The question of slavery became a source of contention between the Anglo-American settlers and Spanish governors. Just as the governors feared the increase in the Anglo-American population in Texas, they and their superiors in Mexico City did not approve of the institution of slavery for various reasons. The Guerrero decree of 1829 conditionally abolished slavery throughout Mexican territories, a decision that raised tensions with the Anglo-Americans. .
After the Texas Revolution ended, Republic, and later State, of Texas not only retained slavery but greatly increased the enslaved population in the territory. The Cotton industry flourished in East Texas where enslaved labor was most widely used. Free and runaway blacks experienced great difficulty making livings in Texas. Many of them took up cattle herding or fled altogether to the Midwest, California, or southward to Mexico.
Negro Slavery was not a widespread practice in Spanish Texas. In 1751, three Frenchmen were found to have settled along the Trinity River to trade with the Indians, but they were arrested by the Spanish and expelled from the colony. A 1777 census of San Antonio showed a total of 2,060 people, with 151 of them 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.
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. Most joined friendly Indian tribes, but others settled in the East Texas forests. Some French and Spanish slaveowners moved to Texas, however, and retained their slaves. In 1809, the Commandant General of the Interior Provinces Nemesio Salcedo ordered that the Texas-Louisiana border be closed to everyone, regardless of their ethnic background. His nephew, governor of Texas Manuel María de Salcedo, interpreted the order as allowing slaveowners from the United States to enter Texas to reclaim runaway slaves.
Between 1816 and 1821, Louis-Michel Aury and Jean Lafitte smuggled slaves into the United States through Galveston Island. The United States outlawed the importation of slaves in 1808. 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. He could then legally transport the slaves and resell them in New Orleans or areas further up the Mississippi River.
Texas transitioned to be part of Mexico in 1821 at the conclusion of the Mexican War of Independence. That year, 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. Each settler was allowed to purchase an additional of land for each slave they owned. In 1823, Mexico forbade the sale or purchase of slaves and required that the children of slaves be freed when they reached 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.
Slavery was outlawed in Mexico in 1829, but Texas was granted an exception until 1830, when the importation of slaves was made illegal. Anglo immigration to the province slowed at this point, and many Anglo settlers were angry with the changing rules. To circumvent the law, many Anglo colonists converted their slaves into indentured servants for life. Others simply called their slaved indentured servants without legally changing their status. Slaveholders wishing 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. This tactic was outlawed by an 1832 state law which prohibited 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 complete equals in the tribe, 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 with their white owners during raids. Any slaves captured were sold as slaves to the Cherokees and Creeks in Indian Territory.
Most slaves in Texas in the 1800s had arrived with slaveholders from the United States. A small number of slaves were imported illegally from the West Indies or Africa. The British consul estimated that in the 1830s approximately 500 slaves had been illegally imported into Texas. By 1836, there were approximately 5,000 slaves in Texas.
After the Republic of Texas was created in 1836, Anglo views on slavery and race began to predominate. The 1836 Constitution of the Republic of Texas required free blacks to petition the Texas Congress for permission to continue living in the country. The following year all those who had been living in Texas at the time of independence were allowed to remain. Laws further stated that people with at least 1/8 Negro blood (one great-grandparent) would not be able to vote, own property, testify against whites in court, or intermarry with whites. Slavery expanded rapidly, and by 1840 there were 11,323 slaves in Texas.
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 in the state worked either alone or in groups of less than twenty 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 made the purchase and care of a slave too expensive.
Although most slaves lives in rural areas, over 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, blacksmiths, carpenters, and barbers.
Plantation slaves generally lived in one or two-oom 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. 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.
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 Negroes. In rural areas, counties often created patrols to restrict plantation slaves from traveling without passes from their 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 choose to 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 them from 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 that would allow for extradition of runaway slaves, but it never came to fruition. Some slave hunters illegally travelled to Mexico and recaptured runaways. Over 400 Texans joined the revolt of Jose Maria Jesus Carvajal in 1851 as he attempted to create a Republic of Sierra Madre in Northern Mexico after Carvajal promised to return all escaped slaves; he was defeated by the Mexican Army.
White Texans were fearful about slave revolts, and rumors took hold rapidly. In 1854, citizens in Austin and other towns drove many poor Mexicans from the area out of fears that the Mexicans would 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 so that they could escape into Mexico. In 1860, mass hysteria erupted after a series of fires erupted throughout the state. Hundreds of slaves were 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, but later newspaper accounts revealed that most of what was confessed under torture appeared to be false. The fires had coincided with a summer drought and new matches susceptible to spontaneous combustion. The supposed "poison" found in slave quarters was actually baby powder.
Unlike in other Southern states, only a small number of Texas slaves, estimated at 47, joined the Union Army. Texas was too far from the Union Army lines for much of the war, which made it difficult for slaves to reach them. The last battle of the war was fought at Palmito Ranch in 1865.
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 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, in the hopes that emancipation could be gradually implemented. Some slaveowners did not free their slaves until late in 1865.
The effects of slavery in Texas are present to this day when examining the cultural makeup of the state. The eastern quarter of the state where slavery flourished retains strong ties to the Southern United States while the large remainder of the state, where slavery ranged from being less prevalent to non-existent, is traditionally associated with the Southwest.
Other effects of slavery arose after white Democrats regained power in the 1870s. In 1876 they passed a new constitution that required segregated schools and imposed a poll tax. By the late 19th century they passed other Jim Crow rules. The system of school support was inadequate, and schools for minorities tended to be underfunded. At the turn of the century, Texas followed other southern states in passage of provisions that made voter registration and elections more complicated, and acted to disfranchise most African Americans, a condition that persisted for decades. Such provisions included grandfather clause, literacy tests and residency requirements difficult for sharecroppers and workers to meet. In 1900 African Americans comprised 20 % of the state's population of 3,084,710. This reflected increased 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 dominated the state for decades after 1900, the only contest for office was at the primary level. This was another means of keeping African Americans out of electoral decisions, and it was not overturned by the Supreme Court until 1944 in Smith v. Allwright. States that used it went on to adopt other means to keep most African Americans out of voting.
African Americans immediately started raising legal challenges to the 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.
Software Covers History and Current Reality of U.S. Racial Inequality.(Originated from Tallahassee Democrat, Fla.)
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