Many slave families were sold and ripped apart by white slave owners as easily as if they were selling purebred puppies. When Matilda Boozie Randon was a child in South Carolina, her mother and siblings were sold and she never saw them again. Matilda was sold to a family that brought her to Texas, settling first in Mt. Pleasant. When she was about thirteen she bore her first child after being raped by her master’s son. At some point she and the family moved to Washington County. After the Civil War, possibly because of the rape, Matilda and her husband, a preacher named Randon, were given 1,500 acres. Randon farmed and rented portions of their land. Matilda sold butter and eggs and became well known throughout the county as a midwife, delivering both black and white babies. In an oral history, Matilda’s granddaughter said Matilda woke up at any time during the night to go to a birth and that she stayed until the mother was able to care for herself. According to her granddaughter Matilda had a black bag that looked like a doctor’s bag, in which she carried scissors and number eight thread for tying the umbilical cord. The children in Matilda’s family were not allowed to touch that black bag, and they “weren’t allowed to even look at it too hard.” Matilda was paid for her midwife services in canned goods, hogs, chickens, eggs, quilts, and other objects of barter.
Not all slave families suffered from permanent separation. Elizabeth Ramsey was a mulatto slave in South Carolina who gave birth in 1828 to her master’s child whom she named Louisa. One account claims that because Louisa looked like the master’s other child, Elizabeth and Louisa were sold to a planter in Mobile, Alabama. When Louisa was about thirteen, she and her mother were separated in a sale to different slaveholders. Despite being sold to a man named Williams in New Orleans, Louisa remained determined to find her mother. Williams made Louisa his concubine, and she gave birth to four of his seven children. Upon his death, she was set free and given enough money to move to Cincinnati where she married a mulatto named Henry Picquet who encouraged her continued search for her mother.
Meantime, Elizabeth had been sold to Col. Albert C. Horton who served as Texas’ first lieutenant governor and as acting governor during the Mexican-American War. By the opening of the Civil War, Horton was one of the wealthiest men in the state and owned 150 slaves on plantations in Wharton and Matagorda counties.
A friend of Louisa’s, who had traveled to Texas, brought back descriptions of Horton that matched Louisa’s memory of the man who had purchased her mother. Around 1858 Louisa began writing letters to Horton and to her mother, pleading to buy Elizabeth’s freedom. Horton wanted $1,000 to give up Elizabeth. Finally, Louisa convinced Horton to accept $900.
Raising $900 was no easy task. Louisa borrowed against her husband Henry’s salary, and she asked for help from Methodist minister and abolitionist, Hiram Mattison, in May 1860. Eager to help Louisa raise the money, Mattison tried to present her case to a meeting of Methodist bishops, but was unable to get it on the agenda. Instead, Mattison published his interview with Louisa with most of his
account centering on the whiteness of her skin and how shocking it was for white women to be held in slavery. Eventually, the savings and public solicitations resulted in Louisa purchasing her mother and being reunited after a twenty-year separation.
After Texas won independence from Mexico, allowing free persons of color to remain in Texas went against the basic principles of those who supported what was often called the “peculiar institution.” Among the many reasons used to hold blacks in bondage was the claim that slaves and free Negroes were incapable of self-government. Consequently the constitution of the new Republic of Texas stated that free blacks could not remain in Texas without permission from congress. Various resolutions resulted in freedmen being allowed to remain in Texas only until January 1, 1842, at which time they would be sold back into slavery. Several thousand free people of color petitioned the congress asking to remain as free citizens of Texas.
In 1840 Fanny McFarland’s petition stated that William McFarland brought her “to this country” in 1827 and that he freed her in 1835 because of “long and faithfull [sic] services to him and his family.” The petition goes on to say that “at the time of the Mexican invasion,” by which she meant the 1836 Texas Revolution, she was living in San Felipe de Austin as a free person, and as a result of the war she was driven from her home and lost all her possessions. After Texas won independence from Mexico, she moved to Houston in 1837 and “acquired a little property.” Accounts of her early time in Houston indicate that she was a laundress, saved her money, and began buying small pieces of property, eventually operating one of Houston’s first successful real estate ventures. Her petition states that she “would beg leave to urge upon your Honors the hardships of being obliged in her old age to leave her children to sacrifice her hard earned property to be obliged to part from friends of years standing to be obliged to leave her only home and be turned loose upon the wide world.” The petition continued, “she has four children held as slaves in this Republic so that all her hopes and prospects in this life lie here.” She asked, “to spend the few reminding [sic] days of her life as a resident and Citizen of this republic.” Despite more than seventy people signing a petition dated October 30, 1840, stating that Fanny McFarland was a good and useful citizen of Houston, the Congress of the Republic of Texas denied her request. Undeterred, Fanny McFarland remained in Houston until her death in 1866. There is no record of whether her children, freed in 1865 at the end of the Civil War, were able to be with their mother in her last year.