Power of Black Women

Black women have received little attention for the critical role they have played in maintaining their families and contributing to their communities. After running across a brief reference to Rachel Whitfield (1814-1908) a “former slave who made it on her own as head of a household, subsistence farmer,” I found Rachel’s story in Women in Early Texas, an account written by her granddaughter, Lela Jackson.

In 1852, Rachel and Jim Whitfield lived with their six children in Arkansas, Missouri. Their master, a man named Whitfield sold Jim to a slave owner, and the family never saw him again. Rachel, age thirty-eight, and the children were put together on the auction block and purchased by Washington McLaughlin. He took them on a months-long trip to Texas, sometimes on foot and other times in an oxcart. They eventually settled on a site with deep, rich soil on the north bank of the San Gabriel River in Williamson County.

The slaves cut thick brush and a variety of trees to clear the land, built cabins, and prepared the soil for planting. Lela Jackson writes that McLaughlin “was not even-tempered and, at times, whipped the slaves.” At other times he gave them passes, which the law required for a slave to leave an owners’ land. If they were caught without a pass, they could be whipped for being away from their owner’s property.

Just before the Civil War soldiers rode into the plantation, took supplies, and before they headed south, one of the slaves heard McLaughlin read the “Proclamation of Freedom.” McLaughlin waited for several days until early one morning he gathered the slaves and angrily announced: “You are now free people. You are free as I am. You can go anywhere you want to. You can stay here if you wish, but I don’t need you.  I can do without you.”

They stood in silence, stunned, unsure of what freedom meant. Finally, the cook went to the kitchen and prepared breakfast for the McLaughlin family. After the master had eaten, he told all the slaves to leave, not allowing them to eat or carry anything with them.

They slipped along the river, finding places to hide, unsure of their safety, listening for any strange noise. Rachel’s oldest son Allen married that spring and helped Rachel and the younger children settle in a log cabin next to a creek. They foraged for wild plums and berries, ate pecans and black walnuts, and got permission to milk a stray cow in exchange for raising its calf for the owner. The milk, butter, and cream stayed fresh in a bucket they lowered into a well. They moved about as the seasons changed, picking cotton and vegetables for landowners. They gathered prairie chicken eggs and trapped birds, squirrels, and possums.

They ironed clothing for white people using flat irons that they heated on a log fire in the yard. Rachel made quilts and asked men to save their ten-cent Bull Durham tobacco sacks, which she ripped open, bleached and used to line her quilts.

The high point in their lives came on “pastoral days,” the Sundays when a preacher held worship services. People came from miles around, and for those who could not read, the leader “lined” out the words. They also enjoyed baptizings in the creek, sing-songs, camp meetings, and dances. When someone died, Rachel and her daughter, Demmie, prepared the body and laid it out on a board or a door that was balanced on chairs. Coffins were made from the plentiful local cedar and stained dark brown.  Rachel, who lived to ninety-three and all her children held the respect of both their black and white Williamson County neighbors.

Black Women in Texas History chronicles the lives of amazing black females from the days when they first arrived in Texas as both free and slave—during the Spanish Colonial Period—up to their present influence on Texas’ politics and education. One of those women was Lulu Belle Madison White who graduated in 1928 from Prairie View College (present Prairie View A&M University) with a degree in English. Before beginning a ten-year teaching career in Houston, White joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in which her husband had been active for several years. She resigned from teaching after nine years and devoted the rest of her life to bringing justice to the black community. She was an amazing fund-raiser and organized new chapters of the NAACP throughout Texas. Even before the Supreme Court in 1944 found that the white primary was unconstitutional, White had started organizing a “pay your poll tax and go out to vote” campaign. She was a strong advocate for using the black vote to force social change. She argued: “we cannot sit idly by and expect things to come to us. We must go out and get them.”

She sought to educate the black community by leading voter registration seminars, and she urged black churches to speak up about public issues without endorsing specific candidates. She pressed white businesses to hire blacks, using boycotts, protest demonstrations, and letter-writing campaigns to influence the change.

In 1946 when the NAACP began its push for integrating the University of Texas, there was only one state-supported black college in Texas—Prairie View A&M—and it did not offer training for professional degrees. White not only persuaded Herman Marion Sweatt, a black

Herman Sweatt in line to register at the University of Texas
The Daily Texan

mail carrier, to act as the plaintiff against the university, she raised money to pay his legal expenses. Years later Sweatt claimed that it was White’s encouragement that helped him maintain his resolve. When the state offered to open a separate black university with its own law school in Houston instead of integrating the University of Texas, White supported Sweatt’s rejection of the proposal on the basis that separate was not equal and only continued the status of Jim Crow.

The victory of Sweatt v. Painter before the Supreme Court in June 1951 opened the door for Brown v. Board of Education and the march toward dissolving the color line in education. A week before Lulu White’s unexpected death in 1957, the national NAACP established the Lulu White Freedom Fund in her honor.

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Rachel Whitfield, Free Woman

Black women have received little attention for the critical role they have played in maintaining their families and contributing to their communities. After running across a brief reference to Rachel Whitfield (1814-1908) a “former slave who made it on her own as head of a household, subsistence farmer,” I began searching for more. How did an uneducated black woman survive after the Civil War? I found Rachel’s story, which was written by her granddaughter Lela Jackson, included in Women in Early Texas.

In 1852 Jim and Rachel Whitfield lived with their six children in Arkansas, Missouri. Their master, a man named Whitfield sold Jim to a slave owner, and the family never saw him again. Rachel and the children were placed together on the auction block. Washington McLaughlin purchased the family, and they began a months-long trip to Texas, sometimes on foot and others times in an oxcart. They settled on a site with deep, rich soil on the north bank of the San Gabriel River in Williamson County.

The slaves cut thick brush and a variety of trees to clear the land, built cabins, and prepared the soil for planting. Lela Jackson writes that McLaughlin “was not even-tempered and at times whipped the slaves.” At other times he gave them passes in compliance with the law that required slaves to carry a pass any time they left the owner’s property. If they were caught without a pass, they could be whipped for being out without permission.

Sometime during the Civil War, soldiers rode into the plantation, took supplies, and then headed south. One of the slaves heard McLaughlin read the “Proclamation of Freedom.” He said nothing until early one morning he gathered the slaves and angrily announced: “You are now free people. You are free as I am. You can go anywhere you want to. You can stay here if you wish, but I don’t need you. I can do without you.”

The slaves stood in silence, stunned, unsure of what freedom meant. Finally, the cook went to the kitchen and prepared breakfast for the McLaughlin family. After the master had eaten, he told all the slaves to leave, not allowing them to eat or carry anything with them.

They slipped along the San Gabriel River, finding places to hide, unsure of their safety, listening for any strange noise. Rachel’s oldest son Allen married that spring and helped Rachel and the younger children settle in a log cabin next to a creek. They foraged for wild plums and berries, ate pecans and black walnuts. The owner of a stray cow gave the family permission to keep the milk in exchange for raising the calf for its owner. They kept milk, butter, and cream fresh by storing it in a bucket lowered into a well. With the change of seasons, they moved about, picking cotton and vegetables for landowners. They gathered prairie chicken eggs and trapped birds, squirrels, and possums. They ironed clothing for white people using flat irons heated on a fire log in the yard. Rachel made quilts and asked men to save their ten-cent Bull Durham tobacco sacks, which she ripped open, bleached, and used for the lining.

The high point in their lives came on “pastoral days,” the Sundays when a preacher held worship services. People came from miles around, and for those who could not read, the leader “lined” out the words. They enjoyed baptizings in the creek, sing-songs, camp meetings, and dances. When someone died, Rachel and her daughter Demmie prepared the body and laid it out on a board or a door that was balanced on chairs. Coffins were made from the plentiful local cedar and stained dark brown.

Lela Jackson writes that her grandmother, who lived until she was ninety-three and all her children held the respect of both their black and white Williamson County neighbors.

Ex-Slave Becomes Community Leader

Born into slavery in Arkansas in 1845, Nelson Taylor Denson moved, at age eleven, to Falls County in East Texas with his master. Denson, who had been educated by his master, developed high regard for Sam Houston after hearing Houston speak when he visited Marlin in his campaign for governor. During the Civil War, Denson accompanied his master in the Confederate Army, serving as a saddle boy looking after the horses.

An account titled Slaves Narratives—Rural NW Louisiana African American Genealogy includes Denson’s account of the Civil War in which he praises Sam Houston for standing by his principles and refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, which resulted in Governor Houston being removed from office. Denson says he that at age sixteen he went to war as his master’s “bodyguard.” In his gripping account of the night before the Battle at Mansfield on the Sabine River, he describes the sound of whippoorwills calling and the low mummer of the men singing spirituals and listing for an attack from the Yankees camped just across the river.

Denson views the slaves who ran away and joined the Union forces as not properly caring for the women and children left behind on the plantations. He goes on to share his concern after the war for the change in the “old order,” and the decline in virtue and chivalry.

