by Frank W. Jennings
Most histories that have been written about nineteenth century Texas offer very little information about the everyday life of Black settlers. One reason is that many fewer Blacks lived in Texas than Anglo-Americans or Tejanos. But, in 1876, San Antonio had more Black citizens than people descended from most European nations. The City Assessor listed the largest groups in town in the current vernacular: American, English and Irish, 5,475; German, including Alsatians, 5,630; Mexicans, 3,750; and Africans, 2,075. The others were French, Polish, Swiss, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Belgian, Dutch, Hungarian, and Chinese.
Another reason why Blacks do not show up in stories about the early settlers is that many of them were slaves. Yet, it's interesting to know that many were free, and some prospered as respected members of the community. A book that tells about some of these free Blacks was compiled in 1847 by Thomas Earle from the diaries of Benjamin Lundy. The Life, Travels and Opinions of Benjamin Lundy tells of Lundy's visits in 1833 and 1834 to Texas and Louisiana.
Lundy, from New Jersey, was an Abolitionist, and a member of the Society of Friends, a Quaker. Before traveling to Texas, he spent time in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wheeling, Virginia (before Virginia split). He traveled by way of Louisiana to Texas, at that time part of Coahuila y Texas in the north of Mexico. Lundy occasionally used an alias, because slave holders thoroughly disliked him. He tried to persuade them to voluntarily give up possession of their slaves, and at times was able to arrange the purchase of the slaves so they could be freed. The slaves, of course, were very valuable to their owners, because they accomplished most of the work on the farms and on some of the ranches, as well as being skilled at housework, cooking and child rearing.
Here are a few excerpts from his diary dealing with a visit to Texas in 1833 and 1834:
September 29, 1833. [San Antonio] I walked out this afternoon with Matthew Thomas, to see the cane patch, grounds, etc., of his father-in-law, Felipe Elua, a black Louisiana creole, who was formerly a slave, but who has purchased the freedom of himself and family. He has resided here twenty-six years, and he now owns five or six houses and lots, besides a fine piece of land near town. He has educated his children so that they can read and write, and speak Spanish as well as French... He has a sister also residing in Bexar, who is married to a Frenchman....
July 4, 1834. I started from Natchitoches [Louisiana] to go to Nacogdoches in Texas, in a company of three wagons, each drawn by four yoke of oxen. Having put my baggage on board one of the wagons, I walked myself, carrying my gun.
July 8th. Having reached the Sabine river, we crossed by a ferry, and entered the Texan territory. We have progressed, so far, only at a rate of 13 miles a day. I do not, this time, travel incognito, as I thought it necessary to do, in my former journeys in this region....
July 13th. I arrived on the 13th, at Nacogdoches, where I found Williams, the man who shot the slave of Vann, the Indian chief as mentioned in my former journal. I happened to make a remark, for which Williams appeared quite desirous of quarreling with me.
July 14th. I went about four miles into the country, to the house of Wm. Goyens, a very respectable colored man, with whom I became acquainted here in 1832. He still takes a deep interest in my enterprise. He has a white wife, a native of Georgia. They appear to live happily together, are quite wealthy, and are considered as very respectable, by the people generally. Goyens has undertaken to procure me a horse, and I am arranging my baggage so as to pursue my journey on horseback.
July 18th. I became acquainted with a white man, named David Town, who originally resided in Georgia. Thence he removed to Louisiana, taking with him a black female slave, who was in fact his wife. She was a very capable woman, and had several very likely children.
Eight years ago, Town removed from Louisiana to Nacogdoches, where he emancipated his wife and children, who, up to that period, had been slaves, in the eye of the law. They all live together here in harmony, are quite industrious, and make a very respectable appearance. The daughters are as fine looking young women as can be seen almost anywhere, and are free, in their whole demeanor, from the degrading restraint, so observable among the colored people in our country....
A white man lately made a proposal of marriage to one of the mulatto daughters of David Town, before referred to; but he was refused, on account, I believe, of his not being strictly temperate....”
Benjamin Lundy was active in both Texas and Mexico in his efforts to persuade the governments to outlaw slavery. By November 1835, he was back in the United States, where he resumed publishing the periodical, Genius of Universal Emancipation. In it he wrote: "A number of state societies and annual conventions, with several hundred auxiliaries, have been recently established in the United States, having in view the abolition of slavery and the improvement of the condition of the African race."
Campbell, Randolph B. An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.
Ramsdell, Charles W. "The Natural Limits of Slavery Expansion." Mississippi Valley Historical Review 16 (September 1929).
Porter, Kenneth Wiggins. The Negro on the American Frontier. New York: Arno Press, 1971