History of slavery in Texas
Part of a series on the
|History of Texas|
The history of slavery in Texas began slowly, as the Spanish did not rely on it for labor during their years of control. The use of slavery expanded in the mid-nineteenth century as British-American settlers from the Southeastern United States crossed the Mississippi River and brought slaves with them. Although the Spanish colonists had held some slaves, they did not succeed in creating a sustainable agricultural economy in the entirety of New Spain, including Texas, Mexico, Central America, and other former Spanish territories in the American Southwest.
The issue of slavery became a source of contention between the Anglo-American (called that because they spoke English) settlers and Spanish governors. The governors feared the growth in the Anglo-American population in Texas, and for various reasons, by the early 19th century, they and their superiors in Mexico City disapproved of expanding slavery. In 1829 the Guerrero decree conditionally abolished slavery throughout Mexican territories. It was a decision that increased tensions with slaveholders among the Anglo-Americans.
After the Texas Revolution ended in 1836, the Constitution of the Republic of Texas made slavery legal. The General Provisions of the Constitution forbad any slave owner from freeing his slaves without the consent of Congress and forbad Congress from making any law to restrict the slave trade or emancipate slaves.
European Americans greatly increased the enslaved population in the Republic, and later the State of Texas as they encouraged settlement and developed more acres under cultivation in cotton and other commodities. The cotton industry flourished in East Texas, where enslaved labor became most widely used. The central part of the state was dominated by subsistence farmers. Free and runaway blacks had great difficulty finding jobs in Texas. Many worked in other parts of the state as cowboys herding cattle or migrated for better opportunities in the Midwest, California, or southward to Mexico.
The first non-Native slave in Texas was Estevanico, a Moor from North Africa who had been captured and enslaved by the Spanish when he was a child. Estevanico accompanied his master Captain Andrés Dorantes de Carranza on the Narváez expedition, which landed at present-day Tampa. Trying to get around the Gulf Coast, they built five barges, but in November 1528 these went aground off the coast of Texas. Estevanico, Dorantes, and Alonso Castillo Maldonado, the only survivors, spent several months living on a barrier island (now believed to be Galveston Island) before making their way in April 1529 to the mainland. American Indians captured and enslaved the party, putting them to work as laborers. They survived with the help of Castillo's faith healing among the Indians. Later they were joined by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. Five years later, in September 1534, they escaped to the interior. Although Estevanico was still enslaved, after these events the Spaniards treated him more as an equal. Later he was given leadership of a Spanish expedition. His account, along with those of the others, led to more extensive Spanish exploration of the new territory.
Slavery in colonial times
Both the civil and religious authorities in Spanish Texas officially encouraged freeing slaves, but the laws were often ignored. Beginning in the 1740s in the Southwest, when Spanish settlers captured American Indian children, they often had them baptized and "adopted" into the homes of townspeople. There they were raised to be servants. At first the practice involved primarily Apaches; eventually Comanche children were likewise adopted as servants.
Importation of enslaved Africans was not widespread in Spanish Texas. In 1751, after three Frenchmen were found to have settled along the Trinity River to trade with the American Indians, the Spanish arrested and expelled them from the colony. A 1777 census of San Antonio showed a total of 2,060 people, with 151 of African descent. Of these, only 15 were slaves, 4 male and 11 females. The 1783 census for all of Texas listed a total of 36 slaves. There was intermarriage among blacks, Indians and Europeans. In 1792 there were 34 blacks and 414 mulattos in Spanish Texas, some of whom were free men and women. This was 15 percent of the total 2,992 people living in Spanish Texas.
When the United States purchased Louisiana in 1803, Spain declared that any slave who crossed the Sabine River into Texas would be automatically freed. For a time, many slaves ran away to Texas. Free blacks also emigrated to Texas. Most escaped slaves joined friendly American Indian tribes, but others settled in the East Texas forests. When some French and Spanish slaveholders moved to Texas, they were allowed to retain their slaves. In 1809, the Commandant General of the Interior Provinces, Nemesio Salcedo, ordered the Texas-Louisiana border to be closed to everyone, regardless of ethnic background. His nephew, governor of Texas Manuel María de Salcedo, interpreted the order as allowing slaveholders from the United States to enter Texas to reclaim runaway slaves.