After the Civil War, Denson returned to Falls County as a free man and began working to fulfill his two dreams—to preach and to teach. Incorporating a deep understanding of human needs and rights, Denson became a circuit preacher in the Baptist denomination.

On November 8, 1868, the Reverend Denson, his wife, and eleven other blacks organized the Marlin Missionary Baptist Church, the first black congregation in Falls County. Denson believed that black citizens must have the basic rudiments of education, which led him to teach the fundamental skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic. He helped start a school sponsored by the Marlin Missionary Baptist Church, and others soon followed. By the mid-1880s Denson won election as county commissioner, becoming the first black official in the county. His good judgment and spirit of cooperation won the respect of both the black and the white communities, and he continued to be respected and called on for advice and counsel until his death in 1938 at the age of ninety-three.

The Rev. Nelson T. Denson and the Marlin Missionary Baptist Church historical marker is located at 507 Bennett at George Street in Marlin, Falls County.on

Former Texas Slaves Serve in the Union Army

Three Holland brothers—Milton, William, and James—were slaves born in the 1840s on Spearman Holland’s plantation near Carthage. Apparently their father was Spearman’s half brother, Capt. Bird Holland who purchased his sons from Spearman and moved them to Travis

Only known wartime photo of Milton Holland in uniform, c. 1863 or '64 Wikipedia.

Only known wartime photo of Milton Holland in uniform, c. 1863 or ’64
Wikipedia.

County. Little is known of their early life except that Bird Holland freed his three sons in the 1850s and enrolled them in Albany Manual Labor Academy, a private school in Ohio that maintained the very unusual policy of admitting both black and female students.

Bird Holland, who had served as Texas Secretary of State, joined the Confederate Army in November 1861. Meantime, sixteen-year-old Milton eagerly volunteered for the U.S. Army, only to be turned down because of his race.

Milton and his older brother, William, may have joined a group of blacks that formed the Attucks’ Guard, which was named for Crispus Attucks, the first man (who was also black) killed in the Revolutionary War. The Attucks Guard marched to Albany to offer their service, but they were turned down. It was not until June 1862 that Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton allowed black Americans to enlist and even then they had to serve in separate units, receive less pay than white soldiers, and be commanded by white officers. And they were not allowed to rise above the rank of non-commissioned officer.

While Milton waited for his opportunity to join the military, he used the skills he learned at the Albany Manual Labor University to work as a shoemaker for the quartermaster department. In June 1863 he joined the Fifth United States Colored Troops, and his older brother, William, joined the Sixteenth United States Colored Troops.

Although both brothers fought in several battles, it was Milton who rose to the rank of sergeant major. In late September 1864 while engaged in hand-to-hand combat at Chaffin’s Farm and then at New Market Heights, Virginia, all the white officers were either killed or wounded. Milton and three other black soldiers led the troops in routing the enemy and securing a victory that opened the door to nearby Richmond. Despite being wounded in the charge, Milton Holland continued to lead his men. For his extraordinary

1st Sgt. Milton M. Holland wearing Medal of Honor. Courtesy of Rob Lyon c. 1865

1st Sgt. Milton M. Holland wearing Medal of Honor. Courtesy of Rob Lyon
c. 1865

service he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on April 6, 1865, one of sixteen black soldiers in the Civil War to receive this country’s highest honor. He was promoted to captain in the field, but the U.S. War Department refused to honor the commission because of his race. Ohio’s Governor David Tod offered to commission Holland as a captain if he would agree to be reassigned to another regiment as a white man. Holland refused the offer, declining to deny his racial identity.

During the war, Milton’s father and former owner, Bird Holland, had risen to the rank of major in the Confederacy. He was killed on April 8, 1864, while serving as head of his regiment in the battle of Mansfield during the Red River Campaign.

Milton Holland mustered out of the army and settled in Washington D.C. where he worked as a clerk in the U.S. Treasury Department and studied law at Howard University, graduating in 1872. He established a law practice, remained active in Republican politics, held offices in two black-owned banking businesses, and founded the Alpha Insurance Company, one of the first black-owned insurance companies in the country. After his death from a heart attack in 1910, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Milton’s brother William attended Oberlin College, returned to Texas, taught in several Texas schools, and held a position at the Austin post office. After moving to Waller County, he was elected to the fifteenth legislature where he sponsored bills establishing Prairie View Normal College (now Prairie View A&M University) and The Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Institute for Colored Youth, where he was superintendent for eleven years.

Born into slavery, both brothers served the United States with honor as freedmen.

