Thursday, June 8, 2017


By Juan Montoya
Freedom took a little longer to arrive in Texas.
Even though President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation on January 1863, slavery wasn't outlawed in Texas until On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island with 2,000 federal troops to occupy Texas on behalf of the federal government.  

By 1865, there were an estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas.
Image result for General Gordon Granger AND JUNETEENTH
On June 19, standing on the balcony of Galveston's Ashton Villa, Granger read aloud the contents of "General Order No. 3", announcing the total emancipation of of slaves:

"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."

There has been a debate about how many slaves lived in South Texas. Because of the proximity to the Rio Grande (and freedom in Mexico where the peculiar institution was prohibited), few slaves were kept along the border.
In fact, the 1860 Census indicates that seven slaves were registered in Cameron County and one in Hidalgo. What there was, however, was an active Underground Railroad helping slaves to escape to Mexico by crossing the Rio Grande.

Researchers have found that along the Rio Grande in Hidalgo County lay the Jackson Ranch once owned by Nathaniel Jackson, a loyal Unionist during the Civil War. 

They write that in the 1850’s, Jackson left Alabama with his African-American wife Matilda Hicks, his son Eli, and other adult children. They hoped to escape the intolerance of inter-racial marriage they had known in the South. Accompanying the Jacksons were eleven African-American freedmen. 

In 1857, Jackson founded his ranch on a former Spanish grant. His property is said to have become a refuge for runaway slaves from Texas and the Deep South. Today, many people know about the Underground Railroad that shepherded enslaved people to freedom in the northern states and Canada, but few know about the route to freedom in Mexico. 

The Jackson Ranch lay near the Military Highway between Fort Ringgold and Fort Brown, and would have been visited by Confederate and Union troops as they fought for control of the Lower Valley in 1863 and 1864. Jackson died in 1865, the same year that his son Eli established the family cemetery where members of the clan now rest. Nathaniel Jackson’s grave is unmarked.

Several African-American and bi-racially mixed families settled in South Texas including the Webber family.
John F. Webber was an Anglo who lived south of Austin, Texas. Originally from Vermont,  Webber was born in Vermont around 1786. In the War of 1812 he served as a private in Capt. S. Dickinson's company, Thirty-first United States Infantry, from May 23, 1813, to May 31, 1814, during which time he fought in the battle of Shadage Woods.

He was in Austin's colony as early as 1826 and received a headright on June 22, 1832. Webber purchased a slave, Silvia Hector, and her son. They fell in love and married, causing an uproar in their community. After their son was barred from school, and the tutor Webber had hired to teach the boy had been threatened, the Webber family moved near Donna, Texas. 

In 1853 Webber purchased nearly 9,000 acres of land near Donna and established the Webber Ranch with his wife and 11 children. Weber's story has been documented by his numerous progeny and speak of a man who remained loyal to his black wife and children who in turn intermarried with local Mexican-Americans. The Webber clan is numerous and a recent family reunion included descendants from throughout the country.

In her excellent paper on the underground railroad, Georgia Redonet, a teacher at Long Middle School, in Houston, states that "When Stephen F. Austin brought American settlers to Mexico in 1822, Mexican law stated that there could be – neither sale nor purchase of slaves who are brought to the empire; their children born in the empire shall be free at the age of 14.
Mexico had outlawed slavery but made this concession for Texas in its desire to populate the northern province. It put the new immigrants on notice that slavery was to be a temporary institution. In regards to the American slaveholders immigrating to Mexican Texas, Article 21 of the Law of October 14th, 1823 stated – 'foreigners who bring slaves with them, shall obey the laws established upon the matter, or which shall hereafter be established.'"

As clear as the prohibition was in Mexican law, the government was persuaded to give the newly-arrived settlers exemptions in order to keep them as a buffer between raiding Comanches and Apache Indians and the French encroaching from the east.

"From 1830 to 1860 there was a continual movement of runaway slaves into Mexico and although not as publicized, it was just as common as the movement of runaways into free northern territory and Canada. While there are no reliable estimates as to the number of fugitive slaves escaping to Mexico during this time period, it is safe to say – that the movement was considerable enough to have caused great irritation and financial hardships on Texas slave-owners...

"During the Texas Revolution, Jose Maria Tornel, Mexican Secretary of War, – denounced slavery and called attention to the astonishment of the civilized world at the support given to the maintenance of the institution by the United States. By contrast, he said, – Mexico considered all men brothers, created by our common father.

"Mexico refused to return any fugitive slaves after the revolt and based part of its refusal to recognize Texas independence on the slavery question. Knowledge of the Mexican attitude towards slavery probably encouraged Negroes to escape. 6 The State of Texas

"In early 1846 Texas was formally admitted to the Union as a slave state. According to the first official Texas state census in 1847, the state‘s population counted 38,753 slaves and 102,961 whites. The plantations along the lower Colorado and Brazos rivers and those scattered throughout East Texas held the largest concentrations of enslaved persons. Runaway slaves had been a continual problem throughout the duration of the Republic and the new state sought to write laws aimed at curbing the exodus.

"In 1848 laws were passed by the state legislature aimed at punishing those who might help escaping slaves. Anyone helping slaves plan a rebellion would be punished with death. Ship captains assisting runaways would receive from two to ten years in the penitentiary. Anyone who would steal or entice away a slave from his or her owner would receive three to fifteen years of hard labor. Free persons of color who aided a slave in escaping would receive from three to five years in the penitentiary."

To read the rest of the Redonet paper on the South Texas Underground Railroad, click on link:


Anonymous said...

Mr. Montoya, this is the caliber of features that would bring you more down to earth readers who like to read facts and not gossip. Keep bringing those on and, I, for one, will make a better effort to read it daily.

AT said...

A good book is "The Other Slavery" by Andres Resendez. Did you know.that even before that we in the Valley did not have black slaves but also Native American slaves that were treated worse?

Anonymous said...

I read it daily because I don't like to spend on the National Enquirer.. so I read the equivalent (El Rrun RRun) for free..

FAKE NEWS BLOG... y llorones pa'cabar la

Anonymous said...

Thanks Juan. I'm a historian, but WOW. I didn't know that, "official Texas state census in 1847, the state‘s population counted 38,753 slaves and 102,961 whites.

That more than one slave per family. Texas shame.