The United States outlawed the importation of slaves in 1808, but domestic trade flourished, especially in New Orleans during the antebellum decades. In part due to the slave trade, New Orleans was the fourth largest city in the US in 1840 and one of the wealthiest. Between 1816 and 1821, Louis-Michel Aury and Jean Lafitte smuggled slaves into the United States through Galveston Island. To encourage citizens to report unlawful activity, most southern states allowed anyone who informed on a slave trader to receive half of what the imported slaves would earn at auction. The men sold slaves to James Bowie and others, who brought the slaves directly to a customhouse and informed on themselves. The customs officers offered the slaves for auction, and Bowie would buy them back. Due to the state laws, he would receive half of the price he had paid. After that, he could legally transport the slaves and sell them in New Orleans or areas further up the Mississippi River.
In 1821 at the conclusion of the Mexican War of Independence, Texas was included in the new nation. That year, the American Stephen F. Austin was granted permission to bring Anglo settlers into Texas. Most of the settlers Austin recruited came from the southern slave-owning portions of the United States. Under Austin's development scheme, each settler was allowed to purchase an additional 50 acres (20 ha) of land for each slave he brought to the territory. At the same time, however, Mexico offered full citizenship to free blacks, including land ownership and other privileges. The province continued to attract free blacks and escaped slaves from the southern United States. Favorable conditions for free blacks continued into the 1830s.
In 1823, Mexico forbade the sale or purchase of slaves, and required that the children of slaves be freed when they reached age fourteen. By 1825, however, a census of Austin's Colony showed 1,347 Anglo-Americans and 443 people of African descent, including a small number of free Negroes. In 1827, the legislature of Coahuila y Tejas outlawed the introduction of additional slaves and granted freedom at birth to all children born to a slave.
In 1829 Mexico abolished slavery, but it granted an exception until 1830 to Texas. That year Mexico made the importation of slaves illegal. Anglo-American immigration to the province slowed at this point, with settlers angry about the changing rules. To circumvent the law, numerous Anglo-American colonists converted their slaves to indentured servants, but with life terms. Others simply called their slaves indentured servants without legally changing their status. Slaveholders trying to enter Mexico would force their slaves to sign contracts claiming that the slaves owed money and would work to pay the debt. The low wages the slave would receive made repayment impossible, and the debt would be inherited, even though no slave would receive wages until age eighteen. In 1832 the state passed legislation prohibiting worker contracts from lasting more than ten years.
Many slaves who escaped from masters in Texas or in the United States joined various East Texas Indian tribes. Although not considered equals in the tribes, they were generally treated well. Many former slaves fought with the Cherokee against the Texan army that drove the tribe from East Texas in 1838. Slaves often fought against the Comanche tribe, however. The Comanche indiscriminately killed slaves and their white masters during raids. The Comanche sold any captured slaves to the Cherokee and Creek in Indian Territory, as they were both slave holding tribes.
By the 1800s, most slaves in Texas had been brought by slaveholders from the United States. A small number of slaves were imported illegally from the West Indies or Africa. In the 1830s, the British consul estimated that approximately 500 slaves had been illegally imported into Texas. By 1836, there were approximately 5,000 slaves in Texas.
Exportation in the slave-owning areas of the state surpassed that of the non-slave-owning areas. A survey of Texas in 1834 found that the department of Bexar, which was mostly made up of Tejanos, had exported no goods. The Brazos department, including Austin's colonies and those of Green DeWitt, had exported 600,000 pesos worth of goods, including 5,000 bales of cotton. The department of Texas, which included the eastern settlements, expected to export 2,000 bales of cotton and 5,000 head of cattle.
