African Americans of Texas

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This entry was originally written by Wendy Bebout Elliott, Ph.D. FUGA for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
the Texas Family History Research series.
History of Texas
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Although most histories of Texas refer to African Americans only secondarily, their presence in the state has been long and continuous. In an 1809 census of Nacogdoches there were thirty-three slave owners. Slavery in Texas increased with Anglo-American colonists in the 1820s. Under Mexican jurisdiction, slavery was opposed, and a slave code was instituted in Austin’s colony in 1824. Under an 1827 constitution of Coahuila and Texas, babies born of slave mothers were free at birth; a law passed in 1832 limited bondsmen’s contracts to ten years. Nevertheless, both laws were frequently overlooked by slave owners in Texas who held and imported slaves. By 1837 slavery was recognized and legalized in Texas.

Many immigrants to antebellum Texas came from southern states, and some brought slaves to Texas. However, less than one-third of the state’s population owned slaves during the 1850s. Most free African Americans and slaves lived in rural areas in the eastern half of the state at that time.

Tracing slave ancestors who lived prior to 1865, in most cases, must be accomplished through the records of the slave owners. Owners’ wills and estate inventories often list slaves by name—sometimes including an approximate age or other description. Some estate records indicate slave families or state relationships of mother and children. Deeds and bills of sale may also identify slaves showing transfer of ownership. Court records infrequently include mention of slaves and owners. After 1865, records for African Americans are maintained and filed along with others for local and state jurisdictions.

An overview of African Americans in Texas may be obtained through a study of the following:

  • Barr, Alwyn. Black Texans: A History of Negroes in Texas, 1528–1921. Austin, Tex.: Pemberton Press, 1971.
  • Bugbee, Lester E. “Slavery in Early Texas,” Political Science Quarterly 13 (1898): 389-412, 648-88.
  • Campbell, Randolph B. An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821–1865. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.
  • Leiker, James N. Racial Borders: Black Soldiers along the Rio Grande. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002.
  • Rice, Lawrence D. The Negro in Texas, 1874–1900. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1971.
  • Smallwood, James M. Time of Hope, Time of Despair: Black Texans During Reconstruction. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1981.
  • Woolfork, George Ruble. The Free Negro in Texas, 1800–1860: A Study in Cultural Compromise. Published for The Journal of Mexican American History. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1976.
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