Quintero lived briefly in New Orleans, where he was admitted to the bar, but soon moved north as a journalist. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the Quitman Guards of Texas. After his company was sent to Virginia, he was assigned to the diplomatic corps, and President Jefferson Davis appointed him confidential agent of the Confederate government in Mexico.

Quintero quickly demonstrated the shrewdness, insight, and tenacity necessary to achieve diplomatic success. Largely as a result of his efforts, the Matamoros trade was opened up for Texas and the Trans-Mississippi Department. After the federals captured Brownsville in November 1863, Quintero crossed the river to Matamoros and continued his work. He spent considerable time in Monterrey, where he maintained diplomatic relations with Governor Vidaurri. Under his careful eye more than 320,000 bales of cotton (about one-fifth of all Confederate cotton exports) were slipped past the Union blockade at the mouth of the Rio Grande and exchanged for valuable war materials in England and Europe. After the end of the war Quintero accepted a position with the Galveston News, but soon moved to New Orleans, where he practiced law and wrote for the New Orleans Daily Picayune. He married Eliza F. Bournos, and they had four children. Quintero served as New Orleans consul for Belgium and Costa Rica, and at the time of his death around September 8, 1885, he was editor of the Picayune.

Gerardo Castellanos García, Panorama histórico; ensayo de cronología cubana, desde 1492 hasta 1933 (Havana: Ucar, García, 1934). James W. Daddysman, The Matamoros Trade: Confederate Commerce, Diplomacy, and Intrigue (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1984). New Orleans Daily Picayune, September 8, 1885. Ronnie C. Tyler, Santiago Vidaurri and the Southern Confederacy (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1973).


  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • General Law

Time Periods:

  • Civil War

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

James W. Daddysman, “Quintero, José Agustín,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 20, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/quintero-jose-agustin.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 4, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: