Drumbeat for Civil War

Indianola sat on the middle Texas coast––a southern town with a seaport’s connection to the cosmopolitan world of commerce, business cooperation, and a diverse blend of residents newly arrived from all over Europe. The soil—gritty shell beaches cut by a crisscross of shallow

Indianola by Helmuth Holtz, Sept. 1860
Library of Congress

bayous and lakes—did not lend itself to cotton growing. The vast slave plantations thrived much farther east and north in the rich bottomlands of Texas’ rivers. The slaves sold on the front porch of the Casimir House, an elegant hotel and social center that used slaves to serve its guests, generally were taken inland by planters who came to Indianola to purchase supplies. Most of the blacks in Indianola were free—having bought their freedom or been freed by generous owners.  They worked the docks and they operated pig farms out on Powderhorn Lake. Unlike most southern towns, the residents of Indianola accepted the presence of free blacks, and despite the law against freedmen living in the state without Congressional approval, they were allowed to go about their business without interference.

As secession talk grew, and a few agitators arrived from the north, Indianola residents expressed confidence that Southern saber rattling would force the North to back off. However, the arrival of a gentleman who was accused of being an abolitionist prompted city authorities to force him onto an outbound ship and appoint a “vigilance committee,” to maintain order.

During the fall of 1860 merchants continued to thrive, and talk of Lincoln’s possible election caused little concern and no apparent disruption in the cooperation between northern business people pouring into the port and local shipbuilders producing steamers at a brisk pace. The newspaper editor touted the rosy financial picture, expecting it to continue indefinitely.

The news of Lincoln’s election stirred patriotism for the former Republic of Texas. Residents threw caution aside as newspapers across the state called for secession instead of living under the evils of Lincoln’s “Black Republicanism.”

On the night of November 21, a well-advertised mass meeting took place at the courthouse, preceded by a parade. An owner of one of the shipyards on Powder Horn Bayou, led the parade, carrying a flag emblazoned with a Lone Star, the symbol of the former Republic of Texas. Sewn by local women for the event, the flag drew such wild applause it drowned out the band’s rousing march music. Participants carried twenty-eight poles topped by huge, transparent pieces of glass with candles or kerosene lamps illuminating phrases like The Issue is Upon Us; Who is not for us is Against us; The Time Has Come; States’ Right; Millions in Number, One in Sentiment; and The North has Broken the Symbols of Union.

The crowd filled the courthouse to overflowing. A judge gave a rousing speech saying they must take decisive action. Then he appointed a committee to draft resolutions representing the views of Indianola citizens. While the crowd waited for the resolutions to be written, the band played the French national anthem, a stark symbol of revolution. After another loud and emotion-laced speech, the committee returned with the support of a secession convention and demands for Texas to reclaim its right to retake the powers it delegated to the federal government when it accepted statehood. The dye was cast.

Even before the war officially began, United States military personnel that had manned the posts along the western edge of Texas settlement to protect colonists from Indian attack, began marching through the streets of Indianola to the docks where federal ships waited to carry them away. Families living on the edge of Texas’ western frontier were left to protect themselves from the Comanches who soon took advantage of the opportunity to reclaim some of their hunting grounds.

Texas in the Civil War, Courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Most Germans and other European immigrants that settled in Texas did not want the South to secede. First, most of the new arrivals did not have land suitable for cotton or sugar cane production and did not need slave labor. Second, they felt a loyalty to the United States, the country that had just welcomed them to its shores. Finally, most immigrants did not believe in slavery, having come from countries where peasants worked for such meager livelihoods, that they yearned for the opportunities that freedom offered. But, like other Unionists such as Sam Houston and Robert E. Lee, they felt a loyalty to their new home and did not leave the South.

Indianola merchants soon realized that they had been wrong in their belief that they could continue business as usual. The federal government quickly began a blockade of all the Gulf Coast, which resulted in the nightly adventure of blockade runners moving into the Gulf with cotton bound for trade with European, especially British, ships eager to take the Confederacy’s “white gold” in exchange for essential Winchester rifles, medical supplies, clothing, and ammunition. The dangerous blockade routes through bayous and backwater canals that were used to transport the valuable cotton could no longer sustain the commercial traffic. Business in Indianola and in the towns it supplied in western Texas came to a sudden halt.