The abolition of slavery created tensions between the Mexican government and slave-holding settlers from the United States. These tensions came to a head in the Anahuac Disturbances. In August 1831, Juan Davis Bradburn the military commander of the custom station on Upper Galveston Bay gave asylum to two men who had escaped from slavery in Louisiana. The slave owner hired William Barret Travis, a local lawyer, in an attempt to retrieve the men. When Bradburn arrested Travis on suspicion of plotting an insurrection, settlers rebelled. The disturbances were resolved through a combination of arms and political maneuvering. One result was the Turtle Bayou Resolutions, which were an explanation of the grievances that had led to the disturbances. One of the resolutions challenged Bradburn for "advising and procuring servants to quit the service of their masters, and offering them protection; causing them to labor for his benefits, and refusing to compensate them for the same."
As the Texas Revolution began in 1835, some slaves sided with Mexico, which provided for freedom. In the fall of 1835, a group of almost 100 slaves staged an uprising along the Brazos River after they heard rumors of approaching Mexican troops. Whites in the area defeated and severely punished them. Several slaves ran away to serve with Mexican forces. Texan forces executed one runaway slave taken prisoner and resold another into slavery. Other slaves joined the Texan forces, with some killed while fighting Mexican soldiers. Three slaves were known to be at the Battle of the Alamo; a boy named John was killed, while William B. Travis's slave Joe and James Bowie's slave Sam survived to be freed by the Mexican Army.
The Section 9 of the General Provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, ratified in 1936, made slavery legal again in Texas and defined the status of slaves and people of color in the Republic of Texas.
- persons of color who had been servants for life under Mexican law would become property.
- Congress should pass no law restricting emigrants from bring their slaves into Texas
- Congress shall not have the power to emancipate slaves.
- Slaveowners may not free their slaves without Congressional approval unless the freed slaves leave Texas
- Free persons of African descent were required to petition the Texas Congress for permission to continue living in the country.
- Africans and the descendants of Africans and Indians were excluded from the class of 'persons' having rights.
The following year all those who had been living in Texas at the time of independence were allowed to remain. On the other hand, the legislature created political segregation; it classified free residents with at least 1/8 African heritage (the equivalent to one great-grandparent) as a separate category, and abrogated their citizens' rights, prohibiting them from voting, owning property, testifying against whites in court, or intermarrying with whites. As planters increased cotton production, they rapidly increased the purchase and transport of slaves. By 1840 there were 11,323 slaves in Texas.
In 1845 the United States annexed Texas as a state. The state legislature passed legislation further restricting the rights of free blacks. For example, it subjected them to punishments, such as working on road gangs if convicted of crimes, similar to those of slaves rather than free men.
By 1850, the slave population in Texas had increased to 58,161; in 1860 there were 182,566 slaves, 30 percent of the total population. In 1860 almost 25 percent of all white families in Texas owned at least one slave. Texas ranked 10th in total slave population and 9th in percentage of slave population (30 percent of all residents).
Forty percent of Texas slaves lived on plantations along the Gulf Coast and in the East Texas river valleys, where they cultivated cotton, corn, and some sugar. Fifty percent of the slaves worked either alone or in groups of fewer than 20 on small farms ranging from the Nueces River to the Red River, and from the Louisiana border to the edge of the western settlements of San Antonio, Austin, Waco, and Fort Worth. Some slaves lived among the cattlemen along the southern Gulf Coast and helped herd sheep and cattle. Rarely, a slave also broke horses, but generally only white men were used for that dangerous task. If they died, the boss did not suffer a monetary loss. Slaves were not held between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. A large supply of cheap Mexican labor in the area made the purchase and care of a slave too expensive.
Although most slaves lived in rural areas, more than 1000 resided in both Galveston and Houston by 1860, with several hundred in other large towns. Unlike in most southern cities, the number of urban slaves in Texas grew throughout the 1850s. Most worked as house servants or on farms on the edges of towns, but others served as cooks and waiters in hotels, as teamsters or boatmen, or as coachmen and skilled artisans, such as blacksmiths, carpenters, and barbers.
Plantation slaves generally lived in one or two-room log cabins. Most field hands received two sets of clothing twice each year, with a hat and coat for winter. Meals often consisted of bread, molasses, sweet potatoes, hominy, and beef, chicken, and pork. Slaves often lived similarly to the whites in Texas, especially those new to the territory and just getting started. The whites, however, could hope to improve their lives with their own hard work, while the slaves had no such guarantee.
Many churches in Texas accepted slaves as members. Both the Baptist and Methodist churches appointed missionaries to the slaves and allowed active participation by them. In 1860, the Methodists claimed 7,541 slaves among their members in Texas. Some slaves became ministers, but their masters often tried to instruct them in what they were supposed to preach. As in other southern states, however, the slaves made Christianity their own and they developed strong religious faith.
Many local communities adopted laws forbidding slaves from having liquor or weapons, from selling agricultural products, hiring their own time, or being hired by free blacks. In rural areas, counties often set up patrols to enforce restrictions on slaves' traveling without passes from planter owners. Urban slaves often had greater freedoms and opportunity. Unlike most southern states, Texas did not explicitly ban education of slaves, but most slave owners did not allow the practice. In 1865, 95% of the slaves were illiterate.
Many slaves ran away. Some hid in the bayous for a time, while others lived among the Indians, and a few managed to board ships bound for northern or foreign ports. Most runaway slaves attempted to go to Mexico. By 1850, an estimated 3,000 slaves had successfully escaped to Mexico, and an additional 1,000 crossed into Mexico between 1851 and 1855. Ninety percent of the runaways were men, most between ages 20 and 40, because they were best equipped to deal with the long, difficult journey. All ages were represented, however, from 5 months to 60 years. As early as 1836, Texas slaveholders sent representatives to Matamoros to try to reclaim their runaway slaves, but Mexico refused.
A group of slaves killed the sheriff of Gonzales when he attempted to stop their going to Matamoros. Over 30 of the fugitives made it safely to freedom in Mexico. From 1849 until 1860, Texas tried to convince the United States government to negotiate a treaty with Mexico to permit extradition of runaway slaves, but it did not succeed. Some slave hunters illegally traveled to Mexico and captured runaways. After José María Jesús Carvajal promised to return all escaped slaves, more than 400 Texans joined his revolt of 1851. He tried to create a Republic of Sierra Madre in Northern Mexico but was defeated by the Mexican Army.
White Texans were fearful about slave revolts, and as in other southern states, rumors of uprisings took hold rapidly, often in times of economic and social tension. In 1854, citizens in Austin and other towns drove many poor Mexicans from the area in fear that they might assist in slave revolts. Two years later, Colorado County hanged several slaves and drove one white man and several Mexicans from the area after uncovering a plot to equip 200 slaves with pistols and knives to escape into Mexico.
In 1860, mass hysteria ensued after a series of fires erupted throughout the state. Planters had hundreds of slaves arrested and questioned forcefully. Several confessed to a plot by white abolitionists to avenge John Brown's execution by burning food supplies and poisoning slaveowners. Up to 80 slaves and 37 whites may have been executed as a result of the supposed plot. Later newspaper accounts revealed that most of what was confessed under torture appeared to be false. Many of the fires had coincided with a summer drought, and new matches were susceptible to spontaneous combustion. The supposed "poison" found in slave quarters was baby powder. There was a slave auction block next to the Menger Hotel and near the Alamo.[verification needed]
Texas seceded from the United States in 1861, and joined the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. It replaced the pro-Union governor, Sam Houston, in the process. During the war, slavery in Texas was little affected, and prices for slaves remained high until the last few months of the war. The number of slaves in the state increased dramatically as the Union Army occupied parts of Arkansas and Louisiana. Slaveholders in those areas often moved their slaves to Texas to avoid having them emancipated. By 1865 there were an estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas. Many planters, however, lost part of their workforces temporarily to the Confederate Army, which impressed one-quarter of the slaves on each plantation to construct defensive earthworks for the Texas coast and to drive military supply wagons. Anyone convicted of providing arms to slaves during the war was sentenced to between two and five years of hard labor.
Unlike in other Southern states, only a small number of Texas slaves, estimated at 47, joined the Union Army. Few battles took place in Texas, which acted as a supply state to the Confederacy. As Texas was much more distant from the Union Army lines for much of the war, slaves were unable to reach them. The last battle of the war was fought at Palmito Ranch (near Brownsville, TX) in 1865.
On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and over 2,000 federal troops arrived at Galveston Island to take possession of the state and enforce the two-year-old Emancipation Proclamation. There, he proclaimed his "General Order No. 3" on the balcony of Ashton Villa:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
On some plantations, many slaves left immediately after hearing of the emancipation, even if their former owners offered to pay them wages. Throughout the summer, many East Texas newspapers continued to recommend that slaveholders oppose ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, in the hopes that emancipation could be gradually implemented. Some slaveowners did not free their slaves until late in 1865.
Slavery was officially abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment which took effect on December 18, 1865. Slavery had been theoretically abolished by President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation which proclaimed, in 1863, that only slaves located in territories that were in rebellion from the United States were free. Since the U.S. government was not in effective control of many of these territories until later in the war, many of these slaves proclaimed to be free by the Emancipation Proclamation were still held in servitude until those areas came back under Union control.
June 19, the day of the Emancipation announcement, has been celebrated annually in Texas and other states as Juneteenth.
The longterm effects of slavery can be seen to this day in the state. The eastern quarter of the state, where cotton production depended on thousands of slaves, is considered the westernmost extension of the Deep South. It contains a significant number of Texas' African-American population. On the other hand, western parts of Texas were still a frontier during the American Civil War. While settled chiefly by Anglo-Southerners after the war, with the history of ranching, some of these parts have been more associated with the Southwest than the South.
After white Democrats regained power in Texas and other southern states in the 1870s, they imposed a system of legalized segregation and white supremacy. In 1876 white Democrats in Texas passed a new constitution requiring segregated schools and imposing a poll tax, which decreased the number of poor voters both black and white. By the late 19th century, they passed other Jim Crow rules. The system of school support was inadequate, and schools for minorities were seriously underfunded. Texas did not, however, employ techniques common in other southern states such as complex voter registration rules and literacy tests; even the "white primary" was not implemented statewide until 1923.
In 1900 African Americans comprised 30% of the state's population of 3,084,710. The drop in proportion of population reflected greatly increased European immigration to the state in the 19th century, as well as population growth.
Like Georgia, the Texas Democratic Party adopted a whites-only primary. Since they politically dominated the state for decades after 1900, the only contest for office was at the primary level. The white primary was another way to exclude African Americans from making electoral decisions, and it was not overturned by the Supreme Court until 1944 in Smith v. Allwright. States that had used it adopted other means to keep most African Americans from voting.
African Americans immediately started raising legal challenges to disfranchisement, but early Supreme Court cases, such as Giles v. Harris (1903), upheld the states. Through organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), African Americans continued to work to regain their ability to exercise their civil and voting rights as citizens. The civil rights movement led to the US Congress passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which protected the rights of all citizens to integrated public facilities and enforcement of voting rights and over slaves. On June 25, 2013, after nearly fifty years of legal precedent, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional. A few hours after the decision, Texas and Mississippi announced plans to implement voter ID laws.
- Williams (1997), p. 1.
- Barr (1996), p. 1.
- Donald E. Chipman, "Estevanico", Handbook of Texas Online, accessed 13 Aug 2009
- Barr (1996), p. 2.
- Williams (1997), p. 2.
- Barr (1996), p. 5.
- de la Teja (1956), p. 123.
- Barr (1996), p. 13.