From Slave to Powerful Politician

Despite being born into slavery in 1846, Norris Wright Cuney did not live an ordinary slave’s life. His education and other opportunities, led the way to his becoming one of Texas’ most powerful black political leaders of the nineteenth century. Cuney’s father, Colonel Philip Cuney, one of the

Norris Wright Cuney

Norris Wright Cuney

largest landholders in Texas, owned 105 slaves, and operated the 2,000-acre Sunnyside Plantation near Hempstead. Cuney’s mulatto mother Adeline Stuart was one of the colonel’s slaves, but she worked as the colonel’s chief housekeeper and bore eight of his children. Cuney’s mother made sure that he and his siblings never lived in the slave quarters or worked as plantation field hands. In fact, Cuney learned to play the bass violin and carried it with him when he traveled with his father on trading trips.

During the time Cuney was growing up, his father also had a white family. About the time his father married his second wife in 1843, he also embarked on a political career as a member of the House of Representative of the Republic of Texas, a delegate to the Convention of 1845 that voted for Texas annexation to the United States, and brigadier general in the Texas Militia. He also served in the Texas State Legislature and the State Senate. In 1853, not long after Colonel Cuney married his third wife, he left his plantation in the hands of an overseer and moved all his family, including Adeline Stuart and her children with him to Houston. That same year he began freeing his black children, starting with Cuney’s older brother Joseph who was sent to the Wylie Street School for blacks in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Over the years Colonel Cuney continued freeing his children and their mother Adeline Stuart.

In 1859 Cuney and his sister Jennie were freed with Cuney going to school in Pittsburgh and Jennie going to Europe for her education. Jennie later passed as a member of the white community.

The Civil War disrupted Cuney’s studies, and he spent the wars years working on steamboats between Cincinnati and New Orleans where he met and was influenced by black leaders such as P.B.S. Pinchback, who served for thirty-five days as Louisiana’s first black governor.

After the Civil War, Norris Wright Cuney settled in Galveston near the homes of his mother and brothers. He began studying law and took advantage of being a literate, educated mulatto son of a wealthy white man. He worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Union League during the Reconstruction-era to push former slaves to the voting booth, which resulted in more than 100,000 blacks voting annually into the 1890s. When the Reconstruction Legislature established a public school system, Cuney worked to ensure that tax money also went to black students within the segregated system.

Cuney married Adelina Dowdie, a schoolteacher, who was the daughter of a mulatto slave mother and a white planter father. The Cuney’s had two children, and since both parents were musical—Cuney played the violin and Adelina was a singer—their home was filled with art and music and they emphasized education. Their son Lloyd Garrison Cuney, named for the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, became an official in the Congregational Church. Their daughter Maud Cuney Hare studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and became an

Maud Cuney Hare

Maud Cuney Hare

accomplished pianist, folklorist, writer, and community organizer in Boston. She wrote Norris Wright Cuney: A Tribune of the Black People (1913), a biography of her father.

Over years of Cuney negotiating with the white elite and despite serious strikes, unionized blacks finally gained access as workers on Galveston’s docks.

After being elected Texas national committeeman in the Republican Party in 1886, Cuney became Texas party chairman, which was the most powerful position of any African American in the South at that time. However his position did not sit well with some Republicans in Texas and throughout the country, which led to some in the party trying to have black leaders expelled. Cuney coined the term “Lily-White Movement” to describe the Republican effort.

In 1889 Cuney was appointed U.S. Collector of Custom in Galveston, the highest-ranking position of any black man in the South in the late nineteenth century, however, Cuney’s death that year coincided with efforts across the South to disfranchise black and poor white voters. Laws were passed to make voter registration difficult and Texas instituted poll taxes and white primaries that greatly reduced the number of black voters from the high of 100,000 in the 1890s to less than 5,000 in 1906. During the Great Depression racial strife in the unions dissolved much of the labor cooperation that had been established between blacks and whites.

Despite Cuney’s legacy, which inspired other black leaders, and the designation by some historians of the period between 1884 and 1896 as the “Cuney Era,” it would take the passage in the 1960s of the Civil Rights laws before the right to vote was restored to blacks across the South.

An account of Norris Wright Cuney’s life is portrayed in Douglas Hale’s A Southern Family in White & Black: The Cuneys of Texas.