Invasion and occupation will be the topic of next week’s blog post.

My award-winning book includes this story. STEIN HOUSE, A GERMAN FAMILY SAGA has just been republished by Sunstone Press. The cover image is of Union troops in the streets of Indianola, a wood engraving by Thomas Nast published in the New York Illustrated

From the collection of the Calhoun County Museum, Port Lavaca, Texas.

News, April 6, 1861.

First Lady of the Confederacy

Lucy Pickens was a contradiction—an outspoken, determined, and forceful woman who was ahead of her time and a southern-belle, a beauty, and a charming hostess who was very much a part of her time. She graced the stage of the Russian Czar and Czarina and the grand

Lucy Pickens

plantations of the South. She sold her jewels to outfit a Confederate Army unit that bore her name, her image appeared on the Confederate one-dollar and the one hundred dollar bill, and she served as the first lady of the Confederate state of South Carolina.

Born in 1832 on the family plantation outside LaGrange, Tennessee, Lucy Petway Holcombe was named after her paternal grandmother, Lucy Maria, who claimed to be a distant relative of Marie Antoinette. Lucy clasped her connection to nobility and spent her life feeling slightly elevated and entitled to whatever was best for her.

While Lucy and her sister were away at the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, their father, Beverly Holcombe, made a series of bad investments, which forced the girls to leave school and the family to move to land outside Marshall, Texas. Determined not to allow his family to forgo the luxuries to which they were accustomed, Beverly Holcombe managed to recoup some of his losses and to build a grand brick mansion named Wyalucing. As a further show

Wyalucing Plantation

of wealth, he constructed a second home, Westover on the plantation, and created a street between the two houses that was lined with cabins for the slaves.

Despite her husband’s flair for displaying their wealth, Lucy’s mother, Eugenia, continued to stress her Christian ethic of hard-work and benevolence. She emphasized to her daughters that to whom much is given, much is required. Each day she made her rounds to the slave (she called them “servants”) quarters delivering liniment and salve. She also made sure her servants owned Bibles and learned to read and write, a practice that was against the law and one she claimed in her diary did not sit well with other people in her community.

Lucy was eighteen years old when the family arrived in Texas, and she was determined to realize all her dreams for a fine life of wealth and prestige. The manners and social skills learned in her youth, combined with her extraordinary beauty, perfect figure, and flowing auburn hair came together in a creature constantly surrounded with admiring suitors. Using her wit and charm, she managed to convince each admirer that he was special as she moved quickly into the important social circles that spread across the South.

Unknown until almost a century after her death, Lucy was writing The Free Flag of Cuba or the Martyrdom of Lopez: A Tale of the Liberating Expedition of 1851, a novella published in 1855 under the pen name of H.M. Hardimann. It was a romantic story favoring the actual filibustering efforts of Gen. Narciso López to free Cuba from Spanish rule and establish a slave state on the island. The book encouraged U.S. support for the cause, and the characters and situations they encountered paralleled Lucy’s own life. The men were brave, the women were lovely southern belles, and the slaves were happy servants. Some historians believe Lucy had been engaged to Lt. William Crittenden who was killed in the expedition and that the book was her reaction to her own lost love.

Very soon, however, another opportunity arose. Lucy met South Carolina’s U.S. Congressman Francis Wilkinson Pickens, who was twenty-two years older and had three children from two previous marriages. Pickens fell immediately in love with Lucy and quickly asked her to marry him. Despite Pickens offering most of what Lucy was looking for in a man––handsome, wealthy, respected and well established—she turned him down. She said if he had accepted the offer of the ambassadorship to England that his good friend, President Buchanan, had recently offered, she would have married him. Pickens hurried back to Washington to see if the offer was still open. The position had been filled but Pickens agreed to become the Ambassador to Russia. The couple married within a few weeks and began immediate preparations for the journey to St. Petersburg.

Upon their arrival in the summer of 1858, they saw St. Petersburg’s marvelous architecture at its best. Pickens’ position as the American Ambassador swept the couple into the upper echelons of Russian society. Lucy’s knowledge of French and Russian, her elaborate wardrobe, and her willingness, despite the cultural shock, to learn the customs associated with her new lifestyle, soon made the couple favorites at court. In her letters home she wrote that the manners of the aristocracy reminded her of those of the Southern planter class. The friendship that developed between Lucy and Czar Alexander II and his wife the Czarina resulted in the Czarina insisting when Lucy was expecting her first child that she move into the Imperial Palace to be waited on during the last stage of her pregnancy and be attended during the birth.

Upon the birth of the daughter, a formal salute was fired to announce it to the citizens of St. Petersburg. The child was given a name that combined the southern family tradition and the Russian addition: Francis Eugenia Olga Neva Pickens with the added “Douschka,” which is Russian for “little darling.”

By 1860 Lucy longed to return to the South to raise her daughter, and Francis, concerned about the political turmoil stirring between the North and South, felt he needed to get back to South Carolina. Thrust immediately into the upheaval, Pickens had to choose between his deep friendship with President Buchanan (who was soon replaced by President Lincoln) and loyalty to his state of South Carolina that was leading the push for secession. As Pickens traveled across the state, he realized if he wanted to serve as governor, he would have to support secession. On December 17, 1860, Francis Pickens was sworn in as South Carolina’s governor, and three days later the state became the first to secede from the Union without clear assurances that other southern states would follow. Despite wanting desperately to return to her family in Texas, Lucy stood firmly behind her husband’s decision and saved her doubts for the letters she wrote to her family. In the following months, thirteen other southern states followed South Carolina. After a brief trip back to visit her family in Texas, Lucy recognized that she was the face of the southern cause and returned to her husband whose health was declining.

In keeping with her duties as the governor’s wife, she entertained lavishly at the governor’s mansion in Columbia and at the family plantation near Edgefield. The Confederate elite was impressed and fascinated that even her servants were dressed in the finest Russian fashions. She sold her exquisite jewels that had been gifts from the Russian Czar and gave the proceeds to outfit a legion from Charleston composed of seven infantry companies and one cavalry. In a gesture of gratitude, it was named the “Holcombe Legion.” Known as “Lady Lucy,” she frequently addressed the soldiers and presented the legion a flag she designed that bore her name, the South Carolina palmetto, and the lone star that represented her Texas home.

As a further symbol of appreciation for the support of such a beautiful lady, the Confederacy placed her image on its one-dollar note in June 1862 and on its $100 note the following December. At the end of his term in 1862, Pickens’ poor health forced him to return to their Edgewood plantation where Lucy continued to entertain. With Pickens too weak to accompany her, Lucy traveled all over the South to show her support for the Confederacy.

$100 Confederate Note

After General Robert E. Lee surrendered, the life Lucy had always known came to an abrupt end. Many of their freed slaves stayed as servants. Just before Pickens passed away in 1869, he called the servants to whom he felt closest and asked them to watch over Lucy. True to their former master, the servants served as pallbearers at Francis Pickens’ funeral.

Lucy joined the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, which worked to preserve George Washington’s former home. On August 8, 1899, at the age of 67, the Queen of the Confederacy passed away.

In 1880, former slaves of Marshall and Harrison County purchased Wyalucing for use as the President’s House at Bishop College. After the college moved to Dallas in 1961, the old house was sold and then demolished.

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 IV

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.  I found Rachel’s story in Women in Early Texas, an account written by 41NhJL7XncL._SX270_her granddaughter, Lela Jackson.  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.  Then, Rachel, age thirty-eight, and the children were put together on the auction block.  They were purchased by a man named Washington McLaughlin, and they began a months-long trip to Texas, sometimes on foot and others times in an oxcart.  They finally 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 time, whipped the slaves.”  At other times he gave them passes, which were required to leave his land.  If they went out without a pass, they could be whipped for being out without permission.

Just before 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,” but he 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 its 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 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 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.