- Williams (1997), p. 4.
- Douglas Hales, "Free Blacks", Handbook of Texas Online, accessed 12 Aug 2009
- Barr (1996), p. 14.
- Almaráz, p. 35.
- Almaráz, p. 29.
- Hopewell (1994), p. 19.
- Edmondson (2000), p. 91.
- Chipman (1992), p. 239
- Williams (1997), p. 6.
- Barr (1996), p. 15.
- Vazquez (1997), p. 57.
- Vazquez (1997), p. 63.
- Barr (1996), p. 28.
- Barr (1996), p. 29.
- Barr (1996), p. 16.
- Barr (1996), p. 17.
- de la Teja (1997), p. 91.
- de la Teja (1997), p. 92.
- Barr (1996), p. 32.
- Barr (1996), p. 6.
- Gammel, Hans Peter Mareus Neilsen (1898). The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897 Volume 1. p. 1087.
- Barr (1996), p. 8.
- Barr (1996), p. 9.
- Barr (1996), p. 19.
- Barr (1996), p. 20.
- Barr (1996), p. 24.
- Barr (1996), p. 18.
- Barr (1996), p. 22.
- Barr (1996),p. 21.
- Barr (1996), p. 25.
- Barr (1996), p. 23.
- Barr (1996), p. 30.
- Barr (1996), p. 31.
- Barr (1996), p. 26.
- Barr (1996), p. 33.
- Barr (1996), p. 34.
- Express Newspaper, 1939, University of Texas at San Antonio archives
- Barr (1996), p. 36.
- Barr (1996),p. 37.
- "Juneteenth". State of Texas website. Retrieved 2006-07-06.
- Barr (1996), p. 40.
- Barr (1996), p. 39.
- "1876 Constitution", Handbook of Texas Online, accessed 12 Apr 2008
- Donald S. Strong, "The Rise of Negro Voting in Texas," American Political Science Review Vol. 42 (June, 1948): 510, 511-12.
- Historical Census Browser, 1900 US Census, University of Virginia, accessed 15 Mar 2008
- Almaráz, Félix D., Jr. (1971), Tragic Cavalier: Governor Manuel Salcedo of Texas, 1808–1813 (2nd ed.), College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, ISBN 0-89096-503-X
- Barr, Alwyn (1996), Black Texans: A history of African Americans in Texas, 1528–1995 (2nd ed.), Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, ISBN 0-8061-2878-X
- Campbell, Randolph B., An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989
- Chipman, Donald E. (1992), Spanish Texas, 1519-1821, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, ISBN 0-292-77659-4
- de la Teja, Jesus F. (1996), San Antonio de Bexar: A Community on New Spain's Northern Frontier, Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, ISBN 978-0826317513
- Edmondson, J.R. (2000), The Alamo Story-From History to Current Conflicts, Plano, TX: Republic of Texas Press, ISBN 1-55622-678-0
- Hopewell, Clifford (1994), James Bowie Texas Fighting Man: A Biography, Austin, TX: Eakin Press, ISBN 0-89015-881-9
- Vazquez, Josefina Zoraida (1997), "The Colonization and Loss of Texas: A Mexican Perspective", in Rodriguez O., Jaime E.; Vincent, Kathryn, Myths, Misdeeds, and Misunderstandings: The Roots of Conflict in U.S.–Mexican Relations, Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., ISBN 0-8420-2662-2
- Williams, David A. (1997), Bricks Without Straw: A Comprehensive History of African Americans in Texas, Austin, TX: Eakin Press, ISBN 1-57168-041-1
- Salas. Mario Marcel, "Foundation Myth in Political Thought: The Racial Moorings of Foundation Myth",Dubugue:Kendal Hunt Publishers,2011
- Lester G. Bugbee, "Slavery in early Texas", The Political Science Quarterly, vol. III, no. 3, 1898, transcribed text, Sons of DeWitt Colony Texas Website
- Douglas Hales, "FREE BLACKS", Handbook of Texas Online