Brownsville is the sixteenth most populous city in the state of Texas with a population of 181,860. It is located on the southernmost tip of Texas, United States on the northern bank of the Rio Grande, directly north and across the border from Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. The 2013 U.S. Census Bureau estimate places the Brownsville-Harlingen metropolitan area population at 417,276 allotting it the eighth most populous metropolitan area in the state of Texas. In addition, the Matamoros–Brownsville Metropolitan Area counts with a population of 1,136,995, allotting it the fourth-largest metropolitan area along the U.S.-Mexico border. Brownsville has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation.
The Brownsville urban area is one of the fastest growing in the United States. The city's population dramatically increased after it experienced a boom in the steel industry during the first decade of the 1900s, when steel output tripled. In recent times, the Port of Brownsville has become a major economic hub for South Texas, where shipments from Mexico, other parts of the United States and the world arrive. Brownsville's economy is mainly based on its international trade with Mexico through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and is home to one of the fastest growing manufacturing sectors in the nation. In addition, Brownsville's climate has often been recognized among the best pro-business climates in the United States, and the city has also been ranked among the least expensive places to live in the U.S.
Brownsville served as a site for several battles and events in the Texas Revolution, the Mexican American War, and the American Civil War. And right across the U.S-Mexico border lies Matamoros, Tamaulipas, a city with a population of 500,000 people and a major site of the Mexican War of Independence, the Mexican Revolution, and the French Intervention.
In 1845, construction of a fort on the Mexican border was commissioned due to increased instability in the region on the eve of the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. Before the completion of the construction, the Mexican Army began the Siege of Fort Texas, during the first active campaign in the Mexican–American War, between 3 and 9 May 1846. The first battle of the war occurred on 8 May 1846, when General Zachary Taylor received word of the siege of the fort. Taylor's forces rushed to help, but Mexican troops intercepted them, resulting in the Battle of Palo Alto about north of present-day Brownsville. The next morning the Mexican forces had retreated, and Taylor's troops caught up with them, resulting in the Battle of Resaca de la Palma, which took place within the present city limits. When Taylor finally arrived at the besieged Fort Texas, it was found that two soldiers had died, one of them the fort's commander, Major Jacob Brown. In his honor, General Taylor renamed the fort Fort Brown. An old cannon at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College marks the spot where Major Brown received his fatal wound.
Contrary to popular belief, however, there is little, if any, evidence that the Fort was called "Fort Texas". Most official correspondence from the time describes the fort as "camp near Matamoros".
The city of Brownsville was originally established late in 1848 by Charles Stillman, and was made the county seat of the new Cameron County on 13 January 1849. The state originally incorporated the city on 24 January 1850. This was repealed on 1 April 1852, due to a land-ownership dispute between Stillman and the former owners. The state reincorporated the city on 7 February 1853, which remains in effect. The issue of ownership was not decided until 1879, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Stillman.
On July 13, 1859, the First Cortina War started. Juan Nepomuceno Cortina became one of the most important historical figures of the area, and continued to exert a decisive influence in the local events until his arrest in 1875. The First Cortina War ended on December 27, 1859. In May 1861, the brief Second Cortina War took place.
During the American Civil War Brownsville served as a smuggling point for Confederate goods into Mexico, most importantly cotton smuggled to European ships waiting at the Mexican port of Bagdad. Initially the Confederates controlled Fort Brown. In November 1863, Union troops landed at Port Isabel and marched for Brownsville to stop the smuggling. In the ensuing battle of Brownsville Confederate forces abandoned the fort, blowing it up with of explosives. In 1864 Confederate forces commanded by John Salmon 'Rip' Ford reoccupied the town. On May 15, 1865, a month after the surrender had been signed at Appomattox Court House, the Battle of Palmito Ranch (generally accepted as the war's last battle) was fought and won by the Confederates. Ulysses S. Grant sent Union General Frederick Steele to Brownsville to patrol the Mexican-American border after Civil War to aid the Juaristas with military supplies.
On 13 and 14 August 1906, Brownsville was the site of the Brownsville Affair. Racial tensions were high between white townsfolk and black infantrymen stationed at Fort Brown. On the night of 13 August, one white bartender was killed and a white police officer was wounded by rifle shots in the street. Townsfolk, including the mayor, accused the infantrymen of the murders. Without affording them a chance to defend themselves in a hearing, President Theodore Roosevelt dishonorably discharged the entire 167-member regiment due to their alleged "conspiracy of silence". Further investigations in the 1970s found that they were not at fault, and the Nixon Administration reversed all dishonorable discharges.
On September 8, 1926, The Junior College of the Lower Rio Grande Valley (later known as Texas Southmost College) admitted its first class. In 1945, Fort Brown was decommissioned and in 1948 the City and College acquired the land. Between 1945 and 1970, Brownsville's population continued to grow gradually, doubling from 25,000 to 52,000 people. In 1991, Brownsville received a university via the partnership with the University of Texas at Brownsville.
Brownsville was declared an All-America City in the year 2001 and again in 2014.