JacketBlack 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) where her husband had been active for several years.  She resigned from teaching after nine years and devoted the rest of her life to bring 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 the strongest advocate in Texas 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.”LuluBelle

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 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.

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.

Black History Month–Part I

In celebration of Black History Month, I plan to write a series highlighting the often-brief stories of black men and women that made their mark on Texas history. Estevanico (often called Esteban and Esteban the Moor) was captured in 1513 in Morocco when he was about



thirteen years old and sold to a Spanish nobleman.  Estevanico and his master sailed from Spain in 1527 on the ill-fated Pánfilo de Narváez Expedition, contracted by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Charles I of Spain) to settle and colonize for Spain all the land between Florida and present Tampico, Mexico.  Included in the 600-man, five-ship expedition was Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca whose account of the adventures, the first written history of Texas published in 1542, tells the story of this expedition.

Upon reaching Tampa Bay on Florida’s western coast in April 1528, Narváez decided, against the advice of his captains, to abandon his ships and take 300 men—half his entire expedition—to explore inland.  He believed it was only thirty to forty miles to their destination, when it was actually closer to 1,500 miles.  By September, after having lost over fifty men to disease and Indian attack Narváez ordered construction of five rafts that traveled through shallow waters edging the coast until a storm separated the group. Two rafts, including the one captained by Cabeza de Vaca and one that bore Estevanico wrecked, probably just west of Galveston Island.  By the spring of 1529 disease and Indian attacks left only fourteen men alive.  Cabeza de Vaca left the island and spent the next four years roaming over the inland reaches of Texas, trading with the Indians, and acting as a medicine man.

Meantime, Estevanico and those remaining on the coast began traveling southwest along the barrier islands edging the Gulf of Mexico.  When they reached present Matagorda Bay in the spring of 1529 their numbers had dwindled to three. They were captured and enslaved by Coahuiltecan Indians who lived southwest of the Guadalupe River.  After more than three years of captivity, Cabeza de Vaca, whom they thought was dead, suddenly appeared and was taken as a prisoner.  It was two more years before all four castaways finally escaped and fled inland to the Rio Grande near present Falcón Lake Reservoir.  Estevanico quickly learned the dialects and sign language of the various Indian tribes they encountered, and by posing as healers all four of the men gained the trust of the tribes they met and were being welcomed as word spread of their skills.  They also heard tales of rich, inland cities that they called the Seven Cities of Cibola.  Continuing to walk barefoot across northern Mexico, they reached the Pacific Coast where they found fellow Spaniards who directed them to Mexico City.  Arriving in July 1536, after a journey of 2,400 miles, the four ragged men out of the 300 that had set foot on the Florida coast in 1528, finally reached the capital of New Spain.Estevanicomap

After recounting their fantastic journey and sharing the stories of riches that lay to the north, Cabeza de Vaca continued his service for Spain, the two other men quickly married wealthy widows and settled down to a comfortable life in Mexico City, and Estevanico experienced the harsh reality of slavery.  He was sold or loaned to the viceroy of New Spain who, excited about the prospects of finding wealthy cities, sent Estevanico on an expedition in 1539 headed by Fray Marcos de Niza to explore the lands through which the castaways had just traveled.  Estevanico, serving as a scout, moved ahead of the expedition.  When he reached the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh in present western New Mexico, he disappeared, reportedly killed as the Zuni fired many arrows into his body. Some accounts say the Zuni believed Estevanico, with his black skin and body covered in feathers, looked like a wizard.  Others claim that he offended the Zuni by demanding women and turquoise. Fray de Niza was sufficiently convinced of Estevanico’s cruel death that he quickly returned to Mexico City. In 2002 Juan Francisco Maura published an article in the Journal Revista de Estudios Hispánicos titled “Nuevas interpretaciones sobre las aventuras de Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Esteban de Dorantes, y Fray Marcos de Niza” (New Interpretations about the Adventures of Cabeza de Vaca, Esteban of Dorantes, and Fray Marcos de Niza) in which he claimed that Estevanico and his friends faked his death so that he could gain his freedom. Let’s hope that is the way his story ends.