The Spanish Archives of Laredo, informally called the Laredo Archives, cover a period from 1749 to 1872 and consist of 3,452 handwritten official documents totaling 13,343 pages. Although the first document is dated 1749, the bulk of the collection begins in 1768, with the Spanish crown's granting of a charter for Laredo. The Spanish papers in the archives contain records of boundary surveys; land allotments; Indian raids; church, school, and social development; royal decrees and edicts; local laws and ordinances; civil and criminal litigation; census, tax, and trade statistics; and wills and estate settlements. This portion of the collection extends through the end of Mexican Texas in 1846, signaled by a document signed by Mirabeau B. Lamar, who commanded the American forces occupying Laredo. The remainder of the collection covers the period between 1846 and 1872 and consists of a few documents, written mostly in English, relating to the affairs of the city and county. For many years the collection was stored in the basement of the old county courthouse in Laredo. The archives were neglected and began to deteriorate from exposure to fire, flooding, and dampness. In 1934 an order was given to destroy the papers, but Sebron S. Wilcox, the newly appointed court reporter for the Forty-ninth District, working with the assistance of Florencio Andrés, a priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate who was serving at San Agustín Church of Laredo, rescued the archives and began restoring them. Both men worked for many years, without seeking remuneration, drying, sorting, cleaning, and identifying the documents.
In 1936 the Work Projects Administration undertook the transcription of the Spanish documents. In 1940 the project was placed under the supervision of the Texas Historical Records Survey. It was continued by the Statewide Records Project until 1942, when the project was ended. Four copies of the transcriptions, totaling thirty-eight volumes of typescript, were completed and filed in the National Archives in Washington, the Barker Texas History Center at the University of Texas, Austin, the Texas State Library, and the Webb County Courthouse. Before his death on May 12, 1959, Wilcox had expressed a desire that the collection be donated to a facility where it would be properly preserved and made accessible to the public. His family donated the archives to St. Mary's University, San Antonio, on December 10, 1960. In 1968 the papers were housed in the Special Collections Room of the new Academic Library. The room was specifically designed for the preservation of documents and included a large fireproof vault with temperature and humidity controls. To care for the collection the university hired a professional archivist, Carmen Perry, and a bilingual assistant. The documents were codified and described in preparation for a new microfilming, and in 1973 the original papers were filmed on sixteen reels of microfilm.
Further work on the collection ceased when Wilcox's heirs demanded that the university compensate them for the archives. Officials of the Texas State Library and Historical Commission (see TEXAS STATE LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES COMMISSION) were dismayed at the prospect of the selling or dispersing of public documents and requested that the state act on their behalf to prevent any such action. The state petitioned for a temporary restraining order to prohibit either the Wilcox family or St. Mary's University from selling or otherwise disposing of the collection. The order was issued on May 21, 1971; at the same time the assistant attorney general also petitioned the court to place the archives in the custody of the state on the grounds that as the successor to the Mexican government the state of Texas had a legal right to all official papers held by the Spanish and Mexican governments of Laredo. On July 18, 1972, the state of Texas, the city of Laredo, and St. Mary's University agreed on a tentative settlement that gave the state title and ownership of the archives but allowed the university to retain possession of the collection. In December 1979, in the final jury trial of the matter, the court upheld a previous decision that St. Mary's had lawfully acquired its title to the Laredo Archives. The court further decreed that the parties involved had agreed to abide by the terms of the 1972 settlement and ruled that the personal papers of Sebron S. Wilcox, including those relating to the Villa of Palafox, were to be returned to his family. See also SPANISH TEXAS.