Black History Month Part III

During the years that Texas was part of Mexico, the government offered free blacks the same rights of citizenship and opportunities for land ownership as were provided to white settlers. And just like the white colonists, the free settlers of color worked to establish successful lives in the new country.  William Goyens (sometimes spelled Goings) settled in Nacogdoches in the early 1820s and became

William Goyens

William Goyens

an Indian Agent, working as a mediator and interpreter between the settlers and Cherokees of Northeast Texas. Born in North Carolina in 1794, the son of a white mother and mulatto father (with Cherokee ancestry), Goyens’ fair complexion may have helped him establish a successful blacksmith business in Nacogdoches and begin land speculation.  His work as an Indian Agent earned the trust of the Indians, the Mexican government, and the settlers in East Texas.  He opened a freight hauling business, manufactured and repaired wagons, traded with the Indians, began lending money, and developed successful sawmill and gristmill operations.  He married a white widow and adopted her son. Despite barely escaping being sold back into slavery on two business trips to Louisiana, Goyens owned as many as nine slaves and added to his wealth by entering the slave trade as a buyer and seller of human chattel.

During the buildup to the Texas Revolution, Goyens served as Sam Houston’s, interpreter as Houston negotiated a treaty with the Cherokees that kept them from siding with the Mexican Army during the war.

After Texas won Independence from Mexico in 1836, laws under the new Republic changed the status of freedmen.  Many slaveholders feared that the prosperity of freedmen would encourage rebellion among their slaves.  The constitution of the Republic of Texas took away the citizenship of free blacks, restricted their property rights, and forbade permanent residence in Texas without the approval of the congress.  The laws became even more restrictive for free blacks after Texas annexation as the twenty-eighth state.

Despite living the rest of his life in the mansion he built west of Nacogdoches and continuing to amass considerable wealth, William Goyens was forced to hire some of the best lawyers in Nacogdoches to defend against white neighbors who constantly attempted to take the property he accumulated. Goyens died in 1856 and is buried next to his wife on the property they acquired near Nacogdoches.

Hendrick Arnold, the son of a white man and black mother, moved with his family from Mississippi to Stephen F. Austin’s colony in 1826.  During the Texas Revolution, Arnold and his father-in-law, Erastus (Deaf) Smith, earned an almost legendary reputation as scouts and spies for the Texan cause. Beginning with the 1835 capture of San Antonio, Arnold’s bravery and skills in the fight for San

Arnold in foreground of Joseph Musso mural.

Arnold in foreground of Joseph Musso mural.

Antonio earned him a citation for his “important service.”  Deaf Smith suffered serious injuries in the Texan’s fight for San Antonio, and Arnold nursed him back to health.  Then, Arnold joined Deaf Smith as they scouted for other cavalry units, even infiltrating the Mexican camps with Deaf Smith disguised as a Mexican and Arnold posing as a runaway slave.  Before the Battle at San Jacinto, Deaf Smith’s spy company followed Sam Houston’s orders to destroy the bridge that would have offered escape from the field of battle for both armies, thus sealing the boundaries for the final battle for independence.

Like all the men who fought for Texas Independence, Arnold was compensated in land for his service, however, his property lay northwest of present Bandera, a site with poor soil that edged Indian territory, evidence of the lower status that a free black man held in the society of that period.  Arnold never lived on his land, choosing instead to live near San Antonio where he operated a gristmill.

By 1827 Arnold had fathered a daughter, Harriet, with one of his father’s slaves, and despite his own status as a free black, Arnold kept Harriet as his slave.  By the fall of 1835, before his participation in Texas War for Independence, Arnold had settled in San Antonio where he married Martina, the stepdaughter of Deaf Smith.  After Texas joined the Union, Arnold placed his daughter Harriet, who was about nineteen, in an indentured-servant contract with James Newcomb.  Newcomb was to pay $750 for Harriet’s service and then free her after five years. The Texas Black History Preservation Project points out that Arnold may have thought that Newcomb, a white man, had a better chance than Arnold of getting the Texas Legislature to accept a petition to allow Harriet to live in the state as a free woman.

Before the end of the indenture contract, both Newcomb and Arnold died in the 1849 Bexar County cholera epidemic.  Newcomb’s administrator successfully petitioned the Texas Legislature to allow Harriet to remain in Texas as a free woman, but Arnold’s wife (it is unclear who she was) sued the administrator for $2,000 plus the $750 due on the indentured-servant contract and asked that Harriet be returned as her slave.  The results of the suit are not clear.  Harriet may have been allowed to remain in Texas as a free woman.

Black History Month Part II

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.

Louisa Picquet the Octoroon

Louisa Picquet the Octoroon

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

Louisa Piquet, the Octoroon by H. Mattison, 1861

Louisa Piquet, the Octoroon by H. Mattison, 1861

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.